Dr. Dawg

When worlds collide

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BDSM Mountie.jpg

Cpl. Jim Brown, an RCMP officer associated with the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton, appears in an online BDSM photo-shoot. (Other more graphic pictures have not yet been definitively identified.)

His detachment commander takes a tolerant view:

…Supt. Claude Wilcott said that when he became aware of the material on the Web earlier this year, he discussed the issue with the force’s legal services to determine if there was a violation of the Mountie code of conduct.

“The alleged issue was deemed to be off-duty, non-criminal, adult consensual activity during which the individual was not representing himself as a member of the RCMP and thus it did not appear to legal services to meet the threshold for a code-of-conduct violation,” he said.

“Despite this legal opinion, a code-of-conduct investigation is under-way to determine if there are any additional facts and ensure the fullest review possible. While I agree the staged images are graphic, it’s important to note that they appear only on an adult site catering to those who seek them out.”

Some members of the BDSM community are concerned: they see yet another misplaced attack upon a form of private consensual activity about which considerable ignorance abounds. The legendary Dan Savage is with them all the way, and wants kinky CBC journalists (whom he mistakenly thinks are behind all this) to be outed in revenge.

In opposition to the “on his own time” arguments, Meghan Murphy, writing for the progressive online magazine Rabble.ca, puts a strong case for the relevance of the officer’s off-duty activities to his professional ones.

Here are the key issues from Murphy’s perspective:

When the VPD were found to have been watching porn on the job instead of investigating the missing and murdered women, what we pretend is ‘private’ became public. When Catherine Galliford came out about the years of sexual harassment and sexual assault she faced while she was a member of the RCMP, what was once ‘private’ suddenly became ‘public’. We’ve long treated abuse as a ‘private’, ‘family matter’. We know better now. Brown’s ‘private’ life, wherein he fetishized the abuse and degradation of women, is not just a private issue. This is a case where what one does ‘in private’ clearly has a public impact. The ‘private’ behaviour of misogynist men is not simply a private fantasy, but it is a public reality — whether or not the men are outed about their behaviour.

Now why are we pretending that fantasy has no association to reality? Do we really believe that any man who gets off on degrading women in his ‘private life’ somehow doesn’t bring those views into any other arena? Is his fantasy of abuse and domination erased the minute he shuts off his laptop or leaves the brothel? Based on the upset and the level of disgust coming from the public with regard to Brown’s behaviour, the answer is ‘no.’ If we truly believed that what happens behind closed doors has no real social impact, I doubt that people would be so upset.

Unfortunately, the author’s understanding of the complex interrelationship of fantasy and reality—they are not merely different versions of the same thing, as she implies—muddies the waters. Moreover, her moralistic hand-wringing is not helpful:

The recent push of a ‘sex-positive’ ideology…says that anything goes so long as it happens in the privacy of our bedrooms and is ‘consensual’. It’s how we defend pornography, prostitution, and of course, things like BDSM [emphasis added]….[T]he whole hands-off, libertarian, ‘whatever happens between consenting adults’ party line we must all toe as progressive, politically correct people makes it next to impossible to address behaviour like Brown’s when it comes to light.

Cries of ‘don’t judge us!’ are always what inevitably follow when we imply that perhaps a fantasy is not so tidily separated from real life actions and beliefs or that perhaps our fantasies are shaped by our reality and vice versa.

We’re only permitted to say ‘he should have kept it hidden from public view’ because to say anything else defies the modern ethos, post-sexual revolution, that says: Sex is always good. Erections are always good. If it turns you on, so be it.

Some thoughtful criticism of the writer’s understanding of BDSM and the sex trade appears at a feminist website. But the argument is sidetracked, I feel, when the writer attempts to apply BDSM ethics to the out-of-scene world. I don’t agree that the online activities depicted were necessarily a violation of the “safe, sane, consensual” ethical code, which regulates only in-scene BDSM activities.

The real issue that emerges from all this, it seems to me, is the importance of public perception. Murphy gets close to the nub of the thing, but just misses this key point, I think.

Private and public worlds may overlap, but they are different spaces. What goes on in most people’s noggins, especially if transgressive, tends to remain there or among those of similar mind, and most of us, curious creatures though we be, are probably content with that for one reason or another.

The complex power transactions of BDSM are usually part of that private realm. They are not ordinarily activities to which the general public is invited. Nor does this co-fantasizing, theatrical “play” necessarily impinge upon the public world. There is no reason to think that an accountant’s or a plumber’s work is affected by these after-hours games, or why we should think so if they come to public attention.

But when the private enters the public sphere and these two worlds jarringly collide, as in the case under discussion, the public may rightly take a different view. The merging of public and private cannot so easily be easily wished away. And whether the loss of privacy is inadvertent or deliberate, the public is of necessity engaged.

Mind you, our reactions to such collisions tend to be inconsistent. The outing of stridently anti-gay politicians is a case in point. Far from indignation, we observe actual advocacy of that activity. Why on earth is the current case any different in kind?

In any case, police officers, like politicians, are supposed to enjoy public trust. But an officer who is publicly revealed as getting off on violent rape fantasies, for example, is not likely to hold the confidence of a rape victim whom he is interviewing in the course of his duties. An officer involved in BDSM where a publicized scene dramatizes the kidnapping and brutalizing of a woman can hardly enjoy public confidence when he is involved in investigating an actual crime that so closely resembles the scene—however compartmentalized the former activity may be.

Add to that the wider context of RCMP indifference to Pickton’s victims, and the force’s sexual harassment culture, and we have a serious public crisis. It’s not about BDSM, whose culture is, as noted, highly ethical. It’s not about privacy. It’s not even about Cpl. Brown, whose fantasy life may indeed have nothing to do with his professional one, or may be related only in ironic ways to it.

It’s about public perception. That perception is its own reality. Trust in the RCMP has, once again, been severely shaken. Certain private activities, once revealed, can impinge heavily upon the ability of a police officer to carry out his professional, public work effectively.

What to do? Put Cpl. Brown behind a desk. And fix the dreadful RCMP corporate culture, a polluted pool of continual misogynist reinforcement in which, up to now, he has been swimming like a fish.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on July 8, 2012 2:19 PM.

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