I posted a comment last night on FaceBook that BDSM was a lot softer these days -- referring specifically to the above pic v. the illustrations from Irving Klaw magazines that I blogged earlier that day.
My friend Doug then asked "is that good?"
First, of course art can always go further than life so I factor some degree of "just jerk off stuff" into the severity of the illustrations. But I think it is also true that BDSMers of the past sometimes played in ways that we consider unsafe today, from dubious bondage to severe torture fantasies.
Is it good that we play softer (if we do, I know there are some of us who always push the envelope) is a really interesting question to me. When Different Loving came out, we heard from some players who thought we were diluting something whose very thrill came from its danger to something that was too safe and therefore bland. I laughed yesterday to see someone complaining in 1973 that his favorite rubber magazine was being "diluted" by other fetishes. Variety and diversity don't dilute: they alter. If you believe in evolution (and if you read this blog, you fucking better), then you should expect evolution -- in all living things, at all times. Purity is a rather evil 19th century concept. Death to purity!
Anyway, to answer Doug. I don't think it's good or bad: I think it is what it is. I don't believe there is any ideal state of sadomasochism that can be better than another. What makes BDSM relationships functional is having partners who agree that the kind of sexplay THEY are having makes them happy. If they both want to follow an existing model, great; if they want to invent their own individual relationship, even greater. The idea that there is some perfect state of masterdom or slavedom is, at best, an ideology or dogma, not a rational philosophy. There is no perfect state of anything mortal.
The nature of sex -- personally, socially, historically -- is constant evolution. Is the scene today softer than the one before people developed moral philosophies like SSC and RACK? I should hope so! Before people embraced those concepts, and without some way of articulating boundaries, BDSM was undeniably more dangerous.
Still, it's like asking if life is more comfortable now than 100 years ago and whether that's good. A lot of people will say increased comfort has turned us into fat lazy bastards, and a lot of others will say they're glad women don't routinely die in childbirth anymore. I don't get into those debates. I know that we don't live there anymore, we couldn't even if we tried, and it's all about how we are living right now that determines whether we will be happy in the long run.
Meanwhile, if BDSM is softer than it used to be because of all the brilliant insights from leather leaders and pioneers, and books and magazine articles and lectures and workshops and endless opportunities for education over the past 40 years, then I guess it's exactly where we're supposed to be!