Felicia FeasterWith its emphasis on man-made materials of latex and rubber and its distillation of au courant ennui, the S&M scene can often seem like the definitive expression of a post-industrial, modern age. But leather boys and their latex princesses were plying the whiplash and foot-worship arts even in the age of Eisenhower and Jell-O, as a naughty little publication from perversity's publishing house, Taschen, illustrates.
While some little boys stoked their libidos with peeks at National Geographic, other less wholesome-minded lads were spending their formative years using the knots they learned in Scouts to tie their pretty next-door neighbor to the jungle gym. For the latter bad boys and girls, there was the mid-century fetish fanzine, Bizarre, whose subcultural approach to skin offered fun and games of a different order.
Bizarre was published from 1948-1959 by expat Brit John Willie, who used the pages to indulge his personal taste for S&M. Entire issues of the vintage fetish rag have been lovingly anthologized by the Taschen folks in a knockout two-volume set. While the middlebrow men's magazine crowd could be sent soaring heavenward on visions of dames in one-piece bathing suits and a sunny smile, the Bizarre fan needed slightly more esoteric inducements -- women rigged up like Marilyn Manson's show ponies in heavy fetish rope, wearing clothes so tight they looked dipped in chocolate. In a magazine that was often three-quarters letters to the editor, Willie's legions of detail-oriented fans waxed profound on their love of (pick one) corduroy velvet, high heels, long hair, hydrophilia, pierced ears and women who know how to make a man feel like...a worm.
Long-winded histories of the corset and the high heel provided an excuse for slobbery photos of these two fetish mainstays, while images of girls trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys were excused as "educational" with the ever-present Willie warning: "DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU! Learn Jiu-Jitsu and the Art of Self-Defense." Readers sent in shockingly raw homemade photos of girlfriends and wives looking for all the world like June Cleaver save for their rubber suit and cat-o'-nine-tails.
For those who thought fetish was a post-sexual revolution phenomenon, Willie's Bizarre offers the valuable lesson that one should never, ever underestimate the libido of one's elders.