On Fetish Art and “Harmful” Content



Okay. This is going to be one of those “serious” posts. It’s a bit of a ramble… some of this I have already written and posted on Discord, but I’ve added to and cleaned it up a little, because it contains a lot of thoughts and feelings that I needed to get down and process. It does get a little personal in places, so… feel free to skip this if you like. I promise that next journal post will be back to my usual upbeat tone.

Now then:

This week I was involved in an online debate about fetish art and whether or not it’s harmful. Now, my BASIC attitude here is that it isn’t, and that so long as no real person is being harmed, then it’s all okay. This is why I refuse to do any kind of hate-art, promote discrimination/bigotry, or involve real people in any way that might damage their name or reputation. 

Fictional characters, I don’t have that sort of qualms with… though I don’t like character-bashing either. I don’t like it when a work of art, or a story gets too mean-spirited. Which doesn’t mean that I won’t have bad, unfair or downright tragic things happen to fictional characters, but I’m not going to wrap it in a “bitch deserved it” attitude.

You might remember that I talked about the “bitch deserved it” attitude before; it’s when the artist/author justifies treating a character (or even a real person) like crap in their work by having said character start out acting “inappropriately.” For female characters this usually involves being haughty and uppity and hence “needing to be taught a lesson”… for male characters it seems to mostly be about not being “manly” enough. The punishment is always totally disproportionate, and always portrayed as either morally right or at least deserved. 

And I don’t like doing that. I sometimes have bad things happen to characters, and sometimes I make light of it. But it’s not because I personally hate those characters, it’s not about some kind of self-righteous anger, and I try VERY hard to convey that this isn’t because I think those characters need to be punished. When I drew Squirrel Girl hypnotized and defeated by Ratatoskr (picture no longer available on DeviantArt, but can be seen in the adult section of my website), it wasn’t drawn to “rightfully” punish Squirrel Girl for being an uppity bitch who got ideas above her station and needed to be taught a lesson… it was just meant as a “what-if” and potential exploration of a situation that MIGHT have happened. Well, that and I had taken an art challenge to draw a hypnotized Squirrel Girl. 

So yes… this is essentially my attitude towards art. It also ties into my views on fantasy VS reality. In my mind, fantasies aren’t harmful in and of themselves, as long as you know that they are just fantasies and don’t try to incorporate them in real life. 

I genuinely believe that you can enjoy and produce femsub fetish art, or have and enjoy really DARK fantasies, and still not be anti-feminist or bigoted, because while I believe fantasy might greatly influence reality, they are not the same. Doing something in a fantasy, or in a story, or in a drawing, is not the same as doing it in real life, and it’s certainly not the same as wanting it to happen in real life.

If I told you all the fantasies I’d had over the years… they have grown pretty dark and twisted and fucked up. I don’t THINK I’m a bad person for that….

….occasionally, I VERY MUCH think I’m a bad person for it. Occasionally I think I’m awful and toxic and that nobody should ever give me the time of day because I don’t deserve anything but scorn and hatred.

If I’m going to play armchair psychologist to myself, and it always annoys me when people start self-diagnosing and insisting that they have mental conditions and triggers that they don’t actually have…. and while there has been the very rare occasion where someone was worried that I suffered from some kind of depression, I don’t really. But, well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that my occasional “I’m a terrible person” attacks might have SOMETHING to do with spending my teenage years with a step-mother with a distinct talent for letting me know what a spoiled, selfish, ungrateful and inconsiderate person I was. This did take a bit of a toll on me, and I sometimes still have problems viewing myself as anything but a terrible person. Not all the time, mind. The last few years I’ve been in a good place and overall felt pretty good about myself. But SOMETIMES… well…

This brings us back to the debate I had this week. It actually began as a discussion on representation of underage characters, and then sort of edged into fetish art in general. My argument was, and still is, that as long as it’s not promoting hate-speech and/or bigotry, and no real person, or real group of people, are slandered and/or are in some way having their name and reputation tarnished by the art, then I don’t think it’s that big a deal. I mean, you might personally dislike or disagree with some of the fetishes out there, but all in all, artwork depiction a fetish you don’t like isn’t going to HARM you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for restricting this sort of art to the above-eighteens, or at least make it clear from the get-go that “hey, this is adult-rated and/or fetishy, don’t bring your kids… and if you ARE a kid, please just wait until you’re a little older.” There are things that kids aren’t ready for, and kids are a lot more easily influenced than adults.

I think this is why I can agree with certain points about how violence, casual sexism and other such thing in mainstream media can be problematic, and yet not be bothered about fetish art, even of the more extreme fetishes. Fetish art is, after all, JUST about the fetish. It’s not trying to pretend it’s mainstream, and it’s usually not something you’d see unless you go looking for it… or at least have the “mature” filter switched off. That’s not really something you get in mainstream movies and other media where the “problematic” content is just kind of incidental, taken for granted and not really focused on as anything else but a storytelling trope. And a lot of this media IS acceptable for kids to view, or is even targeted at them.

This is what I genuinely believe. But during the debate, which really did go into the entire “what is harmful when it comes to art” topic, I was starting to wonder if I was wrong. Basically I was starting to think that maybe my art was harmful and toxic, and maybe I was just making feeble excuses for my own terrible nature, especially when it came to my hypnofetish art… especially with my fondness for doing chibi-art, because my chibis (while not actually underage) have childlike proportions, and maybe I through my art was contributing to sexualization of children and the normalization of such, which COULD be harmful to real children…. and all the hypnofetish art was promoting the degrading and rape of women, even underage women,  because people who saw it could think that I was condoning such behaviour in real life…

Long story short, i had a minor breakdown. I admit it. I didn’t go completely out of my mind or anything, but I did start crying and feeling like I was an awful person and my art was toxic garbage…. probably worried the person I was debating with, who wasn’t at all trying to make me feel like a bad person, But the entire thing, this persistent idea that I was doing something bad, took me right back to a bit of a dark place. 

Now intellectually, I know I’m just shaming myself… both kink-shaming and more general shaming… and that a lot of that inner voice telling me “You’re a bad bad person, how DARE you draw this filthy art, you’re TOXIC and hypno-art is an OBJECTIVELY TERRIBLE MISOGYNISTIC THING and you’re actively participating in forwarding a culture that celebrates the oppression of women, and to make it even worse you call yourself a feminist! You’re a fucking hypocrite!”…. well, I know intellectually that I don’t agree with it, but…. then the thought is there: What if the voice is right? 

What if I AM doing a bad thing by adding to the pile of hypno-art? What if that “gut feeling” I follow where I just get negative vibes from certain artworks and artists…. what if it’s wrong and it’s all just objectively bad? How can I say that my art isn’t toxic? Because I try to have sympathy for all the characters involved and make it a point to avoid hate speech and character bashing? Well whoop-de-freaking-do, who cares? I’m still depicting women hypnotized and oppressed and taken advantage of, and I want some sort of MEDAL for thinking “I feel for her” while drawing them? What does that even matter? How can I say that I’m not as much of a disgusting creep as the guys who do those “bitch deserved it” celebrity hypno-manipulations I loathe so much? What exactly makes me any better than them? At least they’re honest about it. Isn’t my work just worse because it pretends to be softer and gentler than it really is? Isn’t this just another layer of hypocricy?

That’s the sort of thing I end up thinking. And then it doesn’t help to tell myself that I’m overreacting and that all this is just self-destructive. It certainly doesn’t help to talk to anyone else about it, because THAT just feels like a cheap way of seeking validation and reassurance, like I just want someone to pat me on the head and tell me that I’m a good person when i barely meet the minimum requirement for being one, and that inner voice keep telling me that it’s PROVEN that I’m not a good person at all. A lot of people recommend giving yourself positive reaffirmation, but THAT just feels stupid and hollow and self indulgent to me, especially when the inner voice sneers that I haven’t done anything to deserve positive reaffirmation: “Stop trying to pretend you’re not an awful person, you delusional narcissist!” And on top of it all I begin feeling guilty because now I’m just whining about how I’m worried my stupid fetish art isn’t PC enough while there are people out there starving or living in terrible conditions, or being raped and abused and murdered…

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m this bundle of self-loathing and self-destructive tendencies. Like I said, I don’t actually suffer from any sort of depression and for the most part, for the last few years, I’ve felt pretty good about myself. I’ve been in a good place.  And on a rational, intellectual level I don’t ACTUALLY believe these things. But guilt and shame can be really powerful emotions, especially if they’re tied to sexual thoughts and feelings. 

Thing is, guilt and shame aren’t productive. They’re stifling. Now, feelings of remorse and regret aren’t necessarily a bad thing, if they help you improve yourself and do better for the future. But there’s a reason why shaming doesn’t work. In cases such as mine it leads to low self-esteem and feelings of “I’m a bad person anyway,” which means it’s more likely you just give yourself up as a hopeless cause rather than thinking it’s worth trying to improve anything. And in other cases it leads to a knee-jerk “no, I’m not” self-defense reaction which means you just carry on as you were, while badmouthing those who tried to shame you. 
And as I was struggling with this, kind of overwhelmed by the arguments that my beliefs are wrong and harmful, and the inner voice screaming that my art is disgusting and toxic and promotes rape and misogyny… and as I was trying to justify my stance on these things while at the same time feeling that I was being an absolutely terrible person who was just trying to pretend she wasn’t a terrible person and that everything I said was just empty and meaningless words that further painted me as a delusional idiot at best…

…I came to the conclusion that there’s really only one way out of this torrid state.

And that is to go back to what I actually, truly believe.

Not what that inner voice wants me to believe, not what “logical arguments” dictates that I must also believe because if X, then Y, and not what guilt and shame insist that I SHOULD believe. 

And what do I believe? 

I believe is that everyone has a right to express themselves, and that any artist, author or creator has the right to create and tell the story that she wants… but that said right should not be employed in order to promote hatred, bigotry or intolerance. It shouldn’t be used to slander or discriminate against other people. 

At the same time I also believe that the artist is not, and can’t be, responsible for everything that her art may or may not inspire, nor for any wrongful interpretations that others might give to it. I’m not a fan of the “death of the author” line of thinking; while of course a piece of art or a story might mean very different things to different people, and that’s part of what makes art so interesting… I really believe that artistic and authorial intention DOES matter.  

Which is why I’m a lot more lenient and understanding when an artwork says something that turns out to be racist, or sexist, or problematic, but did not intend for it to be so. I’m not saying these cases should be just glossed over or anything, but neither do I find it defensible to start calling the artist nasty things and decide she’s garbage. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, says and does only the right thing all the time. I know people say the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions… but so is the road to Heaven. Good intentions don’t always lead to bad actions…. BAD intentions, however, get you to Hell on a speed train. And MOST often, it’s not that hard to tell when a work is done with bad intentions or come from a place of hate.

And really, I don’t think most fetish art IS done with bad intention, or come from a place of hate. And I don’t really think it’s that harmful either… not even if it depicts things that would be troubling, immoral or downright evil in real life. I think MOST people understand that there’s a difference between depicting/describing something and condoning it. Otherwise, an artist or author would have a moral obligation to ONLY depict things that they would condone happening in real life, and that would severely limit what you could write or draw. 

Art isn’t propaganda in and of itself. Sure, it can be and often is USED for propaganda, but that’s less about the art itself and more about how you present and employ it… or about how someone else presents and employs it, because even the most innocent piece of art might become sinister if used in the right (or wrong) context. But at the end of the day… if the artist isn’t targeting or slandering or trying to attack real people, or real groups of people… if there isn’t any “bitch deserved it” or “this person is inferior on account of belonging to Group X” messages… if the art does not encourage people to go atrocious things in real life… and, of course, if questionable content isn’t shoved in the faces of children and other people who might not be ready for it…. then I don’t think it’s all that bad.

As I see it, the artist’s main responsibility should be to try and present the best work she can. If she gets criticism for something, she should look at it and see if it’s valid and if there is something she can do to improve or to make things better, not just automatically insist that there’s nothing wrong… at least not without giving it some consideration. The artist also has a responsibility to consider her audience, and maybe not do things like present hardcore porn to pre-school children or expose a group of war veterans with PTSD to hugely realistic battle simulations. It’s all well and good to use art to provoke, but that’s no reason to be MEAN about it.

However, let’s not ignore that the viewer/consumer also has a responsibility, a responsibility that I think is sometimes ignored and glossed over: The responsibility to THINK, and to use and consume the art in a sensible manner. Not to take everything the art says as gospel, not to force the art on people who aren’t prepared or equipped to deal with it maturely… and the responsibility to remember that art and reality are not one and the same.

Which is why I ultimately don’t think that fetish art is harmful. You can talk all you want about “normalization” and “desenetation,” but at the end of the any fetish art is a niche product for a niche audience. And that niche audience has a responsibility to not let their fetish destroy their lives or the lives of people around them… though I think in most cases this is only a problem if they let the fetish consume their lives and don’t have any other interests. After all, too much of ANYTHING is bad for you.

Having a fetish isn’t an excuse for not behaving like a human being, but we aren’t solely defined by our fetishes. I don’t think the occasional indulging in a safe and consentual environment, or in the privacy of your own head, is going to hurt anyone. Long as you don’t take it to excess, or you begin forcing other people to take part in it when they don’t want to or blatantly shouldn’t, it’s okay.

The day I don’t believe this anymore is the day I stop doing any kind of fetish art.