In one way I am loathe to write an article which might garner any further attention to a book series which, in my opinion, seems like it was authored by someone who learned about English and ‘The Facts of Life’ last Monday and said ‘ah shag it, I’ll try a novel!’ However, I feel since it’s become so omnipresent in popular culture that it is now akin to discussing the weather or house prices. The latest edition in EL James’s Fifty Shades series entitled ‘Grey’ was released to much anticipation. Apparently. I only heard about it because Pat Kenny mentioned it (and I think years of therapy will not ameliorate the unfortunate co-association I now have in my fragile mind between Pat Kenny and hard-core BDSM.) In fact, according to Eason’s, the latest novel is the third best seller of the year after a week http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/books/book-news/newest-fifty-shades-book-is-easons-third-best-seller-of-year-after-a-week-31331147.html. A WEEK!
That fact, however, may be more of a statement of the poor performance of print publishing these days and the ability of a certain brand to saturate a market rather than any prowess on the part of the author. It does raise certain interesting issues though, as to why a book (and film) series should become so hugely popular in spite of the fact that it was clearly written by a non-native English speaker who learned to write from reading an old, starchy copy of Playdude and a Cosmo from the 1980s somewhere in the desert, desperately hoping to convey the coordinates of where they are stranded through code words such as ‘Inner Goddess’ and ‘Contract’. It seems to have cornered the market to the point that it would appear to carry as much popular influence as any soppy Hugh Grant Rom-Com from the nineties. The film was even sound-tracked by a sweet, sensitive ballad from Ellie Goulding (despite the fact that the only suitable soundtrack would have been the sound of a feral dog attempting to eat its own sick of a xylophone).
You might sense from the tone of this article that I’m not a particular fan of the book. I cannot say that it is because I am a literature snob as I’ll read any pulp novel as quick as I would Crime and Punishment, and it isn’t either the left-winger inside me who thinks it’s an affront to women. It’s kind of more, that it’s just a bit of a crap reflection of the relationships, insofar as I understand them, that people who are into the lifestyle actually have.
Now, I am not going to come out and say that I have huge experience in this world because I don’t. I’m from the west of Ireland. I’d drink tea before coffee any day and in spite of the fact that I’m very much an atheist I’ll still bless myself if a funeral goes by, and if I’m lucky enough to have someone let me see them naked I shut up and enjoy it, I don’t talk about contracts. The one experience I have had of the BDSM lifestyle was at a particular point in my life when I was going through a fairly severe romantic dry-spell. Think eating a cream cracker in Morroco dressed in a suit made of tampons. That’s how dry it was. I had tried all of the suggestions, Finder, Plenty of Friends, The Farmer’s Journal, but I had seen little to no success with any of them.
A friend suggested I tried a website (which I shall not name for fear of you opening it at work) as he said it was ‘the real thing man, it’s mostly ould fellas, but there are like 3 or 4 actual women on it! Like really real women! Live women!’ So, being at my last ebb, I figured, feck it, and decided to make a profile pretty much like my Facebook account. What surprised me on it wasn’t the graphic sexual content (that’s ubiquitous on the internet) but the fact that there were so many RULES! Far from posts reminiscent of the lady’s letters section of a men’s magazine, it talked about respecting each other, always seeking consent, appreciating someone who was a ‘submissive’, being careful and caring. There was none of the nonsense I’d imagined revolved around such things.
I saw that there was a ‘Munch’ organised nearby. So naturally I Googled what ‘Munch’ meant and to my somewhat disappointment discovered that it was just a social night with snacks. I went along for the look and found that, far from being some sort of debauched group of sex fiends (although there was one guy) they were all pretty humble and nice and friendly. One of the people there was a farmer from Roscommon who kept talking about ‘the great dhryin’ in the weather these days’ and whether or not the County GAA team would overcome Mayo. There was a transgender woman who gave me career advice on how I could start a tech company online and a German woman who gave me a recipe for Sauerkraut. There were no stereotypical ‘Christian Grey’ types, just a group of regular people who happened to enjoy being tied up from time to time, and maybe the odd hair brush to the backside, but they were all, as far as I could make out, fairly respectful, warm and intelligent people.
Did it help my dry spell? No. It wasn’t really for me. However, it did give me an appreciation that a relationship such as that, similar to any other, needs to be based on trust and mutual respect or else it won’t work. Otherwise it’s just abuse. That’s what I’d like you to gain from reading this article. The greater ‘pornification’ and sexualisation of pop culture as well as the caricatured depiction of sexuality in that book isn’t a reflection of how real people, even the kinky ones, behave in a relationship. So don’t use Fifty Shades as a guidebook for your sexlife. I suggest buying a hardback version and using it to scare religious types from the door. But that’s just me.