Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#50ShadesofGrey and Victimology

Social media, particularly my Twitter feed has increasingly been overtaken by #50ShadesofGrey tweets.
While there are scholarly things about the books, the reactions (WHY is it having this effect?) and the marketing/PR disasters the stars are creating on the press junket that interest me, I also have found myself having a personal reaction to these books and the criticism.

And because of that, I've participated in discussions on Twitter, and am planning some writing on this, but worry my personal soap box of "stop blaming the victim" and "broken people deserve happiness too" will overshadow the work.
So I thought I'd sketch out some of my ideas informally.
While at #ACMRS15 I planned out some ideas via color-coded Post-It:

I'm trying to convince a friend to write an article with me that discusses the book series, approaching it re: Rhetoric of Victimology using Christian Grey as a case study.
There are several things that bother me about the posts being posted, and forwarded:
  • As Catherine Scott has noted,  the examples people are using against the film are taken completely out of context.
  • Having read the other series Scott mentions (Laurel K. Hamilton's two series, as well as Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series) which feature both better BDSM influenced relationships, and frankly, "harder" scenes, I'm unsure why Fifty Shades is getting such notice. It's not new material. What is it about THIS series that has created this zeitgeist moment
  • Building on this, I am shocked (but perhaps should not be surprised) that the critics of the books/movie seem to have not read a single word of it and are simply repeating what other people have said.
  • Criticisms and articles show a shocking lack of knowledge about kink, and how the BDSM community works. Posts and articles by people in the BDSM community either sidestep the issue, distancing themselves by saying the book ISN'T BDSM or say that kink is fine, but the book is awful. Criticisms use the contract between Ana and Grey as evidence of abuse, as his controlling issues, again, both taken out of context, and IN context, acceptable in the Dom-Sub relationship.
Some of the criticism of the book is valid, but none of the valid criticism is about the relationships or the BDSM elements of the book:
  • I agree with the fact that the prose is not great. And I can see why writers of fan-fiction are upset about Fifty Shades of Grey being touted as fan-fiction because most fan-fiction I've read is incredibly well written, and the implied characterization of fan-fiction as bad writing is insulting.
  • However, I do think it's necessary to consider that these books DID start as Twilight fan-fiction as I believe it's necessary for understanding the book. Fifty Shades Freed in particular has clear parallels with the Breaking Dawn in both plot and style. If you realize that the basis for Fifty Shades is Edward/Bella relationship (which I'll acknowledge is problematic in other ways), and his concerns about her entering his "dangerous" world of vampires, there being rules to follow to survive and not being prepared are grafted onto the BDSM world, it requires situating the criticisms of Fifty Shades in a different light.
  • There is only one scene that I don't think is accurate to the BDSM world- the end of the first book where Ana asks Christian to show her how far the "play" can go so she can see what her hard limit is. Part of the issue of limits is that people who are aroused "read" and feel things differently than they would not aroused. Basically, you can take more in that situation. So the fact that Grey, an experienced Dominant would NOT know this or ignore it and would follow through on Ana's request is unlikely. However, it is the major plot point to Ana leaving, so it follows the narrative James has set up.
Here are the things that interest me about the series:
  • I don't necessarily believe there are "right" readings of texts, or rather I believe there are multiple "right" readings, but I do think there can be wrong readings and I think that we need to more closely examine the effect these wrong readings can have.
  • If we had a female character who was abused as a child, taken under the wing of an adult who took advantage of that, and then if this child grew up and chose a life that enabled them to exert control over their life and feel safe, we would be horrified if someone called them a "monster" or "sick" for those choices. It's called victim blaming, and not culturally acceptable. And yet, this is an accurate description of what the character Christian Grey goes through. So why is victim blaming him okay?
  •  The end "lesson" of the book is that "fifty shades of fucked up" people need to normalize in order to fins happiness. Ana is allowed to "play" with BDSM but Grey has to give up the harder sides of it in order to keep her.
Why are the cast distancing themselves in press junkets for the film from the content? Dornan is quoted as saying after filming one scene he had to shower before going home to his family. Given his role in The Fall, which granted does not do a press junket, it's hard to see how Christian Grey is somehow a worse character than Paul Spector. Are people reading Grey through the lens of Spector? Is that a source of the critique of abuse? It also seems strange that during press junkets for the film the stars would look down on the content, as that's alienating the incredibly large fan base.

So those are my initial thoughts. They're probably be more as always as I work on the process and encounter more. I'm gathering articles and reviews that discuss these issues, but welcome other sources and references.

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