There has been a lot written in both vanilla and kinky circles about the recent phenomenon which is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E. L. James. People seem to either love the series or hate it, and many good arguments have been put forth for each point of view, with people in the kink world mostly coming down on the hate side. It has been decried as poorly written, and as bad education. It has even inspired some wonderful and bitingly funny parodies such as the one penned by Laura Antoniou, author of the popular Marketplace series. It is serving as the catalyst for a great deal of discussion in both the kink and the vanilla worlds, and that is never a bad thing.
Despite the negatives, on the whole, I actually really liked the books, and have some thoughts that I’ve not seen addressed elsewhere, specifically around the portrayal of consent.
First of all, before getting to that, what it actually is is a series written by a first time author who researched the subject of BDSM online, and makes no bones about that fact. It is first and foremost a love story, and largely a literary first in that it is clearly pornographic, but in a format that appeals to a very broad base of mostly vanilla women who generally are not associated with reading porn of any sort beyond the bodice-ripper genre. It is aimed at the mass market, and has succeeded wildly in exactly what it has set out to accomplish. It is a mistake to expect a book to be what it is not and was never intended to be – and to read it and to decry it as what it never did set out to be is to entirely miss the point, when reading any book.
The story opens a door into our world that most have never seen, and as such, makes what we do more accessible to the public, and will hopefully serve as a gateway for those who are curious to seek out information and ways to dip their toes into the waters. It also legitimizes women’s erotica and has gotten the world talking about women’s sexual fantasies and desires, not just those of men. It was never intended to be a book about BDSM education, so why get so upset that it isn’t?
Great literature it is not, but it is far from as terribly written as many writers have made it out to be. The much-vaunted Beauty series that is often brought up as a comparison is actually considerably worse, and ultimately deadly boring, despite being written by quite a good author. For one thing, Fifty Shades actually has a plot line and other things going on in the story beyond the endless jackrabbit-like fucking and sucking that permeate Beauty to the exclusion of everything else, and there is character development. Whether one actually likes the characters involved or not is a different question, and a matter of personal tastes, but we do see the evolution of both two individuals and their relationship unfold in its pages in what is actually a pretty realistic manner overall, even if the time frame is rather insanely sped up. Continue reading