liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
[personal profile] liv
My current guilty pleasure: compulsively reading lots and lots of think pieces about Fifty Shades of Grey, even though I already know what I think about it, and have no more intention of watching the film than I had of reading the book. I really don't think the release of the film brings much new to the debate, I mean, wow, off-the-charts popular sexy book gets made into a blockbuster film, not exactly earth-shattering news.

Anyway, [personal profile] metaphortunate has the platonic ideal summary of all the FSoG opinions, and some really interesting meta-meta in reaction to it. I mean, there's a story I and lots of the commenters want to read, where an innocent woman discovers her kinky side with a caring, respectful dom who negotiates and establishes really meaningful consent before hurting her in ways that really work for her, and then they live happily ever after. FSoG is really, really, really not that story, but that story pretty much doesn't exist in mainstream media; as [personal profile] metaphortunate points out, all the kink classics are, um, problematic, and all the mainstream romances that get made into Hollywood films are also problematic; you merge the two and you don't magically get something healthy and wholesome.

A kinky romance is exactly what FSoG is not. It's a conventional romance, where the smouldering billionaire's Tragic Flaw is that he gets off on tying women up and hitting them when they don't enjoy that. He's also a controlling, abusive stalker, but that's a genre convention, there are loads of controlling abusive stalker love interests in all kinds of romance, not just cheap books with hearts on the spine, but rom-coms, and romances targeted at male audiences too, lit-fic, the romance arc in a huge proportion of action films, adverts, everywhere. [personal profile] metaphortunate disapproves of Pervocracy's disapproval more than I do; I think Cliff has a really interesting insight when he points out that FSoG is a romance based on the premise of, what if one of those kinky perverted sadists had a romance with a ~normal human being~ instead of a submissive? And of course that's offensive to kinky people. But it's also an effective source of narrative tension.

Is it hot? Not to me, but what's that to do with the price of fish? Is it completely incomprehensible that it could be hot? No, of course not. I think [personal profile] metaphortunate is absolutely right that there's an awful lot of policing women's desires and fantasies going on here. And yes, it's all about protecting some other people over there, who might be confused between fantasy and what's actually desirable IRL, just like the thing of not wanting one's servants to read Lady Chatterley's lover, or people wringing their hands over girls finding Heathcliff dreamy instead of disturbing in Wuthering Heights. Same old same old. I did like Erica Moen's (very NSFW) comic which admits that FSoG has appeal even if it isn't Great Literature ™ or fully on board with sex-positive feminist thought.

I'm reminded of Clarisse Thorn's insight that a lot of scene BDSM is really only sexy if you're kind of geeky about these things. It's very possible that a reader who was submissive would find something to relate to and enjoy about Ana's experiences, even though Ana herself, well, maybe likes rough sex but really isn't into pain or power exchange. Lots of people would rather fantasize about actually being kidnapped and ravished than about carefully negotiating a pretend game of simulated non-consent. So yes, Christian Grey is pretty evil, but that's sort of the point.

Another thought I had sparked off [personal profile] metaphortunate's post is to do with what women have the right to expect in relationships. I think it's a Dilbert cartoon I'm thinking of, where one character poses the conundrum, would you rather have a well-paid but soul-destroying and meaningless job, or a poorly paid job with a great workplace culture that really valued your unique skills? And the poor cube monkeys are like, either of those sounds a lot better than this job, where can I sign up?! Maybe if a massive swathe of popular culture tells women that sex is all about women doing things they find disgusting and unpleasant so that they can "get" and "keep" a man who receives sexual pleasure from these degrading things, the alternative of a man who forces you to do disgusting and painful things but also gives you lots of intense orgasms and buys you expensive presents and adores you to the point of worship seems not so unappealing.

Leslie Bennetts' response piece is absolutely all over the place, quoting both Gail Dines and Esther Perel as if they somehow had a unified message, jumping from platitudes about the low quality of the writing to horrifying lists of all the sexual violence suffered by women and girls she knows. But I think there's the kernel of a point there, that we're only just now coming to the beginning of an era where women have the freedom to actually express what they do want sexually. And of course there's backlash against that, how would there not be?

I very much agree with [personal profile] metaphortunate that true equality includes high-budget glossy trash marketed at women. And when the first few glimmerings of that start to exist, there's no real value in spilling ink about how trashy and non-uplifting said trash is.

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Date: 2015-02-17 11:32 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
It's a conventional romance, where the smouldering billionaire's Tragic Flaw is that he gets off on tying women up and hitting them when they don't enjoy that... FSoG is a romance based on the premise of, what if one of those kinky perverted sadists had a romance with a ~normal human being~ instead of a submissive? And of course that's offensive to kinky people. But it's also an effective source of narrative tension.

Yeah, all this was what I was trying to say about the book before, but I think you managed to say it more clearly than I did.

It's like, if someone condemns 50SG as abusive because they condemn sexual fantasies and female sexuality indiscriminately, I want to say, "OK, you're mostly right HERE, but I disagree with what you're actually saying". And if someone says "abuse and BDSM are wrong and shouldn't be glorified", I want to agree, but without condemning consensual BDSM, but without derailing the conversation about actual abuse. And I can't find a way of making those distinctions :(

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From: [personal profile] jack - Date: 2015-02-17 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2015-02-17 11:41 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
In some ways, the question of "is romance-novel-stalking abuse" is sometimes like "is it malpractice if a fictional doctor gives CPR in a non-real-world realistic way". I think everyone accepts that even if a CPR is shown wrong and the patient dies, we're supposed to understand that the doctor is giving "normal" CPR and the show just didn't show it correctly. Not say "but why didn't any of the other doctors notice this doctor was so completely untrained, why does everyone ignore this, etc, etc". But that's easier to do when there's a specific factual thing, harder when there's an emotional thing, like "this grand romantic gesture is really flattering when you can be really sure the target wants it which is usually not the case in the real world!"

And it varies from "grand romantic gestures the film just accepts as romantic" to "grand romantic gestures the film shows as badly chosen but are vindicated later". Like, 50SG does some things which are common in nicer romances, and some things which are plainly abusive, and some things inbetween -- but the ones the book endorses and condemns are not exactly the same as they would be in the real world. And it's not clear when that's clear to the audience and when it isn't.

It's like, vanilla romance and dubcon erotic fic alike both commonly have a sort of "it's romantic/sexy when someone does something for you you weren't really sure you wanted but enjoyed when it happened". And how ok this is is conveyed partly by the tone of the story (is the target annoyed? or violated?) and partly by genre convention, and partly by the facts of what happens. So there's often a phenomenon of "it's hot, unless it breaks the suspension of disbelief that this would be abusive", but different people's suspension of disbelief breaks in different places, so different people can have very different views of "is this clearly a fantasy never intended to happen, or is this really horrible".

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Date: 2015-02-17 04:39 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
In some ways, the question of "is romance-novel-stalking abuse" is sometimes like "is it malpractice if a fictional doctor gives CPR in a non-real-world realistic way". I think everyone accepts that even if a CPR is shown wrong and the patient dies, we're supposed to understand that the doctor is giving "normal" CPR and the show just didn't show it correctly.

The issue with portraying CPR accurately, as I understand it from conversations I've had with people trained to do so, is that it's a last ditch emergency procedure that involves accepting a strong likelihood of incidental damage towards the goal of resuscitating the subject; do it accurately with someone who isn't in need of that scale of procedure, and you're likely to do them serious damage at the scale of broken ribs. So the conventions of showing CPR on-screen are deliberately inaccurate, like the conventions of depicting epileptics triggered by flashing lights deliberately don't use frequencies likely to set off epileptics in the audience.

So there's often a phenomenon of "it's hot, unless it breaks the suspension of disbelief that this would be abusive", but different people's suspension of disbelief breaks in different places, so different people can have very different views of "is this clearly a fantasy never intended to happen, or is this really horrible".

That feels like a very useful insight; thank you.

(The thing that amuses me about the Fifty Shades film is looking at the Seattle skyline shown in the posters, comparing it to having actually been in Seattle, and concluding that Mr. Grey's apartment must be dangling from a large helicopter several miles out to sea. There's a metaphor for the whole thing right there.)

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From: [personal profile] davidgillon - Date: 2015-02-17 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2015-02-17 12:02 pm (UTC)
oursin: image of hedgehogs having sex (bonking hedgehogs)
From: [personal profile] oursin
I'm pretty sure that there is analysis of the romance and on rape fantasies going back to, oh, at, least the 1970s, which point out that in the fantasy the male is a) desirable and b) giving the woman what she wants (It's not All About Him), but that she is released from having to do that taboo thing of expressing her own desires or manifesting sexual agency. (I think Joanna Russ has something to this effect in one of the essays in Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts.) Though I seem to recall some survey of British sexual fantasies a few years ago that found that the 'being forced into sex' one was also quite common among men. So maybe there's a wider cultural thing to do with anxieties about sex/being sexual/etc going on.

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Date: 2015-02-17 12:08 pm (UTC)
highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Default)
From: [personal profile] highlyeccentric
Nancy Friday is what you want for the first citation. Possibly also the second? She did work on men more recently.

ed: not Nancy Garden! That's YA lesbian romance!
Edited Date: 2015-02-17 12:19 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2015-02-17 12:17 pm (UTC)
highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Default)
From: [personal profile] highlyeccentric
Thing is, I'm pretty alarmed at the groupthink that idolises Edward Cullen and/or Christian Grey. They're freakin' creepy, and people *do* go around saying they really want their own Edward and/or Christian. They might be mentally modifying that (but i want him to only do things i sekritly like), but it kinda runs off the rails when it comes to training women to read abusive shit as romantic behaviour.

You know what else does that? Pride and Prejudice. It's always annoed me. Mr Darcy is a dick. He's always been a dick, and if he respects Elizabeth by the end it's because she stands up to him a bit but not too much. THAT IS NOT ACTUALLY CONSTRUCTIVE. And the Bridget Jones version is so, so much worse. At last Elizabeth has a spine and some self-esteem outside of her relationship to Mr Darcy.

But I don't get away with complaining about this in genteel conversation. I get yelled at and told I'm either being rude to people's favourite book, or actually a "failure as a woman" for not being attracted to that archetype. (Also on the list: Heathcliff. Edward Rochester, although he's a bit more interesting.) Or perhaps not into that archetype in realist or gothic fiction? I was *all over* a dark, brooding and chronically passive hero by the name of Rushton in Isobelle Carmody books when I were a young lass. I can also list a huge number of terrible fantasy heroes I have either grown to dislike or am immensely fond of but now see why the author did not marry her spunky heroine off to him (eg: Jonathan in the Alanna books).

Soo... 50 shades romanticises abuse is *true* but not surprising or as much of a problem as people think it is. 50 Shades gets marketed as an introduction to kink, *that* is a problem, but I hold out hope that the cash-in material might be better? There are now many many mass-market kinky romances out there (I note some with Yellow titles that are apparently about pissplay!), they can't all be equally awful.

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From: [personal profile] rysmiel - Date: 2015-02-18 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand

Disagree about Darcy

Date: 2015-02-22 06:30 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I doubt anyone will ever read this, but I think that your take stems from a serious misreading of Pride and Prejudice. It is a mistake that is very common (so common that it probably isn't a mistake, and it is my take that is). The mistake is to forget that we only get Darcy through Elizabeth's eyes (even the direct speech is her take on what he says, hence the implausibly polished sentences). Darcy is a very two dimensional character, especially in the opening act, because, surprise, Lizzy has no way of making sense of him. She is totally inexperienced and sheltered. He inhabits a different social world and a different gender world. She also has no way of conceptualising her sexuality. As I read it, Lizzy fancies Darcy from the off, but can't quite accept her desires, so reads Darcy's shyness and discomfort as haughty, insolent priggishness. Darcy is, in fact a bit of a prig, how else could he be? He too is young and unable to understand himself or others, so he behaves like a dick (I don't think he likes the fact that he wants to fuck Lizzie and be fucked by her much either. It disturbs him). They both grow up, a bit, but there doesn't seem much chance of them ever getting to understand each other or have a mutually fulfilling marriage, although they are well suited. They are both clever and kind, and not much prepared to indulge in vanities. That is the tragedy at the heart of the piece.

I have to admit, I'm only confident about the former part, because I always get swept up in the rom com layer despite my best endeavours. So I've never read the last third and a bit properly. However, I think that the best alternative reading is that Elizabeth sees in Darcy her best chance in life. She'll get out of Hertfordshire, be mistress of both Pemberley and a large fortune, have a husband, who, if a bit of a dick, will dote on her and be one which she can control. Damn Austen and her brilliance.

As for Rochester, he gets castrated by Jane which is a fantastic ending. I think that text is the best exploration of BDSM that I know.

Re: Disagree about Darcy

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Re: Disagree about Darcy

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2015-02-23 11:02 am (UTC) - Expand

Re: Disagree about Darcy

From: (Anonymous) - Date: 2015-02-23 11:12 am (UTC) - Expand

(no subject)

Date: 2015-02-17 01:06 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I certainly have fantasies that involve doing things that would actually be terrible if they really happened; certainly a lot of published erotica involves dubious or entirely absent consent, so probably I'm not *alone* in thinking things that should-never-happen are hot to *think about* (but shocking if they actually happen).

I think I'm more worried by the normalisation of romance-film type stalking than I am about "Mr Grey spanked her while she said no"; I guess because there's a lot less "this is really bad" being said about it, but also because I want DIFFERENT ROMANCE FILMS that aren't being made. (ones with peoplelikeme in them would be good!)

But I tried reading 50sog and I hated the prose, so I haven't actually read it and don't intend to because the world contains too many books that I WANT to read to read ones I don't.

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Date: 2015-02-17 03:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghoti.livejournal.com
I have nothing to add (except that, never having read much fanfic, I hadn't realised quite how little I know about fanfic until I read this) except this link:

http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/50shadesofgrey/

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Date: 2015-02-17 04:06 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Speaking of being geeky about BDSM, I'd no sooner seen this than a friend on FB linked in to a picture of Princess Leia in her slave outfit and chains, reclining next to a disturbingly satisfied looking Jabba the Hutt, with the legend 'Still a better bondage story than 50 Shades of Grey'.

It's one of those images you laugh at, and then starts wrigging it's way into your thinking as maybe more insightful than you thought (possibly even than the author thought), because there probably is a sub-genre for that sort of chained-slave-girl rape-and-revenge tale.

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Date: 2015-02-17 07:21 pm (UTC)
kerrypolka: Contemporary Lois Lane with cellphone (Default)
From: [personal profile] kerrypolka
I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'better' (and 'bondage story'). Ana gets a lot more pleasure in hers.

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Date: 2015-02-17 07:48 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
That should of course be 'wrigg_l_ing it's way into your thinking'

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Date: 2015-02-17 07:42 pm (UTC)
ceb: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ceb
The kind of punching-down at BDSM bloggers you link to is really annoying. Yes 50SoG is fluff and fun, whatever, but this stuff is also actually an ethical concern in some people's lives, and trying to put them down with "why must you be so square, we're just having fun, why do you have to ruin it with your boring facts?" sounds strangely familiar from somewhere... oh wait! It's people putting down feminists.

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From: [personal profile] highlyeccentric - Date: 2015-02-19 03:39 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2015-02-17 08:04 pm (UTC)
slashmarks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] slashmarks
This is about how I feel.

The thing that keeps surprising me is the number of people who seem to think Fifty Shades is news. As you pointed out, a lot of people into kink prefer to fantasize about dubious consent and dangerous activities, rather than the sort of carefully negotiated things they can do in real life. In all honestly, most BDSM porn seems to fit in that general category. It's an interesting point, though, that some of the hysteria over Fifty Shades might be that it's using different cues that it's fantasy than typical romance is, due to its fanfic background. There's also the fact that its current place in the spotlight means people who don't normally read genre romance or BDSM porn are encountering it and think it's something new.

At any rate, I'm honestly more concerned about the backlash than the movie or book's impact. It seems to be giving anti-porn activists some new audiences. But I kind of expect it'll all blow over in a few months when the movie's old news and writing pieces about it gets to be less cool and edgy.

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From: [personal profile] slashmarks - Date: 2015-02-19 01:27 am (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2015-02-17 11:27 pm (UTC)
ewx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ewx
No plans to see the film in the foreseeable future but I've been enjoying the reviews.

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Date: 2015-02-18 07:47 am (UTC)
silveradept: A kodama with a trombone. The trombone is playing music, even though it is held in a rest position (Default)
From: [personal profile] silveradept
It sounds like the reaction to the film is the same as the reaction to the book. Had to make our peace with it in the library world by saying "it gets people to read, and after they're done with this, we can get them better stuff for their fantasies."

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Date: 2015-02-18 01:57 pm (UTC)
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
From: [personal profile] oursin
The Enid Blyton defence!

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Date: 2015-02-19 01:16 pm (UTC)
hairyears: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hairyears
Laurie Penny has written a notorious review of FSoG and, more recently, a Fifty Shades of Socialist Feminism parody.

If she ever gets 'round to unscreening the comments on that blog, it's going to *hurt*: someone's perpetrated a series of Fifty Sheds of Socialist Feminism puns.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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