Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trussed Me

“The uncertain and frenetic nature of modern life has lead to the increasing popularity of mild bondage. When you’re tied to the bed at least you know where you’re going t be for the next few minutes.”
---- PJ O’Rourke, “Modern Manners”

There are four of us crammed in this photo booth, a fabulous party favor where you can get Happy Snaps of you and your fellow guests for fond and shameful memories of how tanked you were at a fancy event. The thing isn’t really built for more than two, so it’s a snug fit. A little less clothing and a can of butter-flavored Crisco and we’d have the start of a Penthouse letter.

Outside the curtain some drunk is shouting “Bondage! Bondage!” Luckily my last nerve is drowning in Peroni or this would be getting on it. How does she figure that crowding is bondage? I’m tempted to correct her and decide to let it pass, little knowing that one someone in the booth knows far more about it than I do. In fact, this guy probably knows more about knots than the Royal Navy.

Tony Cane-Honeysett is the director of “Mondo Bondo,” a spiffy new documentary about bondage - who does it, how they do it, and mostly why they do it. He was also a really good sport about my friend Brian and I butting into his photos at the final party of the Florida Film Festival. I had been looking forward to meeting Tony, partly because his name is so perfectly British that I wanted to see if P.G. Wodehouse made him up, and partly because “Mondo Bondo” had gotten wall-to-wall raves.

Tony was charming and generous, eager to offer some words for me to pass on to the audience at the final screening, which he unfortunately could not attend. “Everybody has a kink...but that doesn’t mean you’re kinky,” he said, putting a twist on the film’s tagline. In other words, whatever you’re into that you think is weird, like bondage, chances are you’re not alone....and if a lot of other people are into it, how is it kinky? To have kinky you have to define normal....and good luck with that.

As for the film itself Tony’s comic instincts and genuine curiosity about people’s desire to be restricted makes a bright, well-paced adventure out of a subject that could have been seriously sandbagged by earnestness. Most subcultures feel misunderstood, which can often result in a defensive posture, but that’s lithely sidestepped; there can be a light-hearted look at the joy of getting tied up like a rodeo calf, and this is it.

But there’s also a layer of pathos when a bondage photographer Tony features in the film is suddenly stricken ill. The correlation between his mandatory treatments and the voluntary servitude he records create the sort of symmetry you couldn’t make up if you tried.

The film’s big question is “Why?” Why does anyone want to be tied, restricted, subjugated? To get the answer we follow bondage models, enthusiasts and gear providers, plus celebrated sexologist Carol Queen and the beautiful bondage sensai Midori. Tony even tries a few things himself: most intense is his attempt to wear a heavy leather mask which made my own claustrophobic heart race with terrible empathy.

So....why? Who would want to be bound?

The answer -as I see it - is most of us....but maybe not sexually.

The kind of bondage featured in this film is just the sexualization of submission....on other levels we all submit all the time. It’s the job wherein you’re told when to eat, where to sit, how to dress (in suffocating ties and rubbery pantyhose) and are subject to random criticism - the life of a bottom without the hot wardrobe. It’s the bad relationship some people never leave, obviously getting off on being emotionally shackled. As for humiliation I doubt anything happens in a public dungeon that’s more degrading watching some drunk girl in tears because Bret Michaels - some rock star who doesn’t know her - doesn’t love her. Submission is often our bread; humiliation is often our circus. That’s not kinky; that’s culture.

Submission can even be seen as having a spiritual element. What else is go-with-the-flow, ‘Let go, let God,’ “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” but admitting that in the end Kismet has the keys to the cuffs? This is not an abdication of responsibility. It’s acknowledging that you do the best you can - and then along comes a hurricane, a job loss, a new lover, a dead car, the son you never knew you had, the lover you never knew your partner had or one of the infinite number of surprises life pulls out of its ass just for you. Letting Fate take the wheel sometimes can allow you to just sit back and ride. In other words, relinquishing control can bring full emotional release.

So what’s the difference between giving over in any of these ways versus sexually? Mostly, as I see it, the cost of the outfits.

Anyway, Mondo Bondo obviously gave me a lot to think about and which proved equally enjoyable to bondage enthusiasts as well as the uninitiated. I’m hoping for midnight screenings in which the ushers will tie the patrons to the chairs.

Does that make me kinky?

(pic of Midori's book from Amazon.com)

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