Yasunari Kawabata and What Can You Do With a Sleeping Girl (and why would you do it?)

Because I don’t sleep for the USA Olympic Insomnia  team and am thinking about going pro, I find myself falling down rabbit holes online at 4:23 a.m. You know how it is. Lately I’ve been lucking out and find myself falling down smaller, less tunneling holes.  The rise of what I like to call “weird shit” YouTube channels are a great source for short-term rabbit holes and one of my favorites is Nick Crowley’s channel. He’s covered some of the more time-intensive Baby’s First Late-Night Google Search topics like Dyatlov Pass, Elisa Lam, and Black Eyed Children, but he also branches out into lesser known weirdness.

For extra nightmare fuel, she’s clutching a humanoid-shaped object covered in blood. You’re welcome.

He earned a permanent place in my heart when he was among the first to share the debunk of the extremely messed-up Seattle Zombie Woman story. I’d long suspected it had something to do with medical current events, but I wasn’t sure because it was, frankly, so well done that I couldn’t immediately rule out that she was a gravely wounded woman who had suffered all kinds of abuse, be it at the hands of a maniac in a torture chamber or a maniac in a medical lab.

I wandered a bit into his back catalog a few months ago and caught his two videos on MrSleepyPeople (first video, second video).  The topic weighed on me for a lot longer than I would have expected. Both videos show the actions specifically of the man who was behind the now banned MrSleepyPeople YouTube channel and, in general, others in that bizarre community. As one so often experiences in these sort of “watch me do something taboo behind the scenes” videos, Nick demonstrated an escalation of grossness within the community.

MrSleepyPeople had a catalog of videos that showed he liked to lick – thoroughly lick – the eyeballs and tear ducts of sleeping women. All of the women he featured in his videos were passed out asleep with their similarly unconscious boyfriends next to them. MrSleepyPeople would pry open the females’ eyes, touch their eyeballs and then begin to lick them. It beggared belief that just alcohol intoxication could render the girls so out of it that they did not react when light and wet pressure were applied to their eyeballs, but I suspect other sedatives were at play. Nick also explained that it’s possible, especially if it occurs during certain stages of sleep, to engage in such intrusive behavior without the victim waking. A couple of times the women stirred a bit when he touched their faces and he quickly retreated, but for the most part he was able to lick the eyes of a variety of women without them reacting.

It seems likely from repetition of backgrounds and a certain amount of context that these women knew MrSleepyPeople in some manner, as he had access to their sleeping spaces, as if they became intoxicated in his home and stayed there overnight. There was never any sign he broke into homes to perform his fetish. I wondered too if these women had given him permission to do it. Perhaps they didn’t care what he did to their eyes when they were sleeping. I also wondered if there was a quid pro quo element, trading access to their sleeping eyes for money, drugs, or just a place to crash for a while. I guess it’s possible that these women had given him permission but it seems unlikely because the creepy subterfuge was very much an element of the fun for MrSleepyEyes, as much of it took place in the dark, with other unconscious people. Permission would have spoiled the fun for him.

It’s equally unlikely that these women were actors. Pretend to be asleep knowing someone plans to pry open your eye and lick it for a prolonged period of time and see how long it is before your voluntary neural control shifts into automatic neural control. You can control when you blink, to a point, but the instinct to force the eye shut when lids are pried open or an object is lowered onto the eye is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control without a lot of conditioning. I doubt these women were subject to such lengthy pre-video conditioning. There was an unexpectedly robust comment section on these videos, and his watchers urged him to do other things to the women, like play with the unconscious women’s feet, or to put his fingers in their mouths or up their noses.

As I mentioned already, the videos take a disturbing thing and make it worse.  Nick later found videos featuring children as victims. He even found the channels of men who attempted to do similarly invasive things to unconscious, homeless men. Reminiscent of those requesting that MrSleepyPeople play with the feet of his sleeping female victims, many videos of homeless men centered around their feet, and it never seemed as if those men had given their consent to be subject of fetish media. So if it wasn’t bad enough that probably drugged young women, asleep in beds, often next to their boyfriends, were victimized, even more vulnerable people, like children and the homeless, were also subjects of this subculture’s focus.

So, with all of that said, I come now to the portion of this discussion wherein I ask: What the absolute fuck and why, oh my god, why?

Because he is presumably saner than me, Nick doesn’t spend a lot of time asking why MrSleepyPeople wants to lick the eyes or noses of unaware victims. That may be because the overall tone of his videos is this fetish is on par with a sex crime. I too believe that to be the case because a fetish act is being performed on people who are too drugged or young to be able to give meaningful consent.

But even though my own first impulse was that MrSleepyPeople’s actions fit the legal definition of assault, I had a hard time expressing why something so gross but mostly harmless in terms of physical damage made me feel so angry and disgusted. Within what constitutes assault, there are levels of harm done to the victim. Unless you are arguing on Twitter, people generally agree that a slap in the face is far less traumatizing than gang rape. Similarly, non-consensual eyeball-licking seems a lesser crime to inflict on people than, say, stabbing them in the eye.  It’s also hard to codify the level of harm that a person experiences when another person does something to them while they are sleeping that will not cause them physical harm when they wake and about which they will have no memory. This isn’t the same degree of bodily violation that a drugged woman may experience when raped.  And if MrSleepyPeople’s victims were identified, it’s unlikely the victim would be dragged through the mud in the usual assignations of blame in rape because this is an act so far beyond the experience of sexual assault that the traditional shame scripts can’t apply. What sort of mental gymnastics would even the most hidebound rape apologist have to master to be able to say that a woman passing out right next to her boyfriend was just asking to have her eyelids pried apart and her eyeball licked? The shame will stay with the licker, not the licked.

So after saying all of that, licking the eyeballs of the unconscious doesn’t seem like it should have the same nauseating gravitas as genital rape to me, but it does, and I can’t really pin down why until I understand the motivation behind this act.

Hashing this out with Mr OTC, he too was unable to explain exactly where lines cross. He said he’d have similar retributive reactions if he walked in on a woman whose eyeball was being licked while she was unconscious as he would if walked in on the same woman being sexually assaulted while unconscious. Mileage varies but we two who have seen a lot feel this crosses a line that we can’t explain and feel we’d be moved to violence should we walk in on anyone licking the eyeballs of someone who appeared to be unconscious.

As unlikely as it seems, eyeball licking is indeed a “thing” that is called “oculolinctus” but keep in mind that this Latin neologism was seemingly coined in 2013. There was a brief moral panic about oculolinctus that is reminiscent of the “rainbow” parties suburban moms were panicking over in the early aughts. Dismissed as a hoax, publications like Business Insider and The Guardian reported that the oculolinctus craze taking over the youth in Japan had led to outbreaks of pink eye. Whether or not that story is just another moral panic, licking a person’s eyeball can give them more than just pink eye – herpes and chlamydia are possibilities depending on the health of the licker. Corneal abrasions are also on the table, especially if the victim is wearing contact lenses. It was clear a couple of MrSleepyPeople’s victims were wearing contacts when he licked their eyes.

Based on absolutely no scientific research or proper studies, I’ve reached the conclusion that Christopher Walken has inspired many people to develop unusual kinks.

Dazed Digital was able to speak to oculolinctus fetishists and one, Rose, said she saw Christopher Walken interacting with a dead person’s eye in the film The Prophecy and she found it extremely compelling sexually.

She could not explain what it was specifically that caused her to link her sexuality to licking eyeballs, but for her the fantasy switch is also tripped when she sees fluid being drained out of an eye during a crime show. Rose likes to lick eyeballs and to be licked in return, and doesn’t indicate that sex, gender or orientation matter at all when she engages in oculolinctus.

She describes it as “full body sexual excitement, with electricity pulsing through your body.” Before adding: “It’s not the explosion of orgasm but the tense building of pleasure. It’s pretty wild.”

Fair enough. I suspect for some sensation can be enough to embrace eyelicking. Sensation can be motivation, and it’s important to note that Rose appears to be an ethical oculolinctus practitioner. The article only spoke to one male eye fetishist and he had a sort of spiritual motivation to lick eyeballs.

When asked to pinpoint his infatuation, he says: “Something to do with their beauty, mystery, intrigue, being the ‘window to one’s soul’. Have you ever really taken the time to stare into someone’s eye? To just think about nothing else and look deeply into their eyeballs? You would be shocked at what that does to you, and to them. It can be a life-changing experience. How could you not be interested in something that powerful?”

When I first began to think about the motives of eyelicking, the notion of trying to probe the organs that are so often called “the window to the soul” was something that I considered early on. In the context of a consensual exchange, this isn’t that alarming. Most weird things when considered from a completely consensual point of view aren’t alarming though, it must be said. The victims in the MrSleepyPerson videos were unconscious and there was no romantic or even sexual connection between two people. Had their pupils not reacted to the light that MrSleepyPeople focused on them as he pried their eyes open, they could very well have been dead for all the feedback they gave the man licking their eyes. When we die, our souls leave our body, and when we sleep, our souls nap along with us and that mental absence is shown in our unanimated eyes. MrSleepyPeople definitely was not coming at this from a romantic “windows of the soul” perspective.

As I mused over motivations, I initially tried to draw links between MrSleepyPeople and Bataille’s Story of the Eye, but the content, though extreme and often invoking eyes, did little to help me. Beyond just the outrageousness of MrSleepyPeople’s eye licking and the demented duo in Bataille’s book urinating in a dead girl’s eyes, there wasn’t much to the book to apply to the videos.

But Yasunari Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties did offer some answers. I revisited my discussion of the book from over a decade ago and found some possible answers to my questions.

Kawabata’s novella is an examination of an older man named Eguchi, whose life had been defined with fraught relationships with women – his wife, his mistress, and his daughter, notably. He visited prostitutes in his youth, and at age 67, he decided to frequent a different sort of brothel, one wherein the beautiful young women were drugged to sleep every night so that old men could lay next to them in bed. The men were not permitted to have sex with these girls. Indeed, most of the men who visited  the House of the Sleeping Beauties were impotent. However, even the madam of this house of mildly-ill repute knew that there is more than one thing a man can do with a sleeping girl:

He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the inn warned Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything else of that sort.

Eguchi sees himself quite differently from all the other old men who patronize the sleeping girls. Those old men are impotent, but Eguchi says he is not, and “lies” to the madam and says he cannot sustain an erection. Though we are left to wonder how much Eguchi is lying to himself, the madam seems to have him pegged. She runs an entire establishment that caters to the desperate need some old men have to be in the chaste presence of a warm, female body, and she tells him later that only men she can “trust” are permitted to lay with her girls. She doesn’t bother to warn him again against having sex with the girls because she can tell the only way he can disgrace these girls with distasteful acts is to use his finger.

Which harks back to the commenters on MrSleepyPeople asking him to stick his fingers in the mouths of his victims. And of course Eguchi disobeys the madam and sticks his finger in the mouth of one of the sleeping girls the first chance he gets. He immediately disobeys the rules and one realizes that if he’d been able to violate the girls sexually, he would have done so if the rules meant so little to him. But then again, the appeal of these beautiful, young, sleeping girls is that the men get to avoid the physicality of sex while engaging in a caricature of conquest. Eguchi associates sex with attachment and he loathes women, even his daughter to an extent. He may have wanted easy sex when he was younger but his aversion to what he considered messy relationships made it impossible for him to create the sorts of attachments that one needs to be able to lay naked next to someone in bed in the absence of sexual contact.  He romanticizes the notion of being with women but believes all women are erratic, overemotional, and finds fecundity repulsive. He just wants the end of seduction – laying next to an attractive sleeping partner. Even if he was still virile, the actual union of two bodies in love is an impossibility for him because he is too misogynistic to find any pleasure in women before and beyond orgasm. So he has to rent sleeping girls.

Eguchi sleeps with six girls over the course of five visits – that’s right, he has a sleepy girl three-way – and the girls are always drugged and in bed when he arrives. He too is eventually drugged but he gets to spend time with these girls while they are unconscious and at his mercy. He poses their bodies, presses his flesh against theirs, pokes around on their faces. One girl is very young and beautiful and as he strokes her hand, he knows “she would not open her eyes.” That is the only part of these girls unavailable to him. Stroking their hair, making value judgments about their characters based on genetic traits they could not control, moving their legs and arms, peering into their ears, and throughout it all, he wondered if the drugs would wear off too soon and their eyes would open. The potential of this was tantalizing to him.

Did he want them to open their eyes? Did he hope they remained closed? If their eyes opened, they would see him, a frail, miserable old man so lonely he had to sleep next to unconscious girls in order to regain some implication of lost virility and emotional connection. He would see himself reflected in their eyes and from their eyes he expected harsh judgment. He makes an active attempt to open one of the girl’s eyes, but he only does it because he knows he cannot wake her. He wouldn’t have tried had he not been certain she could not wake, and he does it because he is annoyed that these unconscious girls deny him the thing he wants the most: to be admired or feared by women.

Eguchi lies to himself something fierce so one is unsure if he understood why exactly he was so unhappy that the girls could not reflect his own image back to him. But the reader senses he did realize what a worm he was, because his first impulse was to pat himself on the back for being so honorable not to sexually defile the girl when he supposedly could, assigning honor to his physical inability to do what he really wanted. But then again, Eguchi also hoped the girl would open her eyes and feel afraid because she could at long last be confronted by the reality of all the old men who paid to simply sleep in her presence. If she opened her eyes, she would be humiliated if she saw him again on the street, or so he thought.

Then we are presented with the following:

But old Eguchi was not yet used to keeping company with a girl who said nothing, a girl who did not open her eyes, who gave him no recognition. Empty longing had not left him. He wanted to see the eyes of this witchlike girl. He wanted to hear her voice.

But when he hears her voice, she rejects him. She does not wake, but she talks in her sleep and tells him to stop, don’t, go away, and he is so angered he wants to slap her but eventually he realizes the dream is about her mother and he feels unspeakably sad. She wasn’t reacting to him manipulating her body. She was a child dreaming of her mother. He imprinted nothing on her. She was beyond his reach. His depravity could not touch her.

Of course there are miles of cultural differences between an elderly Japanese character from a novella published in the 1960s and a YouTuber licking eyes in the 2020s but there are some interesting similarities. The most obvious is that they did what they did to drugged women. They could only be emboldened when in the presence of women who could not resist a single thing they wanted to do.

A second similarity is their reaction to girls opening their eyes. MrSleepyPeople and Eguchi were both startled by the prospect of their sleeping girls opening their eyes organically or waking. MrSleepyPeople had to pry his victim’s eyes open and Eguchi wanted one of his girls to open her eyes but had either genuinely been able to control their nervous systems enough to open their eyes and see them, the gig would be up. MrSleepyPeople would be exposed as a very strange pervert who posts what amounts to non-con fetish porn and Eguchi would be exposed as a miserable misogynistic man forced to pay for the slim comfort that comes from sleeping next to an unconscious girl.

A third is perhaps the most important similarity and is speculative with both men: impotence. Of course we have no idea if MrSleepyPeople is impotent and Eguchi swore he wasn’t but the terrible fact remains that men generally do far more terrible things to sleeping girls. MrSleepyPeople licks eyeballs, Eguchi pokes his finger in mouths. Why? Probably because neither can do much more.

Initially MrSleepyPeople reminded me of a man I read about decades ago when I first entered the realm of true crime. There was a serial killer in Texas who removed the eyes of his victims, some with surgical precision (but then they always say killers carve up victims with surgical precision when often the crime scene looks like the killer used a barbecue fork and a PlaySkool saw). Charles Albright died in 2020 after over 30 years of imprisonment and his name is well-known among those who like to collect serial killer memorabilia. He made paintings and drawings of bloody eyes and women with bloody, empty eye orbits when in prison and it’s remarkably hard to find any representations online these days, though you can find a rose he painted for sale on a serial killer memorabilia site. His crime reminds one of the primitive belief that the last thing a person sees, especially if it is violent, is stored in the human eye, provoking killers to carve out eyes to cover their murderous tracks. Charles Albright was absolutely frightening and he certainly didn’t remove human eyes due to strange superstitions. He took them because his victims were stand-ins for his mother, an overbearing, abusive, cruel woman who went with him on dates so he couldn’t even kiss girls goodnight. She micromanaged his life in such emasculating ways that the only way he could symbolically escape her gaze was to kill and remove the eyes of women, over and over again.

That doesn’t seem like MrSleepyPeople, but there may be some small behavioral link between him and Charles Albright. Perhaps MrSleepyPeople has felt so emasculated in his life that the only way he can express himself is through women who cannot fight back, and he is symbolically rubbing their noses in their powerlessness by licking the organs that would ordinarily permit them to perceive the assaults he committed. But that admittedly seems like a stretch.

After researching this story, I still feel like eyeball licking is akin to sexual assault, but I think now the reason behind my reaction, and that of Mr OTC, is related more to the grubby nastiness of the motivations behind non-consensual eyelicking (and mouth poking and nose licking). The person who engages in non-consensual eyelicking surely knows the eyes are considered the window to the soul and licking the eyes of an unconscious person is a flagrant assault on their dignity and personhood. But those like MrSleepyPeople are also terrified of being seen, of being reflected back to themselves in the eyes of their victims. And it’s hard not to see the motivations behind this fetish to be rooted in physical and personal impotence. The former is easy enough to understand but the latter needs some explanation. By personal impotence, I mean these are people who can only satisfy themselves furtively, in the dark, with people who do not consent to such behavior. They have no personal power or worth socially to be able to meet people in the light of day, and since they seem to see people only as sources for their fetishes, they’d have little to offer them in the way of conversation or companionship after the first few hours of a small houseparty wind down. They are also so lacking in power that they make recordings of non-consensual criminal activity so that they can keep the memory of their sole connection to a woman that they then sell to similarly weak, unscrupulous people.

This level of lurking, hiding in the dark, racing back into the dark when eyes open, reminds me of finding a mess of grubs under a rock, or nests of silverfish or roaches discovered in a dark corner of an abandoned house.

Just put the rock back and walk away quietly.

None of these creatures can kill you but your first response at seeing them is often an instant revulsion that causes you to slam the rock back down or to begin stomping as hard as you can. Evidently eyelicking is also known as “worming” and I think that ties in neatly with the sort of wriggling, wet, slithering disgust I am trying to describe.

It’s amazing how this managed to stay underground long enough for Nick Crowley to have collected so much information across so many channels. But I think its longevity as a “hidden in plain sight” fetish began to decline when it became more aggressive and included children as victims because originally it was just a bunch of roachy dudes scurrying around under cover of darkness. These soft, craven men who engaged in this behavior passed unseen because they were able to hide quickly when the lights came on. Most of them are gone off YouTube after Nick’s videos, but you can get the gist of it all through Nick’s two documentaries.

I think I understand the motivations of these men a bit better now, though if you’ve had the time to watch these videos and think about them, let me know if you understand the impulse to lick eyes. Why eyes? Is it the concept of eyes being the window to the human soul, so the licker can bask in that soul, or show contempt for it? Is it just some issue in the sexual hard-wiring that happens by accident, like the girl who became transfixed with eyes due to a horror movie, that happens with so many people who develop fetishes for things like high heels or specific body types or hair colors? It would be interesting to know what you think so share away.

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