Web 2.0 + Sadomasochism = Head Trip

A couple Fridays ago, I went to a day conference about using “Web 2.0” and “social networking” for nonprofits. I went to sessions about using social media to enhance marketing, improve relationships and visibility with journalists and how to make your website come up higher on search engines.

Yes, a truly wild and crazy time was had by all.

Actually, it was interesting. It also raised my social networking anxiety. I’ve never even explored Twitter! I don’t use Facebook enough to promote my nonprofit! The pages on our Website don’t have strong enough keywords! People around me were “Twittering” about the conference from their phones as it happened. Panelists joked about how they follow each other on Twitter and Facebook. Communication and Marketing Directors explained how they used Twitter to position themselves on experts in their field, prompting journalists to think of them when certain topics or stories came up and contact them for comment.

After the morning session, a strange woman latched onto me in the bathroom and tried to explain that her organization’s website sucked because the person who had contracted to have it designed signed off on a contract that meant they would lose everything on their old site. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said as we waited for stalls to open up. “I mean, the person responsible for that should be fired. But, oh yeah, they can’t be because they left!” Her bitterness impressed even me, a hardened nonprofit employee.

But things took an even stranger turn when, after strolling through the conference exhibits and eating lunch, I decided to escape to go sit in the hotel lobby to read the memoir, Nine And A Half Weeks. Did you know this was a book first? Maybe you did if you were reading books for grown-ups in 1978. I, however, couldn’t read yet. I remembered the buzz about the movie from the 80s starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke but I’d never seen it (at that point; since then I have seen it and, yeah, it sucks).

If you have seen the movie, forget everything you know. Everything they do in that movie is like a seventh grade Spin The Bottle party compared to the book. This is some heavy shit.

A “corporate executive” meets a man at a street fair one summer day. One thing leads to another and soon they are dating. The first time they have sex he asks if he can blinfold her. She’s game. Then it’s tie her hands to the bed or something like that and pretty soon she’s in handcuffs every night and he’s feeding her as she sits at his feet, cuffed to the dining room table leg.

Throughout the summer, the relationship intensifies. She never goes to her apartment; she’s with him everyday. But she keeps going to work. At work, she’s efficient, smart, a decison-maker. She manages to keep the two worlds separate. So by day she’s sitting in staff meetings and by nights she’s strung up and hanging from the shower head and no one, absolutely no one, knows what is happening except her and this guy.

And she loves it.

That’s the whole point of the book. How much she enjoys everything he does, whether he’s beating her with a hairbrush, making her crawl like a dog or having her dress up as a man and mug someone. Yeah, you read that last part correctly. When things are almost reaching their conclusion, he escalates the action and has her mug some guy, threatening him with a knife.

This is not fun stuff. She’s beaten by a guy hired to come and give her a massage. OK, she gets the massage first but then her boyfriend pays the guy to hit her. There’s also a disturbing scene involving a hooker but I’m much too prudish to even go into it here.

And then one day, when things are so out of control that she realizes that the natural progression here is that he may, in fact, try to kill her, she starts crying and can’t stop. She cries and cries and he ends up taking her to a hospital, where they give her a sedative and “The next day I began a period of treatment that lasted some months. I never saw him again.”

The book is written by “Elizabeth McNeill,” which is a pseudonym. I don’t believe the person known as “Elizabeth” has ever come out and claimed this work. I do believe I saw online somewhere that she worked in publishing. The story takes place in New York. The writing is excellent. It has a very detached feel, which seems necessary given the subject matter. You don’t feel as if you’re trapped in the head of an hysterical or mad person.

But imagine reading this book and then walking into a conference room to talk about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, what have you, and the media.

I’m not at all sure the book Nine And a Half Weeks could not be written today. First of all, it would be blogged, not written in book form. And the posts would come every day and would lack the neutrality that makes the book work. There would be too much introspection.

“Tonight he cuffed me to the table again and we had spaghetti for dinner. When he gave me some wine, he tipped the glass too far and it ran down my chin and onto my breasts. He licked it off. I sat there wondering what my mother would think. OMG… am I crazy or what? But I have to LIVE life, experience it to the fullest. I’m certainly not doing that at work. Which reminds me, Sheila so pissed me off today but it was OK because she was wearing her Crocs again… LOL… Later, while he was hitting me with the riding crop I decided that really the only thing I don’t like about him is the mole on his chin. It’s huge.”

Or worse, it would be Twittered in increments of 140 characters or less…

“Am barking like a dog and crawling around in fishnets and black lace garter belt. What fun! So much for Women’s Lib!”

And then maybe Jason DeRusha of WCCO-TV would form a “Good Question” out of that somehow, something like, “Is it OK for feminists to be submissive during sex?” Actually, I have no idea how to form a Good Question. That just eludes me.

And there is no way that the person behind the story would remain anonymous. It would be too tempting to get on the payroll of Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight or even get some face time on Dateline NBC. That guy who used to bust the online predators would have a field day with something like this. If we now have to endure daily reports of what’s happening in the life of “Octo Mom” imagine what this would be like.

Of course, I’m not a crackpot who believes that social media is BAD and is destroying civilization or even literature. But to read something as private as Nine And A Half Weeks and then go talk about how anything and everything can and is being shared online, makes the head spin. And it reminds me that there still is the need for the private, the slow burn of a build-up to a good story and the privacy of sitting with a book (although my reading time was anything but private – I was surrounded by people talking on cell phones, knitting or napping. And a woman who wanted to vaccuum under my feet). Some subject matter just seems to demand it, at least to me, but then I’m maybe a little bit too Web 1.0. Maybe 1.5.