Why 50 Shades of Grey is so controversial

Author: Deviance
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This article, which critically treats the first volume of the bestseller 50 Shades of Grey, was first published by our friends at JungeSMünchen by the author MissChief.

I formed an opinion through books, films and metatexts and discussed them with others. Right from the start I didn’t just want to complain about something, I wanted to discuss it and collect it. In the end, however, I realized that I don’t have to and can’t praise the book highly.

BDSM comes into public…

As SM people, we can’t just complain. Shades Of Grey has triggered a media wave around SM that we could never have imagined five years ago. So much attention for a topic that first had to work its way out of the muddy corner.

After the film was released, there were so many good newspaper articles that were well researched and not just clichés. I’m amazed! Many media outlets write that SM is now socially acceptable – I don’t think it’s quite there yet. But a topic has made it to the table that was previously only looking for the fluff on the table leg. Some serious reports are being made and work is being done to ensure that BDSM can function without any problems as a spicy element in sex life.

The woman herself is suddenly concerned with her sexuality, she goes to the erotic shop of her choice and teaches her boyfriend what she wants! Well, if that doesn’t sound like sexual self-determination, wohoo!

But I think it could have been a different book. A better written one, for example. Or one that the author can stand behind. I somehow miss the enthusiasm behind the work. A J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, is still passionate about the topic and the fans even after finishing the book series. Or one where the main characters are cooler and more competent. One in which the question of emancipation does not come up because it has already been clarified in the book. One in which humanity also comes into play beyond the main concepts of BDSM.

But as SM people we have to work with what we have in front of us. Every erotic novel in the present and future will have to measure itself against the low-hanging Shades of Grey bar. Everyone. In the future we will not only have the patent leather whip dominatrix cliché that we have to explain, but also that of the millionaire who was abused in childhood.

50 Shades of Grey is and was a hype

The practical thing about Shades Of Grey is that there’s enough BDSM to find it exciting, and little enough to skip it; so there is something for everyone. The books have become very successful through word of mouth and have sold over 100 million copies internationally. That is much. (But fortunately it falls short of the 107 million for the first Harry Potter volume alone. Believe in humanity, I haven’t completely given up on you yet.)

So what caused this? There were erotic stories before that too. SM too. Cinderella-like love stories too. So maybe it was the mix?

I think the female perspective was definitely a deciding factor. Women gave it to each other for their birthdays, or they bashfully picked it up at the bookstore; it was the book that women in particular had to read.

The appeal of the books: On the one hand, it’s something different and not always the same “we’ll kiss each other to death and get married” story, as one of my friends said. Another friend definitely thinks the book is a bit of a tearjerker, with a bit of S&M character in the playroom. It’s easy to read, it encourages you to keep reading, and sometimes it’s surprising what turn the plot takes. Both say it definitely stimulated thoughts in that direction, they just couldn’t imagine anything specific before. It was tempting to try it out, the not-so-prudish people talk about it, it’s a look into another world.

A beautiful fairy tale, how things could go for one or two women in their dreams. But they themselves admit that reality should probably be different. Even E.L. James can see it without rose-colored glasses: she judges her hero to be just “very attractive on paper.” In everyday life, you probably want someone to empty the dishwasher.

Some of the scenes in the book are limping

There are just a few things that happen in the book and the film that I don’t want to leave uncommented. Where I have a whole shelf to choose from. A little here, quite a bit here, a big chunk there.

The contract

There may be contracts in functioning D/s relationships, but for Christian Grey, this is just a continuation of his control mania, which has little to do with real BDSM. In reality, control outside of bed or playroom is rather rare.

In BDSM, what you want happens and in the context you want it. If you want a contract, you just have to work it out with your partner. And if not, then you’re one of the vast majority who have fun without it.

Consequence looks different

What bothers me about people as well as book characters is inconsistency. Christian Grey tells Anastasia that he can never have flower sex. And yet there are one or two scenes in the book in which the highly touted SM aspects sometimes disappear behind the curtain.

Christian says he would only do something with her if the contract was signed and he thinks about the idea for a long time – he negotiates with her for quite a long time about which details now apply and which don’t. At least in the first book. But who fucks their way through world history without a signed contract?

And at the end of the first book, Anastasia leaves Christian, even though they both don’t want to lose each other. She was hit on the bottom six times with a belt by Christian after she asked him to do so and is then horrified by his deviancy. 25 pages earlier she was informed about her safewords, but then she didn’t use them. In the space of a paragraph, she has an inexplicable change of heart and calls him a “fucked-up scumbag”, allowing no explanation and refusing physical closeness, which could certainly be beneficial in such a moment. She also doesn’t want to explore whether the relationship can simply continue as it has been. She leaves him with a heavy heart and full of tears. An opportunity to slap your forehead gallantly with your palm.

Another beautiful scene, which unfortunately is not used as a comparison in the book: It is shown in the middle of the book in a passionate scene with a crop (“He shows me a crop. It’s made of brown leather” on page 370). Clitoris hit and after a few strokes she comes “moaning and screaming loudly” on page 374. Compare that to belt on the butt! Orgasm versus reason to leave? Ah yes.

Shades of Grey is not about BDSM

The book always talks about this mysterious BDSM, there is a playroom and a contract, even if it is never signed. Christian Grey talks about parenting, but the only thing Ana learns is to say “Yes, sir” and follow his simple instructions. It is supposedly introduced to the world of BDSM, and as a reader you can almost imagine something very wicked about it.

The fact is that the BDSM portions in the book always end in overwhelming orgasms on both sides. As readers, we supposedly learn: With kinky sex we have three “all-consuming orgasms” within twenty minutes. Wow! If only you could replicate that. Sex is BDSM for Christian Grey. The catch is: BDSM is not sex. One helps and enriches the other. But first someone should credibly assure me that the orgasm technique actually belongs to BDSM and that all vanillas use. They’re all perverts! 50 Shades of Grey is not about kink. It’s about a love story, the can’t-keep-your-hands-off-one-other-oh-my-god-he’s-hot thing, a lot of sex, a lot more debilitating orgasms and a few clichés. But it’s not a BDSM novel!

The missed opportunity to finally clarify

E.L. James seems unaware of her responsibilities. But how much power she would have! She could educate so many people about BDSM in one fell swoop and does little more than makeshift work.

Yes, thanks to her, all young and not-so-young women now know what Dom and Sub are, but she leaves the emotional worlds in SM totally unmentioned. Anastasia likes the practices, but she would never do BDSM on her own, or at least that’s how it comes across. It is always Christian who is the clear advocate of SM practices. And yet she certainly enjoys it, and no one can tell me that she orgasms endlessly often just because of the mechanical stimulation. E.L. James fails to make Anastasia identify with what happened, even though she’s clearly having fun.

She is not a heroine who is self-determined about what she likes or what she prefers. In the book she doesn’t even say that Christian should please do anything specific. She always allows things to happen to her and would never initiate anything on her own. Because she has no idea about her own sexuality.

Unfortunately, E.L. James wrote Anastasia that way. Anastasia could be a woman who struggles with emancipation, who reflects what she likes. She sorts which flowers in the BDSM playground she likes best. Who can also talk about it later. At least in the first part, the second part is supposed to be better. It would have been so easy to write in detail about the characters’ thoughts and inner struggles in the book.

The story works and is believable if…

…one assumes that she is a completely inexperienced woman sexually, with a few fantasies in the direction of SM: a little bit of tying is ok, there is nothing wrong with light spanking. He is a mentally broken man with a history of abuse. This way you can see the story and classify it as credible. Otherwise, unfortunately, it’s pretty unrealistic, because the book and film have little to do with real BDSM. For him, SM is primarily a coping strategy and the only way to think about love. For her, BDSM is the admission she makes to be with Christian. (We remember: “I don’t want to be punished any more than you want to let me touch you.” on page 587)

E.L. James didn’t do too bad of research, but…

In some ways, E.L. James researched it quite well. The essential terms such as Dom and Sub and all the special terms are largely explained. Christian also points out in an exemplary manner that he won’t do anything that she doesn’t want and that he’ll clarify this with her in advance. He also says that they absolutely have to talk to each other, because that is the basis for this type of relationship to work. You also have to be honest with each other. He obviously represents the SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual) principle in an exemplary manner.

But what happens? They never talk about what they experienced. He stalks her completely against her stated wishes. He is extremely reserved when it comes to honesty on his part. Also: cable ties? Unfortunately, dear children, all of this is not SSC. Yes, well informed, but unfortunately not implemented, E.L. James!

Shades of Grey is a love story with kinky aspects

OK. I’ll summarize: It’s nice if there was a trigger that stimulated the discussion about BDSM. I don’t think it necessarily had to be this book, but it was good. You can slowly stop calling the phenomenon an SM novel or SM film. It’s a love story with a few kinky parts, nothing more. And please, don’t believe everything in 50 Shades of Grey or see it as an instruction manual, because it’s too far removed from common sense for that.

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