It’s not just Gary Glitter who discovered that a) the Net was there to cater for all sorts of whims and b) you should definitely do any hard disc repairs yourself. As the availability of PCs and web-access increases ever more, people with fetishes they consider less than normal (a relative term if there’s ever been one) are discovering they’re not alone, and that the Global Village contains maybe just a few like-minded yokels. And no, we’re not talking about people who value interesting views through coffee tables here. Now that really is weird.
Games of ‘bang-bang-you’re-dead’ played a part in many childrens’ early days, and while in these post-Michael Ryan times it’s a form of recreation now on a par with the dodgier version of doctors and nurses (you know, the one where they shag, rather than complain about lack of staff and funding), it’s no surprise that for a small minority this informed embryonic sexualities. Before the Net this would have resulted in a few solitary people who considered themselves stranger than most, mainly men who got off on tiny parts of Argento films, or women who imagined being discovered sprawled dead while covered in gold paint. But now there is worldwide communication; there is the discovery (as with many of the self-perceived extreme fetishes) that people are not alone. And, yes, there are the websites.
The Death Fetish has a variety of representations, depending on a wide range of factors. It’s difficult to make absolute statements about any of the people involved, and pinning them down to definite demographics is nigh on impossible. Yes, most of the women involved in the scene fantasize about being dead, but for every one who wants to be hacked apart by a mask-faced serial killer, there’s another who just wants to be discovered after some fatal domestic accident and then lovingly fucked by a partner. And yes, most of the men want to be the killers, but for every one who wants to gently asphyxiate a naked woman, there’s another who gets his rocks off from machine-gunning a jacuzzi full of bikini models. The Death Fetish is a particularly large umbrella, and those sheltering beneath it often have more differences than things in common, which makes for an interestingly divisive community with more flames than the Outback in the dry season.
The Web content of all this began in the mid-90s, with a newsgroup comprised of a few souls who’d managed to discover their crucial similarity. In 1996 the first actual website was formed – Necrobabes – run by a Washington-dwelling woman named Vicki. Had she not been brave enough to not only start the site but put up images of herself in various death poses, it’s possible this trend would have (ahem) died here. Certainly it gave her an accessibility – this was a real person practicing what she preached, rather than a website being set up by an opportunistic adult company – which gave people the courage to pay up and become members. It also meant that Vicki’s job and marriage were put at risk, and that she became the focus of much unwanted attention from men who define their ideal relationship as one in which the partner dies at the click of the fingers. Somewhat unsurprisingly, although Necrobabes continues to go strong, Vicki’s role is now considerably more background.
As its name might suggest, the Necrobabes site was founded for those into fantasy Necrophilia. Vidcaps of movie morgue scenes were popular, stories were written and shared, the message board got bigger, and eventually photostories were commissioned with glamour models and ‘adult entertainers’ hired to pose. The IRC chatroom for the site became a popular place to come and play. Or indeed vice versa. But Vicki was also into the fantasy of being killed (her pre-Columbine website details fantasies of being killed as a spy or soldier, Native American massacres, workplace gun sprees and so on) and as this aspect started to appear in Necrobabes, the dynamic began to shift. Many who’d been dissuaded by the fantasy Necro aspect (that joke about ‘some rotten **** splitting on me’ is never far away, is it?), or who simply just fantasised about killing, were suddenly attracted, and as the Necro aspect itself became less prominent, the membership increased massively.
This is where interests began to diverge, and resulted in the creation of a number of spin-off sites. For a start, those more into what happened after death than the act of killing itself began to feel they were being left behind. If they were lucky, a photoset had some handling or stripping after the death, but that was about it. In the other camp, few were happy with the deaths themselves, which is where it became clear that while many there were into roughly the same thing, they were different enough for it to cause problems. For example, shooting has its fans – unsurprising, seeing as many were turned onto this fetish by scenes in 70s’ cop and spy shows (Kojak and The Man From Uncle often quoted inspirations) as well as war movies and Bond. Knifings are a close second (all those hack-n-slash 80s films), with asphyxia not far behind. To this add the other interests: decapitation, electrocution, cannibalism, death-by-shark, and it’s soon clear that although as an abstract concept the Death Fetish is shared by a group of people, the specifics vary wildly. And even then we’re not through: the shooters will disagree wildly over where to shoot (head-shots or stomach hits?), the stabbers aren’t sure what weapon to use, and there’s no consensus about whether a body’s eyes should be open, or the tongue hanging out.
Naturally enough, no one wants to be linked to this fetish. Everyone’s there under assumed names, and attempts in recent times to make the memberships more accountable (to prevent anonymous posters sparking flame wars) have been resisted simply because they might make it possible to trace people. It’s interesting to note that the phenomenon is acknowledged beyond these websites. A recent Cosmopolitan interview with a Hollywood madam spoke of a successful male actor who pays to have sex with call girls who have to play dead the entire time. There have been suggestions that singer Sheryl Crow might have leanings in this direction, with her cameo in The Minus Man ending in death, Tomorrow Never Dies lyrics (‘Darling I’m killed, I’m in a puddle on the floor, Waiting for you to return’) and several Necro poses in videos, though it’s all circumstantial and – in the main – wishful thinking. Even the work of some directors has come in for scrutiny, with suspicions that B-movie man Andy Sidaris has indicated Death Fetish leanings in many of his boobs-out Bond parodies.
Even in the brightest of times, there’s a sense of guilt lurking in the background of the message boards and stories. What had started off as a single woman’s interest has been taken over by the male membership and they’re not entirely sure what to make of it now they’re the majority. One of the most common postings is that ‘we respect and love women’ although you would argue that fantasizing about killing and then screwing someone is registering rather low in both areas. Many of the stories (both textual and photo) have the victims drawn as hookers, femme fatales, drug dealers, spies or bad girls, so that the murder aspect has an aspect of justice which absolves these feelings. Whenever the real world looms into these fantasies, the responses are always the passionately-stung reactions of the guilty-minded. For example, Columbine resulted in near radio silence on the boards for weeks after, and the presence of accounts/links about real world deaths (actual crime scene images, for example, or Jill Dando’s death, or shot policewoman Yvonne Fletcher) results in the sort of flaming not seen since London of 1666. There was, however, worse to come.
With mainstream film and TV coming under ever-increasing fire (excuse the pun) for any violence they portray – especially with George W jumping on the bandwagon pre-election – and moves to restrict material on the Internet all the time, obtaining new material is becoming difficult, and serving to strengthen the feeling within the community that society is Clearly Against fantasies like this. Twenty years ago shows such as Mike Hammer or even Hart to Hart were a source of furtive delight to those into aspects of Death Fetish. Now, the enthusiasm which greets the report of a moment in Xena or X-Files indicates how rare these sequences have become. Indeed, it’s the ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’ dynamic this created which has led to a number of the sites working to make such moments easier to find. Several contain MPEG libraries of death scene clips, from the swimming pool massacre of Magnum Force to death-by-broadsword in Hercules, while others have utilised the power of the PC to provide images created entirely by computer graphics, or custom scenes filmed using a combination of both old and digital techniques and then distributed electronically.
It was in late 1999 that police raided and arrested two Canadian brothers who had been filming scenes for sale through their own website. Their technique – the digital alteration of frames of custom-filmed footage – had created some incredibly realistic death scenes, and the site was doing a good trade in them. The raid was supposedly actioned when rumours of snuff movie making arose (despite several clips using the same model!), but this then mutated into charges of Hate Crime against women when the initial reasons fell apart. As accusations of police harassment were bounced around, the brothers found publicity deliberately being brought to bear on them such that family and friends were all made aware of what the police felt they’d been doing. Ironically, the server was located in the States and so – protected by freedom of expression laws – couldn’t be shut down, allowing this ‘evil’ site to get ever increasing hits as news spread. It’s not quite accurate to say that you can’t buy that kind of publicity; it just costs your entire social life.
Most interesting to note however was the Death Fetish community’s reactions to this attack against one of their number: it resulted in the sort of embarrassed silence you normally associate with a fart in a lift. Although a few people (largely people in charge of similar sites) started talking about Freedoms and Amendments, what became clear is that the strength of interest in pretend death is matched only by the sheer horror of being revealed as interested in it. It’s not often you get to see someone else experiencing your worst nightmare first hand, and the incident dominated all the sites for months. Even now, well over a year later, there’s a muted quality to what used to be boundless enthusiasm, and a suspicion of the future and all it holds. It gives a good idea of how much these people view themselves at the extreme-taboo end of the Fetish spectrum. Certainly it’s something you wouldn’t bring up in conversation (“Hi babe, fancy coming back to my place and lying on the bed with ketchup coming out of your mouth?”), and even those involved who are married or in stable relationships have rarely told their other half for fear of how it would be perceived.
Of course, being based on the Net presents that central dilemma; of wanting to have new blood (okay, so we won’t even ask for forgiveness on that one) but not wanting to be found out; a best-kept secret that you want more people to know. It’s ironic that something with its roots in games that many of us played is now seen as very, very wrong, so totallyevil. One’s tempted to suggest that the anti-violence moves in present day society are reaching further than we suspect, such that now even the thought of it is wrong. Alternatively, it could be that anti-misogynist measures are finally finding the right people and all their freedom of expression stuff is just guff. Who’d ever have thought that ‘bang bang you’re dead’ would ever get so complicated?
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