A review of Fifty Shades of Grey


Complete Text From: http://kinkycollective.blogspot.in/2014/06/a-review-of-fifty-shades-of-grey.html?zx=93eb20c863ec4f60

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Millions of readers would now be exposed to BDSM, understand how amazing it can be to surrender yourself utterly… or to take complete control over another… feel how erotic pain can be, glimpsing at the 50 shades and more… the intensity, the thrill… to know what the words ‘boundaries being pushed’ really mean… The silence around BDSM would be broken. The word ‘kinky’ would be redefined. It would see the light of day as something hot, challenging the existing social norms around sexuality which seek to tie people down to being ‘good’, to having only nice, fuzzy, sentimental sex.

Okay. Exaggeration. We might be highly perverted, but we are not entirely naive. No bestseller can do that. But, in reality, the books were, at best, highly disappointing: what the world got was 50 shades of crap.

For those of you who have not read the books, the ‘hero’ is Christian Grey, a self-made multimillionaire, who drives top notch cars, pilots his own helicopter, showers his love interest with collector’s books and expensive presents and if that were not enough, he is young and deliciously handsome. He is also a man with a dark, dark secret.

He has had a traumatic childhood. His mother was a ‘crack whore’ (offensive way of saying she was a drug dependant sex worker) whose pimp physically abused him. In his teenage years, a much ‘older woman’ initiated Christian into BDSM. In his adult years, Christian is Dominant to many women, but it is Anastasia, a beautiful young virgin without a gag reflex, who he falls in love with.

Anastasia reciprocates his love, but is tormented by his sadism. She struggles to believe Christian when he tells her that love has cured him and that he never wants to ‘hurt’ her again. And love does ‘cure’ him.

That’s it in terms of plot. Except that the trilogy essentially consist of countless declarations of love, giving of staggeringly expensive presents and many many bouts of love making (the frequency of which is a plus point about the books that must be acknowledged, since the plus points tend to be scarce).

A qualifier at this point is that our review will not comment on literary merit. This is not great literature and let’s leaves it at that. But how kinky are the books? Well, there is a bit of spanking, but that disappears entirely all too soon, leaving one longing for more. (This is perhaps the only truly sadistic element in the book!) There are a handful of scenes in which Christian blindfolds Anastasia, ties her up and pleasures her intensely. So there is some of what could be called spiced up sex. Should one be dismissive of that? No. Exploring new and exciting ways of having sex is great. Newspapers in England even reported that sales of handcuffs and blindfolds shot up dramatically after the books hit the stands.

But it is not spice – that would have been fine – that the author is invoking, it is elements of domination, submission and pain. And clearly she knows not a thing about them. BDSM is far from being just about spicing up one’s boring sex life. It is about intensity. Not necessarily pain. Not everyone is ‘into’ pain. But it is about deep surrender and complete control. That’s when the magic unfolds. The problem with the books in terms of kink, is not just that there is too little of it, or that it is too mild, but that they are replete with notions about Domination, submission and pain that are ridiculous at best and dangerous at worst.

First, there is this business about Grey being a sadist and a Dominant (something he has to compensate for by being ridiculously handsome and filthy rich), because he had a traumatic childhood. This is clearly a case of pathologization of a sexuality considered deviant. We have heard this often enough in the context of lesbian, gay, bisexual people. They must be ‘like this’, because they were abused as children. But surely there can be no simple cause and effect relationship between childhood experiences and the way we are erotically.

More illuminating than the question of why someone is kinky, is why the question is being asked. Is it because of a need to categorise, analyse and put it away in a box at a safe distance, away from oneself? Might it also be that the privileges that come with respectable forms of sexuality – monogamous, missionary positioned, married – and the fear of being punished for being otherwise, impact whether we even allow or acknowledge stirrings in us that are considered wrong, dirty, depraved, even when they are consensual? And consent, it cannot be said often enough, is at the core of BDSM.

The other problem with the book is pain. Christian says he no longer wants to inflict pain on Anastasia (not that he gives her much to begin with), because he loves her. Giving and receiving pain in BDSM is something consensual, hot, and amazing and is not in conflict with love in any way. At the risk of being un-sexy, there is also the scientific fact of pain producing the release of chemicals in the body, the rush of ‘endorphins’, which can make Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan playing in the background sound even more amazing. Pain can be a medium of exploring sexual dimensions, to reach new places with the other and within one’s self. That pain and pleasure are not in binary opposition, we know that. Even if E. L. James, the author, has not bothered to research the supposed theme of her novels, hasn’t she ever received a love bite?

Last but not least, is the ‘gender’ issue to consider. Anastasia Steele is a woman who is getting hot sex, and a lot of it.

Any reduction in the historical cumulative pleasure deficit faced by women is a good thing. The books, at least in the west, are being bought primarily by women. In fact, they have come to be known as ‘mommy porn’. But before getting all excited, consider this. Even in the supposedly liberated west, it seems that women can only read sex when it is steeped in love and romance. In real life, BDSM, like any other sexuality, might or might not be linked to love, but the way that Shades of Grey ties in love with submission makes it seem to be at loggerheads with women’s rights.

The irony here is that the premium that BDSM places on consent, negotiation, talking about what one desires, what one will not want to engage in at all and the ability to bring to an end with one word (known in the community as the ‘safe word’) whatever is transpiring holds lessons for women’s sexuality at large. After all how many of us, even strident feminists, are able to say no to male partners who do not wish to use condoms?

Moreover, in the book, the Dominant is a man and the submissive is a woman. It could well have been a woman Dominant with a woman submissive or with a woman Dominant with a male submissive!

There are more possibilities than there is space for us to discuss here. Those who choose to submit and surrender in BDSM stand in sharp contrast to Anastasia. She struggles to ‘put up with’ demands so that her knight in shining armour will one day fulfil her need for true love. Submission, however, is not a means to an end. Domination is not a perversion that needs love as a cure. E. L. James needs to understand this and a lot more.


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