The Medium Is The Message

Somewhere Marshall McLuhan is smiling in his grave that his infamous phrase is being used on a BDSM blog as the basis for a post.

For those of you not familiar with this phrase, McLuhan coined it in his 1964 book Understanding Media, The Extensions Of Man. In this dissertation on the growing role of technology in the way contemporary society interacts with information, McLuhan stated that “the content of any medium is always another medium.” For example, the content of writing is speech, print is that of writing, etc.

Now the medium does not have to contain actual information. It just needs to act upon its environment to create change, difference, potential, opportunity.

A good example of his exponential application of this theory is the humble light bulb. A light bulb enables people to create spaces in darkness that would otherwise be enveloped by the light less void in space. So even absent of any content, like a post on a kinky blog for example, the light bulb acts upon its environment in such a way to alter its perception. The fact that this example is also the stereotypical “AHA!” idea moment symbol is not lost on me.

So what the fuck does this have to do with BDSM?

In reading many blogs, articles, web pages, accounts, books on BDSM and D/s I keep chancing across the issue of “Topping from the bottom.” This is where, within a D/s dynamic, the submissive is perceived to be “calling the shots” as opposed to the Dominant. They dictate the power exchange, or at the least contribute to the direction/speed/intensity of its flow, through this method. Of course this flies in the face of the what is to be expected role relationship. They’re the bottom, the submissive. They should not be controlling things, the Dominant should, right? That’s the whole idea, correct?

Yes, its a complicated dance. There are so many aspects to BDSM and D/s. Communication is vital, trust paramount. Limits must be respected at all times, but also pushed.

This is where Marshall and his light bulb come in.

I’ve read over and over and over, mostly by Dominant’s, that true D/s has no place for so-called Topping from the bottom. Yet most, if not all, of these Dominants cite protocols, ideals, practices, hell examples they have learned about from other Dominants. Many have mentors to aid in their development, to better prepare them to control their submissive(s). Which is all fine and dandy, but riddle me this:

– A Dominant, in their pursuit of knowledge, reads on a Dominant’s web site/blog of a scene/methodology/technique employed by themselves upon their submissive. Deeming it valuable and worthy of their efforts, they adopt the same and use it in their relationship with their own submissive. The results are very satisfactory, and both parties benefit from this new information.

In other words, the Dominant saw the light from another Dominant’s light bulb, deemed it good and installed the same light bulb in their own darkness (struggle/issue/dynamic) to great effect.

Got it? Good. Allow me to continue…

– A Dominant, in their pursuit of knowledge, reads on a submissive’s web site/blog of a scene/methodology/technique employed by their Dominant upon themselves. Deeming it valuable and worthy of their efforts, they adopt the same and use it in their relationship with their own submissive. The results are very satisfactory, and both parties benefit from this new information.

So far so good. If someone else’s submissive lamented how well this work, to their tortured, abused chagrin, that’s quite the compliment. So the learning Dominant employs it.

Let’s make this personal. Remove the impersonalization of static information in a book or on a laptop screen and make it interactive. Could be in person, email, text, chat, etc.

– A Dominant, in their pursuit of knowledge, communicates with their Dominant peer/mentor about a scene/methodology/technique employed by them upon their submissive. Deeming it valuable and worthy of their efforts, they adopt this suggestion and use it in their relationship with their own submissive. The results are very satisfactory, and both parties benefit from this new information.

Peer to peer. Mentor to student. All well. One Top to Another about a submissive they likely don’t know from a hole in the……well, a hole.

This too, is acceptable. So now the final scenario:

– A submissive, in their pursuit of knowledge, communicates with their Dominant about a scene/methodology/technique to be employed by them upon the submissive. Deeming it valuable and worthy of their efforts, they adopt this suggestion and use it in their relationship with the submissive. The results are very satisfactory, and both parties benefit from this new information.

Ut oh…Topping from the bottom. Can’t have that.

See what I did there?

Identical scene/methodology/technique. The only difference is who turned the light bulb on, or even installed the damn thing. That a Dominant would seek advice from any one else, faceless Names/names on a screen, or even a real Face for guidance…instead of the one person who would likely be the best to answer all their questions about the dynamic THEY share.

Same light bulb. Seriously, WHY does it matter? Are you hung up on protocol? That your submissive might *shudder* Top from the bottom to help you both?

Trust me, if fish could talk, they would be the best source of information on how to fucking catch fish.

I just don’t get it. What are they afraid of? Why?

Perhaps they would rather sit in the dark then turn on the closest, brightest, warmest light bulb they have.

– Scot

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12 responses to “The Medium Is The Message

  1. It almost seems like a communication breakdown in this case. If you can’t communicate with the one person who enacting things upon you, how can you sustain a healthy relationship? It seems odd to not talk about the things that the sub likes or wants to try.

  2. I do not believe a Dominant listening to suggestions and/or requests from the submissive is the same as topping from the bottom. Contributing to the relationship is not the same as controlling the relationship. Expressing wishes and desires and ideas is not the same as being in charge. And topping from the bottom is just that, the bottom, the submissive, being in charge. If the sub is controlling the relationship and making the decisions, that is topping from the bottom. A sub suggesting to her Dom an idea for controlling her is not the same as a sub always determining when and where and how she gets spanked by the Dom.

    Now if you want to say that Doms should not confuse taking ideas and advice from subs with letting subs control things, I will agree with that 100%. An army captain in charge of a company, if he is smart, will listen to his lieutenants and sergeants. That does not make the captain any less in charge. A Dom, if he is smart, will listen to what his sub has to say. If the sub suggests something good, using that does not make the Dom less in charge. Doms should always listen to their subs. How else to learn what the sub is thinking, what the sub wants, how to control her, and how best to reward her for good behavior?

    • Well stated. Many times the term is used/bantered about with no regard to clarity. It just finally, after the umpteenth time coming across this, got to me to the point of making a random musing about it.

  3. “Trust me, if fish could talk, they would be the best source of information on how to fucking catch fish.”

    Love this. 😀

    The whole “No topping from the bottom” thing also doesn’t allow for how a lot of D/s relationships get going–which is, the s-type introduces the D-type to it. As happened in our relationship, and many others I know of.

    • Outstanding point. Many times, even outside of monogamy, D/s relationships start this way. It beckons back to the adage that “Discipline is something you do for someone, not to someone.”

  4. I want the LOVE button (ok that sounded wrong) for this one..not just like..LOVE!!! OMG the only Sir I ever served (and I was a complete newbie) kept saying I was TFTB….because he was too unoriginal or uncreative (or dare I say not intelligent enough) to see some of the flaws in certain dynamics of our relationship. My questions were not “confrontations” or attempts to rob him of his role, they were merely attempts to understand the world of BDSM and get clarity on things. He ultimately dumped (released, yack) me for a “true slave” who basically would eat from a dog dish or whatever the fuck else he wanted at his whim…there was never a purpose…his sole reason for doing stuff was to make sure she knew who was in charge. Ok, maybe I do top from bottom…I like to think there are reasons behind doing things….(not necessarily in play)….a lesson to be learned or a consequence for an action. Or of course something kinky you want to try out and see how it goes. Guys who claim to be Dom and then assert a sub has no voice at all in the dynamic are just bullies. You clever Sir (smiles).

    Oh yeah, and LMAO at “if a fish could talk they would be the best source in how to catch a fucking fish”. Priceless!

    • So I guess you liked this….LOL

      I am glad you enjoyed it and got some after the fact consolation as a result from it. Communication requires two, otherwise its just talking to yourself to hear yourself, which to some is all they want to hear.

      Its important to delineate (as Xajow alluded to) controlling the tempo and climate of the dynamic as opposed to helping to build it. But yes, your voice matters.

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