I read this in a posting over on Kitty Thomas‘ blog a while back. I think it might be a perfect summation of what the success of the 50 Shades of Grey erotic trilogy means for the BDSM community in the short term. If you haven’t read, please click on over and have a look. Well worth your time.
Ironically enough, the success of E.L. James’ series is not a black or white, good or bad thing for BDSM practitioners (I don’t really like ‘kinksters’ as a descriptor). In the short run, there are both positives and negatives, while in the long run I think it will be almost uniformly helpful to BDSM – but not for the reasons you may think. In fact, in an odd way, the success may help push BDSM back into the “underground” somewhat. I will explain why in a bit.
Here are some of the short term benefits as I see them:
- “normalizing” of BDSM (i.e. people will realize that a whole lot of other people are interested in this stuff)
- sparks discussion in an honest manner not littered with snickering and general snark (I can’t tell you what kind of damage farces such as Exit to Eden do to BDSM; luckily nodody saw that movie, so it could have been a lot worse)
- more people will try it or talk about it with their significant others – this is only a good thing IMO
- will be a boon to erotica and erotic romance writers in a general sense ( a rising tide lifts all boats)
Short term detriments:
- kink tourists – people will “join in” as more of a lark than any real urge to explore their sexuality
- people will develop an unrealistic idea of BDSM based on the novels; by all accounts the novels are at best sugar-kink and at worst vanilla with a thin kink veneer.
- 50 Shades “clones” pushed by publishers
- PC police descend on the community – you thought it was bad when SSC was used as a cudgel to keep us unruly pervs in line? Now, comes “mainstream” kink – a contradiction in terms – that we’ll have to fall in line behind (or argue against).
In the long term though, I think 50 Shades could do for BDSM fiction what Twilight or the Harry Potter trilogy did for young adult and fantasy fiction, respectively. Like those books, the literary merit of the story or authorial talent ceases to matter – it’s the activity and the conversations sparked that matter.
How long has BDSM been whispered about, snickered about, or outright ridiculed? You can still be fired for being kinky, and quite legally at that. But it is NOT legal to be fired for being gay or lesbian. Now, the 50 Shades phenomenon is getting “regular” people talking about BDSM in :::shock::: a serious manner.
Now, many of the readers will be truly shocked and/or repelled by what those of us regard as “real” BDSM. That’s OK with me; it by default restores the “forbidden” to BDSM that may have been part of its initial appeal to many of us. That being said, we do need more honesty and openness about sexuality, and even if it results in a tsunami of kink tourists, this will encourage such openness. Maybe only 5% of these tourists decide to explore more deeply, and tap into something within themselves that speaks to needs far beyond the confines of the 50 Shades storyline? Is that ultimately a good thing? Hell yes, it is.
There are many of us who consider ourselves more or less “kinky” and actually regard being different as a badge of honor. However, the success of the series shows that there is a vast cohort of people who are at least intrigued by BDSM. As Kitty Thomas has stated many times on her blog, these readers may not be as vanilla as they think they are. The suppression of the (at one time) very popular “bodice ripper” storylines in the Romance genre by the PC police doesn’t mean readers aren’t still interested in it. That to me is the most fascinating subtext to the 50 Shades phenomenon: readers want to read this stuff – a LOT of this stuff. If they can’t get it in the more “acceptable” Romance forms, then they will get it somewhere else.
Maybe 50 Shades helps revive the “bodice ripper” in the same way self-publishing is starting to revive the moribund gothic romance genre? My guess is that it continues to benefit erotic romance (which has seen more and more successes that embrace some rather dark storylines) and to a lesser extent, erotica. It’s way too early to tell, but more genres mean more choices. This is always a good thing for readers and authors both.
What do you think? What is your take on the 50 Shades phenomenon?