I want to play devil's advocate for one moment to deepen the discussion. My intention is not to drop flame bait but to expose something that I think is being overlooked.
Could there be a smidgen of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy in some of the criticism about the relationship and alleged "kink" in this book? I keep hearing that it is not X, and not Y, but who really defines whether or not it's "true kink", or a "proper Ds relationship" or whatever. I know it has been pointed out quite clearly that there are things about the relationship in the story are are nothing more than abuse masquerading as BDSM and I won't argue with that point, but for me, I did not start any of my relationships out by looking a set of guidelines and checking to make sure that I was "doing it right". Likewise, for my own personal kinks, they are based on what pleases me, not on what the "kink community" (whoever these mysterious folks are) approves of.
As far as I'm aware no-one's really objected to the kinks themselves within 50 Shades. Truth be told there's little enough to object to there... for all the hype most of the “kink” tends to be little more than oral followed by vaginal sex with the closest nod to BDSM being someone getting tied down from time to time. You could read far more racy stuff in virtually any erotic novel and see more racy stuff in an episode of Spartacus.
What people object to about it (as well as the poor writing) is the fact that it's portraying an abusive relationship... and one that's abusive regardless of whether it's a BDSM or vanilla one. Worse, that it's portraying an abusive relationship as a romantic one with the abuser seen as a romantic icon and his methods of abuse frequently being presented as a show of how much he loves about the person he abuses. Over the course of the book Christian repeatedly stalks Ana (both by physically following her and keeping track using technological means), manipulates her, consider her his property, isolates her from her friends and peers, rapes her and does a whole load of things that if they occurred in real life we'd point to as tell-tale acts of an abuser. If we believe that people who read the book (or watch the film) are unable to separate fact from fiction and fantasy from reality (which I don't) then we may think that people will see such acts as being part of a healthy, loving relationship. Clearly they're not.
The only time when the abuse and the kinks really interlink is when it comes to spanking. But even then spanking isn't presented as an enjoyable kink within 50 Shades; Ana hates it and hates the pain. It's presented as a punishment, in it's own way little different to Christian simply punching her in the face for displeasing him. She does something he doesn't like, he punishes her by causing her pain. I don't think that counts as BDSM and it's certainly not a healthy way to run a BDSM relationship; while “punishment” spankings can (and are) be used they are done with the subs permission and they can stop them at any time.
It's also worth noting with a BDSM relationship that you do sort of have to look at the guidelines and make sure you're doing it right. While it's unlikely that anyone is going to object to a playful spank on the ass even in a completely vanilla relationship if you don't bother with informed consent, safewords etc then giving someone a serious spanking is likely assault, tying them up is likely kidnap and having sex while they say “no” is pretty much certainly rape.
At the same time though, I would note that there is a kink-shaming element to the criticism. Let's remember, 50 Shades wasn't conceived or written as a "how to" guide for BDSM or as an accurate depiction of the lifestyle. It's EL James' fantasy, originally written as Twilight fan-fiction and posted on fan-fiction sites before the content required it to be posted elsewhere. When we say it's depicting a harmful relationship we're right... but how many stories on E also depict harmful, abusive relationships? One should always remember that despite the success, despite the billboard adverts and despite the film we're still discussing EL James' fantasy, something she originally started writing not for profit but because she enjoyed and fantasised about it. If we want to condemn her for having those fantasies we also have to condemn everyone on E who has similar ones.
Right. The kink is there to mask the abuse and make it romantic using the public's misunderstanding of the lifestyle invoked. That's all.
I'm not sure that's the case... many of the issues with Christian and Ana's relationship are pretty much identical to the issues with Rhett and Scarlet's relationship in Gone with the Wind, right down to both containing a "yes, she said no and it's rape but she she actually
wanted it and really enjoyed it so it isn't really that bad right?" scene. Yet much like Christian (in fact, arguably more so), Rhett Butler is seen as one of the great romantic figures and there's little kink to hide behind in Gone with the Wind.
I think at the end of the day it goes back to la dame en noir's point about why people connect and like this work. And if one glances through the history of romance novels... especially trashy ones... one frequently finds the male romantic interest being a dominant (in the non-kinky sense) "alpha" man who knows what he wants and takes it... despite frequently stepping over the line of what is considered acceptable in real life. I've already mentioned 50 Shades and GwtW but one could equally look to pretty much anything Jilly Cooper
has ever written, notably in the character Rupert Campbell-Black
. One could even point to Mr Darcy (let alone the likes of John Willoughby or George Wickham, even though he softens significantly by the end. Or, frankly, pretty much anything that could be classified as a "bodice ripper".
50 Shades basically just played that up with the additional "thrill" of the sex scenes being openly described rather than fading to black.
Also, I'd imagine there is a sort of...I'm not really sure how to express it in words here....a sort of projective concern that accounts for a portion of the kink/BDSM community's dislike of the book? Like those Munch clubs planning to picket FSoG theaters with pamphlets about what the BDSM lifestyle actually entails - people who enjoy BDSM already exist on the fringe of cultural acceptance, half-understood by society at large. So having something that so grossly mis-represents a part of themselves/their own lifestyle that they consider to be very important become so popular is harmful to them/their self-image/their image to a greater public who already has negative preconceptions about them? Like if someone published a bestselling true crime novel where the police officer protagonists were all ethnic slur-spewing, donut-eating, power-hungry sadistic thugs, and this was glorified in-book to be the 'correct' way to be a police officer; you can easily imagine how popular such a novel would be amongst actual police officers. Or, if you'd prefer an example less politically charged, a best-selling war modern war novel about a group of American soldiers who were all racist gung-ho sociopaths that enjoyed nothing better than spending a relaxing Saturday night committing war crimes on foreign civilians, and how popular that would be amongst serving or retired military. Okay, so maybe that wasn't much less politically charged, but I can't think of an example that doesn't get what I am trying to say across.
...does that make any sense?
I agree with the first part; for understandable reasons the BDSM community is often pretty protective of itself and how its portrayed by those outside it. Once people started pointing out the abusive elements of 50 Shades it was pretty much only a matter of time before people started shouting back that it didn't portray a realistic BDSM relationship and that BDSM wasn't really like that.
On the soldiers point though... from what I understand Generation Kill
(both the book and TV series) were pretty well received by soldiers (and eventually became encouraged reading) despite showing many of the protagonists as racist, gung-ho sociopaths who are more than happy to commit war crimes (and then joke about them afterwards).