Friday, 22 May 2009

Crush with the Law

“I don’t see a problem with killing small animals,” says Mistress Heel, a dominatrix who smashes the skulls of rodents with her stilettos in porn films. “But I would never kill a cat. For me, there is a clear line between what is and isn’t acceptable, although that isn’t in keeping with the law.”

‘Squish’ or ‘crush’ fetishists, known as crush-freaks, are people, mostly men, who derive sexual pleasure from seeing a woman, bare footed or wearing high heels, crushing mobile phones, insects, crustaceans and small animals beneath their heels. There are many legal forms of crush video, including women standing on the faces and genitalia of men, but videos featuring women crushing the skulls of small mammals are illegal in the states and the UK. In April this year the US Supreme Court tried to decide whether videos depicting animal cruelty are protected by the First Amendment. Last summer the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia voted 10-3 to find unconstitutional the rarely used law passed by Congress in 1999. This political activity is allegedly encouraging a resurgence in crush fetishism on both sides of the Atlantic. The Supreme Court expects to hear the case this Autumn. Jonathan R. Lovvorn, chief counsel of the Humane Society maintains that crush videos have already “popped back up on the Internet as a result of the Third Circuit’s ruling.”

“I’m not sure if the ruling has affected things that much,” argues Mistress Heel. “Here in the UK we have the most extreme kind of crush videos in the world, even though they’re illegal here. It’s like drugs. If there’s a market for it, people will buy it, regardless of the law.”

The argument against the 1999 law is that there is existing legislation to prevent animal cruelty in every state, but the 1999 law outlaws depictions of cruelty that may have happened in a time or place where they were legal, like a Spanish bull fight for example. The law has never been used for its intended purpose, to prosecute a crush fetishist. As yet it has been used only three times, all for videos of dogfights including one showing two pit bulls ripping the jaw off a live pig. In the UK crush video fetishists have been prosecuted without the aid of a specific law. Brian Patrick McCann, 47, from York Way, Kings Cross, was convicted and sentenced to 9 months in prison for making crush videos with animals in 2002.

The crush video phenomenon started with Jeff Vilencia’s short film “Smush” (1993) which features a bare footed woman squishing earthworms between her toes. The film won an award at the Toronto film festival. But the fetish itself is the product of psychological anxieties that pre-date Vilencia’s film.

Jeremy Biles teaches at the University of Chicago and is the author of the paper "I, Insect, or Bataille and the Crush Freaks." Biles regards the crush fetish as a form of technophilia and believes that hard shelled insects symbolise machines; The fact that many crush-freaks get a kick out of seeing mobiles and keyboards get stamped on, lends weight to this theory.

“I especially like the crunching sound of plastic or the exoskeleton of an insect or crustacean.” Admits Mistress Heel, “I’m not sure about the psychological implications of that but I admit there is something cathartic about it.”

Congress report:

The Law:

Photos: Elizabeth Johnson
Words: Tom Rowsell

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