October 10, 2012

D/s and the Digital Cult Of Personality

By Marc Esadrian

The Internet: it’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Especially for those who practice dominant-submissive relationships, the creation of the Internet was a watershed moment for anonymous and remote communication. Pre-Internet, the fear of being stigmatized for one’s prurient interests were walls that kept social exploration of such interests effectively hammered down among all but the most daring. But when the Internet did arrive, it became a means of connecting to others by shared interests without the risk of personal exposure. If you had long been haunted/blessed by strongly submissive or dominant motives and unable to practice these things for lack of finding a willing partner to take the opposite role, the “information superhighway” and all its wonderful anonymity tore down those barriers for minds across the globe that, until the advent of such communication, would have never have had the chance to make union before.

So here we are, all together online in a big melting pot of collective consciousness, all sharing our ideas, all learning and evolving from all the experiences and perceptions we have to share. We’re so much more well-rounded now because of the Internet. Or are we?

As anyone who has even the slightest notion of how news blogs react to scandal before having any solid facts, how libelous mere Tweets can become, or how much anger and argument drives the larger proportion of Internet message boards, one will inevitably concede there’s more to the Internet than merely a superhighway for information. The Internet has a dark side: it’s just as easily a misinformation superhighway, too.

This is the digital age in a content-rich medium of countless sources and opinions. Today, we can easily “choose our news” and preset the spin that suits us best. On the Internet, we can all too easily elect association with personalities and ideas that stroke our world-views and perpetuate comforting half-truths without verifying anything grounded in reality. This monster has a tentacle in the “BDSM” community as well, on message boards and groups that associate with terms such as master and slave, owner and property, or total power exchange. Within these groups the phenomenon of politics and popularity is alive and well and it’s not long before visitors begin learning who the celebrities are. In the virtual world of M/s chat, the cool kids are those who identify as having “a lot of experience.” After all, they’re in relationships that have lasted X amount of years. Their profiles say so. But beyond that, they may seem popular, well-liked, and tend to garner applause from whatever group in which they have their roots firmly settled. This network of users quite often chats behind the scenes, forming alliances and intimate dyads with other users. Beneath the floorboards of public discourse, another current of communication is always buzzing through PM and a network of remote relationships begins to develop. Before long, the group is marbled with these alliances. Suddenly, critical discourse isn’t so much about being critical over the heart of things discussed: it’s about influence, affirmations, and communal back patting. It’s about backing up your buddy at the expense of intellectual honesty. In such places, the fate of group discussions becomes a smarmy strength in numbers game, no matter how ignorant or creatively dishonest those who make up those numbers are.

Ironically, it’s “submissive females” I see doing this quite often online (which reflects, no doubt, the indirect aggression of female cliques in real life). How many times, for instance, have we seen an individual who identifies as a dominant male make an open statement, only to have the “submissive female mafia” descend upon him and tell him how wrong he is in a dog pile that grows increasingly belittling and mocking? Within the course of a few replies, this hapless visitor has somehow managed to personally insult dozens of users who find it perfectly justified to pitch ugly jabs his (or her) way and take his (or her) words completely out of rational context for the sake of snark. Just what exactly is going on in these scenarios? Is it that the newcomer’s ideas are universally abhorrent or is it that such ideas have not properly genuflected and observed the delicate feelings of a tight-knit cyber support group? Things to contemplate, I think.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with liking the personalities people present online and forming friendships that occasionally migrate to the real world. There’s nothing wrong with friends list building and finding yourself among said groups online. But is wanting to be liked and accepted (and continue being accepted) by a group reason enough to forgo critical discourse or keeping a truly open, fair, and balanced discussion? Is it reason enough to ignore basic courtesy? Is it reason enough for a submissive female to forget that no matter wherever she goes in the world, she is a reflection of her master and should thus demonstrate the better angels of her nature? Perhaps for some, it is.

I feel a little differently, however. I like to keep politics and the cult of personality out of good debate and discussion. I think that when we make the discourse at hand about the subject and not about the person and his/her popularity or ability to tow the politically correct line in a group, a chance for the expansion of good discussion (and freedom from from groupthink) comes into play.

Where online discussion board celebrities are concerned, I’d warn to be vigilant of their sociable influence while they quietly murder rational thinking in the other room. Liking someone is not a good enough reason to ignore the validity of their opponent’s points and to do so is tantamount to being an enemy of truth. And while we’re on the subject of truth, I’d like to remind everyone to take what they see and read online with a certain grain of salt. There is no defacto arrangement of words, phrases, or story telling that guarantees someone can be verified as “sincere” in what they’re showing or expressing online, but this often doesn’t keep people from assigning certain online characters more clout in a discussion group, due to their charisma and bold claims of experience.  Online, we can dress up in words in any way we wish with impunity. That is the virtual nature of the Internet. One really needs to keep that in mind when considering expressions of “experience” online and how much we invest in them.

Ultimately, I look at the thought or argument or idea expressed, not the person’s credentials formed of a self-styled resume, their number of years lived “in the lifestyle,” or their popularity level in a group. What I care about is the thread count of their ideas, described experiences, visions, and what can be gleaned from them. And I trust they care about what I have to contribute, in turn. That is the atmosphere I hope Humbled Females continues to contain and project well into the future as our reader membership increases.

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.