Sunday, 4 October 2009

300: Edward Sorel and S&M

in "The Village Voice", 28 July 1975

Edward Sorel is a fantastic caricaturist and illustrator, with a deft scratchy style sometimes as detailed as a daguerreotype or etching. Sorel is also ferociously left-wing, an anomaly in American editorial pages, hence his regular stint in the “Village Voice” at a time when that actually meant something. Sorel’s cartoons and illustrations cover four main topics: an aggressive interpretation of American politics, a vehement anti-clericalism, a nostalgia for the films and stars of his youth, and a personal concern for the life of his home, New York City. This cartoon would be almost wholly unexpected from Sorel, except that it does fall into the last category. Sorel doesn’t normally deal in minorities, not when he can give cardinals and popes, tele-evangelists, Nixon, Ford and timeserving local politicos a frenzied thrashing. So readers in the “Village Voice” usually knew what they were going to get - an attack on the common enemy, possibly with a light scourging of liberal doubt and hypocrisy thrown in for a personal ironic touch a la Jules Feiffer. This cartoon provoked a few angry letters in subsequent issues.
think, to be charitable, Sorel is amused by the whole ridiculousness of the thing, with an underlying criticism of politicians pandering to whatever looks likely to appease some voting bloc, even the nascent gay vote. S&M is a development from the gays are effeminate fairies stereotypes, but in its excessive elaboration of an active, almost violent, masculinity’s it’s not really an advance. As a public image, it makes gays just as alien as before - although if you’re persistently getting your rocks off then who cares about good PR for your mutual Tom of Finland fantasies. Which isn’t to argue that S&M wasn’t a distinct subset of gay life. And also that the inhabitants of major cities, with significant gay populations, weren’t unaware that the gay identity was changing. NYC had the Eagle’s Nest, the Anvil, Keller’s and whatever other venues leather fetishists want to get teary-eyed over. So this cartoon probably marks a change, but it’s more than just butch rough trade on display here. A ball-gag is intentionally shocking, particularly on the editorial page, so Sorel is taking advantage of the “Village Voice”’s liberality. The only other ball-gag I’ve found is in a panel in the Dixie Nixon comic strip tucked away in the back pages of “National Lampoon”

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