Trying to Understand Pet Roleplay

Photo by Sonny Ravesteijn on Unsplash

Constructionism defines deviant behavior as a label given to people who voluntarily choose not to follow the rules whether the actions are criminal or only taboo. The three major theories of constructionism are labeling theory, phenomenological theory, and conflict theory.

Labeling theory explains that deviant behavior is only a label created by more powerful conformists who cause the so-called deviants to pursue the label they are given. In phenomenological theory, since personal experience is subjective, there is disagreement over what is officially considered deviant; therefore, so-called deviants should be understood instead of persecuted. Conflict theory is a more multifaceted theory divided into six perspectives that explain how unjust conformist society can be to nonconformists.

According to the researchers Thio, Taylor, and Schwartz, these perspectives place the blame capitalism, patriarchy, and the wealthy for “making laws, enforcing laws, oppressing subordinate classes, and spreading crime ideology.”

The chosen theories to explain the taboo that involves the roleplay in Tabu “The Perfect Pet are labeling theory and phenomenological theory.

Label Theory

As stated by Thio, Taylor, and Schwartz, label theory involves being given the label of deviant and being punished for a deviant action may cause an individual to continue the behavior with more zeal. There are primary and secondary deviations with the primary being an innocent “mistake” by a person who is punished by others who consider the action to be deviant.

Secondary deviation occurs when that person decides to continue the behavior while choosing to use the same deviant label as the conformist — but with complete acceptance and no inclination to change. While there was no reference of a primary deviation in the history of both participants, the secondary deviation could be how Lillian and Tyke seem to revel in the attention they receive when they walk together.

Label theory can be applied because both of them are aware of how deviant their actions are to the rest of society, yet that they are willing to take part in a documentary about taboos without feelings of shame.

Phenomenological Theory

According to Thio, Taylor, and Schwartz, phenomenological theory explains that a person that is considered a deviant is likely to view themselves as normal, superior, and without a psychological disorder or inability. Lillian does not feel abnormal as she mentions that she thinks “there’s something very iconic about a beautiful woman walking down the street with a Dobermann.”

Tyke did not say a single word throughout the video clip, but Lillian explains that they agree on their behaviors before they roleplay.

Lillian has a history of having been in the military which is a highly structured and conformist environment, and she has continued some of that behavior by applying the rules and rigidness to her role as Tyke’s pet owner, and one can only infer about Tyke’s history of passivity and choice to be a dog.

These two individuals feel normal while Lillian has the added benefit of feeling superior in her role, and that is why phenomenological theory can be applied to their relationship in Tabu “The Perfect Pet.”

Source: Author


I have witnessed this core behavior, before, since I have a family member that was once a prison guard and chose to break the rules. This individual spent so much time around prison inmates that this person became accustomed to their norms. In fact, this individual quit their job as a prison guard after one of these inmates was released because this person decided to date the former inmate. Prison guards are not allowed to have contact with inmates because it isn’t professional; therefore, this person could have been accused of sexual assault since this individual was in a position of authority.

This situation relates to Lillian and Tyke’s relationship because leaving a set of norms and behaviors in the past is not always possible.

Since Lillian and Tyke were former military, they continued the strict and rule-bound structure into their personal lives. From the looks of it, they agreed that Lillian would hold the power, and Tyke would be submissive. Similarly, my family member and their significant other have agreed that this individual is in control, and the former prison inmate has the supportive role.

It’s not as visually deviant, but choosing these roles as a couple does fall under the same phenomenological theory that applies to Lillian and Tyke since these individuals feel normal and superior to others and have agreed on their roles.




“It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.” ~Erasmus |

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Jacquline Ard (Ontiveros)

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“It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.” ~Erasmus |

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