Of Men, Masquerades and the Monkey Trap: Naked Snctm is a Surprise
By Alexa Day
(Strong and Sexy Week continues to celebrate colleague Elizabeth SaFleur’s new release, The White House Gets A Spanking, a fabulous and timely novella up for preorder right this second! But I couldn’t wait until October to go after Snctm again. I don’t do delayed gratification all that well. You know, sorry.)
The morning I discovered the email announcing that Snctm had a television series airing on Showtime, I began preparing to hate-watch it. I haven’t been terribly shy about my feelings when it comes to the Beverly Hills-based sex club. I figured a TV show was just another way for founder Damon Lawner and his inner circle to congratulate themselves for building this emporium for the male gaze.
After watching the first two episodes, I decided I was right about it. I only watched the third because I had something in the oven and my craptacular cable package didn’t have any better ideas.
Because of my chicken and rice casserole, I’m now writing a very different post from the one I thought I’d be writing.
But let’s start at the beginning.
I hesitate to call Naked Snctm a reality show. It has some of the trappings of the reality show, leading the viewer along with Damon as he goes about his version of a normal day. We even have those little confessional-style clips with his staff and some of Snctm’s members. Despite all that, Naked Snctm feels more like a documentary. It doesn’t feel cheap. It doesn’t even feel exploitative, really. And while I can often sense the producer’s hand at work in the typical reality show, Naked Snctm looks like it was assembled by a storyteller.
I have a LOT to say about this show, and I know you all have limited time. Everyone is busy these days, what with pumpkin spice lattes and the holidays swiftly approaching. I understand. I’ll keep this to two highlights per episode, for four episodes.
Near the beginning of the first episode, we meet Damon’s ex-wife as they sit down for a drink. Melissa explains to us in the confessional that she and Damon met when she was 18. She was raised to think of marriage and relationships in a relatively conservative way, and he … well, he wasn’t.
At the bar, Melissa tells Damon that their twelve-year-old daughter came home from school in tears. Some of the boys in her class have been giving her a hard time. They found Damon on Instagram, followed the breadcrumbs back to the Snctm website, and then did what the average twelve-year-old boy would do in a situation like that.
Damon’s response to this bothered me.
The only way to protect his daughters (he and Melissa also have a nine-year-old) from Snctm is to get rid of it altogether, he says. He isn’t going to get rid of it. It represents his only income stream, he says, and “I don’t have a Plan B.”
I’m not a parent. But I have lost my only income stream without warning. I’ll admit that it’s a little scary and would probably have been more scary if I had human dependents. Wanna guess what I did?
I fucking created a goddamned Plan B.
If I knew that my job was causing my daughter pain — and I think we both know that at 12 years old, this is probably not harmless teasing — I would quit that job, unless my job were critical to the continued existence of Planet Earth. Damon’s job is not critical to the continued existence of Planet Earth. I hope he’s not going to try to convince his daughter that it is.
This exchange takes place early in the first episode, right as we’re getting to know Damon. I can’t help but wonder why. Why tell us this now? Why tell us at all?
We don’t have much time to think about this before we’re spirited away to Damon’s place for Diner. Nicolas, Snctm’s operations manager, is on hand for the event. Nicolas — a bright-eyed, clean-shaven, briskly accented opposite to Damon — explains that his job is to make sure everything on the premises is running smoothly. He keeps his eye on the multitudinous candles. He keeps glass off the floor. He isn’t all that interested in the erotic theater himself because that would detract from his job performance. He’s like the security guard at the museum, specifically chosen because he isn’t interested in the art.
Nicolas also reviews the written portion of the Snctm applications. He gave someone a thumbs-down because her essay was “pretty pathetic.”
Nicolas is now the most interesting person I have encountered thus far, in all my dealings with Snctm. Snctm people, take note: had you put me in touch with Nicolas, I might have been a little nicer to you. A little. Let’s not get crazy.
I am a little surprised to find that the artistic director at Snctm is a woman; the club strikes me as a little tone-deaf when it comes to what women would want. Still, Alina arranges the performances for Snctm events. At Diner, the performance is two women going down on each other, on the dinner table, before a third woman in a maid’s costume spreads cake frosting on them both for the consumption of the guests. Alina says this isn’t “some sloppy porn thing,” but where was the last place you saw two women eating each other out on a table where people were having a meal just moments before? It was porn, wasn’t it? Nothing against porn, but wasn’t it?
And if you answered this question, “Actually, Alexa, this sort of thing happens every night at the table for me, you plebeian clod, and no one cares that the wooden surface soaks up emissions like a sponge,” then I apologize. Sorry.
One of the second episode’s highlights is Osa. Osa is the first black woman I’ve seen in any of my writing on Snctm. At her audition to become a performer, she explains that she’s into fetish, including the fart fetish.
I have never heard of the fart fetish. Even the unflappable Nicolas seems flapped by it. Osa assures us that it’s on Wikipedia. It is, but it’s just on a list. Check out this article on eproctophilia from Psychology Today instead. Go right now. I will be here when you get back.
In gratitude for teaching me something I honestly did not know about the world of fetish, I will withdraw exactly one mean-spirited thing I have said about the Snctm people. I’ll let you know when I decide what it is.
The other highlight is a little less pleasant.
There are two dudes auditioning for roles at Snctm as well. One of them is dressed like Nicolas, in a suit with his shirt open at the throat. Like he’s looking for a job. Nice. The other is wearing a blue tank top and a pair of pink shorts. This one, Robbie, takes the top off for a moment to show his interviewers what he looks like in a state of undress. As soon as they get a look at him, that shirt goes right back on. Maybe that’s normal for a man’s interview. Everyone felt Osa up during her audition, so I guess it’s hard to tell what normal is.
Robbie is sent upstairs with the other hopefuls to wait for the next stage, whatever that is. While he’s up there, he’s generally making an ass of himself. “Can I get a kiss?” he asks one of the women who hasn’t auditioned yet. “Should we fuck so you aren’t so horny later?”
Word gets out that Robbie is going to be a problem. Damon and Nicolas send security upstairs to have him removed at once. They are adamant that this kind of thing doesn’t fly at Snctm, and indeed, the Snctm people have always taken that position with me.
Security is Johnathan, one of the performers. Sometimes, he wears a military-style uniform, and he was a cop stripper before Snctm. Evidently this qualifies him to be security at Snctm. Something to keep in mind before dropping money on a base membership.
The third episode takes us to New York and an East Coast Snctm masquerade. Two highlights from this episode as well.
First, as she’s auditioning performers for that night’s party, Alina says the performance has to be more than “two girls in lingerie making out because you can see that everywhere.” I will gently remind the reader that Alina was kind of excited about two girls in lingerie making out in the first episode. Just a reminder, no judgment. Reminds me of the time, also in the first episode, when Damon said Snctm members came from all walks of life and then in the next breath said the base membership cost $15,000. That, to me, excludes some walks of life, but again, that’s just an observation.
The other highlight of the third episode? The IV Doc. Something else I’m learning about for the first time from Naked Snctm.
After a night of overindulgence, Damon is quite unable to get out of bed. Nicolas and Alina need him to get up; there’s business to handle before the masquerade. Nicolas suggests that this happens more often than he’d like. He even seems a little annoyed. What’s a guy to do?
Enter the IV Doc. The IV Doc will come to you, wherever you are, and administer an intravenous pick-me-up that will help you get out of bed to face the day. You can choose vitamins or other supplements, depending on whether you need hydration, detox, or even recovery from food poisoning. It’s actually kind of reasonably priced, when you consider how much it should cost to have a medical professional come to you and give you anything at all.
I had to go onto their website to learn all this. I have a little bit of an issue with needles, so I wasn’t about to watch Damon take that IV, even for you all. There is no way I personally would volunteer to get an IV because I can’t get out of bed. We would just have to write that day off. Perhaps the IV Doctor has a discount package where they open the packet containing the needle and you leap, rejuvenated, out of bed in order to avoid it.
The fourth episode reunites Damon with his mom.
Damon and his mom don’t see eye to eye. It feels personal and not totally appropriate to go into it here. I’ll say that despite Melissa’s suggestion in the first episode that Damon’s parents lived a carefree lifestyle that makes him who he is, I think Damon is actually trying to break free from the world his parents created for him in childhood. Snctm is his world, and at first blush, it does look like a traveling orgy. But in reality, the Diners and the masquerades and all the rest of it operate in a very structured way. Membership comes in tiers. Certain people are allowed to do certain things. There are rules upon rules upon rules. The sex is choreography, designed to entice invited guests.
When Damon ultimately reconciles with his mother, I don’t get a theater vibe from their embrace. He’s made himself open and vulnerable, and he owns that moment completely. I think that if Damon and his mom had ended the conversation by cursing each other out, he’d have owned that, too. This is what I meant when I said that Naked Snctm didn’t feel like reality television. We are in a space with Damon that feels intimate. It’s just unclear whether he considers it intimate. It’s unclear what intimacy means to him, which makes it harder for us to find our footing with it.
Also in the fourth episode, Damon goes on a date.
He’s been set up with a lovely woman named Violine. They’re enjoying a glass of wine and some conversation, and Damon tells us in the confessional that Violine has no idea what he does. He says the experience is refreshing. I know that feeling all too well. I’ve been on that date myself, before the guy across the table knows I write erotica. I treasure the moment when he looks at me and sees the girl he met at Petco or the attorney who works downtown, the one with the weird sense of humor and an unfortunate taste for disco. There is no way to know, without telling him, whether that guy would date a woman who writes erotica. So I know Damon’s desire to preserve the bubble, where he’s just Damon, a guy Violine met through a mutual friend.
But then Damon tells Violine what he does. On the first date, just after telling us how wonderful it is just to be Damon. He explains to Violine about Snctm and his role in it. He asks if she could date a man who did that for a living. Violine touches the napkin to her lips, and I know the answer is no before she says it.
I am reminded here of the monkey trap.
In the historically problematic miniseries Shaka Zulu, Edward Fox’s character Francis Farewell describes the monkey trap to Henry Cele’s King Shaka, leader of the Zulu nation. The trap is a gourd with a narrow neck, baited with something monkeys find tempting, like a piece of fruit or a shiny object. The monkey can reach into the gourd with no problem but he cannot withdraw his closed fist. To escape the trap, all the monkey must do is surrender the bait and open his hand. But monkeys won’t do that. Indeed, I saw a film the other day in which a trapped monkey frantically yanked at the gourd, desperate to flee the hunter but unwilling to relinquish his shiny prize.
I’ve come to realize that Damon is caught in a monkey trap. He himself observes that Snctm has cost him dearly. He’s lost his marriage. He’s leaving messages to speak to his daughter. It’s complicating his love life. He needs an IV to get out of bed.
But he won’t let go of it. While the club’s revels seem like the heights of sexual abandon to an outsider, Damon explains, “for me, it’s how I understand love. Sex is love.”
Snctm is Damon’s answer to some deep-seated question. It is the proof to some equation locked within him. It feels like a purpose and a solution to him, and with so much of himself wrapped up in it, I’m not sure what would remain if he let go of it.
He’s at home with his choice, and you all know that I stand for respecting a man’s choice. But I can’t help but see a gourd with a narrow neck, baited with something shiny.
Follow Lady Smut. We’re full of surprises.
I want to give you a hug for getting this far! Instead, I have two announcements.
I will be moving to a monthly post starting this month. Look for me on the first Friday of the month, beginning in October, and I promise to look for you, too. You’ll still get everything you’ve come to know and love from me — whatever that might be. You just won’t be seeing me as frequently.
Also, we at Lady Smut will be starting a new feature this week: Throwback Thursday. As we settle into this sophisticated new format, we’ll be featuring some of our greatest hits every Thursday! Tune in and get yourself a history lesson.