All this debate in the feminist blogosphere about female sexual submissiveness and it’s supposed foundation of the “patriarchy” has me reeling from dizziness….which is why I found this recent defense so fascinating and liberating.
Ernest Greene is far, far more than just the present husband of porn legend/sex goddess Nina Hartley; he is an acclaimed sexual liberationist activist of his own right; having more than 30 years of activism in the BDSM and sexual media as a producer, director, and author. One of his current directing and production projects happens to be O: The Power of Submission, a modern day adaptation of Pauline Reage’s classic BDSM novel The Story of O. Nina contributed as an assistant producer, and also appears in a non-sex role; Carmen Luvana plays the lead character.
The movie has created its own buzz amongst the porn auteur world, and the usual amount of mixture of praise and criticism. One example could be found over at the AdultDVDTalk forum, where Nina got into a heated discussion with another poster who attempted to dismiss her and Ernest’s project as a pale impression of the original novel, and accused Nina of misrepresenting the alleged much darker and more violent theme of Reage’s book (he quoted that O was coerced into performing her submissive sex acts, thus constituting rape; and he alleged an alternative ending in which O was dirven to suicide).
Given all the charges the poster threw at Nina; I figured that perhaps the actual creator of the movie should have some say in how he managed to interpret his craft; and since Ernest declined (albeit reluctantly) to engage directly with the accuser at the ADVDT forum; I decided to ilicit his opinions directly from Nina’s forum. This exchange that follows is the result.
My original inquire appears first; then Ernest’s response follows.
[Posted by Anthony_K (moi) on 8-1-06 @ 10:48PM]
I should say that I am a total ignoramous when it comes to this discussion, since I have not seen either the original Pauline Reage novel, or the softcore film adaptations of “The Story of O”…but this still interests me nevertheless, so pardon my ignorance.I caught onto the AdultDVDTalk discussion on “O: The Power of Submission”…especially where Nina gets into it with another poster who basically dismisses the new version as soft pablum that ignores the much darker and more tragic side of BDSM. I believe he referenced the original book as well as the softcore versions done in the 70s which contained an alternative version where O is apparantly ultimately raped and forced to commit suicide. (Personally, I thought she did a great job of responding to that fool.)But it does raise an interesting issue for me, and perhaps Nina can clear it up. (Or, better yet, Ernest, since he produced the movie and probably knows more about Story of O through his research and personal sexpertese than anyone else.)Was the original Reage book intended to be such a dark revelatory tale about what was then called S&M?? And in adapting it to a modern setting such as modern LA and repositioning the characters in a more positive, consensual light, is there a risk of somehow “diluting” or otherwise revising the main storyline of the original?? Or…was your intent more of a mere adaptation and not merely a strict rehashing of the original Story of O??
Either way, it is stimulating me to not only check out the film, but also the book. (Although, I should say that my personal tastes toward stronger, sexually assertive women generally would turn me way off to tales like Story of O, since my “feminist” sensibilities would find such extreme female submisiveness to be too much of a turn off.) That’s not as much an issue of the book or the movie; just my own personal tastes in sexuality.)
I may have to wait until I have enough jack to buy the DVD, or make another Amazon.com run to get the original book…but it would be more than worth the educational value.
Besides….having such gorgeous slut hotties as Carmen Luvana and Justine Joli in the mix doesn’t hurt in the least.
(BTW…”Gang-Greene” in nothing more than my play on words to describe a shared project featuring Nina and Ernest; I wouldn’t wish gangrene on even my worst enemy. OK. maybe my worst of worst enemy, but not everyone…..;P)
And here is Ernest’s response, reprinted here with his permission:
[Posted by Ernest Greene this morning (8-02-06) @ 1:45 AM; emphasis added by me]Hi Anthony,
Good to hear from you again. I’m very glad you raised these questions, as I really had to bite my tongue (or typing fingers anyway) while Nina was rumbling with the ADT know-it-all troll on this topic. One thing I do not do is butt into my spouse’s conversations with others, even when I think the others in question are clueless.
Howver, I’m delighted to address the issues you raise now that I’ve been invited to do so.
First of all, the poster in question utterly misrepresented the content of the original novel, which I have read both in translation and in the original French. My research also includes the reading of numerous critical commentaries from a variety of perspectives, dating back to the time O’s first publication. Most enilightening of all are the interviews given by the author when she finally emerged from behind her pseudonyms near the end of her life.
The author made clear that she was not personally BDSM-oriented, but traveled in a post-WWII Parisian circle that included a number of enthusiasts, including the actress upon whom the protagonist is based (O is short for Ondine, the author’s friend’s real name) and the author’s lover. She wrote the book rather on a dare to entertain Jean Poulhan, the lover in question, when both were already in late middle-age.
The book is definitely a dark take on the whole subject, reflecting the sensibilities of an outsider somewhat frustrated by the exotic sexual tastes of a man she loved deeply, not sharing those tastes herself. She was an excellent writer and a keen observer of those around her, so the book is quite insightful regarding the specific personalities involved.
However, having no direct experience of BDSM herself, the author (real name, Anne DeClos) was operating on inferrence and speculation concerning the sexual lives of her characters, rather as Anne Rice would decades later in the Sleeping Beauty books.
No matter how smart a writer might be, or how good a listener, there is only so far she can get on second-hand information. It’s beyond the power of any author to accurately depict a kind of sex she’s never had, and that always rankled me about the book. She knew her friends well, but her received vision of BDSM through them was woefully off-base in many respects, though not as far off-base by a mile as that guy on ADT. No matter what he says, there was no rape in the novel of any kind. In fact, much was made of O’s voluntary participation in everything that happened to her.
Much like the anti-porn feminists who insist that only a woman brainwashed by patriarchal conditioning would ever give consent to sado-erotic submission and that therefore her consent is meaningless (and BTW, this novel is predictably despised by anti-porn feminists who have devoted thousands of words to trashing it in books likeAgainst Sadomasochism), the poster who challenged Nina argued that O acquiesced to her lover’s demands in order to keep him from abandoning her, and was thus coerced emotionally. This he construes to be rape.Nor was O driven to suicide, though DeClos contemplated that outcome as a possible way of getting her story off stage when she had essentially run out of ideas for resolving a type of situation of which she had no direct knowledge. Suicide is no more common among BDSM people than in the population at large.In fact, any close reading of the novel reveals O to be a woman of complex and contradictory motives who, in prior relationships, often played a dominant and sometimes cruelly destructive role in the lives of her previous lovers. This is the aspect of the novel I like best and that initially intrigued me, as it is in some respects true to my own experience of self-designated submissive players, male and female, who tend to be quite assertive in circumstances outside of their sexual practices. The notion that O, or submissive men and women in general, is a victim of manipulation and abuse is both false and slanderous. It’s also profoundly ignorant and if raised in the presence of real-world submissives is an invitation to a verbal ass-kicking.
While the impulse to play the submissive role in a sexual context is difficult for non-BDSM-oriented outsiders to comprehend, it is as authentic, and authentically mysterious, as a gay sexual orientation. You might not have it yourself and might not be able to imagine it, but had you been born with that orientation you would find the idea of life any other way equally baffling. After four decades of BDSM experience, I’m firmly convinced that BDSM sexuality operates at the same profound level as gender orientation. It’s hard-wired, impossible to change and completely unrelated to other aspects of a person’s character. To know that someone is kinky is like knowing that someone is gay, which is to say, it is to know nothing about that person as an individual whatsoever. Attempts to pathologize BDSM sexuality come out of the same ignorance, fear and prejudice as homophobia, and are often found in the same narrow minds.
Returning, then, to the book itself, what’s dark and tragic about the lives of the characters is not their sexuality, but rather the superficiality of their class-based fixations on power and possessions. They were of a certain class and type I know well from contemporary L.A., for whom consensual erotic power exchange has been warped into an extension of modern consumer culture. It’s no accident that the author made O a fashion photographer. They had trendy, avaricious, social-climbing kinksters back then as we do now. However, that just happened to be the kind of kinkster the author knew, not the only kind there was then or is now.
The emergence of leather culture over the past thirty years has revealed quite a different vision of BDSM sexuality, one based on authentic consent, mutual respect and ethical conduct. As that culture has expanded into the mainstream, we have seen some of the same unfortunate results that accompanied the widespread use of psychedlic drugs, which were originally taken with great care and caution by thoughtful seekers rather than heedlessly consumed by reckless trendoids.
Nevertheless, the basic rules of BDSM conduct have survived the onslaught of arrivistes and there is still plenty of thoughtful, loving, passionate, caring and mutually satisfying BDSM sex going on out there at this very moment. Nina and I have it together and with others all the time. We deserve better than to be judged by the irresponsible behavior of a troubled, confused minority who have been drawn to this lifestyle for all the wrong reasons and whose practice is distorted by their lack of insight into their own processes.
So, yes, I did “modernize” the characters for my movie by giving them the benefit of all that we have come to know about BDSM during the intervening years and freeing them from the prejudices of an author who, at some level, profoundly resented a world to which the man she loved belonged while she did not.In doing so, I nevertheless followed the narrative quite closely, which I think will surprise those who are expecting something that in no way resembles the book and is just “a cheap marketing trick.” In fact, I think I stuck more closely to the plot in my version than director Just Jaeckin did in his gauzy, romanticized soft-core film.
And I did not soften the author’s portrayal of the emptiness and confusion that haunts the lives of the particular crowd in which O and her circle traveled and that of those who run with the equivalent crowd today. In the movie, we meet some happy, well-integrated BDSM people (Nina plays one of them) and some troubled and conficted ones as well. This, to me, is life as it is in all circumstances. Some people can make peace with their sexual identities more readily than others. O’s inner conflicts aren’t about her BDSM submission. They are about her inability to accept love – an affliction which besets vanilla folks just as frequently.While I did not take the sharp edges off the story, I did want to strike a blow for submissive women everywhere by giving O her full agency as a human being. She’s not an easy character to understand, or to like, but she is in every sense her own woman, and no matter how hard she tries to surrender her own will, she ultimately no more able to do so outside of the context of sex-play than any other willful person.It takes a lot of guts, particularly in the face of modern orthodoxies, for a woman to admit to her liking for erotic submission, and I pay tribute to those who do. As my first wife used to say to those who criticized her sexuality, “As a modern, liberated woman, I demand to be controlled.” The idea that sexually submissive women are weaker or less assertive than their non-submissive counterparts is preposterous to anyone who actually knows any of them.
This is a fascinating, difficult paradox that makes for hot sex and good drama and those are the elements on which I built my interpretation of the story. It couldn’t be less like that “gentleman” over on ADT tried to portray it. In that regard also, it’s faithful to its source. It deliberately defies simplistic conceptions of sex and power and their always-uneasy coexistence.
I have a feeling we’ll be coming back to this, but that’s a start.
Could it be that The Story of O is more of a parable of the alienation of class rather than sex??
Boy, the fun that Derrida and the other pomos would have with this one!!! (Never mind the modern-day theorists……hint to Bitch | Lab; care to take this one on???
In any case, it’s a refreshing relief from the usual bashing of sexual women as tools and sexbots…and highly recommended reading.