A latex or rubber fetish—in Beijing often called “catfish” after a particular brand—is a tool of restraint; depending on the area and degree of restraint, these smooth suits can highlight the sexual organs or deprive the body of sexual characteristics. Covering the head can satisfy an assortment of fetishes, from asphyxiation to shaving. And elastic materials, which replace leather and metal, can become instruments of uniform fetishism.
This adaptability and heterogeneity also allows for adoption and rationalization by mainstream culture, as with superhero figures in elastic suits—deities of modern mythology no different from the gods of traditional lore, except that power is no longer bestowed through the symbolism of a crown or scepter. The new icon of strength is the catfish suit. Man becomes demigod when he puts on his suit.
In fetish acts, the elimination of will and identity leads to the coexisting but distinct emotions of humiliation and worship. This coincides with the underlying principle behind rituals of sacrifice: the sacrificed, through a complex and inhumane ceremony of torture, becomes an oblation to be enjoyed by the gods, or even becomes a god. Bodybuilders seeking the chiseled lines of Under Armour occupy a position of self-sacrifice in the modern superhero milieu. Elastic clothing bestows on its wearer the vanity of being worshipped and exposing him to the risk of humiliation by stripping him of uniqueness. Popular culture, despite its best efforts, has not managed to dilute the essence of these ancient emotions and drives; instead it lures people to dive in head-first, completely unwittingly and absolutely willingly.
Text by Zhu Dingzhen
Translated by Frank Qian