That movie…and that book

You know the one I’m talking about. Fifty Shades of Grey. I write erotic romance, and I am frequently asked what I think about the book and the movie, so rather than continue to ignore the question, I’m going to grab the bull by the horns and answer it.

Let me say first that there is one thing I am very grateful for. The book made it socially acceptable to read, write, and talk about erotica. That’s amazing. Grandmothers proudly hold up the book. My own mother read it (though that still makes me shudder a bit). You can now find thousands of different erotic romance titles on Amazon’s virtual shelves. Heck, you can probably find multiple thousands of them. So for that I am very thankful.

But here’s the thing. Fifty Shades of Grey has some definite problems for me. Personally, the writing was a turnoff. Now, that’s personal preference. I don’t much care for Tom Clancy’s writing either. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a good writer. It just means that his writing isn’t my cup of tea. We each have our own styles and that’s okay and in fact, is encouraged. No one book is for everyone.

I have issues with James’s use of the subconscious. Your subconscious can’t actually talk to you. That’s why it’s called the subconscious. Because it’s under your consciousness. I think the book needs a strict copy edit. But then again, many books do. This is part of the problem when you’re an editor. You notice these things. A lot of other people might not. That’s all fine too. If the editing and phrasing issues don’t bother you, that’s wonderful. I’m sure that my phrasing preferences bother some people. Every writer has their own style and every reader has styles they prefer and do not prefer. Again, we’re all good here.

My primary issue with the book (less so the movie, because really…the movie wouldn’t have happened without the book) is Christian’s behavior and how it is perceived.

Christian isn’t a Master or a Dom. Christian is an abuser. A Master always has his slave’s needs met. Yes, the Master controls the scene and in fact, in a complete power exchange, the Master will control such things as his slave’s dress, when she (or he) eats, sleeps, or works. A Master will punish his slave when they disobey, at least until their safe word is uttered. Christian goes further. Christian is a stalker. He tracks Ana’s phone. He stops her from talking to other men. He threatens to hurt her, not as part of BDSM play, but because she took a phone call from another man.

I’ve seen a lot of backlash against the book and a fair bit of backlash against the backlash. So I want to be clear. If you enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey, that’s wonderful. I am very happy for you. I’m not trying to tell you that you shouldn’t read it or shouldn’t go see the movie or shouldn’t enjoy either one of them. The best thing about fiction is that it’s fiction. We can all experience things in books and movies we would never want to experience in real life and we can enjoy them. I certainly don’t want to be an anthropomorphic tree, but I LOVED Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. I don’t want to have shrapnel millimeters from my heart, but IronMan and the Avengers rocked. (I’ve been on a Marvel kick lately.)

The perception I’m upset with, primarily, is that Christian is romantic and the type of guy every woman wants. Not only is he not the guy that every woman wants, he’s not the guy any woman should want. And let me be very clear here. I have been in and around the lifestyle. I am not, in any way, shape, or form, saying that BDSM is bad or that a woman shouldn’t want a Dominant or a Master for a partner. No. That’s not it at all. I am not saying that BDSM is abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. BDSM is beautiful, fulfilling, and even healing when done in a safe, sane, and consensual manner.

What EL James has done, unfortunately, is give the world a stalker who is idolized. One who is held up as the perfect man. And that is why I wrote this post. Continuing my going deeper series and talking about abuse, I will tell you that I’ve experienced some of these behaviors in my own life. They are not sexy. They are scary as hell and they are blatant red flags.

I have heard that the director of the movie actually did a good job moderating some of Christian’s stalker tendencies while shooting. That makes me very happy. But while I’m very thankful that EL James brought erotica to the mainstream, I worry about the message the book is sending. Yes. It is fiction. It is not real life. But art influences life (and life influences art). And we shouldn’t forget that.

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