Thursday, February 12, 2015

What's so insidious about 50 Shades of Grey?

I complain about 50 Shades of Grey a lot, as anyone who knows me from Facebook groups can attest.  I explain over and over, ad nauseum, what I find wrong with this series, but I keep having to explain, so I figured I would write an article about it that I could link to whenever the subject comes up.

I have a more appropriate blog for this subject matter, but I want this article to be accessible to everyone, and the other blog is not.  The other blog is for adult audiences only, and it's for a certain segment of the adult population.  It is not for everyone.

In any case...what do I have against this work of fiction?  You didn't hear me complaining about Twilight.  You also haven't heard me complain about other works of fiction that have as their subject matter abusive relationships or irresponsible representations of the BDSM lifestyle.

The truth is this: I would not care what the story was about if it hadn't been turned into a brand used to sell adult novelties and products in a way that deceptively marries this story to the BDSM lifestyle.
It doesn't matter to me that it's poorly written and edited, even though reading it was an assault on my sensibilities as an English major with a writing minor.

It doesn't matter to me that it's about abuse--plenty of stories have abuse in them.  Plenty have rape, murder, torture, and other horrible subjects--and the person or people doing those things is/are not necessarily looked down upon by the author.  That does not matter.

What matters is that 50 Shades is a brand now.  It's not the book series anymore; it's not the movie that's out or the movies to come.  It's magazine article after magazine article, telling people how they can have sex like they do in this series, how they can learn from Christian Grey, how they can bring the play they see in the books into their bedrooms. Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and even Men's Health have published this type of article, as well as a myriad of websites promoting this atrocious series.

Don't get me started on daytime talk shows.

E. L. James did no research for this book, and yet, she shamelessly allows her brand to be associated with a lifestyle whose participants live the opposite way of the abusive character she wrote into her books.

  • A responsible dominant does not set hard and soft limits on kinks with a virgin.  Yes, Anastasia is a virgin in the first book.  I am not sure if she's portrayed this way in the movie, because I have not seen it yet, but she is definitely a virgin when Christian meets her.  A virgin could not sign a contract that sets rules on kinks with hard and soft limits and call it informed consent.  
  • Christian Grey is portrayed as someone whose drug addict mother shaped him into who he is.  That's not generally true of lifestyle dominants.  Abuse is rampant in society, and yes, some people into BDSM have been abused or had hard lives--but no more than those who aren't into kink.  
  • Christian isolates Ana from her friends and family--huge red flag!  This is one of the classic signs of an abusive relationship.  
  • The stalking of Ana is also a huge red flag for abuse, but it's also another misrepresentation of the BDSM lifestyle.  BDSM relationships are built on trust--out of necessity.  The submissive must trust the dominant in order to give consent and relinquish control; the dominant must trust the submissive not to claim domestic violence for marks they both agreed to in the beginning.  Slave contracts are no protection; the submissive could easily say she/he was coerced.  If Christian has so little trust of Ana that he had to stalk her, he had no business trying to be a Dom.  Furthermore, it reeks of insecurity--and the last thing anyone wants in a dominant is insecurity.
There are plenty of articles out there listing the instances of abuse, but the main point remains that if the author hadn't consented to merging her series about abuse with a lifestyle that has a thriving community whose members warn against it, where healthy relationships depend on trust and consent, where partners care about the physical and emotional safety and well-being of each other, I would not be writing this article to warn against it.

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