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The Nanny State Meets the Marquis de Sade

Using social justice totems to worship state power—all in the name of ‘public health’—is the acme of pandemic-era journalism

by
Jacob Siegel
July 30, 2021
Elizaveta Malkhina/AFP via Getty Images
A room at the Hoxton Dungeon Suite, a BDSM apartment in central LondonElizaveta Malkhina/AFP via Getty Images

If you want a picture of the present, imagine Anthony Fauci in studded leather bullwhipping hordes of the unvaccinated and unmasked until they learn to experience their punishment as pleasure. Or you could just read this Rolling Stone article from a few days ago that expresses the spirit of the moral revolution reshaping American society more pointedly than any intellectual analysis: “Meet the Dommes Who Are Demanding Their Submissives Get Vaxxed.”

In 10 words, the headline conveys the supreme value of health, safety, transgression, and bureaucratic regulation to the American professional classes, as well as the new status hierarchy constructed by the stakeholders in that regime. We pledge allegiance to our sainted dominatrixes and to coercive power wielded through symbolic proxies in the name of public wellness. If only social media were somehow more directly involved, you’d have a full hymnal for the new American religion.

A day before the publication of the Rolling Stone article, the writer, Sean Illing, observed on Twitter: “The collapse of trust in authority is maybe the single biggest civilizational problem we face and absolutely no one has any idea what to do about it.” He’s right, but power abhors a vacuum. In the absence of popular trust in shared authorities, counterfeit authority is manufactured to legitimize the mandate of the ruling class. Enforced obedience to technocratic experts takes the place of respect for learning and technical competence. And in a more overt idolatry, ceremonial deference is lavished on categories of people who, apart from any qualities they possess as individuals, are invested with authoritative identities.

Are “trans women of color” and “dommes” genuine authorities in America? No, but they are made into public idols that real power can hide behind. In theory, these totems of the marginalized are being “centered” by social justice movements that overturn historical power structures. In practice, the dominatrix, stripped of all authentic erotic power and allure, becomes a new kind of patriotic hero defending the civic virtues of the American middle class. You can see it in this anecdote from the article about “Bob” and his dominatrix ...

Then Bob saw a tweet from Goddess Alexandra Snow, a professional dominatrix and dungeon owner who operates Wicked Eden, a BDSM collective based in Columbus, Ohio. The tweet stated that any submissives who wanted to session with Snow in person would have to show proof of vaccination. Bob had been subscribing to Goddess Snow’s OnlyFans and “tributing” her (giving her money) for almost two years, and he got in touch with her to discuss whether or not he should get the vaccine. “It was less about convincing me and more about her confirming to me that it was the right thing to do,” he says. He got his final shot three weeks ago. “It [feels] good to know that I’m (hopefully) contributing to others not falling seriously ill,” he says. “And of course, it’s gratifying to know I’ve done something that Goddess Snow approves of.”

Somehow the whip of the domme and the warm embrace of the nanny state have become one and the same. The general plot, with Bob as a misguided but goodhearted fella who in the end learns a valuable lesson from a social better, is surely familiar to any American born in the era of after-school TV specials. You are being whipped, alright, but it’s for the good of the nation. It is purest cringe.

Just how many dominatrixes are enforcing these mandates that Rolling Stone thinks their efforts merit a story? I count fewer than five cited, but the article exemplifies a successful formula for faux-reported journalism that has become ascendant over the past decade. The journalist, beginning with her conclusions in hand, seeks out representatives from the list of marginalized American groups to highlight their special suffering and exemplary virtue in the context of a broader social issue. In this case, the national debate over vaccinations is reframed as a simple morality tale about the quiet heroism of dommes. “I specialize in toilet play, and I can’t do it with people who are unvaccinated,” the article’s subhed states, gratuitously reaffirming the headline’s premise that professional sexual sadists are making exceptional sacrifices in America’s public health battle, worthy of greater recognition. The effect of social and traditional media fusing together in a single memetic complex, is that it takes only a few dozen such stories bouncing off each other online to sustain an illusion of popular enthusiasm for this new sex-positive jingoism.

Of course all of this is playacting, but of the most virginal kind. There is no actual phenomenon of dominatrixes enforcing COVID morality. That is a fantasy, perhaps sexual in its own repressed way, that exists in the minds of the journalists who concoct this kind of story to dramatize the public morality that they have so thoroughly internalized. Everything in the Rolling Stone article may be strictly true and yet remains utterly false. Don’t you get it? You’re all the subs, and we magazine writers are the real dommes whipping you for your own good. Ha. What a jolly joke. But just imagine!

It’s all enough to make you feel bad for the real perverts out there, who have to see the symbols of their deviance so remorselessly conscripted into the service of bureaucratic moralizing. Until you realize there are people even worse off—and it’s us.

Jacob Siegel is a senior writer at Tablet and editor of The Scroll.

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