is a documentary about the late Bob Flanagan, the masochistic performance artist in the NIN video, Happiness in Slavery. The video shows Bob enter a room, light a candle, remove his clothing, wash himself and then lie down on a machine that tortures him to death. Part of the video was (obviously) faked. It’s not a snuff film. But part was real. Which part has never been said but I believe the talons piercing the backs of his hands and the talons pulling on his cock and nipples are the real parts. Bob has submitted to a lot worse than that. As a performance artist, he has hammered the head of his cock to a board of wood using a not-so-small nail. He has been strung up from the ceiling at a museum exhibit. He signed a contract with the woman who became his wife, Sheree Rose, to give himself totally to her pleasure to do anything she wanted to him.
Besides masochism, the other important thing in his life is cystic fibrosis, a disease he was born with and suffered with all his life. He believed that his masochism was a way to dealing with the disease. It was a way he found to control his body and the pain it experienced. But we are all sick. We all suffer from a chronic, life-long disease. The disease is mortality. Because we are mortal, we are all subject to sickness, pain, humiliation, death and decay. As a mortal, I can identify with Bob Flanagan even though I don’t have cystic fibrosis.
In the film, Bob Flanagan exhibits sense of humor and an openness, an honesty that amounts to transparency. He sings and talks about details of his mortality that most of us would hide in embarrassment. Such transparency is rarely encountered and it is always liberating. Finding it makes one all-too-aware of its absence elsewhere. It’s strange how seldom in the alternative culture one encounters true transparency. Most “cool” people are highly guarded, protective of their image. In their presence, we are all likely to feel a similar need to be guarded. It makes any real communication difficult at best. It keeps us isolated and alone. Bob Flanagan shows awesome courage in many ways. But, perhaps, it is here that he has showed his most courageous side. Just being himself, warts and sickness and phlegm and all, requires the highest courage anyone can achieve.
In conjunction with V. Vale and Andrea Juno with ReSearch Magazine, he has written a book called “Bob Flanagan: Super Masochist.” In the film, he appears in his “Super Masochist” persona, wearing a cape, his tit-rings, color, wrist and ankle cuffs, hands on hips, adopting a “superman” pose. It’s an irony not lost on those of us raised on “Superman” comics. That “superman” was almost invincible because he wasn’t really human. He came from another planet and “could leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Bob Flanagan is flesh and blood like all of us. His heroism is that he achieved transcendence of mortality’s limitations, not by fleeing into the realms of pure spirit, but by delving ever more deeply into the pit of worms and death and decay. The body is perishable and we are all it’s prisoners. We have been shown one way to deal with that reality by a master shaman.
Bob Flanagan starring in Nine Inch Nail’s awesome video, Happiness in Slavery.
Nine Inch Nails: Happiness In Slavery (Uncensored) (1992) from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo. You can’t find this on You-Tube.