Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

Thinking Kink: Did Jared Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars Do BDSM Better?

I'd probably call myself a mild fan of Jared Leto's band 30 Seconds to Mars—I always enjoy a good yell along to "Kings and Queens" if it comes on my car stereo, and will happily watch Shining-homage video "The Kill" just for the deliciously homoerotic spectacle of Jared Leto slamming his doppelganger up against the wall of a spooky hotel corridor. So when I heard that 30 Seconds to Mars had released a BDSM-themed video, "Hurricane," I wondered: How did I manage to miss this? (British censors is probably the answer.)

Hurricane - 30 Seconds to Mars from RP Sitabi on Vimeo.

The video is pretty incoherent, following the band through dark Run, Jared!sinister cityscapes, intercut with flashes of intense BDSM imagery. And the initial image—of a chunky besuited man in a black leather hood brandishing a sledgehammer, pursuing a topless (ooooh) Leto—isn't exactly a benign representation of a kinkster. Neither is the part where drummer Shannon Leto is handcuffed to a bench and threatened by anonymous men in animal masks (don't worry kids, he escapes).

However, it all gets a bit sexier when we see Jared sensually blindfolding and gagging a female partner (after we've viewed a nice shot of her ass, naturally). Of course, the girl is white, slim and cisgendered—nearly all the women in the video are. And she's wonderfully submissive—nearly all the women in the video are, save a woman in a latex nun's outfit briefly seen savagely beating her sub. And here's where my "tiresome BDSM tropes" warning bell started to ring. This video may have won awards for its exploration of "the violence of sex, and the sex of violence" (Leto), but did it really break any new ground?

Whether it's guitarist Tomo Milicevic running across a (thin, white, cisgendered, long haired) woman on all fours wearing a black PVC unitard and bunny mask, or Shannon Leto pinning a woman against a wall by her wrists, the overriding theme seems to be "submissive women are sexy" and not much else. Sure, there's the occasional nod to alternative sexual identities—a weary-looking older man opens his shirt to reveal pendulous breasts—but apart from that we are largely served up scantily clad women for the consumption of the male gaze. Butch or dominant women are almost entirely absent from the video, and the only scene of girl-on-girl action—where a woman spits in another woman's mouth—depicts two slim, long-haired femme girls grappling with each other. Then we have various flashes of a woman being grabbed by the throat, by the hair, or led around on a rope. You could be forgiven for thinking that the overriding message of the video is: Look how hot it is to control women!

Tomo Milicevic and bunny girlIt's important to state that I am not a 50 Shades-burning, anti-femsub feminist. What bothers me is not female submission itself but how easily the concept and its accompanying imagery can be co-opted to support a culture that disregards female agency. And, like most BDSM imagery in the media, it's usually lacking any context or explanation.

So yes, it is reassuring to see Jared Leto whispering in his partner's ear as he gags and restrains her, and to see some degree of pleasure on her face. But this is not replicated throughout the video—instead the viewer is fed random shots of women's bodies manipulated by unseen hands, with no sense of consent or even real pleasure. I asked Cliff Pervocracy, BDSM-positive feminist blogger, what her checklist for showing BDSM imagery on TV would be, and her first requirement was, "Show both partners wanting do it." How often is this rule forgotten, not just in the use of BDSM imagery, but when any sexual imagery appears in the media?

In a culture where it is already too readily believed that women invite or "ask for" sexual violence, we're playing a dangerous game if we show no consent or negotiation before a man grabs a woman by the hair or chokes, restrains, or whips her. As writer Stacey May Fowles puts it, the mainstream availability of BDSM images "trains viewers who don't have a BDSM cultural awareness...to believe that what women want is to be coerced, and in some cases, forced into acts they don't consent to." With this video, director Bartholomew Cubbins seem to suggest that vanilla sex pervades music videos to such a degree that it's become pretty tedious, therefore the path to true "edginess" must be kinky sex. But did he actually show us anything that outrageous? All I saw was yet another music video that depicted female bodies as malleable objects, now with added violence. Hmmm...

Thanks to Bitch user "Kborgesius" for suggesting this topic!

Previously: Swinging Both Ways (Christian Grey Included), The Appeal of the Submissive Male

Want more from Bitch? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

10 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Great article. Thank you :)

Great article. Thank you :)

enjoyed this read very much

enjoyed this read very much as well.

"What bothers me is not female submission itself but how easily the concept and its accompanying imagery can be co-opted to support a culture that disregards female agency. And, like most BDSM imagery in the media, it's usually lacking any context or explanation."

as a feminist and female switch i struggle a lot with my submissive side for exactly that reason. im very happy that you treat this topic so well. thank you!

Thanks!

I'm glad this resounds with you. I will be looking at female submissives in more detail this week, including the views of feminists who are both pro- and anti- BDSM. So, some of the arguments that make feminist submissives feel guilty/pissed off will be aired, but so will many arguments defending them. The lack of decent/feminist representation of female subs was a main motivator in me writing this blog.

You may also like these posts by me:
http://www.allthatchas.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/thoughts-on-feminism-and-p...
http://community.feministing.com/2012/04/19/its-not-just-katie-roiphe-ho...

Thanks for reading.

Other than the mullet I also

Other than the mullet I also hated the constant violence. No, I don't mean kink. I mean the men in rubbermasks assaulting band members with sledgehammers etc.

I'm surprised that you didn't mention that assbag and assaulter Terry Richardson is in the video clip.

This video won awards?

This video won awards? Forgive me for getting a little off-topic here, but I didn't see anything we haven't seen in a slew of 90s (and before) movies. Eyes Wide Shut? Any of the movies based on Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles? This wasn't transgressive or new in the least.

Your report is very good

Your report is very good indeed. Nevertheless, I have a small point of criticism. I think these pictures can you have distracted from the actual story. The video is not about BDSM in the proper sense. These pictures are just a tool to represent dreams and needs. And everyone has them, whether they are accepted by others, or not. I leave undecided.
This is at least my opinion. I want to attack anyone, or impose my opinion. But I had the need to share it.

*

I think these images may have distracted from the actual story. (sorry for my bad english)

*

*I think these images may have distracted from the actual story. (sorry for my bad english)

I just read this and have to

I just read this and have to disagree. I do understand throwing out the idea of submission to people are uneducated about bdsm can be harmful but I think this touches on a very important issue in women's rights and rape cultural as a whole. The rapist or person of sexist views is never responsible for views or actions because it's society's fault. This needs to change and holding people accountable for their decisions needs to start. If people have questions or concerns it is their responsibility to educate themselves. BDSM overall is about education and bringing it to the forefront even a la 50 shades (a book I hate) is still important because it brings up the ideas of power exchange and consent. As a feminist, controlling women can be sexy when its consensual between partners. As a sub, I love love love it but hate when other feminists feels its their right to tell me how to act or portray myself. Feminism is about equality not about morality or whats acceptable in terms of personal decisions. I really think its important for everyone to to remember that.

Interesting but...

Well, of course the image of the woman is very important to control at screen. Especially in a bdsm situation. But I think 30 seconds to mars is the wrong band to attack. This vid is more about dreams, tempation, sins... and I really don't think that the message that the band wanted to reach was a glorified image of bdsm. On the contrary, I think they talked about consequences and the vid appears pretty clear for me.
And you should think about the audience of this vid. 30 seconds to mars fans have more than 18 years for the majority and didn't think appeal by bdsm at the time of this vid was published.
I'm more worried about "artists" like Rihanna or Miley Cyrus who DOES show the worst image ever about women. But your article was interesting. I just think this band isn't the right target for me.
(And sorry about my english, I'm not a native speaker)