Do You Prefer Your Kink Subtexty or Texty?
I just got finished reading a really great article about kink used both subtextually and textually in the Buffyverse.
This was one of the reasons I really loved Buffy. I don’t think there was a single “truly vanilla” relationship in that show. We get the idea that most of what happens, happens behind the scenes (even in Buffy and Spike’s overtly sadomasochistic relationship in season 6), but we rarely get the idea that it’s vanilla and refusing to play with power. Soon after Buffy and Angel (the shows, not the characters), I began noticing more and more kink references on mainstream television programming. Maybe it was always there. (I’ve noticed some things as far back as the Beauty and the Beast television series.) But Buffy was more blatant and consistent about it. It wasn’t just a casual uncomfortable joke, it was practically the lifeblood of the sexual negotiations of most characters.
The article linked above also went into the progression from subtext to text and how the show’s producers got braver and braver with how overt and “in your face” they would make the kink references. In the article there was a joke made that suggested there probably were no vanilla viewers in the audience left by the end of Angel season 5. I’m not sure I agree with that. I think people can be willfully obtuse when they don’t want to see something or when something makes them uncomfortable.
I watched the entirety of Buffy with my mother, and I honestly don’t think she got most of the subtext or even some of the text. This is not because my mother is stupid. She’s not. I just don’t think she wanted to think too much on it, so she simply chose not to. My mother has an amazing ability to “reboot”, as I’ve talked about earlier. When she asked me what an incubus was (sex demon), she forgot no less than 10 different times and had to have it re-explained to her every time she asked, before her reboot button finally failed and she was able to retain the knowledge. Selective amnesia seems to be a frequent tool when it comes to uncomfortable concepts.
But more than that, for the most part, these moments on Buffy and Angel were delivered with a quick flourish and then we were off to something else before anyone could get a fit of the vapors over it.
I’ve definitely got subtext and maybe even a tiny bit of blatant kink in the pretverse. In Kept, Dayne chains Greta to the bed to have sex with her their first time while she’s in crazy werecat heat. Ostensibly this is so she can’t damage him with her claws (yeah, right. I’ve got a bridge to sell you if you really believe that.) Even the title of the novella is somewhat subtexty. Dayne will keep Greta like a pet. Of course she’s a werecat so I can get away with this without writing overt BDSM or putting a collar on her, but come on.
In Claimed, Anthony claims Charlee, which is a special kind of vampire bite that basically makes her his property in more than a platonic way. Eventually Charlee doesn’t seem to mind.
In Mated Cole takes Jane as payment for her vampire boyfriend’s gambling debt and locks her in his underground den with high-tech security. Sure, his intentions are actually pure—to protect her from the sadistic vampire who was abusing her—but still.
In Save My Soul I may as well beat you over the head with it. (Actually, the further I get into this breakdown, the more I “get” why I have so many crossover readers between my two pen names.) Demons in my world mate only with humans and the mating ritual is of the “your soul and you are now mine” variety. It’s a pretty binary and total power exchange. There are also threats of spanking and I think a few bondage-y references.
The Catalyst features Z, a werepanther who kidnaps our hapless agoraphobic witch under the pretense of needing a babysitter for a wolf pup. In the beginning, Z actually believes his own motivations, something which almost makes his behavior endearing. Almost.
In Life Cycle, Cain and Tam play with power and change who is on top so many times one’s head might spin. None of my subtext was ever subtle, but it’s REALLY not subtle in Life Cycle. Life Cycle, however, is the first book where we get a taste of a couple of true equals. (One could count Greta from Kept, but she’s too anxious through most of her story to be a true match for the sorcerer.)
Dark Mercy has the same kind of theme, but since this novella isn’t specifically romance, but a prequel for the couple’s “actual story” (coming out next after Life Cycle), it’s a little darker. With a female vampire mainly on top, at least until Hadrian turns the tables on her.
My other pen name is straight out TEXT. It’s text to the point that I don’t assume a mainstream audience wants to read it or deal with it in any way, and though I’m not secretive about my pen name, I’m not super loud about it either. Still, I’ve obviously got a sufficiently kinky audience for the Pretverse in order to have so many crossover readers between the pen names.
I’m often surprised by how much kink both subtextual and practically overt that I can get away with in the Pretverse with a mainstream audience. (Which makes me question just how mainstream my Zoe audience ‘actually’ is.)
I’m not sure how the non-kink reader interprets it. My suspicion is that there is a little bit of freak in everybody, it’s only the more overt displays that make many people uncomfortable. The kinds of subtext and power exchanges that take place in the Pretverse for the most part aren’t so foreign as to be scary. Even though some of this power is absolute in its scope (for example: Anna belongs to Luc in an absolutely irreversible way), the fact that we’re dealing with supernatural creatures and not normal humans, makes it all more “safe” and “okay”.
I think if we were dealing with normal humans, it wouldn’t be so easily acceptable. This was the same kind of thing Buffy did. Buffy (the character) is pretty kinky (even though she’s in denial about it until the bitter end), but… we can excuse that… she’s a slayer… hopped up on mystical demon mojo or whatever. Vampires in the Buffyverse are kinky… but they are VAMPIRES. Of course they’re into some blood and pain. Whips and chains are equivalent to dinner preparation. So that’s okay, we can look the other way. Demons are EVIL. So… what do you expect? Anya was an ex-demon. She can’t help herself. Willow is a witch… you know… these things happen. And she likes girls so she’s already lost to the dark side when it comes to heteronormative sexuality. Because of the backdrop of supernatural beings and powers in the Buffyverse, a little S and M is just what you do to let off the steam. It’s okay. We can have that there.
I think the same is true of the Pretverse. Though I’m under no illusions. I’m not sure where the invisible line is… but there is a line somewhere, and upon crossing it, one is writing for the kink-crowd exclusively, having already alienated the mainstream public with too many uncomfortable ideas, which is why I try to stay on the “socially acceptable” side of that line. I actually “want” a mainstream audience for Zoe. For Kitty? Not so much. I want the kinksters for Kitty. I’m not writing for a vanilla audience with that name. Vanilla readers are welcome there, but they aren’t catered to. I try to cater a little more with Zoe.
Ironically, this catering and softening and covering up, may be part of why Zoe doesn’t sell as well as Kitty. Kitty is honest and bold in a way that I think readers respect. It’s not that I’ve tried to make Zoe dishonest and wimpy, it’s more that I don’t want to freak out and alienate all the normal people. Assuming those people exist. They may very well be like unicorns.