When my radio woke me up this morning, it was broadcasting a live interview with Jamie Dornan. Cinemas are selling mainstream fetish ties alongside the popcorn, and my local supermarket has a line of handcuff-emblazoned pyjamas.
Here in the UK, today has been named Fifty Shades Friday: the day that the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey hits cinemas. The very first showing near my home sold out two weeks ago. The audience was entirely made up of women, mostly in their late-30s and up, and I was a long way from being the only person there alone.
There’s no denying that Fifty Shades is having an effect, both on mainstream media and on the kink community itself. All of a sudden, BDSM is everywhere. I even heard on the news today that the fire brigade are keeping extra services on standby this Valentine’s weekend to deal with the expected upsurge of people stuck in handcuffs!
The eyes have it: Fifty Shades' Ana and Christian connect
The breakfast show I listen to has coined a new phrase, JDP, or “Jamie Dornan Panic.” I’m starting to think I might be the last male-attracted person left in the Western world who doesn't spontaneously combust every time he blinks. One of the many reasons I don’t fancy him is that he thinks I’m basically a circus freak show.
During the interview, Dornan said: “I went [to a sex dungeon], they offered me a beer, and they did whatever they were into. I saw a dominant with one of his two submissives. I was like, ‘Come on guys, I know I'm not paying for this but I’m expecting a show.' It was an interesting evening. Then, going back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards, I had a long shower before touching either of them.”
Now, I’m not expecting him to find some kind of full-scale lifestyle dom, obviously, but is it much to ask that a character like this be played by someone who understands our community and doesn't think we’re from another planet?
The most highly-publicised critics of this film aren't any better, mind you. A lot of the protest about Fifty Shades of Grey isn't about the books or the movie; it’s about BDSM. The kink in the film is actually entry-level stuff, but the backlash has still been enormous.
All those people calling this a film about domestic abuse and branding Christian a violent thug? They’re not just saying that to E.L. James and to Universal Pictures. They're saying it to us, and that doesn't sit well with me as a feminist or as a sub.
Good job Dakota Johnson is in a blindfold... she can't read our review of Fifty Shades!
The story is clearly not blameless. I’m a great deal less damning about this series than a lot of people, but it does play into a few infuriating stereotypes. Over the course of the three books we meet three people who have chosen a kinky lifestyle for themselves: Leila and Elena, who both turn out to be psychotic, and Christian, whose kinks are explained by his abusive early childhood and who apparently picks submissives based on how much they look like his mother.
It’s only Ana, blessed, well-adjusted Ana, with her morals and her only marginally dysfunctional childhood, whose sexual tastes don't supposedly stem from mental illness, inherent evil or childhood trauma. That she’s so conflicted and uneasy about her desires is portrayed as proof positive of her goodness and health.
I don’t suppose I need to explain to you lot why this is such offensive bullshit.
The film certainly isn't without its redeeming features. While Christian in the film is substantially creepier and much less conscientious than Christian in the book, he’s still careful to stress the importance of safe words, consent and the use of condoms.
Dakota Johnson is pretty good. Ana is a great deal less irritating when you’re not constantly subjected to her interminable inner monologue, and some of her more conspicuously unnatural habits. The constant lip-chewing and the ability to orgasm three times in ten seconds flat just from having her earlobe sucked, or whatever the hell it is he does, have been blessedly downplayed.
The film’s one major let down is the ending, which was just as true of the novel; it’s a nightmare of poor communication skills and overwrought angst. It’s also not the ending you expect, though, I assure you, that comes along very swiftly in book two.
So, if I were an actual film critic rather than a sort of sarcastic kink community pundit, I’d probably give this film three stars. Should you go and see it? If you’re looking for an introduction to BDSM, please don’t take this film or the book it’s from as a manual.
However, if you’re interested in keeping up with what the zeitgeist are talking about, though, or if, like me, you quite enjoyed the books despite thousands of very valid misgivings, it’s probably worth a watch.
Abi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to genre fiction, social justice and M.A.C lipstick. Follow her @see_abi_write.
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