It’s difficult to know how to write about Fifty Shades of Grey.
For one thing, I haven’t seen it and I intend not to: partly out of solidarity with the women who’ve raised their voices about its issues around domestic violence; and partly out of my own resistance to having my libido co-opted into Hollywood’s money making machine.
The problem is with critiquing what we haven’t seen. It seems a bit Mary Whitehouse-ish to be criticising a film because we don’t like the idea of it.
Perhaps, though, we can talk about what we have seen, which is the beast that curls this marvelous stuff out on us from on high – which seems to be hidden in plain sight. One of the characteristics of our time is the way the powerful farm the life of the people for profit, and the way our sexuality is expected to be offered up for exploitation*. What goes around masquarading sexual freedom and liberation here is nothing much besides the enslavement of our sexuality to consumer capitalism. Our sexuality is not being liberated from the private to the public in some great Freudian relief of pressure. Our sexuality is being lifted from the realm of personal relationships and shuffled into the private pockets of rich and powerful white men.
I think I am right in saying that the film is about a rich powerful white man who gets to do whatever he likes to a woman by getting her to sign a contract. This is supposed to appeal to the dark side of my libido, and to that part of a woman that secretly desires powerlessness and subjection. Indeed, we as a society know quite well what its like to be subject to whims of rich powerful white men who know how to use a contract. And the beast knows that we love it! “Lose control!” says the poster.
So no, I don’t think we should.
The other problem with writing about this film/book/“phenomenon” is the hype. How do we talk about it without adding fuel to the fire? I think, in fact, the film will be charity shop fodder in no time, as the book already is. The lasting battle is against the powers who will still hold the keys to the city’s high places and “public” arenas after this fad blows over, and are still able command access to the sexuality of everyday men, women and children, and absorb all into the politics of profit and penetration.
*Foucault calls this biopower. See History Of Sexuality Vol1