There are many reasons that Liliana Cavani’s film The Night Porter has stuck with me. None is more potent than the erotics of fascism.
A perverted, psychologically messy gem of a film—often subjected to the ‘Nazisploitation’ branding—The Night Porter centres on an unplanned reunion between a former SS officer, Maximilian, and one of his prisoners, Lucia, 13 years after the war.
For those interested in sex and politics, the film unites them, complete with physical and psychological manifestations of dominance and submission that get workshopped via some gritty—and glassy—sex play. For me, the film firmly implanted the idea that some kinds of political play have a conspicuously sexual edge.
Fascism and sadomasochism were, needless to say, on my mind while watching Donald Trump stump for Senator Ted Cruz in Texas this week.
Throughout the 2016 presidential primaries, Trump went to great lengths to frame Cruz—perhaps his strongest rival—as a simpering creep. Trump coined the ‘Lyin’ Ted’ slur, attacked the appearance of Cruz’s wife, accused his father of involvement in the assassination of JFK, and publicly branded him a wacko, sad, weak, desperate, deceptive, disloyal, a dog, a choker, a cheater, crazy, nasty, a lowlife, a fraud, a hypocrite and a nervous wreck. Just for starters.
Trump’s words went far beyond the ordinary rough n’ tumble of primary season, hitting well below the belt, time and time again.
Flash forward two years. For the first time in a long while, the Republican stranglehold on the Lone Star state is being heatedly challenged by Democrat ‘rock star’ Beto O’Rourke. While I’m hesitant to dare dream of a blue wave, nonetheless, polls indicate that states like Texas won’t be a lay down misere for the GOP either. Cue Trump making celebrity guest appearances at the rallies of men he’s emasculated.
Seeing Trump tout for Cruz, watching Cruz supplicate himself before Trump, and my first thoughts went to the Godfather, to Bonasera kissing Don Corleone’s ring. I soon pressed play on Frank Black’s song Kiss My Ring, and things got quickly sexual for me soon after.
For me to understand the compulsion to be humiliated over and over again—in front of, no less, a global audience of millions—there must be some deep-seated appeal-that-dare-not-speak-its-name happening down below. Some part of Cruz must feel suitably stroked to warrant subjecting himself to such indignities.
In the realm of politics terse words are often exchanged only to be soon chased by strange-bedfellow-alliances. Obama afterall, said some genuinely unkind things about Hillary Clinton en route to the top job and then went on to anoint her Secretary of State. These things happen. Trump however, is never merely critical of the performance, policies or political prowess of his opponents. Rather, he’s made cruelty and acerbic ad hominen attacks key to his personal brand. And his supporters are getting off on it. Biff Tannen has positioned himself as the puffed-up proxy who speaks out for every man who feels American culture has left him behind, and speaks out against every female/progressive/non-white who threatens white male hegemony.
The base’s reverence for Trump has been described as cult-like. And maybe it is. Then again, maybe it’s just comprised of people, like Cruz, united in their yen for a bit of manhandlin’. Who like being bullied, who enjoy being spoken to with a sneer and a stick. Who like the public degradation that Trump doles out, all the while harbouring the hazy hovering hope that maybe, just maybe, he’ll draw one day you in real close and call you beautiful.
When Cruz invites his abuser to campaign with him, Cruz is doing so as a submissive: Cruz needs Trump—politically and apparently also personally—every bit as much as Trump needs his foil. The Houston rally was no coming together of equals, of colleagues, rather, was a reunion of humilator and humiliated and, in my view, served as testimony to Cruz’s fervor for the firm hand of Daddy.
The discourse around the Daddy Demagogue now occupying the White House isn’t something I’ve conjured exclusively to prompt roiling and Kegel contractions. There’s Ivanka use of the term, and there’s Kanye getting awful bloody close. And let’s not forget Milo Yiannopoulos, as much as we may like to. The self-styled alt-right enfant terrible—who I like to believe is a performance art piece concocted exclusively to expose the right’s hypocrisies—has repeatedly, and even in song, referred to Trump with the D-word, exposing the erotic underbelly of the moniker.
‘Daddy’ has a special place in the world of sexual power play. In the 1970s it took off in the gay community to describe men into leather, and while its used much more liberally today, the connotations still centre on the boss, the man in charge, on the authoritarian who’s positioned as the sexual top, the dom, who’s going to make you kneel, make you gag, make you beg for it.
Trump plays the role of Daddy for his supporters when he fronts them to metaphorically spank Hillary or whip Christine Blasey Ford. And Cruz gets treated to his own Daddy moment when the same man who verbally assaulted him is now embracing him in front of a crowd of salivating voyeurs. It’s as close to some Daddy-derived aftercare and orgasm as Cruz is ever going to get.
For those into erotic power play, there’s often a little curiosity about happenings on both sides of the bed/harness/St Andrew’s cross. So it’s no surprise that Daddy Don has demonstrated his own penchant for bullish brutalisers. From that tiger-taming Daddy Putin, the vagina-violating Daddy Duterte, or that journo-jailing Daddy Erdogan, Trump’s reverence for the world’s strongmen highlights that he too is captivated by the heavy-hand of a tyrant Daddy.
Allowing oneself to want to be fucked by a Daddy is, of course, a fetish few Republicans will readily admit to. Submitting to being fucked over by them however, is still seemingly a tad too irresistible.
Lauren Rosewarne is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne and the author of nine books on gender, sexuality, politics and pop culture. She co-hosts Radio National’s ‘Stop Everything!’ pop culture show and Mamamia’s ‘Sealed Section’ podcast and can be found at www.laurenrosewarne.com.