The History of Bondage in Mass Media

vlad gansovsky – art of bondage

Seui Ito

The history of rope bondage (nawa shibari) as a sexual art form can be traced back in Japan to the Edo period (1600 – 1868).  Artist and writer, Seiu Ito (1882-1961), is the last known practitioner of the Ukiyoe-style of erotic arts that combined nureba (sexual scenes) with semega (torture scenes) to capture the art of ‘beauty in suffering’.

Seiu Ito

Seiyu’s interest in SM and shibari led him to begin taking photographs of bound maidens which he later used as studies for his paintings, including his most famous work  ‘Maidens Suffering in the Snow’ (1919), an image of a bound and suspended model in a winter landscape.  Seiyu’s work gave rise to bondage as an art form, bringing it from the dark ages of torture to inspire modern Japanese rope artists with a passion for bondage art.

John Willie

The western world’s contemporary to Seiyu was John Willie (1902-1962), the pioneer of modern fetishism who was a fetish photographer, bondage artist and illustrator.  Founder of the fetish magazine ‘Bizarre’, Willie created his best known work during the 1940s, “The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline”, a cartoon serial featuring damsel-in-distress type bondage.

Irving Klaw and Bettie Page

During the 50s and 60s, bondage imagery became more mainstream with images of Betty Page by Irving Klaw in America.  Irving Klaw began a mail order business in the 1940s – 1960s where he photographed pin-up models.  By the late 1940s Klaw, photos of models bound and gagged became more popular requests and because it was difficult finding those type of images, Klaw started taking his own kinky photos to fulfill the demand. Eventually, Klaw quit the business due to social/political pressures and is said to have burned an estimated 80% of his original negatives. Luckily, his sister and business partner, Paula Klaw secretly kept some of the better known images in her private collection, which is why we can still enjoy Klaw’s photos today.

See my Tribute to Bettie Page: Queen of Kink for Bettie Page’s bio and photos.

Pulp Fiction

Detective magazines further popularized the “captive” type of bondage first introduced by Willie.  Detective pulps were most popular in the 60s and 70s which usually featured bound and gagged women on the front cover.  I can remember finding some pulp zines like these under my best friend’s father’s bed, along with a book on sexual positions, and many Playboys.

“The detective mags, which had their start in the 1920s, had a long history of lurid and suggestive covers, but by the late sixties their covers started to head in the direction of bondage porn. Mags with titles such as Detective World, Weird Detective, Real Detective, Deadline Detective, Strange Detective, and others, used both sensational stills from sixties “roughie” flicks, or posed models trussed in ropes being threatened by maniacs.”–BadMags.com

Seductive Celluloid

The Perils of Pauline 1914

The invention of celluloid and filmmaking has its roots in imagery of nudes and lurid peepshows cranked out to theater audiences. Early filmmakers soon realized the potential of damsel in distress type of plots, and D. W. Griffith–premier pioneering American film director– was the first to tie an actress up on screen in The Red Girl (1908).  But, the most popular series that made tying women up a cliche, was The Perils of Pauline, a silent movie serial which debuted in 1914.  It originated the damsel in distress trope of being tied to railroad tracks, which remains iconic today.  It had 20 episodes and went on to inspire numerous similar series.

“The very popular silent Perils of Pauline was a cliffhanger serial shown in weekly instalments featuring Pearl White as the title character, a perpetual damsel in distress. She was menaced by assorted villains, including pirates and Indians. At the end of each installment she was generally placed in a situation that looked sure to result in her imminent death. The start of the next episode showed how she was rescued or otherwise escaped the danger, only to face fresh peril again.”–Damsel in distress trope from Jahsonic

Watch the Original Series on Google Videos

Here’s a snipet of the Many Perils of Pauline

Retro TV

From vintage films lets move on to retro TV where bondage made its way to our TV sets and into Pop Culture with the likes of Film Noir, Cowboys and Indian westerns, comedies, horror and science fiction.  Many mainstream shows featured “bondage” like The Avengers, Get Smart, Charlie’s Angels, Dr. Who, Dragnet, Hawaii 50, Bonanza, Planet of the Apes, Bat Man, The Lone Ranger, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, I Love Lucy and many, many more.

Here we see Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy tied up by two bratty twins while babysitting in the episode  “The Amateur Hour“.  Bondage was actually a recurring them in I Love Lucy and it wouldn’t be the first time Lucy was tied up.  In fact, Lucy started her career “bound” making her (unbilled) debut in Roman Scandals (1933) as a gagged slavegirl chained to a giant wedding cake.

Moving on, in the last decade, images or scenes of bondage in new mass media (film/TV) have continued to blossom.  Bondage, with a sexual undercurrent of desire, started to take on more sexual overtones in TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena: Warrior Princess, Knight Rider, Adventures of Lois & Clark, and X-Files.  It has even infiltrated daytime TV and soap operas (which isn’t actually all that surprising when you think about all that melodrama). In films we saw one of the hottest lesbian sex scenes in Bound (1996) with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, and to top it off, both of them bound and gagged! Hotness.  And, in my favorite all time movie A Clockwork Orange, the seriously hot sadomasochistic scene where Adrienne Corri gets bound and gagged by Alex and his droogies while her husband watches in horror.

Nowadays, the boob tube is saturated with scenes of bondage with all the rage TV Crime shows including CSI (Las Vegas, Miami, NY), Criminal Minds, Law and Order, Dexter, and Diary of a Serial Killer.  If fact, it is so saturated that some people, like Major Johns spend their whole lives (it seriosuly must take that long, with the amount of clips and references he has)  collecting scenes from mainstream bondage films and TV to post on their sites.

So, do you think we are obsessed with bondage in Western society?  Obviously, some of use are?  Or, has it become cliche and even watered-down?

Stay Tuned to Part 2 of this Series, when I explore more pulp fiction including Wonder Woman, Modern Primatives and western bdsm/ bondage culture.

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5 Responses

  1. Pat Powers says:

    Enjoyed your article! Some interesting bits there! Keep up the good work.

  2. Jon Woods says:

    That “Detective magazine” pictured in this article was not an actual detective magazine (like the ones you could find on a newsstand, which never had nudity on the covers), but an homage that Lorelei did when she was working for Close-Up Concepts. Despite the bare breasts, apparently a lot of people mistake that tribute that for the real thing, even though most actual magazines of the genre had sensational criminal activities like “murder” and “rape” figuring prominently in the headlines.

  3. Lorelei Mission says:

    Shouldn’t the article clarify that your section about detective magazines is not displaying an image of an actual detective magazine? “Close-Up Detective” was a porn mag, I was the editor of that issue, and it was done up as an homage to detective magazines. It’s not the real thing.

    • Domina Doll says:

      Thanks again for the correction. While you are correct, this is a porn mag cover image, there are lots of examples of women in bondage in detective magazines (although not topless), so I think this still is effective for the article. However, i do thank you for further clarification. Must have been a great issue!

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