50 Shades of Meh.
If you’re my Dad – I know you usually read my blog – please close the browser now or click here for something to look at. This one’s not for you!
*Looks around and whispers* Has he gone? Yes? Good. Let’s get started.
Ok, I made a mistake. I kept reading the subject line ’50 Shades of Grey’ on various feminist sites but never got round to reading the actual articles. So when I saw it on sale for £3.73 in Tesco I, like an idiot, thought “oooh there’s that feminist book everyone’s talking about” and promptly bought it. No seriously, that’s the god’s honest truth. Not like the ‘I’m looking after these cigs for a friend’ truths I used to tell my parents or ‘everyone else did xyz so I went home early’. The well marketed ‘controversy’ did its job just perfectly for a half asleep loon wandering around the supermarket at 10pm.
Scanning the articles afterwards and realising my mistake I decided to read it anyway. Partly through sheer curiosity, and also because I’d be too embarrassed to return it. It would remind me too much of when I used to work for a cable TV company on the graveyard shift where nervous men would call at midnight to request the pay-per-view porn and then call again ten minutes later claiming it hadn’t appeared and asking for a refund because they were already spent and didn’t like how much they’d spent. Anyway, so I read it.
So far it has proved extremely popular. Every adult female visitor to the house has clocked it on the shelf and started talking about it. It has been discussed at almost every social I have been to for a month and I actually know what people are talking about for a change. But strangely everyone (bar one woman) has said they didn’t like it. Some are on book three and still say the jury is out. It’s all rather amusing. Like conversations about Ann Summers where everyone mentions the poor quality of the knickers they’ve bought but never discuss the things they bought from *that* section.
So what exactly is all the fuss about? What is the book supposed to have achieved that the thirty-something generation didn’t already get from watching Sex and The City? It’s somewhat harder to gauge. During the SATC phenomenon there seemed to be a sudden trend for loud sexually explicit conversations among the drunk women I know and love, yet 50 Shades readers seem to be much more inhibited. Is it because it is seen as a guilty secret? If so, what’s to be guilty about?
There have been some tremendously well-considered reviews of the feminist angst with the book (like this one from Suzanne Moore in the Guardian) and my twitter feed is full of feminists spitting venom about it. It’s a book about a relationship with a seemingly incredible imbalance in power in the male’s favour both socially, economically and sexually (although it has been suggested in reviews that the submissive in BDSM is the powerful one). It goes to extremes in all regards, but I can’t help wondering why this, in principle, is any more disturbing than many other popular female fantasy stories, such as the plot line to Pretty Woman or a thousand other chick-lit or flicks which show the female as an innocent with little power falling for the alpha male.
On the face of it the objection seems to be mainly about the mainstreaming and normalisation of BDSM and power play, and of the potential for there to therefore be a normalisation of violence in the context of sex and the concern of harm that it may do. On a theoretical level I can appreciate these arguments, but the book is aimed at women. It’s not being handed out to 14 year old boys as a how-to manual (they have access to far more dangerous and unbalanced porn sites for this purpose) – so who or what exactly is supposed to be being endangered by this book? It is detailed to the point of being tedious about how important it is that the submissive be fully aware and giving consent and that she can opt out at any point (it is a she in this case, but in a BDSM relationship could be either – which the book also says). More to the point, if the hype, sales and slightly blushing giggles about it are to be believed, it would seem that it has given many readers a cheap thrill – this doesn’t mean they’re all out buying riding crops and asking for a black eye. This power fantasy is one that remains completely within their control. No safe word is even required, just a move of the hand to close the book and choice not to reopen it.
As a book it’s a different take on an old story, but ultimately quite dull. Cinderella’s Prince Charming has a BDSM hobby. Big deal. As many have already said, it’s poorly written, repetitive and not much really happens. I don’t usually read from the romance type genre, and can’t say I’m planning to again. But hey – I can now join in the awkward conversations and titter at the silliness of it all with the best of them. And stick to buying spuds in supermarkets from now on!