More than anything, 50 Shades represents the mainstreaming and feminization of S&M pornography. Once confined to the shadows of the art-movie house, sadomasochism is having its moment in the bright light of the mall. Both critics and fans of 50 Shades miss the essential point about pornography: that it speaks to primitive, pre-rational, taboo desires. Its lure is precisely the refusal to bow to social limits. It doesn’t matter who sets those limits: fathers, priests, or gender studies professors can all have the sort of authority that the unconscious is determined to flout. Nor will gender progress stop the rebellious id. Even a Hillary Clinton presidency won’t rid the nation of libidinous fantasies about dangerous Alpha Males wielding duct tape.
Still, James is clever enough to know that this taboo fantasy is hardly the final word on women’s desires. I’m far from the only one to observe that beneath the outré distractions of the Red Room lies the most conventional of love stories: the emotionally stunted man who finally cannot resist the love of a good woman. In a familiar vein, Anastasia—the Disney-sounding name is no accident—wants “more” (i.e., emotional connection, communication, love, and all that stereotypical female stuff) from this distant man who not only doesn’t commit, but “doesn’t do relationships” altogether. Her triumph over his psychological demons is as far from the multi-partner degradations of the 1954 S&M “classic,” The Story of O, as a children’s game of hide and seek is from Gladiator combat. But it’s clearly a major element in the book’s success.
James modernizes the seemingly outmoded fantasy of her tale through an elaborate performance of consent. Grey presents Anastasia with a contract dense with “fundamental terms” and appendices, stipulating rules of location, time, and meticulously described limits. He even insists that she sign off on various bondage accessories. The contract negotiations give Anastasia a degree of power even as she signs it away.Okay. So Christian Grey is a sort of update of Rhett Butler--with duct tape. Gotcha. It still does nothing for me, though. In fact, I am far more intrigued by the idea of 50 Shades of Gravy--the name of a food truck me and my sister-in-law are thinking of launching.
|50 Shades of Gravy--yum!|
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