Friday, January 27, 2006

 

Sweet Bondage

posted by Corey Reid

The romantic comedy is proving broader than one might have suspected a few years ago. Shaun of the Dead mixed it with Romero horror, but earlier than that Steve Shainberg made what must be the first dom/sub romantic comedy, Secretary.

Well, I'm sure it's actually NOT the first dom/sub romantic comedy, and that doesn't even include His Girl Friday. My knowledge of cinema is insufficiently encyclopedic for me to make that claim, and I'm pretty lazy, so I'm not going to look it up.

Secretary is the first explicitly dom/sub romantic comedy I've seen, at any rate. But it does have all the requisite elements of a romantic comedy: the shy uncertain girl trying to make her way in the world, the lonely fellow who just needs someone to understand him, the running about in a wedding dress and at last the dimpled certainty that these two will make it just fine, thank you very much. And like any romantic comedy, this is a story about a woman. Oh, the man's important, but mainly in terms of providing a suitable challenge against which the woman can measure herself. The more self-sufficient, arrogant and domineering he is, the better: he'll be all the more humbled as she inevitably makes him understand that he is incomplete without her.

This isn't an original idea with me. I took it from Dave Pollard who called romance novels subversive literature because they offer success models for women, stories of female power in which they overcome not the elements or hostile soldiers, but the male resistance to feminine authority.

And so Secretary, which even by its title reveals something of its intentions. What is more subservient, more submissive, than the secretary? The poster says it all: seamed stockings, bent right over, ass in the air. This is a story about a servant.

And just by that very statement, makes a reversal of authority. This is not a story about the boss: in this story, the most important person is the inferior. The submissive is dominant. In this story, we are concerned with life for the lower. Which tells us that the rules of our world are always reversible, always contain their own negation (hi, Paul de Man, haven't seen you around here much) and that the submissive is actually the dominant, at all times. The very fact that the submissive allows the dominant to call the shots suggests that the roles are reversed.

Of course, once they reverse, the dom is now the sub and hey, guess what. They reverse again.

Secretary has a lot of fun with this constant reversal of position, with this endless game of top-and-bottom. Who's really in charge here? Who's been trained? Who's been satisfied?

Rather like My Fair Lady (it's self-referential day) celebrates not some end state but rather the continuation of the struggle, Secretary posits marriage as an agreement between two individuals to combine their lives into a unified whole. Not a homogeneous whole, not a whole without cracks and stresses and tensions and even inequalities, but a unified whole, something that becomes greater than what either of them can produce on their own.

It can only be brought into being through total commitment, first on her part as she plants herself in his office, but then at last on his part as he breaks down the dominant role and serves her, bathing her in worshipful tenderness. He gets the final narration, but the smile on her face as she plants the cockroach says it all: love is different things to different folks.

Amen.

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