When 50 Shades drifted onto my radar sometime in the last couple of years, I felt the same tingle of annoyance - of irrational possessiveness - I get when an unknown band I love blows up. Oh great. Secret's out. And yes, all the LOLs in the world at the idea that BDSM could be my, or anyone's, secret. But there you have it.
What bothered me was the fear that 50 Shades, the most widely-selling book of its kind in recent memory, had gotten it terribly wrong, where "it" was a subject I cared about. The fear that, in the wrong hands (and minds), that subject was going to be mishandled, and thus misrepresented to the millions of people suddenly exposed to it. Or, alternatively, that it would be so watered down as to be unpalatably boring. Turns out it was a little from column A and a little from column B. (Columns D and s were unavailable to comment; they were too busy having fun in much better books.)
So I am relieved by 50's embarrassing critical reception. Sure, it's sold and sold and sold. But virtually every reviewer, professional and amateur, is in agreement: the writing is wretched. And wretched writing doesn't move people, in good ways or bad. The outcry against (an inaccurate portrayal of) true BDSM that I feared never materialized, and instead people are crying out against what they've correctly identified as abuse. They are also seeing 50 Shades the literary endeavor clearly for what it is: pap. I also don't imagine that hordes of young lovers are flocking to their local Pleasure Chest to stock up on toys. Not that I would disapprove if they did. I am in great favor of such pursuits, every last consensual kink of them. But I'd hate for anyone's curiosity to be rooted in the sort of misguided, misogynist ideas put forth so ineloquently in 50 Shades. The only bad kink is nonconsensual kink, and that's exactly the kind E.L. James wrote. But don't take my word for it; she says so herself.
I started writing with the idea: when you meet someone who is into bdsm (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, red.) and you are not up for it, what will happen?
There are a couple of fantastic, extremely thorough take-downs of 50 Shades on the web that, if you're interested, are smart, funny, and will satisfactorily quell any fears you have about missing out on something hot. Because I was definitely afraid I was missing out on something hot. Thankfully, people more patient than I went ahead and determined that no, we are not missing out on a damn thing. (Not the least because 50 Shades stops short, IMHO, of anything much further beyond Vanilla+.)
The Pervocracy looks at 50 Shades from the perspective of an active, feminist member of the BDSM community, and nails it again and again:
One of the many nasty things about this book is that it acknowledges that kinky women exist, but much like blonde women, they blend into a homogenous morass of not-quite-humanity. [Christian Grey]'s past submissives don't have any names or distinguishing features, they're just "the fifteen," and Ana and [Christian] always talk about them like there's something cheap and dirty about the fact that they might've actually enjoyed playing with him.
Jenny Trout has authored several romance novels herself; I have a feeling that what a lot of people were looking for would be much better found in her books. An excerpt from her take on 50 Shades:
Now, let’s move on to how fucked up it is that Christian is grossed out by the fact that Hyde likes rough sex. I get it, he’s supposed to be thinking, “My god, is that how I’ve been treating Ana? I’m such a fool! Tender and quiet lovemaking with a minimum of bodily contact from now on!” But it’s so, so stupid. The thing that makes Jack Hyde evil isn’t that he likes rough sex. It’s that he likes rough sex specifically to humiliate and manipulate women into doing what he wants them to do for him, without caring about obtaining enthusiastic consent, and that’s nothing like what Christian…
For the record, I would (maybe) include links to some of the good BDSM writing I cut my teeth on oh so many years ago. Alas, Usenet is no more, and the Altnet I frequented bears little resemblance to its modern iteration. There is one remaining extant web source of material that young Ellie spent many a night procrastinating frosh term papers on...but if you want to know what it is, you'll have to email me to ask, muahaha. I'll share, but first you've got to admit you're curious...
And with that I will shut up about the thing I wish everyone else would shut up about, too.