Anyone who’s kept track of my Facebook postings and comments, or talked to me either online or in person, would know that I’m not really a fan of 50 Shades of Grey. The writing is amateurish, the characters are as flat as the pages they’re printed on, and the representation of BDSM is atrocious. It’s because of that last part that I couldn’t get past the scene where Christian shows Ana his dungeon, then presents her with a detailed contract, all before learning (much to his apparent annoyance) that she’s still a virgin. Christian represents the kind of clueless jerk who gets thrown out of BDSM groups.
And yet … there’s no denying that this novel evokes something in people. Set aside for a moment that it’s sold over a hundred million copies worldwide. Groups like Black Rose and The Eulenspiegel Society have seen a marked increase in new members and workshop attendees. Sex educators who previously found their “Kink 101” class offerings had little interest suddenly found that renaming it under the “50 Shades” brand suddenly filled the room. Experts are talking about bondage, role-play and other kinks more openly – and more positively – than ever before.
And that’s just the book. Wait until the movie comes out in February.
Oh, that’s right – we don’t have to wait. There’s already talk about the trailer. Plus there are groups like Morality in Media, and its recent offshoot Pornography Harms, rushing to denounce the film even before they’ve seen it. Not surprising, as their principal ideologue Gail Dines is relentless in her defamatory attacks on BDSM. Come to think of it, Dines is so quick to condemn so many forms of sexual expression and desire, one has to wonder if there’s any she does approve of. But, I digress …
If history is any guide, including and especially the history of human sexual psychology, the motion picture version of this tale will be far greater than that of the written version. The book’s popularity became viral over the Internet. And as clips and still images from the movie are downloaded and shared, they are likely to awaken desires and fantasies in who knows how many more – including many in our UU congregations.
Kinksters are already responding to this. We recognize “50 Shades” as an imperfect vessel, much as the pulp fiction novels and exploitation films were for many gay men and lesbians pre-Stonewall. Neither ignoring its impact, nor lauding it as is, will serve us well – but other options exist. The question for this post, however, is what options make the most sense for Unitarian Universalists, with regard to both public witness and pastoral care.
Both kinksters and UUs affirm and value diversity, including how people find love and pleasure. Those of us drawn to those forms identified as “kinky” have cultivated means to fulfill such desires with full consent and minimal risk of harm. Yet as the actions and words of people like Professor Dines remind us, there are people who are quick to condemn without understanding. Given our principles and core values, and the lessons of history, which course makes sense for us? I would hope our principle of truth-seeking would lead us to engage in dialogue and cooperate with those seeking to educate and promote greater awareness, amongst ourselves and with the wider world.