Artists do not often depict hanging scenes showing more than one or two doomed men. This may be related to the difficulty of managing several characters in one scene credibly. In 2017 I brought together several cowboy characters in one unforgettable barn hanging scene.
This deeply violent, forbidden subject fascinated me as a teenage boy who had no adult supervision while on after school visits to the public library in those ancient days before the Internet.
While I was attending elementary school, I had been taught that my country was civilized and peaceful. Oh yeah? What about the hung cowboys?
I could not reconcile these teaching about our so-called civilized culture in the US that proved to be inconsistent with what I knew about American history from my independent reading at the public library.
Hangings as Terror and Control
I discovered during my reading at the public library how hangings had been held as recently as during the 19th century in the United States.
I was shocked to learn that some of these executions were done by vigilantes (white men who used hangings to terrorize and control black men) up until the early 1920s.
Hangings in Islamic countries continue in the present day as a way of to instill an intense public awareness of the legal authority of the state. Such governmental authority is believed by the faithful to be sanctioned by holy writings from religious prophets.
United States Government Hangings
In the United States we tend to think of our society and our culture as being “more civilized” compared to Iran. Few people may have heard about the largest mass hanging in American history. It happened in 1862 as approved by President Abraham Lincoln and took the lives of 38 indigenous people. A special device was created to hang 38 men so that they died all at the same time.
Make-Believe Hollywood Hangings
Hollywood movies and television series screwed up my search for knowledge by portraying cowboy hangings in stores that celebrated and glorified the cowboys as icons of masculinity.
Of course, an adult might realize that what show business depicted was only make-believe, but try explaining that to a young male who liked to read about cowboys and who developed a very vivid imagination.
Hanged Men: Erections and Ejaculations
I read accounts about men having an unwanted orgasm with a noose around hisneck as he understood he was about to lose his life at the hands of others.
Hanging a man by suspending him by his neck slowly upwards is very inhumane because of the intense and prolonged suffering that suffocation brought on by his own weight causes him.
The more he struggles, the more he suffers, and this in turn gives more for the spectators or witnesses to experience–whether the hung guy is naked or not.
When a noose around the neck cuts off the blood supply to the brain, the man loses unconsciousness. But, in a suspension hanging, the man can remain alive for 20 minutes or so. Nobody knows for certain how the human brain works in the sense of knowing whether an unconscious man can feel the agony of a slow death.
When he reaches the end of his rope, his downward fall is ended abruptly by the rope.
When the rope around his neck draws upward very tightly and quickly, the man’s spine is broken so that he dies rather immediately.
A hanged man may have an unwanted sexual reaction to being executed because of what is known as autoerotic asphyxiation: Autoerotic asphyxiation arose out of the observation that men executed by hanging often got an erection and sometimes ejaculated. It’s described in detail in [the Marquis] de Sade’s Justine and is mentioned in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Precisely why it works is unclear. The simplest explanation is that lack of oxygen causes light-headedness, reducing inhibitions and enhancing the sexual experience. Masochistic fantasies, castration anxiety, and other psychological factors no doubt also play a role.
Pleasure for Witnesses to Watch Hangings
Clearly, a hanged man’s arousal and ejaculation will bring pleasure to his executioners and the witnesses in attendance.
This notion is depicted again and again in the well-known works of underground artists like Dom “Etienne” Orejudos, Tom of Finland, Sadao Hasegawa, Gengoroh Tagame, The Hun, Greasetank, Ulf, and Bondageskin who inspire my visual sensibilities and choice of themes.