WASHINGTONThis town is incredibly sexually repressed, and hardly a session of Congress passes without a legislative attempt, successful or not, to reign in some aspect of sexual behavior, usually of the commercial variety. Oftentimes, despite the private predilections of members, support for these bills is unanimous. Such a measure passed just moments before Congress went home two weeks ago, but this one may ring true in its unanimity; even several Washington dominatrices with Capitol Hill clients were so disturbed by what inspired the bill, thatwhile stopping short of endorsing a regulatory solutionthey were nonetheless for it in spirit.
While it didn't get a lot of attention, passage of HR 1887 did, nonetheless, provoke conversation, like at an "end of the session" party right after Congress adjourned. Sitting on a porch, beers in hand (as a coterie of chic young women stumbled out of a nearby house they'd quickly popped into, clutching their stomachs in that all-too-familiar post-hit-of-heroin way), a few Hill rats tried to parse the behavioral question behind the new law: Exactly what is sexually gratifying about watching a dominatrix in stiletto heals crush the life out of small rodents and amphibians?
Clearly this would have been a delightful discussion to observe in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. But perhaps still reeling from the tawdry details of Bill Clinton's oral copulations presented at trial earlier this year, with nary a word the august members of the Senate decided on November 20 to quickly and unanimously pass a bill criminalizing the interstate sale or distribution of so-called "crush videos." A sort of subniche of the foot-fetish segment of the porn industry, and often referred to as "animal snuff films," in crush videos, all manner of beastsfrom chirping crickets to squealing mice to even writhing kittens and puppiesmeet their demise in a foot-stomping, heel-grinding frenzy, all in the service of the viewer's masturbatory gratification. (For evidence of the enthusiasms of crush fetishists, one need look no further than the Internet; on one site replete with still photos, one surfer recently wrote of a crushed scorpion series: "I would have liked to see it sticking to your sole or mushed to pulp by twisting on it with your whole weight. I love these sneakers and specially the sole which so great on tits . . . It's like a saw on them." Another visitor, who noted he likes to see animals "stomped," said of photo depictions of squished, ground vermin: "I really like you new pictures with the mouse and the frogg.")
While all manner of curious bills are introduced each congressand while many a legislator or staffer has perused pornography in the name of "research"this measure was, by turns, exceptionally offbeat and unsettling. "It might be quirky, but it really is a big problem," said Caitlin Hills, legislative director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). "I don't know much about the porn world, but I understand that these types of fetishes grow stronger and more popular, and that's what we've been seeing." Crush videos first came to the Humane Society's attention eight years ago; since then, the group has not only seen the number of titles grow to 2000, but, over the years, has noticed a disturbing shift in content.
Whereas the first crush videos involved the squashing of bugs, says Hills, they've gradually gone up the size ladder, from insects to amphibians, then to mice, next to guinea pigs and up to puppies and kittens. "We even have one with a monkey," says Hills. "There was an interview I saw with the producer of one of these films, who was trying to make his clients out as misunderstood people who have a need for crushing for sexual gratification," she says. But, she adds, the issue is not fulfillment of a need, but the reqirements of that need for increasingly larger animals to achieve rapture. "A roach will only struggle so much," she says. "Eventually, you need to see something bigger [to get off]."
The cricket as "gateway drug," fetishistically speaking? While this area of sexuality has not, to the Humane Society's knowledge, undergone serious scientific, quantitative analysis, there is some anecdotal backup for Hills's contention. In the realm of fetishes, as some may know, one in particular deals with fantasies that revolve around giant women, or being crushed by giant women. According to Hills and others, while some crush video viewers relate to the crusher's heel, the majority view the squirming animal as a proxy for themselves. "They want to be crushed by a woman in high heels, so they project themselves into the animal as a way of doing it over and over," she says.
"On one level, this is just a different level of the domination standard of trampling," says a veteran Washington dominatrix. That said, she concedes, it's "still pretty fucked up." For more realistic simulation, the larger the animals, the better; for more realistic sensation, however, something much, much larger is required. Which is how one crush video aficionado recently met his demise. Two months ago in Okeechobee, Florida, the body of Bryan Loudermilk was discovered in a shallow, specially dug trench under a plank of plywoodwhich just happened to be under the wheel of his SUV. Police concluded Loudermilk's pulpy demise came as a result of an attempt to fulfill his ultimate crushing fantasy. Up until his death, Loudermilk had apparently been deriving additional but perhaps incomplete pleasure from videos of his wife Stephanie letting her boots and heels fly on mice and rabbits. (Though no charges have been filed in Loudermilk's death, the widow was charged with cruelty to animals, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.)
Save that case, the only other fatalities in crush videos have been the unwilling animal actors. Bringing their assailants to justice, however, has not been any easier. Perhaps the first investigation of crush video-related mayhem took place on Long Island in 1998, when 28-year-old Thomas Capriola was arrested after the local SPCA chapter noticed his online sales of films depicting everything from toads to turtles being tortured under the boot. His case has been stalled for over a year (it's finally scheduled to be heard on December 14). After a yearlong investigation into crush video producers, prosecutors in Ventura County, California, discovered last year that most of the tapes essential to their case fell outside the very short statute of limitations on state animal cruelty laws. Ventura County prosecutor Tom Connors then brought the crush video issue to the attention of his congressman, Republican Elton Gallegly, who in short order held the first congressional hearings on crush videos.
It was not, by all accounts, a pleasant affair. In addition to an array of still photos depicting crushing, the Humane Society showed a three-minute clip of a guinea pig being tortured. (That there were 22 additional, unseen minutes of footage ultimately culminating in the rodent's death was all the more sobering.) The issue of dead animals brought a couple of career-dead celebrity activists out, too: M*A*S*H's Hot Lips denounced the videos, as did Mickey Rooney. From there on, the bill sailed through Congress, meeting only with brief, bizarre opposition by Representative Bob Barr, Republican of Georgia, who apparently took the hardline conservative view that this simply wasn't something that merited federal legislation.
Nonetheless, the House voted 372-42 in favor of Gallegly's bill prohibiting the interstate sale and transport of crush videos; the Senate version of the bill, championed by the right-wing troika of Orrin Hatch, Jon Kyl, and Bob Smith, met with no objections, and became one of the last pieces of legislation passed by the first session of the 106th Congress.
An animal lover who, like the other dommes she knows, would never consider torturing animals in her scenes, Mistress 2Ka Washington domme who has "disciplined" some of Capitol Hill's denizensnonetheless sees a certain irony in Congress taking action against crush videos. "No one was better suited, really," she says, "as they know all about crushing small, helpless, beings."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.
- Uncut: A Look at the Wacky, Wrinkly World of Foreskin Restoration
Fri., Oct. 9, 7:00pm
Fri., Oct. 9, 7:30pm
Sat., Oct. 10, 7:00pm
Sat., Oct. 10, 8:00pm
- A New Video Game Lets You Experience Life as Pizza Rat
- Groups Stage All-Female Hackathons to Encourage Women to Enter Tech Fields