Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What’s up with that bondage and torture cover art?

The men’s postwar adventure magazines didn’t invent bondage and torture cover art. It was already common in the pre-WWII pulp magazines. During 1930s and early ‘40s, there was an entire subgroup called the "weird menace" or "shudder” pulps. Their cover art tended to focus on endangered, barely-clothed babes in ropes, chains and other restraints. (To find out more, check out the book The Shudder Pulps: A History of the Weird Menace Magazines of the 1930s by Robert Kenneth Jones.)

Here are just a couple examples of prewar "weird menace" pulp covers...

Yeah, pretty racy. But the men’s postwar pulp mags took bondage and torture cover art to a whole new [in]glorious level.

There were a number of bondage and torture subgenres in the men’s adventure magazines. For example, there was the ever popular evil Nazi bondage and torture subgenre...

...the Japanese prisoner of war bondage and torture subgenre...

...the Commie-pinko Cold War bondage and torture subgenre...

...and, the miscellaneous exotic foreigners and primitive natives bondage and torture subgenre.

Starting in the late 1960s, and blossoming like bizarre pulpy flowers in the post-Manson, post-Altamont ‘70s, there there was also the vicious bikers bondage and torture subgenre and even the Hippie bondage and torture subgenre.

These could be – and have been – called depraved and perverted by some observers, especially in the decades when they were published. Of course, nowadays, it takes a lot more to set off the shock and outrage alarm. I give you the highly-rated CSI episodes with Gil Grissom (William Peterson) and his dominatrix soul mate "Lady Heather" (Melinda Clarke). And, that’s a pretty mild example of the S&M-related stuff that’s in the media of today.

I am now raising my hand and swearing that I am not and never have been involved in sadism or masochism or sado-masochism or anything like that. Never. Really.

But I also admit that I think the bondage and torture cover art and stories in the men’s adventure magazines are a fascinating hoot. I love 'em. And, I’m not alone. They tend to be the priciest copies of vintage men’s pulp mags sold on eBay and elsewhere.

The men’s adventure magazines were targeted to World War II veterans and other typical, "normal" men of the era. Those “Greatest Generation” guys weren’t deviants and perverts (at least, most of them weren’t.) And, current fans of vintage men’s adventure magazines and CSI aren’t either (at least, I’m assuming most of them aren’t).

So why was – and why is – bondage art in vintage pulp magazines so popular? My theory is that it’s like the enjoyment of watching horror and monster movies that feature plenty of blood and scantily clad bods. It provides some titillating, vicarious thrills and fun, but it’s not real, illegal or dangerous.

Anyway, that’s my theory.

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