Bondage Blaze: the Media’s Mishandling of the Passive Arts Arson Incident

Jul 30, 2010 • Crime, Culture, News, The Media on Sex

On Tuesday, July 27, at approximately 11:30 AM, a fire broke out at Passive Arts Studios, a club in Lennox near LAX. The fire, labeled as suspicious, was put out by firefighters some 25 minutes later. They found the bodies of a man and a dog in the office area, where the fire appeared to have originated, but could not determine the cause of death at the time. Reports suggested the victim was the owner of the club.

Authorities did not release the name of the deceased but reports during the following days identified a suspect: David Edward Albert, 53, an employee at the club who had lost his job about a week prior to the incident. He had been detained by deputies on the morning of the fire, when he’d been found hiding in some bushes outside the club on 10914 S. La Cienega. He was injured and bloody and at the time told authorities he had been struck by a vehicle trying to help.

Investigators, however, determined Albert’s injuries were not consistent with his story.

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the number of workplace homicides has largely seen a decline in the past decade. However, workplace violence and homicides are still alarmingly common in this country, with as many as 526 homicides occurring in the workplace in 2008 alone

 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2010

That’s what this story is about and that’s how the story should have been framed. Unfortunately, that’s not how the mainstream media has been treating it.

Leslie Miller on KABC: “From the outside it looks like any commercial building, but inside it’s where patrons come to live out their fetishes. It is a bondage club called passive arts studio…”

Leslie Miller on KABC

This intro is followed with a brief description of the incident and suspect, then jumps back into details about the club: “The club’s website describes it as the nation’s largest, most elegant and best equipped dungeon. The site also says that the studio is filled with state-of-the-art equipment and seven complete theme rooms. This Youtube video shows the inside of this 7,000 square foot bondage club.”

Miller interviews an event planner, Ivan Daniel, said to be familiar with the club: “It has the feel of a film studio but you could tell there was a little bit more going on than meets the eye.”

KTLA headlined it “Bondage Club Fire,” introducing Passive Arts as a “sex parlor.”

The DailyBreeze elaborates on the club as well:

According to Passive Arts Studio’s MySpace page, its 7,000 square-foot warehouse in Lennox has “become the largest, most elegant and best equipped play area in the nation.” The club caters to people interested in sexual fetishes involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission.

“We are a playground for adults interested in exploring their more complex sides,” the club advertises on its Facebook page. The club includes seven dungeons and theme rooms – a classroom, an office, an interrogation room, a torture chamber – along with a bar and a dance area.

“Sessions from one half hour to overnight and beyond!” the Facebook page advertises.

The Passive Arts Studios MySpace page features numerous photographs of rooms that contain cages, chains and other restrictive devices used for role-playing inside the club. Some photographs in the club’s “friends” section show women wearing leather dominatrix outfits.

“John [the founder of Passive Arts] has often said that Passive Arts is like an adult Disneyland in that it will never be completed,” the site says. “Many, many years ago, John once said that Passive Arts is the place where all your fantasies can come true and that is more true now than ever before.”

They interview Scott Hamilton, a business-owner whose business neighbors the club, saying he “sometimes ‘would hear screaming and spanking and all that kind of stuff’ coming through his neighbor’s wall.” They report Hamilton saw deputies called to the club some two weeks before due to an argument.

The emphasis in all of these stories is not on the tragedy or the incidence of violence in the workplace, but rather, on the club and the community it served. There is a correlation implied between senseless violence and kinksters. This is not only a disservice to the victim, but also to the BDSM community and those outside of it who are informed by the mainstream media.

That any member of the community would feel compelled to remind the general public that the motto of the BDSM community is “safe, sane and consensual” and that all participants take great measures to ensure these principles are followed is proof enough of the poor coverage this story has received.

No member of the community should be perusing their copy of the DSM-IV to cite the pages about BDSM not being a sexual paraphilia or apologizing for what they freely choose to do. They should be supported in light of this tragedy as people, and the public should rally behind them in an attempt to become more informed about the prevention of workplace violence.

Because this is what this story is about.

Update, July 31:

Fifty-three-year-old David Edward Albert of Simi Valley has been charged in connection with the arson incident at Passive Arts Studio. Albert faces charges of murder, arson and animal cruelty. The last charge relates to the death of the owner’s dog, the remains of which were also found in the building.

The victim has been identified by authorities as John Lavine, the owner of Passive Arts Studio. An update on the LA Weekly‘s Informer blog reports that prosecutors believe the suspect shot Lavine in the head several times before torching the building on La Cienega Boulevard, in Lennox. Bail is set at $2 million.

In a message to a popular local forum, Mistress Cyan, a prominent member of the community, instructed others to refrain from visiting the locale, reminding them that it is a crime scene. In regard to the fate of Passive Arts, she wrote:

John’s family will decide what is going to happen with the business. That decision is not expected to come too soon though as the family is mourning the death of John.