The Importance of Being OTK (2024)

Karin Slaughter’s 2019 crime novel The Last Widow opens with auburn-haired Dr Sara Linton wondering ‘if there would ever come a point in time when she was too old to be taken over her mother’s knee’. Sadly it’s only a metaphor: Sara is not really being spanked by Mom. But how the metaphor works is germane to our subject today. What’s actually happening is that Mom is declaring her opinions about Sara’s lifestyle and behavior, and Sara is in a state of complete abjection, unable to defend herself or retaliate. That is, here, the metaphorical meaning of being taken over her mother’s knee.

Large claims used to be made about the efficacy of spanking as a way of beneficially changing behavior or transforming personality – and I don’t mean just by idiotic kink-justifying fetishists. Physicians and psychiatrists prescribed it from time to time, advice columnists wrote, in all seriousness, about ‘the magical effect of spanking’ and an early newspaper review of The Naughty Flirt (1931) declared,

‘This is the story of a man-mad girl who is absolutely reformed by the simple expedient of a good spanking while lying across the knees of her fiancé.’

There’s something faintly ludicrous about these claims for spanking as an instant, infallible behavioral cure-all. Anyone with any sense will know that the actual effect of a belabored bottom, other than on the recipient’s ability to sit down, will rarely be so straightforward and immediate. Spoiled Belinda Deane, spanked in the 1962 ‘Golden Journey’ episode of The Saint, later declares that this treatment…

was not the cause of her remarkable improvement by the end of the story:

‘That taming of the shrew stuff is off the beam.’

But that disconnect is a matter for another time. What I want to talk about now is how the process is facilitated by one of the key defining elements of a spanking: the over-the-knee position that’s commonly abbreviated as ‘OTK’.

I’ve made the point before that OTK is ergonomically ideal for spanking: it puts hand within easy reach of bottom, and allows for the owner of the latter to be restrained so that she can’t get away.

But my point today is that OTK doesn’t only enable the physical act of administering a spanking: done properly, it also optimizes the psychological effects, whether real or supposed.

To make the point, it will be useful to take the long way round, which means a detour into How Not To Do It.

Here’s a scene that can’t properly be called a spanking at all, a mother-and-daughter moment with Jobyna Howland and Lilian Roth from the 1930 musical comedy Honey:

You can see the scene here: it’s only a single smack on her bottom. Whereas this photo has actually been said to depict a spanking, but obviously doesn’t, at least in any precise sense of the word:

And from a 2017 edition of the Russian reality show Layk ot Babushki (Thumbs Up from Grandma), which portrays how the older generation reacts to the free-and-easy behavior of the younger, here are two grandmas and one grandpa who were so outraged by what they were shown that, according to the channel’s publicity, they wanted to spank the presenter, Alina Zlidzhe:

In all three cases, the point is that there’s nothing to stop the young woman from getting up and walking away if she doesn’t want to have her bottom smacked.

That may be slightly more difficult for June Vincent, now that she’s actually over Alan Mowbray’s knee in this publicity still for The Lone Wolf and His Lady (1949),

The same problem is apparent in this well-meaning but inept piece of photographic humor,

and, with a lower center of gravity, in this pin-up shot:

If her feet, or her knees, are on the floor, she can push back. And there can be similar issues with the top half: if she can push up like this,

then, despite appearances, she has a reasonable chance of getting free. Likewise if the spanker’s choice of seating gives her any kind of leverage, whether with hands or feet, knees or elbows, she has a means of resistance and, maybe escape. This girl may look as if she’s getting an unwelcome surprise,

but in reality she’s every bit as compliant as these:

Maybe they have got some notion that, because spanking is all about the girl’s bottom, that’s the part of her that needs to be pushed up and prominent in the pose?

In fact, however, the core principle of effective OTK spanking is: keep both ends up – not the rear end that’s paradoxically near the middle!

Or, putting it in more prosaic terms, a girl is properly OTK if she can’t reach the ground, or anywhere else, with either her arms or her legs, including elbows and knees,

because then there is no escape until the spanker has finished with her. If she isn’t fully OTK, or some efficient equivalent, then the spanking has to be consensual at some level, whereas it is the temporary lack of agency (and therefore the irrelevance of consent) that creates the alleged power of spanking to inculcate a lesson.

This is a point that is often not understood by photographers and models who may vaguely recognize that OTK signifies spanking, but don’t have a clue why – hence the proliferation of poor poses like the ones we looked at earlier, or indeed like this:

But there is another dimension to it.

With a full-size naughty girl, very often her arms and legs will reach to the ground anyway.

No problem if you also have a very tall spanker, as this professional dominatrix demonstrates:

Big problem with a normal-sized spanker, though, because raising his seat (and, in consequence, hers too!) will create instability, meaning another, riskier opportunity for escape. Here are some well-meaning efforts to solve the problem:

They ultimately fail to convince because the girl is too far forward or back, which can lead to imagery in which she appears to be defying gravity,

or else folds up her legs to an acute angle that wouldn’t be sustainable if she were actually being spanked.

These are not lazy people putting the convenience of the models above the effectiveness of the imagery (though that is often a problem with spanking photography). They are responding to a genuine difficulty with the pose, as we can see if we juxtapose two contrasting pictures from the same shoot:

Outstanding OTK positioning on the left, not so good on the right. What I’m getting at will emerge even more clearly if we compare this posed photo of Susan Peters being spanked by Mary Astor at the end of Young Ideas (1943)

with this frame from the moving footage in the film itself:

Feet in the air in the posed still, but feet on the floor in the footage! What can be straightforwardly captured, with some effort, in a single photograph may not be achievable in motion, or even in another still from a different part of the shoot.

I often feel that one of the minor curses of spanking photography is what was presumably a peculiar personal taste of one of Irving Klaw’s 1950s clients:

This has resulted in a proliferation of ‘swastika legs’ in hommageurs who apparently imagine it to be a standard spanking pose, even though it’s not remotely feasible for the act of spanking itself.

But perhaps I am deluding myself about what I take to be the acme of spanking poses: you could argue that a well positioned OTK is itself a piece of strange imagery whose trim, ordered neatness does not reflect what actually happens in life.

Could that be one reason why spanking doesn’t always have the ‘magical effect’ its proponents would like to believe?

The Importance of Being OTK (2024)

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