Two years after my first read-through, I realize I still have a complicated relationship with Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps it’s a bit embarrassing to say so, but I don’t think there’s any series of books I’ve devoted more time to than E.L. James’s train wreck of erotica, and still in no ways do I consider myself an expert on the lifestyles of Anastasia Steele and her wanna-be dom, Christian Grey. In fact, when finding the correct spelling of our heroine’s name just now, I landed on the Fifty Shades wiki, which I literally did not know existed until this moment. (Why we need a wiki for this, I have no idea.) It’s true that in some respects I appreciate the novels for making discussions of female sexuality and BDSM more accessible and acceptable to an audience, and have gotten many people to explore facets of their sexuality that otherwise would have gone unnoticed or ignored. However, this by no means excuses the series from its blatant framing of abusive relationships as part of the BDSM scene or as desirable, and it certainly doesn’t hide the fact that the misconceptions as perpetuated by Fifty Shades are, unfortunately, more likely to come up on a Google search than, say, the advice of people who know what they’re talking about.
While unwitting women and girls spend time looking for their Christian Grey and predatory men use this glamorized brand of abuse to draw in uninformed partners, many people are trying hard to expose James’s every creepy string of lies and romanticism woven between the books’ pages. While I have critiqued and sporked (see: critiquing in a humorous fashion) a fic or two in my time, Fifty Shades is a task too daunting for me to take on myself. Luckily, thanks to some very devoted folks online, I don’t have to.
In an effort to refresh myself on the series (…ugh, again), I took to finding story reviews instead of reading through 200-some pages of overusing “I bit my lip” and “sardonically” once more. The site I stumbled upon first was Fifty Shades of Abuse. This blog was dedicated to going through each chapter of the book, pointing out the specific portions which were either glorified abuse or were straight up sexual assault. Although Fifty Shades of Abuse \wasn’t an actual sporking, or humorous in any aspect, it was an easy to read, easy to understand collection of how the books could be detrimental to its readers, who were supposed to want a relationship like Christian and Ana’s. Unfortunately, at the time that I am writing this article, due to legal issues, the contents of the site had to be taken down. However, I am holding out hope that someone will end up mirroring its contents on a different host. Nonetheless, the site still houses many useful links on the signs of abusive relationships in addition to many other blog posts documenting what E.L. James misconstrued in her writings, as well as reasons people shouldn’t want to find their own Christian Grey to date.
On a more accessible note, through Fifty Shade of Abuse I also stumbled upon an in-depth reading of the first book via the reviewers at das-sporking at LiveJournal. While this journal isn’t as in depth as Fifty Shades of Abuse was, reviewers Gehayi and Ket also point out the more problematic elements of the book series and lay them right out for their readers. What I liked about this source over Fifty Shade of Abuse is that Ket is actually a person active in the BDSM lifestyle. As such, their input into what makes James’s book fail on that level is invaluable for anyone trying to figure out what actual BDSM is. On top of that, they look at not only what is abusive and terrible, they also point out errors of logic (such as Ana describing real life places incorrectly) and inconsistencies from chapter to chapter. They also point out small things like spelling and grammar errors, which makes my pedantic little heart laugh in glee. However, I will warn you that if you venture here, there’s a lot of strong language, and a couple uncomfortable mentions of someone using their “rape face”, which, given the topic, is life imitating art in the worst way.
Let me say this right now, I have no ill will toward the audience of Fifty Shades of Grey, nor its fans. For many, Fifty Shades of Grey acted as some sort of sexual awakening; a whole new world of possibilities finally opened up, and people were willing to give it a go. The problem is that many decided to use James’s book as a guide and simply didn’t end up doing the correct research on their own, which can be incredibly dangerous. Additionally, the book has now created this sense in pop culture where abuse masquerading as “dominance” is suddenly chic again. This is not okay. I bring these sites to your attention not to make fun of people who really do want to find a dom/me, or dream of living the sort of luxurious life James tried to present, but to show just how the book failed at just about everything it tried to do. As we say here a lot, it’s okay to enjoy trashy, problematic media, but you’ve got to understand why it’s trashy or problematic first, and furthermore, understand when media is hurting people, and know how to help stop it.