By the end of the twentieth century, pierced and tattooed bodies had become a familiar sight, as familiar as leather-clad domina-look-alikes on high-fashion runways. From avant-garde performance art in the 1970s and subcultural sexual practices in the 1980s, signifiers of masochism and sadism moved into mainstream culture by the 1990s, featuring in music videos and as favorite plot devices in neo-noir films and television police shows.1 The prevalence of contemporary references to what were formerly sub-cultural sadomasochistic practices mirrors the European turn-of-the-century circulation of the image of the Ur-Dominatrix, Wanda von Dunajew a.k.a. “Venus in furs.” Created by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836–95) in his 1870 novel Venus in Furs, her figure is emblematic of masochistic aesthetics. This nineteenth-century literary creation is the dominant, focal character in the masochistic fantasy, carrying with her the accoutrements of masochistic aesthetics familiar even to those who do not know Sacher-Masoch’s original text: clad in fur and carrying a whip, she combines cruelty with a cold exteriority to which the male masochist submits.2


Feminist Theory Music Video Narrative Structure Queer Theory Subversive Potential 
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© Barbara Mennel 2007

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  • Barbara Mennel

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