Could it be that San Francisco's once-tough S&M performers had become — like so many other once-mighty American icons — sniveling wimps?

Baffled as to what, precisely, the S&M subculture had gotten itself so worked up about, I contacted SF Weekly consulting expert Mz. Berlin, a self-described model for and She's one of the few S&M performers to undergo authentic, on-camera waterboarding, as reputedly practiced under the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training program.

"I read a Vanity Fair article about it and I thought, 'Is that as horrible as they say?'" says Mz. Berlin. "Yes, it was."

She lives in Hollywood — it would have been impossible to receive a fair hearing in San Francisco — after spending her younger years in Shreveport, Louisiana, fantasizing "about being bound and struggling, as well as wearing a corset," as she explains on her S&M-themed personal Web site.

As I should have anticipated, my interview with the strong-minded S&M performer quickly descended into a shouting match, in which she expressed her wish to talk mostly about how much she hates Farley, and how she doesn't like the word "torture" to be used discussing S&M. (In my column, I'd used the term "torture-based pornography" and said was "in the business of narrowcasting videos depicting sexualized torture.")

"Was I waterboarded? I was really waterboarded, yes," Mz. Berlin said. "It was very real. Was it torture? No. Was it a calculated risk? Yes. But it's not torture. I can't say that enough. That's why people are hot and bothered."

As for the act of being tilted downward and having water poured on a cloth draped over her face for a self-made movie, she says, "I didn't like it. But torture wasn't part of what I did, because it was consensual. You're missing the consensual part."

I asked her if the outcry from S&M buffs suggests they're losing their toughness.

"Just because someone can withstand pain, you can throw words at them? I don't even know how to process that. I think that's like saying a fat person can withstand pain just because they have padding. I don't think that works," Mz. Berlin explained. "I think that is a ludicrous opinion."

As with so many calamities befalling the news business, I believe this crisis is journalism's own fault. News hacks have allowed sadomasochists to go soft by writing scores of softball stories about their business. It's time to toughen them back up — for America's sake.

Just as government subsidies helped make better filmed and edited porn, new subsidies are needed to wean supposedly thick-skinned S&M fetishists off their pablum diet of uninterrupted praise. A mere $100,000 of federal stimulus money could put Melissa Farley on annual retainer to shout at bound and gagged performers, "You're being exploited. You hear me, bitch? Exploited!" Another $2 million could hire off-hours Amnesty International lawyers to form a Wiccan maypole circle around performers for one of Kink's Web sites,, and chant, "Torture, torture, torture. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah."

At first, the performers will become so anguished they'll use their safe words. But over time, and with the expenditure of millions of dollars in government subsidies, their soft, unused powers of resistance will gradually grow firm. Through tears and smeared mascara, they'll eventually say, "Please — tell me again how I'm being exploited. Yeah, please say 'torture.' Oh, yeah: 'Tooooortuuuuure!'"

And America will again be a dom.

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