'Fifty Shades of Grey' Criticized For Inaccurate Portrayal Of BDSM

Fifty Shades of Grey Inaccurate BDSM

Over at Please... Make Me Unbroken, there's a blog post from an anonymous author claiming to be a member of the BDSM community, warning that Fifty Shades of Grey (broken down by our own Karina Wilson HERE) is dangerous in its portrayal of that lifestyle. I think it's incredibly interesting, and very much worth a read

The writer compares the book to "The Philadelphia Incident," a real-life instance where a young woman entered into a submissive relationship with an older dominant man, and was forced into oral sex against her will. The BDSM community split in its reaction: Some called it rape, others blamed the victim. 

The author of the post makes the point about how important it is to have ground rules, and to trust the person with whom you're BDSMing--and says there's no acknowledgement of the importance of safety, respect, or rules in Fifty Shades of Grey. The author goes on to say that, given this is the first introduction many people will have to that lifestyle, it could be engendering an unhealthy, and potentially dangerous, attitude.

She then points out the words of an internet commentator who argued that Fifty Shades of Grey is like Harry Potter--it's fantasy, not a how-to guide for BDSM. The author bristles at that argument, and feels that people acting out Harry Potter have less of a chance of being physically harmed or raped. 

Have you read the blog post yet? You should go read it. 

Because it raises some interesting points worth discussing. Given the subject matter, does Fifty Shades author EL James need to be as accurate as possible in her portrayal of BDSM? Or as a work of fiction (and low-grade fiction at that), does it get a pass?

On a broader scale, how important is the truth when writing fiction? 

Image of Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy
Author: E L James
Price: $8.97
Publisher: Vintage (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 514 pages
Rob Hart

News by Rob Hart

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor, as well as the associate publisher for MysteriousPress.com. He's the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella, and his short stories have appeared in publications like Shotgun Honey, ThuglitCrime Factory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir. His debut novel, New Yorked, will be published by Polis Books in June 2015. He lives in New York City, and you can find his website at www.robwhart.com.

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Comments

Renee Miller's picture
Renee Miller from Tweed, Ontario is reading The Wolf Gift May 3, 2012 - 11:46am

I think truth, when you're writing about real events or people, is absolutely necessary in fiction. It's why we're supposed to research.  

Renee Quattromani's picture
Renee Quattromani May 3, 2012 - 12:10pm

Fiction is fiction. Few romance/erotica books out there claim little, if any, researched BDSM knowledge. A reader is a fool if they enter into any relationship based on what they've read re: BDSM, menage, etc. through a romance/erotica book. The bigger crime WRT this book is the provenance of the book, as well as the claims of the book's complete originality from the original Twilight fanfiction (still available online in PDF form if you hunt for it) by the book's multi-million dollar publisher when a simple use of on-line plagiarism tools can easily verify these claims are false. The fact that it is extremely poorly written with typos and Brittishisms (?) scattered throughout even though it is supposed to take place in Seattle and Portland OR just adds to the penalties. That this is on a top 10 list anywhere is a sad state of today's readership.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading May 3, 2012 - 12:22pm

Today's readership, in general, doesn't seem any sadder or dumber than any readership, in general, at any point in the last 200 years.

Renee Miller's picture
Renee Miller from Tweed, Ontario is reading The Wolf Gift May 3, 2012 - 2:05pm

Although I think a good writer, no matter what the genre, would research what they're writing if they're unfamiliar with it, you make good points, Renee. How this book has done so well in terms of sales is beyond my comprehension too. Herd mentality?  

Renee Quattromani's picture
Renee Quattromani May 3, 2012 - 2:44pm

Of course I would agree Renee M. A good writer would do their research, to the best of their ability and resources. If I was writing BDSM, I would not necessarily cruise the BDSM circuit (for some very sensible reasons), although I am sure there are those that do (good for them). But I would certainly peruse the BDSM sites that so 'generously' share the how-to's and where-for's that would at least provide enough information to make that part of the story believable. A novelist should certainly do their research when writing a book about Navy Seals or the Battle of Waterloo...whatever the subject. But even so, a reader of fiction should never ever assume that a novel of anything is a 'how-to' or that it is a matter of fact and take it as such. For an example in mainstream fiction, consider the problems brought to light with Dan Brown's DaVinci Code year's ago. Novels don't come with a buyer-beware label, although some romance stories have started labeling them with a tongue-in-cheek sort of one.

It boils down to whether James can be considered a 'good' writer. Good being determined by being able to sell a multi-million dollar terribly written Twilight rip-off? Sure. Good being a master at manipulating a fanbase from fanfic into launching this book into the hemisphere? Or Good being a master story-teller with original characters and plot? Good doing the research on a subject that so wholly consumes the book? Good being ethical if not legal? (Too Pollyanna?) Good is in the 'eye of the pocket-book holder' I suppose.

 

Renee Miller's picture
Renee Miller from Tweed, Ontario is reading The Wolf Gift May 3, 2012 - 2:49pm

Agreed. Writers shouldn't have to assume responsibility for the readers intelligence, or the lack of it.

Renee Quattromani's picture
Renee Quattromani May 3, 2012 - 2:59pm

Renee M. LOL.  Just wait... we'll start getting sued next...

"...but I read it in your book..."

Renee Miller's picture
Renee Miller from Tweed, Ontario is reading The Wolf Gift May 3, 2012 - 3:36pm

No, we'll be fine. You see, we'll research what we're writing, so we're accurate. But I see law suits coming.

Typewriter Demigod's picture
Typewriter Demigod from London is reading "White Noise" by DeLilo, "Moby-Dick" by Hermann Mellivile and "Uylsses" by Joyce May 3, 2012 - 4:07pm

Tbh, write what you know. If you don't know, find the fuck out!

alisia's picture
alisia from Byron, NY is reading The Goldfinch by: Donna Tartt May 3, 2012 - 6:09pm

This book is doing great in sales because disgruntled writers won't shut up about it and people are buying it now, "just to see what the hype is." Everytime I see writers complaining about 50 Shades I get the urge to start writing my own torture porn, just so I can add to their disdain.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading May 3, 2012 - 6:13pm

Indeed. She's making money, good for her. Write something better, expect a smaller audience, and be happy.

Emily Thrash's picture
Emily Thrash May 4, 2012 - 2:10pm

If the blogger is implying that the author is legally responsible for reader's actions, I disagree entirely, but I don't think that's the case here.  It's inaccuracy, insenstivity, and negative consequences are just part of the reasons it is a bad book. 

Amber Wolfe's picture
Amber Wolfe May 19, 2012 - 12:41am

Am I the only person who thinks that 50 Shades of Grey has very little actual BDSM in it?  I read all three volumes, cover to cover, and I cannot see why people think this is BDSM.  I think it's a Romance Novel, where a guy occasionally spanks his girlfried/wife, or occasionally ties her up.

  I thought that the actual writing was riddled with cliches and phrases repeated over and over ("fisting my hands in his hair" comes to mind).  The story line will make a good movie....mostly because by not being written word, things can be seen and not told, implied and not spoken aloud.  Jean-Jacques Annaud, director of The Lover, could do an excellent job with this.  Michael Fassbender (excellent in Shame) would make a great Christian.  Mara Rooney (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) would play Anastasia better than anyone I can think of.  However, they're get a mediocre director and a couple of "famous" people to play the leads, ruining the entire concept.

If you want to actually read something about BDSM, there are many to choose from, but 50 Shades isn't one of them.  M.S. Valentine has the Celia Collection, the Governess and the Martinet....just to name a few alternatives.  However, the do not fall into the "mommy porn" category and would probably be a little too shocking for most soccer moms out there.

Bubbly Babs's picture
Bubbly Babs August 8, 2012 - 3:40pm

I can't add any more about the curious BDSM/Cinderella story than has already been said but I actually became quite angry at a colleague who bought it today.  I think she thought I objected because I'm a prude and I won't put her right.  I've only seen the Channel 4 documentary and read excerpts so that I can say why I object when she brings it up again.  She is a well educated middle class woman.  She "had" to buy it because her sister in law bought it.  Yes, herd mentality.

But, then, who is it written by?  A middle aged, well educated middle class woman.  And that's what the excerpts read like.  "He touched my sex."  "My inner goddess..."  It speaks with a naivety that, I'm sure, would make Barbara Cartland cringe.  The readers that I know have worked hard at school and university, met a "nice" boy, made a "good" marriage and are wondering what it's like to be carefree and adventurous.  E L James says it's her mid-life crisis.  I just thought, "Stupid cow.  Why can't she have a proper mid-life crisis?"  The "proper" mid life crisis is personal to each of us but, broadly defined, it's about realising all the things you've missed out on and thinking, "Tits to it.  It's now or never."  I had a few hang ups about sex and decided to challenge them through the vehicle of internet dating.  I opened a hotmail account in a false name and scanned the adverts.  I found some guy who was looking for "a nice girl to take dogging."  What a contradiction.  I arranged a meeting ready to give him the sharp edge of my ultra feminist toungue.  He was a lovely guy who just said, "Why don't you try it?  You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

I felt it was a fair question so I let him take me to a car park where we parked up beside a transvestite who hoped the half light would make him desirable.  Eventually another couple turned up and he did a lot of "presenting" her bottom but everyone's clothes stayed on.  Eventually I thought, "This is all very reserved and sedate." and piled in with a guy who was sitting on his own.  The whole crowd gathered round our car just peering in the window.  The steam - in October- was on the outside of the window.  When I got out of the car I felt like Judy Dench on a first night.  My escort had told them it was my first time and I (honestly) came out to applause and shouts of, "Oh, you're so daring."  One critic told me to put the window down the next time as this car had tinted windows.  Oh hoh, the folly of the amateur...  At least I gave it a bash instead of watching.

The point, as my Sociology lecturer would have said, is research, research research.  Before you're going to write on a subject live and breathe it.  Don't sit behind your laptop writing ridiculous fantasy, imagining you are your 22 year old self and wishing you'd been more adventurous.  Be it travel, trekking across the Himalayas, changing career, going to work in a school in Africa (be it a timid form of BDSM) - whatever your dream - do it and write the book of your life that will make us all either envious or inspired. 

Olivia's picture
Olivia May 19, 2013 - 6:48pm

I have to say I went through all books from the Fifty Shades trilogy in less than a month. And in spite of all the criticism around it I have to say for the most part it was entertaining, but it just seemed like it could have been much more. So I started my own attempt at what "more" would look like for me. It's just the beginning but hopefully there is still lot to come. Stay tuned on Fifty Sahdes Better: http://fiftyshadesbetter.blogspot.com