So how do we all feel about the release of Fifty Shades of Grey? Excited? Appalled? Embarrassingly moist? Etta Stark takes a look at the Fifty Shades phenomenon and the world of slightly kinky erotic fiction in general.
This year’s most eagerly awaited film based on rehashed porny Twilight fanfiction is out today! Whether you love it, hate it, pretend to hate it but secretly love it, wank over it but still sort of hate it or have a complicated and mutually self-destructive relationship with it (but only because your mom was a crack whore), the makers of Fifty Shades of Grey: The Motion Picture almost certainly don’t care. Just so long as you hand over your money.
The bestselling book by EL James introduced its readers to the world of improbable virgin, Anastasia Steele and her suitor/millionaire boyfriend/Dominant/whiny self-obsessed stalker, Christian Grey. And now it’s coming to the big screen! In high definition, 3D, smell-o-vision! (Note to self: check that last bit. Would hate anyone to be disappointed if film doesn’t come with 3D penis action and an overwhelming smell of vaginal fluids.)
I haven’t seen the film yet, sadly. There were no preview screenings to be had for love, money or BDSM-style sexual favours. It’s almost as though the distributors expect Fifty Shades of Grey to be derided by the critics but a box-office success anyway. Although, if they are trying to make life difficult for the film critics, was Friday 13th really the best day to choose as a release day? I appreciate that they are trying to fully capture the Valentine’s Day holiday spirit but the release date is a bit of a gift for writers. It just invites headlines like: “Unlucky! Fifty Shades of Grey has the BAD LUCK to be uninteresting, unsexy and unnecessary.”
I’m going to see Fifty Shades of Grey today in a regular screening with the general public. On my own. At 11 o’clock in the morning. It’s not weird at all. I may wear a slightly grubby mac in order to give my attendance just that little extra air of “Daytime Pervert” creepiness. It might not have quite the same seedy undertones on a lady, though.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention at this point that – like Fifty Shades’ author, E L James – I am a writer of somewhat kinky erotic romances. I am teeny tiny minnow in the Mommy-porn pond dominated by E L James’ porn-whale. (I’m a bit worried about the animal welfare implications of the previous terrible metaphor. We need to get that porn-whale out of the porn-pond right now! That can’t possibly be a healthy environment for it. It’s worse than the time that porn-whale got stranded in the porn-Thames.)
E L James comes in for a lot of stick in the Spanking Romance author community. (And, yes, there is a Spanking Romance author community – we borrow one another’s lawnmowers and everything.) While I’m sure it’s not all down to jealousy, there is a general feeling of “Why her? Why those books?” There’s a great deal of erotica out there that’s worse than the Fifty Shades trilogy but, my goodness, there’s certainly a good deal that’s better. My official opinion of Fifty Shades of Grey is that it’s not that bad, really. (And go on, E L, you can stick “It’s not that bad, really – Etta Stark” on the cover of your next paperback release, if you like.) The sex bits aren’t terrible. And from a purely selfish point of view, I think anything that brings BDSM into the mainstream is a good thing. Can we all accept that spanking isn’t that weird a sexual fetish now? 100 million readers can’t all be perverts.
(A quick note about the term ‘BDSM’: I am flinging it about with gay (or at least heteroflexible) abandon because as a catch-all term for all that sort of kinky sex shenanigans, it’s probably the most convenient one available. It’s a stupid bloody set of initials though, standing as it does for three pairs of things: Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission and Sadism & Masochism. That’s not how initials work, people! If you want it to stand for all those things, it should be BDDSSM. It’s one thing flouting society’s sexual norms, but can we at least do words properly?)
Going back to the Fifty Shades books, like the Twilight books on which they were originally based, the books are neither as amazingly wonderful nor as irredeemably awful as most of the internet seems to think it is. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t great. But for its many faults, I don’t think it’s the destructive influence on humanity that people – at both ends of the kinky spectrum – insist on saying that it is. It is not a Rapist’s Manual. It’s not the worst thing to happen to the BDSM community since the beginning of ever. It’s just a book that includes every romantic cliché in the world ever plus some spanking and bondage. Personally I think that if something can upset an organisation as prissy sounding as ‘Morality In Media‘, then that’s a point in its favour.
That said, I have no idea why anyone thought it would be a good idea to turn Fifty Shades of Grey into a film. (Well, possibly I have a bit of an idea. Maybe some people like massive amounts of money.) Fifty Shades of Grey was successful because it was presented as a written rather than a visual medium. This appealed to the middle-aged women make up a large amount of the Fifty Shades of Grey readership. ‘Mommyporn’ might be a terrible phrase but at least it recognised that there’s an audience out there who don’t like watching erotica and who appreciates the way Kindle books can be read one-handed. These hypothetical middle aged women are the target market for my books. They’re also me, obviously. I can’t be the only person who likes my smut to be directly fed into my brain via the printed page.
Changing the books to films seems to be missing the point entirely. It’s like remaking The Full Monty with female strippers or replacing the puppets in Avenue Q with human actors.
And it’s not as though the film is likely to be any good. Early reports seem to indicate that the pornier elements of the book have been jettisoned in favour of the awful bits that don’t have sex and spanking in them. I am guessing I have two hours of clunky dialogue terrible characterisation and incompetent plotting to sit through. At least I won’t have to listen to all of Anastasia’s drivelly narration unless the film contains a voiceover peppered with ‘Oh My’s and ‘Holy Cow’s and a million bloody references to the heroine’s ‘Inner Goddess’. (Like for example “My inner goddess has backflipped off the podium.” or “”My inner goddess nods in silent Zen-like agreement.”) I’m hoping they make Ana’s Inner Goddess an actual character in the film in the manner of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio.
I will be back tomorrow, having actually watched the film, with a fair and possibly in-depth review. (I say ‘in depth’. It all depends on the depths to which I wish I descend.) Maybe my scepticism will have been totally unfounded. Maybe, this will be a wonderful cultural experience, the likes of which will change my life forever.
Or maybe it will be the worst cinematic experience of my life since the time that kid in the seat next to me threw up and a bit of her vomit got on my suede boots.
Fifty Shades of Grey is the first of a trilogy of books. It looks like they are all set to make films out of the second and third books, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. Although I reckon they’ll probably split the last book into two because what with Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games that’s apparently what happens these days.
Part of me hopes that like The Golden Compass or A Series of Unfortunate Events, circumstances will prevent the making of any subsequent films. Because if Fifty Shades of Grey stays true to the book, then this would mean that this supposedly perfect romance would end, irreconcilably with heartache and disappointment. That’d tally perfectly with my experience of interpersonal relationships. It all ends in tears, you know.
On the other hand, part of me hopes that Fifty Shades of Grey will be phenomenally successful. Because then filmmakers will start looking for the next porn-y kinky romance to adapt for the big screen. They should turn my books into movies. They might not be as well-known as Fifty Shades of Grey. But, you know, it’s not like they’re any worse.