From Dracula to 50 Shades of Grey, Part 2

Why I Detest 50 Shades Of Grey

As I pointed out in my previous blog, ever since writing my diploma thesis in college, it seems that Count Dracula and his entourage have deigned to pay me a visit every now and then. I wouldn’t even say that I have ever really engaged in the subject. It’s rather one of those odd things that you read and watch bits and pieces about as you happen to come across them, until some day you realize that two decades have gone by and you have become somewhat of an expert. Or maybe I’m under a spell.

Be it, as it may. The point is that it not so much comes as a surprise that now I find myself ‚officially‘ writing about Dracula at last. Yet what is strange is the context I’m doing this in, for while it is obvious that the whole fascination with vampires is strongly connected to concepts of sexual dominance and submission, I would have laughed at the idea that one day a kitschy ‚BDSM‘ novel would come from it, let alone make it big. Well, as we all know, I have been disabused of that notion.

What’s even more striking, however, is that only recently I discovered how close the ties are between 50 Shades of Grey and the American Frontier Myth. That, again, takes me back to my college days, where one of the best seminars I ever attended was on what is commonly known as the ‚Wild West‘. To this day, I find what I learned in this seminar eye-opening since references to the Frontier Myth can be found all over pop culture, from Star Trek to trashy films such as Ghost Rider.

For those who are not familiar with the subject, one central element of the Frontier Myth is that of the ‚Good Wife‘. The ‚Good Wife‘ is a person of high morals responsible for social cohesion of Wild West communities at the Frontier that would otherwise fall apart and therefore have no chance to survive. That social cohesion in turn is basically achieved by taming men. It is only the ‚Good Wife‘ who makes a man socially acceptable. In fact, without a ‚Good Wife‘ (and hence before marriage) a man is barely a human being, prone to gambling and drinking. It is the ‚Good Wife‘ that keeps him away from the saloon, puts him to work for family and country and makes him go to church on Sunday.

In other words: The ‚Good Wife‘ rescues him. She is his saviour. The ‚Good Wife‘ saves men from a life of idleness and sin so that their souls won’t be snapped up by the devil. A ‚Good Wife‘ makes a man realise his wrongdoings. She cures him. Sound familiar?

I guess by now you know where this is going: In my opinion 50 Shades of Grey is the latest edition of the Frontier Myth, with Ana Steele the ‚Good Wife‘. Sure, she and her Mr. Grey might engage in a little kinky stuff, but what it boils down to in the end is that it is all wrong and sick, that BDSM is a disease (!) that needs to be cured and that sex should be limited to marriage alone, serving the one purpose – namely reproduction.

And this is why I detest 50 Shades of Grey. I detest it for its perfidious promotion of 19th century views and morals that come crawling from the very same crypt that held (or couldn’t hold) Stephenie Meyer’s glittering Twilight vampires. I detest it for being deliberately written to appeal to the American tradition of the Frontier Myth so that it would sell big time. I detest it for the self-righteousness with which it tells people how to live, what to do and what to like, and above all for not doing so openly but pompously in the disguise of a ‚taboo-breaking‘ BDSM story. And I detest it for suggesting that all men are mere animals that need women as a corrective. In fact I have met one or two in my life that managed to be quite decent without.

Violence against women is an issue far too real and far too serious to be taken lightly either way. Overrating 50 Shades of Grey as ‚anti-feminist‘ won’t help. Neither will providing simple, old-fashioned answers along the lines of ‚The love of a good woman will cure a man of his abusive ways‘. Therefore, while I personally think it’s pretty much symbolic politics to donate to anti-abuse programmes, domestic or other, in the wake of the 50 Shades hype, I applaud any support. Although you shouldn’t need a cheesy novel as a reason to donate, any money given to this cause is money well spent.

Yet the danger I see in 50 Shades of Grey is not in people flocking to DIY stores to buy the ropes, chains and zipties that are being flogged there. For me, the real danger of 50 Shades of Grey is in its petty bourgeois message and in its pseudo-tolerance. First, it’s BDSM that’s declared a disorder, next it’s same-sex relationships or common-law marriage or not having children.

You might find this unlikely. That’s okay, since I for my part deem it no more likely that 50 Shades of Grey will be a blow to gender equality – no more a blow than any other run-of-the-mill Cinderella/Beauty and the Beast salvation story at least.

For let’s be honest: Most people will only do as Ana Steele and her folding wimp Christian Grey do. They’ll open the door a bit, peep through the crack and then lock and bolt the door again to whatever they’ll find behind it. Some of them might boost the economy by buying fancy toys over the Internet (as long as they come in discreet packaging) but next to none of them will get lastingly infected by the BDSM ‚disease‘, believe me.

Therefore expect some short-lived sniggering and snorting at work because it is the new cool to have tell-tale dents all around your wrists on Monday morning that everybody knows come from nifty 50 Shades merchandise handcuffs padded with pink plush. Do not, however, expect there to be any sexual revolution 2.0. The handcuffs are destined to be either buried in the deep end of bottom drawers, or to be hanging forlornly from the bedpost sooner rather than later.

So oppose 50 Shades of Grey if you have to, but please oppose it for what it really is, not for what it pretends to be. Oppose it for the antiquated ‚Good Wife‘ role intended for women, or its ‚play house‘ attitude. Oppose it for suggesting that men will go astray without a woman to keep them on track. Oppose it for being conventional and tacky. Oppose it for the fact that Christian Grey actually is a sugar daddy, even though he is only 27 years old – but I beg you to not make a fool of yourself by falling for the myth that it is erotic or pornographic or in any way controversial when in fact it is all stuffy and staid. You’d only make yourself look uptight.

I think that good literature should indeed cause a stir – but a stir in you, while you’re reading. Not a stir in the media to ensure that it makes an extra few million. So if 50 Shades of Grey were volatile, if it had anything evocative or provocative about it, I’d be only too happy. But since it hasn’t, don’t give it any credit for it.

50 Shades of Grey is not about Bonnie and Clyde in BDSM. If it indeed were about a couple breaking whatever rules of decency there may be while exploring their sexuality, if it were about decadence of some kind, if it really were about bruises, sweat and tears, if it made readers deal with troubles and doubts, hidden desires and fears, if it really raised questions instead of just an occasional eyebrow – yes, then we’d have something to talk and fight about and I’d gladly engage in it.

Yet since there is in fact nothing to fight about, here is what I would suggest: Maybe you can put those books to some good use after all – as paddles for instance.

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