May 312012

Ana wakes up in Christian’s hotel suite the next morning. Christian not only had her undressed, but sent his bodyguard off to buy her a complete set of new clothes.

Um, wasn’t Ana’s friend and roommate Kate nearby when Ana passed out, and wouldn’t she have been a more natural choice to look after an unconscious Ana than a relative stranger like Christian?

Let me call process for a moment. I started thinking about the previous chapter’s commentary while I was still reading the text, and I was going to talk about how this wasn’t supposed to be a snarky commentary. That is, no cheap shots, no snobbishness, etc. Accept it for what it is, and understand how it fits into the world.

However, as I read about Ana’s utter helplessness and passivity, and Christian’s controlling, remote ways, I became more and more annoyed. I just don’t like Fifty Shades of Grey on several levels. As a writer, I don’t think it’s very well written. As a kinky person, I don’t think it’s giving people a good idea of how to do good BDSM.

So, I keep veering into snark, and frankly the Internet has more than enough of that. I’m doing my best to avoid it.

Over breakfast, Christian continues his approach-avoid pattern, admitting that he is attracted to Ana while at the same time warning her to stay away. In the source-text of Twilight, this is because Edward is a vampire and he has to struggle with his urge to consume human blood. In this version, Christian says he won’t kiss her without her written consent, baffling her. This sets up another date between them in another city, where he teases that he will reveal all. “Once you’re enlightened, you probably won’t want to see me again,” he says. Ana agrees. (You’d think a woman whose thesis was on Tess of the D’Urbervilles would be a little more suspicious of a wealthy man who promises to whisk her away to new places.)

One of Dan Savage’s recurring pieces of advice is, “If you’re going to introduce your partner to your kink or fetish, don’t begin the conversation in the same tone as, ‘I have a contagious fatal disease.’ Be up front and direct and don’t pressure the other person with it.” Christian seems apologetic on the surface, but really he’s teasing Ana with his deep, Gothic secret, another example of his mixed messages. He’s already dominating her, long before any negotiation has taken place between them.

This conversation over breakfast, in relatively neutral territory, is actually a good time to bring it up, to have some transparency and straightforward communication. Instead, Christian micro-manages her eating.

When Christian says, “Oh, fuck the paperwork,” and has a session of rough sex in an elevator, it’s a relief. Finally something people do.

It’s no secret that rejection hurts, nor that it feels good to be know one is desired. Ana’s situation, of being adored just for existing while not having to take any risk herself, is an appealing fantasy (and not just for women). I think a lot of people have some kind of initiation fantasy: that some other person will take the responsibility of the sexual encounter. The hope is that somebody will recognize us as desirable: the dominant woman or man who will take us, the same-sex partner who will seduce us out of our closeted lives. It’s preferable to the slow, stumbling process of articulating one’s own sexual identity, of coming out as gay or kinky or even as a sexual person. Unfortunately, such initiators are rare in the real world, and most of us have to stumble along, making mistakes and dealing with rejections and breakups.

Not so Ana. She gets Christian Grey, handsome, wealthy, powerful, with the mind of a forty-year-old man in the body of a twenty-five-year-old model, to guide her from never-held-hands-in-public to BDSM. Compare that to the disappointment that colors real human relationships, and no wonder this is so popular. Submissives want to believe that their dominants are trustworthy and infallible, but they need to remember that they’re human beings too.

Again, I come back to the fear that this book is harmful. Fifty Shades bothers me more than, say, Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, because the latter is clearly set in a completely fantastic world, and the former is supposedly set in our world. It even bothers me more than Story of O because the latter is raw masochism, completely divorced from any conventional idea of romance or marriage-plot. The problem with pink fun-fur lined handcuffs is believing that they can’t hurt you like the real thing if used improperly.

Maybe this is for the best. Maybe that our hypothetical newbie kinky woman who reads Fifty Shades will recognize the exaggerated fantasy for what it is, and if she ever goes to a munch or play party, she’ll know better than to model herself on Anastasia Steele. Maybe I’m underestimating people’s ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, and general common sense.

  2 Responses to “The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, Chapter 5”

  1. I came here from Jennifer Armintrout’s recapping of Fifty Shades. While she’s quite frankly hilarious in her derision of the books and lamentations of the abusive relationship they portray, I admit I wanted the POV of someone that knows BDSM to pick out the flaws in it so that I don’t develop any accidental misconceptions.

    You’re what I was looking for, and I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write these commentaries.

  2. I’m really enjoying reading your posts. I’ve done a lot of research on BDSM for my own reviews of the book but I’m learning quite a bit more by reading your writing. Thanks for taking the time to point out the problems in that arena.

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