I have never read the book Fifty Shades of Grey. Or, I should say, the books. Because, let’s be honest, this is erotica for the Harry Potter generation. And I don’t plan on seeing the film version either, despite the fact that I’m a total perv.
First of all, if you want BDSM erotica featuring a submissive female, then read Pauline Reage’s The Story of O and Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Both are pillars of the genre, and hot as hell. I’ve heard enough people say that Fifty Shades of Grey can’t hold a candle to (let alone slowly drip wax on) these erotic masterpieces, so I would encourage you to stick to the time-tested classics instead of some dim-witted and ill-conceived fan fiction.
Above all, what really disturbs me about Fifty Shades of Grey is that its plot is fundamentally flawed. The story itself isn’t very compelling. Nor is it true to the kink.
A sparkling young male millionaire? Anyone who has met ridiculously wealthy young folks know that they tend to be self-absorbed douchebags of the highest order. This is particularly true of men, as such tendencies come naturally to us. And for wealthy young men who happen to also be exceedingly handsome, it is virtually guaranteed that they are a full-fledged asshole.
That’s the first flaw in this story. The Mr. Grey character is wholly unrealistic. Guys like that do inflict all sorts of pain on their significant others, but it tends to be more of the abusive emotional variety than the erotic BDSM variety. People who have it all at that age – looks, money, and power – usually lack empathy for anyone and stack heaps of self-interest on top of their already towering sense of entitlement.
Of course, no one would pay to read or watch a real story about an uber-wealthy young prick and the life of petty emotional abuse his partner must endure in exchange for financial comfort and status. No, that story is all to common. And it’s also a sad testament to the realities of our society. The only time that story gets interesting enough to tell (outside of a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime network) is when the asshole gets what’s coming to him, like in The Wolf of Wall Street.
A truer and far more compelling tale would be that of a poor man who captures the heart – and loins – of a woman trapped in such a relationship. Particularly if the woman is from a higher social class and feels compelled to submit to her desires for this less refined man, against all of society’s mores. Think of Lina Wertmueller’s Swept Away (not the shitty remake with Madonna). Or Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, even though it lacks the overt kink.
This makes for a more provocative story because it seemingly flies in the face of convention. Submitting to someone who has nothing (at least in terms recognized by society at large, such as money, power, and status) because of attraction and desire is interesting. Submitting to someone who has everything (power, money, status, etc.) is not interesting…it’s oppression, and far too common.
This also happens to be truer to the kink. Anyone who has more than dabbled in BDSM knows that someone who has control over every aspect of their lives, someone who has unchecked power and resources, is far more likely to be the submissive in bed. An ego unchecked doesn’t usually sit well as a Dom. We tend to crave what we don’t have, so the powerful billionaire who gets his way in every facet of life is far more likely to crave sexual submission than further dominance. His craving for power is already satiated because his power is already absolute. The thrill of BDSM is in surrendering some of that – all of that – power and control.
A far more realistic and compelling story would have seen the roles of the man and woman – the Dom/sub dynamic – reversed in Fifty Shades of Grey. Not only would it be truer to the kink, but it would also make for a more interesting tale, with a man who seems to have all the power in the world yet finds the greatest pleasure in surrendering it to a woman who appears to have none, at least not by society’s conventional definition.
I will say this, however. The Fifty Shades of Grey franchise (and franchise is what it is, modeled closely after Twilight, so don’t be surprised if there’s a cable TV series coming this fall) has helped to bring BDSM further into the mainstream. It may be the Bud Light version of kink, but it still gets people talking about it, thinking about it, and hopefully even exploring it. And that’s a good thing. Because even though the story shows no courage to do so, it might inspire some people to fly in the face of convention – at least in the bedroom.
The Duke of Burgundy
For those curious to see a far more realistic portrayal of a BDSM relationship, I suggest watching The Duke of Burgundy. This film is a homage to the softcore erotica of the 60s and 70s (think Radley Metzger), and a bit trippy and slow-moving for my tastes. But it does a great job of capturing the good, the bad, and the ugly little realities of having a predominantly kinky relationship.
As with any relationship, there are challenges. The roles aren’t fully defined, and the lines aren’t always clear. Things change, even though we struggle to keep them the same – yet somehow fresh. BDSM relationships have all the trappings of vanilla ones but with that added twist that makes them even harder to maintain, unlike the seemingly syrupy fantasy offered up in Fifty Shades of Grey.