Why Lisa Ling Is A Pioneer

Margie Nichols, Ph.D.by Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

On January 22, 2013, Lisa Ling premiered her third season of ‘Our America,’ her documentary series on the Oprah Winfrey Network, with ‘Shades of Kink,’ an exploration of BDSM.

I was the ‘expert’ featured on the show, and I was apprehensive about how this very sensitive topic would be handled.  But my fears were unwarranted.  The show was empathic, avoided sensationalism, and stressed the consensual, caring aspects of this type of sexuality. Ling addressed issues of feminism and racism, and she even portrayed the healing aspects of kinky play.  Her subjects were real, honest, authentic – and could have lived next door to many of us.   And in an article about why she did the show, published on the OWN website, Ling stressed the discrimination faced by people in the ‘kink scene’  and echoed a comment I made on the show: the real danger kinky people face is not from their sexual practices, but from social condemnation – and punishment.

So I don’t get some of the criticism.  While many of the comments posted were positive, there were two types of critiques.  Not surprisingly, there were those who were shocked, appalled, saw the show as obscene and disgusting, and slammed Ling for portrayed in a sympathetic light. This I get. There are many in America who can’t accept gay people; surely this seems even more depraved to those folk.  And some who are LGBT accepting are still horrified by kink.  The darkness, the strangeness, even the sheer unbridled love of sex embodied in a BDSM lifestyle frighten many people.  And on the Oprah network? Not exactly startling that there would be negatives, probably more so that there wasn’t a torrent of criticism.

What I didn’t get were the people who criticized the show for being too ‘vanilla,’ too tame, too timid in its approach.

Really?  What were you looking for? You can get kinky porn on your laptop.  Did you really think Oprah Winfrey would be showing heavy flogging on TV?

More importantly – did you think that SHOULD be shown? To whose benefit?  As a lefty activist for decades, you learn that if you are fighting for civil rights and equality you have to change minds, and you don’t change minds by throwing extremes in the face of people who do not know you.

The single best weapon of the LGBT movement, for example, has been ‘coming out’ to family and friends.  Why? Because when a member of a minority is perceived as ‘like me,’ the perceiver changes their view of the minority, not of the member.  In other words, if my buddy who I hang with comes out as gay, I’m likely to see gay people in a positive light.  If my only contact with gay people is the media, and the media portrays gay people as campy clowns, pathetic weaklings, or predators – I will continue to have a negative opinion of gays.

So to my friends in the BDSM community who criticized Ling’s show:  learn your zip code.  You clearly are not firmly grounded in reality.  Not too many people are ‘coming out’ as kinky, so for most of mainstream America, ‘Shades of Kink’ may be their only true glimpse into this li.festyle

Lisa Ling’s documentary on BDSM is a pioneering effort.  It appears to be the first time kink has been portrayed this way on mainstream TV- as accessible, not scary, benign, perhaps fun, consensual, and harmless.  I’m sure it changed some minds.  A show meant to shock with the most extreme – and less common – sexual practices of this minority might have been interesting to the people already interested in kink.  But what’s the point of educating the already converted?  I’m proud to have been part of Ling’s show and hope she sets a trend that others will follow.

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