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The Marketing of Slave Fantasy: A Bridge Too Far?

If you’ve been on Twitter the past couple of days, you may have seen the minor skirmish over Riptide’s Belongingverse, a website created in 2011 by Rachel Haimowitz and presented via Riptide Publishing, which straddled the line between book promotion and slave fantasy content like classified ads for the purchase of human slaves and stories written about slave-master relationships.

We’ve had a number of discussions here at Dear Author about hard limits and reader consent in Romance for fantasy scenarios. I may be the most expansive about boundaries when it comes to Dear Author reviewers, and even I was a little freaked out when I saw the original Belongingverse website up a couple of weeks ago.

At the time, I put the whole issue aside to think about and work through. In general, I absolutely believe that taboo fantasies are often those that need the most protection from censorship and moral condemnation for those who enjoy them. But my own lines tend to get bright and hard around the fetishization and eroticization of slavery – the erotic-exotic connotations, the US historical context, the common Orientalist implications, and myriad issues around subjugation and dehumanization.

And beyond all that, I was having difficulty with the ambiguity in the term Belongingverse, especially in trying to figure out whether I thought the whole thing was even intellectually coherent (e.g. using the concept of belonging in terms of ownership/property v. community membership and participation). I still haven’t fully unpacked my own thoughts and feelings about a world called Belonging, but clearly the concept and its execution have reached a flashpoint, providing a good opportunity to talk about some of the more controversial issues and implications, especially around how the books were being marketed via the website (which, as of yesterday, has been taken down).

To provide some background, author and co-owner of Riptide, Aleksandr Voinov, who also has a book in the mix, described Belongingverse as “the same as our world, just slavery was never abolished.” According to Voinov, Riptide co-owner and Managing Editor Rachel Haimowitz originally conceptualized this alternate world, which included books published by several houses, including Noble Romance. Among the fiction is what has been described as Anderson Cooper RPF/FF, including a website that provided backstory for news anchor and slave Daniel Halstrom. One book featuring Halstrom’s character, Anchored, by Rachel Haimowitz, was reviewed at Dear Author by now-Riptide Senior Editor Sarah Frantz and included the following commentary:

It’s not racially-based slavery; it’s just that there’s modern society…with slaves. And no one questions that. While the main character Daniel questions some things he’s told to do, he never questions that he should be punished for not doing them. I sometimes enjoy stories set in slave universes, but that’s when they’re obviously fantasies, and I still prefer for there to be some indication that the narrative disapproves of the slavery. This book was, honestly, an excuse for non-consensual torture porn — Daniel is viciously beaten and gang raped as punishment, two scenes which comprise the bulk of the narrative — with the implicit narrative understanding that readers are supposed to see that this is acceptable and can be overcome emotionally by a caring sexual partner (who was stupid enough in the first place to send you to be gang-raped because he didn’t seem to understand how his own damn world worked).

Additionally, there were “testimonials” from those in “voluntary conscription.” For example, 20-year-old Wendy Chen:

“I know I’m not the smartest girl in the world, but everyone’s always told me how pretty and talented I am. I dropped out of high school to look for work in New York, but in eighteen months, all I found was two modeling shoots and a short-run musical. I started getting high to get through the long days. I was nineteen and thought my life was over. But Brooklyn Beauties saw something in me, bought me out and cleaned me up. Now I’ve got more modeling offers than I can handle, and rich men take me to fancy parties every week. I’m six months clean, and I’ve never been happier. Thank you, Brooklyn Beauties!”

Another section, “Slaves for Sale,” was formatted as a classifieds page, and offered entries like this:

Perfect for Your Darker Desires

Male, age 24, 5’11, 170 lbs of lean muscle. Blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin that reddens well. Companion trained at Nevada Arts, w/same owner since graduation. Good w/men, women, couples, large groups. Specialties inc. dancing, tumbling, classical literature, art history, drawing/painting. Impeccably obedient. Suffers beautifully. Photos avail. w/credit check, inc. bondage nudes. Truly a gem among gems—don’t let him get away! Taking offers from $995K and up.

From ownership to voluntary and forced “service,” Belonging was clearly designed to be an ongoing project, with facets of the society to be explored through related books.

Because most of the pages have been removed, it’s difficult to experience the Belongingverse in the way it was originally imagined, but what makes it even more difficult is that in place of the main page, Riptide has provided an extensive explanation of the site’s intent to be an “immersive website . . . to heighten a reader’s experience of the oppression of slavery by showcasing the horrifying reality of it.”  The statement goes on to assert:

Regarding the books, it is of vital importance to note that they are not erotica. Anchored is not even a romance. Though the original release of Anchored through Noble Romance was irresponsible in several ways, the book has been heavily revised to reflect the depths of the problems with slavery. Anchored’s editor, Sarah Frantz, who reviewed the original release for Dear Author (and flunked it), would not allow the book to be published through Riptide without the narrative shining a very clear light on how ugly and broken the Belonging world is. Neither Riptide Publishing nor the authors of the Belonging universe romanticize slavery in any way. In fact, the narratives are highly critical of the institution and focus relentlessly on its ugliness.

So here’s the thing: if this entire world has been constructed as a critique of slavery, why a) publish any of its books under a Romance imprint, b) sexualize the slavery, or c) blur the lines between, say, BDSM (“Perfect for your Darker Desires”) and what Sarah Frantz referred to as “torture porn.” At an even more fundamental level, I have a difficult time reconciling Anderson Cooper RPF with a serious critique of slavery.

Riptide’s statement blames some of the backlash on a difference of familiarity with and context for the Belonging universe. And this may, indeed, be true. But one of the first things that struck me about the site when I first saw it a couple of weeks ago was how little there was (read: nothing) to even suggest that the books were meant to investigate or criticize slavery. In fact, one of the first things to strike me about the website was a strong erotic ethos, which was reinforced by the association with Riptide.

The marketing element was also very strong for me, which heightened, rather than diminished, the perception that these books were offering a sexual fantasy. Which makes Riptide’s statement confounding to me, because it takes me back to my original set of questions around why the authors and publisher(s) would endeavor to provide a staunch critique of slavery by employing tropes, language, imagery, and themes that cross over so readily and commonly to fetish fiction, erotic non-con and dub-con fantasy, and even Romance, despite the protestations otherwise (would anyone expect a book published by Noble Romance to be an intellectual critique of slavery?).

I can’t judge the books themselves, but if the site was part of the campaign to invite readers to buy the books, then that campaign seemed very deliberate in the way it was playing with erotic fantasy scenarios. And if I take at face value Riptide’s statement about showing the horrors of slavery, I guess I’m still trying to figure out which readers they were going for there. For example, the description for Voinov’s book Counterpunch, starts this way: “Brooklyn Marshall is just one example of how a criminal and convict can be redeemed through slavery and good ownership.” And, of course, Marshall’s nickname, “Mean Machine” is intended to reflect his “staying power” in and out of the bedroom.

Understanding the kind of reader a book is aimed at goes a long way to understanding the genre(s) in which it perceives its story to fit. There are several clues in that book description pointing to erotic fiction that I think undermine Riptide’s insistence that they were not trying to erotically or romantically charge the slavery in Belonging. Which doesn’t preclude a critique of slavery, but if that critique is couched in stories that will invite the reader who enjoys the slave fantasy, then those books are either critiquing the reader (which doesn’t seem like smart marketing) or serving two masters, so to speak.

And I think it’s that second option that I have the most difficulty with. Because even if I apply my own reader consent theory to the slave fantasy, I think we’re dealing with a lot of content that is beyond the text itself and endemic to the marketing. And there reside a lot of issues entwined with commercial fiction, publishing for commercial success, capitalizing on those niches where the money is, and the kind of economic manipulations that businesses make to maximize their profit. And for me, that’s where things get really sticky, because despite the amorality of many of these economic manipulations, the moral and ethical minefield of slavery within a fantasy context ultimately factors in. Especially when the publisher has attempted to distance itself from the project, even as its owners and executives are among the authors who created it.

I know that for some readers, the very concept of the slave fantasy is problematic, and maybe some who have read the books in question can comment. As I noted earlier, I have difficulties with this fantasy scenario myself, but within my own theoretical framework of reader consent, I don’t want to condemn taboo fantasies or the readers who enjoy them. Still, I’d love to hear what you all think about this, both in terms of the concept and its execution. Did you get the “horrors of slavery” angle, and if so, where did you see the cues? Does it matter more what the nature of a book is, who the publisher is (e.g. one that traffics primarily in Romance and/or erotica) or how it’s marketed? And what kind of responsibility — if any — does a publisher have to its readers when it publishes and markets its books?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

25 Comments

  1. Cadbury Egg
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 07:51:26

    I think they’re overstating how critical the books are of slavery because they really do not want to have the entire press painted as a vehicle for slave-kink erotica (I don’t really buy that they’re neither erotica nor romance, that makes no sense at all). That said, coming from a fanfiction background and having seen a variety of slavefic, it seems perfectly logical to me that a range of slave-kink books could highlight problems in the society that the creepy website pretends don’t exist – if the website is purporting to be the cleaned-up, happy face of slavery that covers up the seedy, violent, oppressive reality, that works. Of course, only if you’ve read the books, which is unfortunate. But it is absolutely possible (from my perspective, fairly common) for a reader of slave-kink to want to have the master think about how wrong slavery is/realize the error of his ways/work for abolition/etc., so I don’t think a detectable anti-slavery stance is necessarily shooting yourself in the foot with the reader.

    I don’t really see what’s so wrong with a book (or even a whole line of books) being “an excuse for non-con torture porn”, anyway, or using said torture porn as an excuse for healing cock. I can see why that would be *distasteful* to many, but I can’t make the leap to “so it shouldn’t exist”. It should be adequately signposted – and with that website and those back-cover blurbs, it definitely was – but if it’s not your kink, it should just not be picked up, or should be set down partway through.

    (I’m actually the most creeped out by the fact that people have apparently been “concerned” about the authors being part-owners of the publisher. Why does this matter?)

  2. Brie
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 08:09:33

    @Cadbury Egg: “I’m actually the most creeped out by the fact that people have apparently been “concerned” about the authors being part-owners of the publisher. Why does this matter?”

    Because Riptide tried to avoid responsibility by saying that the website was created by the authors. Since the authors are part owners, what Riptide refers to as “concerns” are actually people calling them on their disingenuous attempts to sidestep criticism.

    https://twitter.com/RiptideBooks/status/498938987047051264

  3. Cadbury Egg
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 08:20:39

    @Brie:

    Ah, okay. That makes a lot more sense.

  4. MaryK
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 09:24:16

    “Neither Riptide Publishing nor the authors of the Belonging universe romanticize slavery in any way. In fact, the narratives are highly critical of the institution and focus relentlessly on its ugliness.”

    Except Anchored started out at Noble Romance and was “irresponsible in several ways” and “has been heavily revised to reflect the depths of the problems with slavery.” If your goal is to criticize slavery, why start with a book that was an “excuse for non-consensual torture porn” and heavily revise it to be the opposite? And then market and sell those critical books through an erotic publisher?

  5. Sirius
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 09:32:30

    I have not read “Counterpunch” but I have read original version of “Anchored”. I liked it well enough – the writing sucked me in, but even now years later I remember how that scene was going on and on lovingly describing every moment of brutality done to the main character for pages and pages. And then the nice master whom I wanted to slap around silly even back them, sorry, what I meant to say was the stupid ass master sent you to be brutalized in the first place because he thought you were not responding to his sexual advances even though he was nice to you. So he sent you back and he had no idea what would happen, but then he nicely heals his slave from all he endured with his healing cock. The ending is happy (at least HFN) so I do not see how this book was not romanticising slavery. And nobody, I mean, nobody in the whole society ever questions it. Nice master has couple of slaves who loved it there as far as I can remember. Is there anything wrong with this book’s existance? Of course no IMOt! I do not read much of master/slave – but I have read a few and I am sure will read some more eventually. I tend to avoid more brutal ones (“Bloodraven” by PL Nunn being a single exception)_ and vastly prefer slave being free at the end and the society being undergone changes, but I have read some on both end of the spectrum. I do not see anything wrong with fiction playing in master/slave realm no matter what kind of theme it goes for. The marketing was highly problematic for me though :(.

  6. Susan
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 09:43:49

    This is beginning to take on the flavor of a witch hunt. You say you don’t want to censor but this post and the fit that was thrown on twitter last night will in effect censor authors in the future. Authors will be less likely to write or participate in these taboo kink stories because they are afraid of just this kind of backlash.

  7. MaryK
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 09:54:28

    “if the site was part of the campaign to invite readers to buy the books, then that campaign seemed very deliberate in the way it was playing with erotic fantasy scenarios.”

    Could you click on the classifieds to buy a related book, I wonder?

  8. hapax
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 10:08:29

    I’m trying to figure out why I’m okay with slave-kink *stories* but not slave-kink *marketing*, since it seems kind of hypocritical on the surface.

    I guess that it comes down to this: the people telling and reading the stories pretty much know what they are getting into (or they should). I do agree that transgressive fantasies serve important psychological functions (after all, I have mine, which other people might find equally unsavory), and that there is no necessary connection between fantasy and real-life behavior. So a shared universe featuring this fantasy — even if this universe is explored via an online website for fans — is probably a good thing, even if I sho’nuff don’t want to visit there.

    But marketing, by definition, is reaching out to people who don’t know about your product, in the hope of capturing those who are interested (and enticing the curious to give it a try). I can’t think of ANY marketing campaign, no matter how targeted, which isn’t going to bring itself to the attention of those (probably the vast majority) who are neither interested nor curious, in the hope of catching the few.

    And when the subject is one as dicey as slavery, many of those “collateral” targets will be repelled, offended, or even emotionally harmed by a marketing campaign like this. I can’t help thinking of the “comedy” sketch about the [TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE JOKES] “Grapist” advertising campaign” which seems to split people dramatically among those (nice people! good people!) who find it hilarious and those (nice people! with a real sense of humor and everything!) who find it appalling.

  9. cleo
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 10:15:13

    what kind of responsibility — if any — does a publisher have to its readers when it publishes and markets its books?

    This question I can answer, even though I haven’t read any of the books in question and I didn’t see the website (although I did see an ad for The Belongingverse on Riptide’s site and wondered about it).

    I think a publishers’ responsibility to its readers is the same responsibility any business has to its customers – to make a good product that does what it’s advertised to do. In general, I think Riptide publishes ebooks with high production values, and does a good job letting readers know about the content (with content warnings on their website). Which is maybe why the tone deaf Belongingverse website was so jarring.

    I’m not sure that a publisher has a responsibity to not be offensive, but it’s in their best interest to not alienate their readers. Just as it’s in my best interest as a reader to call out marketing and books that I find offensive.

  10. Carolyne
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 10:15:27

    @Cadbury Egg: a range of slave-kink books could highlight problems in the society that the creepy website pretends don’t exist

    Interesting.

    Can a text criticise something considered unacceptable and show its horrors, while still offering it up for erotic titillation? Is causing titillation through something that’s acknowledged as terrible in the text itself an acceptable statement? Will it cause a reader a sort of cognitive dissonance and stimulate more thought on the matter in a way that a different approach would not? My intellectual answer to this is “yes,” though I have personal limits as to what I just wouldn’t expose myself to (US 19th-century-style slavery, for instance). I’m an advocate of transgressive fiction, but I’m very opinionated about what’s transgressive and what’s just there to push the readers’ happy-buttons.

    I wish the owners of the website/Riptide had stood their ground more strongly about their ownership and intent. I can sympathise with why they’d feel a need to sidestep to avoid getting burned, but I still wish they hadn’t.

    @MaryK: Could you click on the classifieds to buy a related book, I wonder? Now THAT would be an interesting way to make the reader complicit from the start.

  11. Ridley
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 11:54:09

    Just because a fantasy is common and because having said fantasy isn’t a sign of mental or emotional disturbance does not mean that marketing said fantasy on a commercial, for-profit site in a way that is blatantly trivializing of real life trauma is without harm.

  12. Sunita
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 11:58:49

    @Susan: No. This is not a witch hunt. No one is in a moral panic about slavefic and no one is saying it should not exist. This is about the way Riptide is marketing books about slavefic, as Robin’s title clearly indicates. I think @hapax:’s comment succintly captures the issues many of us are grappling with.

    The Belongingverse has been around at least since Anchored was released in January 2011. It seems to have been designed as a combination of promo, reader participation, and LARP. For the most part I find the conception and execution to be ugly, repellent, and completely oblivious to the way “fun” depictions and virtual re-enactments of slavery, symbols of slavery, and slave relationships can affect people for whom slavery is not just something in someone else’s distant past, or something that is in our collective memory but essentially neutralized. For a lot of people that is just not the case.

    But as long as I don’t have to experience this virtual environment, it doesn’t really matter what I think. The Belongingverse (described at one point by its creator as “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have With Real Slavery”) existed in a place that I didn’t know about because I didn’t seek it out and it wasn’t brought to me. That changed a couple of weeks ago, when I followed a link in my Twitter feed to a Riptide product page. I clicked on the Belongingverse link to see if an author whose work I like was publishing other books that might be of interest to me. Instead of going to a list of books, I found myself with no warning on a splash page for a slavery-is-fun virtual reality experience. I don’t expect that from a publishing house that claims to be professional and has a book list that ranges from fairly tame and light to extremely dark and violent. There should at least be a warning so that visitors can choose to consent to reading this kind of promotional material.

    As for whether the books are romance, erotic romance, erotica, or some combination, the Riptide statement contradicts the way the books’ authors have described them. When Anchored came out it had an HFN ending and it was up for an erotic romance award of some kind (again, the author endorsed this designation), and Counterpunch was described to me as “romance-y” by its author. The latter has had relatively minor editing, according to the author when asked whether it was important to buy the revised version by a regular reader of his work.

    I read Anchored when Sarah Frantz did (we discussed it via email and I commented in the thread to her mini-review), and I concurred with her F grade. There was nothing in the book that suggested to me that slavery was being scrutinized or interrogated, it was just the setting in which the romantic relationship played out. It was a violent, non-con-laden book. I have no idea what the revised version will look like, but the Belongingverse was built on the original conception in Anchored, not whatever the new one will look like once the editing process is complete.

    Let me repeat: People read and write slavefic all the time. That’s their right and their choice. It has nothing to do with me. But when I have to look at pages with fake classifieds and fake testimonials on a site that treats slavery as “fun,” all because I went looking for a book at a publisher that touts its professional standards, that crosses a line for me.

  13. HelenB
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 12:17:14

    Slavery still exists, it has just changed it’s name. Men, women, and children are enslaved, certainly in the thousands if not millions and I find it insulting that that is not acknowledged.

  14. Isobel Carr
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 13:19:06

    @HelenB: It hasn’t even changed it’s name in many parts of the world.

  15. Isobel Carr
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 13:19:48

    ARGH! ITS not it’s. *grumbles about not being able to type*

  16. Robin/Janet
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 15:26:06

    @Susan: As far as I’m concerned the greatest potential of reader and author shaming for this kind of story is coming from Riptide, because their disclaiming of the Belongingverse site and insistence that it was all about showing the horrors of slavery implies that stories clearly written for enjoyment (see Sunita’s comment above) should not be enjoyed. That’s on the publisher, not anyone else. And it’s probably what frustrates me the most, because if these stories are valuable enough to sell and promote, their readers (and authors who are not involved the disclaiming) should be good enough to support when things get tough.

    @Sunita: “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have With Real Slavery”

    Yes, this is the tone of the Belongingverse website materials I perused, too. And reading through comments and thinking more about this, I see (at least) three distinct issues: the slave fic itself, which, if I were going to critique that, I would want to engage on a book by book basis; the marketing of the fiction via Belongingverse, which was problematic for me in large part because of the invocation of the erotic-exotic/Orientalist connotations; and the disclaiming statement Riptide made when they took the site down. Right now, that’s really the most frustrating to me, because a) I think it betrays and disrespects readers (and even authors) who enjoy that type of fantasy, b) strikes me as an about-face in regard to what they have been okay publishing, and c) seems like an attempt to have it both ways, without actually engaging all of the relevant issues. And, of course, taking down the site — while perhaps the wise decision — has also made it more difficult to collectively analyze and discuss the whole picture, so to speak.

  17. Will
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 15:37:31

    A lot of the problems I have with slave universes is they started in the fanfiction worlds, and they rely on you knowing the characters and the thrust is how they fit within the structure. The world building is more about how the characters you know manage to survive, in that environment. I read a self pub by a big name in the fan fiction world and all I could think was it was real people slash for a TV show I know & love. Each character was an actor on the show.

  18. Isobel Carr
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 17:42:34

    @Will: I think this is an issue with a LOT of P2P, as readers who don’t have the background/grounding will approach/understand the stories very differently from those reading them within the FF community.

  19. Cadbury Egg
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 20:28:12

    @Carolyne: Well, it all depends on how much you require to count as “criticism” – to some, the fact that there’s any kink involved means that you’ve stepped over the line and don’t care about slavery IRL, are trivializing it, and so on. But like I said, coming from fandom, I’ve seen lots of people who like it with no deep exploration of the troubling nature of slavery but also no HEA with a tone of “slavery is just a great institution!”, and just as many (probably more) who prefer it to be treated as a bad thing that the characters have to deal with, even if they don’t campaign against it: either the master is a terrible person who abuses the slave (for non-con fans), or, more frequently, someone is an unwilling master and has to heal a previously abused slave, generally freeing them at the end. Neither will give you the kind of very serious critique that a literary fiction novel would, but that’s kinky fanfiction for you.

  20. pooks
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 08:10:00

    My bridge too far hit at Anderson Cooper. I have never been able to wrap my mind around casting real people in fanfic. It crosses a line I just can’t stomach.

  21. Ridley
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 12:58:29

    Yeah, like, the outrage isn’t about the books. The outrage is about a successful for-profit publisher with a good deal of cachet in m/m romance marketing slavery as fun, sexy, and an alternative to real life problems using realistic pages of “classifieds” listing people for sale:

    A Rare Jewel
    Female, age 18. 5’6, 112 lbs, long chestnut hair, green eyes, perfect health, sterilized. Born & Companion trained at Elkwood Academy. Specialties: music (vocals, piano, flute), bellydancing, gourmet cookery, couples massage. Never rented, only one owner since Elkwood. Full photo set avail w/credit check, inc. nudes. $600,000 firm.

    Hardworking Farmhand
    Male, age 26, 5’9, 160 lbs, lean & strong, nearsighted but otherwise perfect health. 20 yrs farm experience, can plant & pick, break horses. Run & repairs all farm machinery as well as any mechanic. $165K OBO.

    Tireless Mother’s Helper
    Female, age 41. Perfect health. Nannied our four children 20 yrs. Cooks, cleans, does laundry & shopping, WONDERFUL w/children of all ages. Literate, good w/numbers, speaks French. Can be trusted w/valuables & money. Use as MH or maid and/or lease as babysitter or tutor. Asking $140,000.

    “testimonials” from satisfied slaves (with bonus casual racism):

    Jerry Schwartz; Age 44; Detroit, MI

    “My wife can’t work and I have three children in school. I lost my job when the Chrysler factory shut down and didn’t know how to do anything else. The bank was going to take our home. But now my family owns it free and clear and the collection agencies have stopped calling. My owner sent me back to school, and now I’m back on the manufacturing floor. Conscription was the best thing I ever did–for me and for my family. I feel like a man again.”

    Wendy Chen; Age 20; New York, NY

    “I know I’m not the smartest girl in the world, but everyone’s always told me how pretty and talented I am. I dropped out of high school to look for work in New York, but in eighteen months, all I found was two modeling shoots and a short-run musical. I started getting high to get through the long days. I was nineteen and thought my life was over. But Brooklyn Beauties saw something in me, bought me out and cleaned me up. Now I’ve got more modeling offers than I can handle, and rich men take me to fancy parties every week. I’m six months clean, and I’ve never been happier. Thank you, Brooklyn Beauties!”

    and a goddamn store offering master and slave bracelets and this (not actually for sale) listing

    Wireless Leash (Bracelet Insert and Trigger)
    Picture
    As worn by Brooklyn Marshall and used by trainers worldwide!

    The Wireless Leash is an ideal training device for slaves who should not be marked or damaged, even temporarily (professional fighters, Companions, models, etc.). The Wireless Leash also provides guaranteed protection against violent or disobedient slaves who cannot be kept in bondage by inducing muscle lock on the two highest settings.

    Simply bring the insert (pictured left) to your braceletier. He or she will weld our patented wireless shock strips to the insides of your slave’s bracelets. The trigger device (pictured right) is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and can be activated by both passive and active means: set the shock strips to engage if your slave moves a set distance from the trigger device (customize the range from 1 to 100 yards!), or simply depress the center button to deliver a shock. Ten intensities and five durations provide appropriate feedback for every situation, from a half-second of mild discomfort to five seconds of grueling incapacitation. (Consecutive triggering up to 30 seconds is possible.) All settings fall well within legal compliance–guaranteed not to harm your slave!

    $499.95 – TEMPORARILY OUT OF STOCK

    Nothing says “heighten a reader’s experience of the oppression of slavery by showcasing the horrifying reality of it” like a storefront listing stretchy slave bracelets, eroticizing sexual and domestic slavery that still exists IRL and justifying slavery as a solution to unemployment and drug use, right?

  22. night
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 19:30:58

    I honestly think there are many people in the USA who would like to bring slavery back–not black slavery so much, but poor people slavery. Prisoners, welfare queens. So much hatred for those people on political forums. Corporations wouldn’t have to take factory work to places that use slave labor if they could bring back US slavery.

    No doubt they fantasize a lot about being the master.

  23. Jilli
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 19:51:23

    So far, no one has explained how these books and their marketing are any different than a good-old-fashioned “mated, forced mates, sold into marriage/mates, etc…” type of fantasy, erotic “romances”.
    As a person who has been slammed because I do not like the Stockholm Syndrome style of “erotic romance”, I fail to see why so many are so insulted by writers who call it for what it is and do not write if off as “mates”.
    As I have been told over & over again … “Don’t like it, don’t read it” and “Don’t criticize other’s preferred genre’s”.
    Stop your whining & reap what you have sewn.

  24. Sirius
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 19:56:52

    Hi Jilli could you please point to one comment in this thread who is criticizing the books or writers for anything what they wrote in the books. For anything, anything at all. What I see being criticized is real people and their fake testimonials about them being “enslaved”. I also do not understand how this could be compared with books about mates if nobody criticized any books in the first place. Thanks.

  25. Dusk Peterson
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 17:02:49

    Slave fiction is one of my specialties as an m/m writer, and I’ve taken part in fan fiction’s slavefic community since 2002. All of the issues you’re discussing are (1) deeply important and (2) much discussed among writers of slave fiction.

    A few thoughts:

    1) Slave stories set in an alternate version of the modern U.S. have a long history in fan fiction – so much so that I’m inclined to call them a trope. Often – though not invariably – they blur the line between nonconsensual slavery and BDSM. This particular trope made its way into m/m romance.

    Any time that a genre/trope story is written, some of its readers will be very familiar with the genre/trope and will have long since decided their ethical stance on such stories. As a result, sometimes authors will shortcut their discussion of the ethical difficulties of such stories – for example, a crime writer may not bother to discuss why she considers it ethical to write stories for entertainment that involve bloody bodies and death, even though she may have given a great deal of thought to the matter. She considers herself to be writing for an audience where it’s a given that such stories can be ethically acceptable, depending on how they’re written. If a large group of people who haven’t taken part in such discussions are suddenly exposed to the genre/trope, they will naturally have the same sort of concerns that many of the crime writers may have thought through in the past. I think this is entirely healthy; I think that authors who write on sensitive topics (or publishers who market them) *ought* to re-evaluate what they do periodically, with the help of others, if only because it’s all too easy to screw up in such matters.

    2) I may be misjudging the professional writing world, but my impression has often been that, in the professional writing world, authors’/publishers’ automatic reaction to criticism that they have eroticized an unspeakably evil practice is often to say, “Oh, this isn’t really erotic; it’s a work of serious literature.” Whereas, in the fan fiction world, writers are more likely to say, “Sure, it turns me on, and this is why I consider it ethical to write an erotic story on this topic.” I admire the honesty of the fan fiction world.

    3) I realize that the above post is mainly on the topic of marketing, but what strikes me as odd, in discussions of whether evil practices ought to be erotically enjoyed in literature, is that few people are asking whether evil practices ought to be enjoyed in literature, period. Ought we to be enjoying murder mysteries? Ought we to be enjoying war fiction? Should we even be enjoying children’s literature that ends with the death of a beloved character?

    I don’t ask this question in order to ridicule critics of erotic slave fiction. On the contrary, I think that these are important questions to ask.

    4) To me, personally, a fantasy story that distances slavery from real-world slavery has the potential to be ethically more problematic than a real-world slave story, depending on how it’s handled. Fantasy literature, for example, has so over-troped the “abused slave” scenario that it’s hard to remember that, in actual fact, slavery did take place in the countries and time periods that fantasy literature is inspired by, and that this slavery wasn’t just an excuse for a dramatic moment in fantasy literature.

    5) On the other end of the scale, I’ve gotten a lot of letters, over the past thirteen years, from romance readers who enjoy my slave fiction and prison fiction. There aren’t a lot of sex scenes in my stories, but many of my readers are reading these stories on an erotic level. And not a single letter that I’ve received over the years has suggested that any of my readers consider real-world slavery to be nifty and fun. Indeed, even on a literary level, what I hear over and over from readers is that their enjoyment is on the level of pathos. They enjoy slave fiction and prison fiction for the same reason that Aristotle said we enjoy tragedies: because we like to feel sympathy for someone who is undergoing pain. In no way does any erotic enjoyment they may receive from suffering interfere with their desire to see the characters’ fortunes improve.

    In other words, they’re folks who like HEA and HFN. They’re romance readers.

    6) I’m not familiar with Riptide’s Belongingverse or their promotions. However, to my fellow slave fiction readers and writers, I often recommend this movie. It’s bound to provoke soul-searching. Reading the snippets here of Riptide’s marketing, it sounds to me as though Riptide might have been trying to do something similar with their promotion. If so, it’s a shame that their execution apparently didn’t match their vision.

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