It’s understood by now that if something is on Netflix, it’s going to be talked about.
From the unavoidable nostalgic-natter surrounding Stranger Things, the coming-of-age chat that came with Sex Education, to the actually-quite-useful conversations that Bojack Horseman brought up, Netflix gets us talking about the stuff we might not usually talk about.
But would you ever be comfortable talking about bondage over a brew? Or casually discussing dominatrixes on a Monday morning with your manager? I guess we’re about to find out thanks to Rightor Doyle’s Bonding.
Bonding focuses on the life and career of Pete (aka. Master Carter a young, gay, budding stand-up comedian) and Tiff (aka. Mistress May, a dominatrix and psychology student.) The two enter business together when Pete finds he needs some cash and accepts a role as Tiff’s assistant.
The show hasn’t been without its controversy, many sex workers have criticized the show on certain points, from an unrealistic portrayal of sex work to the fact the show is more focused on Pete than Tiff, leaving her character less developed.
But one thing the show does do is make a lot of things that you could easily class as taboo seem – well – pretty normal?
Take for example the scene in which we see Pete, who we are previously made aware struggles with ‘pee-fright’ (a not-so-subtle parallel to his stage fright,) unleash his bladder on Fred (a more-than-willing sub.) While this isn’t exactly something you’d want to settle down and watch with your mum, the scene isn’t anywhere near as awkward as it could be… you could probably sit through it with a few friends without flinching.
Or seeing Rolph, Tiff’s house slave walk around in his leather mask. It’s a sight slipped in so seamlessly that you barely even question it. He isn’t portrayed as something extremely twisted, wrong or horrific, and so we don’t treat it that way. And that is where Bonding shows its strengths. In Tiff’s words, it is about ‘liberation from shame.’
The show almost (but not completely, because where’s the fun in that?) takes the filth out of something that some would attribute to dank, dingy basements, or the world of porn, and gives it a face, narrative and mainstream exposure. This can be empowering.
Over the course of the show we see Tiff give Pete the power to talk about his wants and needs (with catchy phrases like ‘foot queen!’) which results in him gaining the strength to successfully perform a comedy routine as Carter. Not only this, but through talking to Pete, Tiff manages to confess to her love interest, Doug about her dominatrix career, and eventually come clean to her entire class about it.
However, certain scenes do wander into a harmful portrayal of the subject (see: Tiff getting into sex work due to past trauma, failing to discuss client’s boundaries and having a carpet…. in a sex dungeon?!) And this is where many people have found an issue.
While the show is loosely based on a true story, the characters in the show certainly don’t accurately represent sex workers as a whole… and playing on harmful (already existing) stereotypes could help to reinforce them in the minds of people who don’t have anything to compare this with.
Obviously, this could end up doing more harm than good. But putting a narrative like this on a platform with a reach as wide as Netflix gives so much opportunity to change these perceptions, that with any luck, it’s a chance which will be seized and used to do something positive.
Pairing BDSM with stand-up is both a comment on how comedy can help us tackle tougher issues – and an example of using comedy to tackle a tougher issue.
It uses humour to navigate a subject that some shows would avoid – or antagonise – and opens up a conversation around it. And now that door is open, we can expect it to be a conversation a lot more people start joining in on – which is a good place to start.
Hopefully, this will give room for more (perhaps slightly better researched) talk on a subject – and industry – that could use it! As with more talk, comes more understanding and… hey we could all do with understanding each other a little better, right?
Image Credits – Netflix’ Bonding