In a fit of what I can only describe as the purest form of masochism, I acquired and read the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. I wanted to know how bad it could be. Answer: it is a steaming, festering turd of a book. Its plot is clunky, its prose pedestrian at best and embarrassing at worst, its sex scenes about as sexy as falling into stinging nettles from a great height, and its narrative downright harmful to the BDSM community at large.
I had originally intended to post a hilarious snarky review of the trilogy, but frankly, it’s been done. Not only that, but it’s been done very well. Here’s a list of pretty awesome articles and blog posts about how awful 50 Shades of Grey is:
Fifty Heaves of Puke (Bizzybiz)
Pamela Stephenson-Connolly on why Fifty Shades is bad bondage
Fifty Shades of F*cked Up (Elephant Journal) (links to other good articles)
Fifty Shades of Suck (warning: this one is not kink-positive, but does give some pretty amazing examples of how awful the actual writing is.)
Instead, I thought I’d address how it could be done better. I want to take down this narrative where BDSM is practiced only by people who are fundamentally emotionally damaged, on people who are too naïve to protest. I want to dissociate consensual, risk-aware BDSM from abuse. I want to spread the word that we’re not all like that.
So let’s change the story. Let’s get rid of the completely ridiculous premise that a student journalist would ever get anywhere near the desk of a corporate giant, unless they had an internship with a major publication of some kind. Let’s get rid of the even more ridiculous premise that someone who’s never written an article or given an interview in their life would be sent to replace them without doing any research. And let’s get rid of the idea that the corporate giant in question would just go along with it because it’s a spiffing wheeze, what.
Let’s say, instead, this is a professional (if small-scale) local newspaper. Its writers get paid – not much, admittedly, but it’s a job. They’ve landed an interview with a local-boy-done-good. I’ll keep the sustainability thing, because I like it – he’s secured a contract to build a major development of affordable, eco-friendly, sustainably built housing using methods and technologies developed in-house and tested on private land. The project stands to benefit local people on low income, who are the target market for this housing, and contribute significantly to the regeneration of a deprived area.
She’s one of their best writers. Her boss, who was originally scheduled to do this interview but has unexpectedly been given that date for a major operation, has handed it to her. This is a controversial decision, because she likes to play hardball with her interview style – kind of like an amateur Jeremy Paxman – but the editor is confident that it will pay off.
And it does, in more ways than one. The interview is difficult for both of them, but a huge success – it goes viral among online communities, generating a ton of good press for his company and leaving her wading through offers of employment with the major broadsheets and some well-known left-wing online publications. He is dazzled by her wit, struck by her courage in asking some difficult questions, and grateful for the positive exposure; she’s impressed by his grace under pressure and professional integrity. Both detect a certain compatibility that they can’t quite put their finger on.
He gets back in touch when the interview goes viral to say thank you. On learning that she’s moving to London to start writing for a broadsheet, he invites her out for dinner as a token of his gratitude. They hit it off, and things move on from there.
I have been to the States a grand total of twice, so I’m not going to set it there. I’ll stick with what I know. She starts out in Guilford and moves to the City of London, where his offices are also based; he lives in Docklands and is regenerating Tower Hamlets.
In the interests of diversity, I’m going to make her Hispanic and queer. She’s bi and moved to the UK from Venezuela with her family at the age of six. I’ll call her Marta Alvarez. He’s Anglo-Irish, born and raised in Guilford; he moved to London for university and developed an interest in its more deprived areas over the course of his studies. I’ll call him Michael Donohue. I’ll make her a bit older – 27 – and keep him at 28, because the much-older-Dom-with-much-younger-sub narrative really gets on my nerves.
What do you think? Would you read this? If so, I’ll write it.