When I was first told about the success of 50 Shades of Grey, I merely dismissed it as a continuation of the Harlequin Romance series and as a vehicle for lonely housewives to vent their sexual frustrations and imagination in a safe fashion. E.L James, a writer who began writing Twilight fan-fiction, seemed like an unlikely superstar author and fads in popular fiction are short-lived. If you are basing your literary style on Twilight, then you already have questionable possibilities. However, the series has catapulted into a bookstore phenomenon that defies logic other than it fills the void of the Harry Potter to Twilight to Hunger Games to 50 Shades of Grey crowd. Perhaps I am alone, but does no one else see the problem: wizards, vampires, and child hunters in a dystopic future are not real…sadomasochists are.
My own academic background, while at McGill University focused on how major forces in our world serve as catalysts for how the human identity evolves over time: personal narratives, food, consumerism and sexuality. By examining Freud, Jung, Taylor, Nietzsche, Rabelais and others, I hypothesized on how the human might naturally evolve while using Anne Rice’s vampires as my literary counterpoint. Even 15 years later, my thesis, Vampires Incorporated, still holds up – though I would argue now that digital technologies pay a role unforeseen in 1999. During my studies I needed to examine all of Rice’s works and many of the canonical pieces of literary erotica: The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, The Story of O, Emanuelle, Justine and many other pieces from the French eros canon. These are not the types of safe bedtime stories that I would recommend to anyone who does not seek dark places, for each novel delves into the darkest places of human sexuality and require a certain tolerance to sit through safely.
My concern lies in this exact premise; readers of the James’ series may unwittingly be introduced to areas of the human psyche that they are not ready for or aware of. Sadomasochism is a complex, progressive form of sexual preference that demands a great many things of its practitioners and aficionados. I fear that those housewives and teenagers titilated by James’ grey tie wielding narcissist may “let the wrong one in,” so to speak. Prudence would suggest that society would do well to attempt to begin a public dialogue about what this form of sexuality offers, what emotional and physical risks are in play, and to examine the fact that such a sexual journey snowballs like any addictive pursuit; tonight it is a silk scarf, and tomorrow you may be bound, gagged in a victim position with no safe passage. Like masks on Halloween night, the darker corners of the sexual spectrum have ways of permitting people to become different kinds of monsters.
Conservative alarmism is not what I am suggesting. Victorian prudes and puritanical politicians are not part of my kindred. Sadomasochism is about controlling others through force, submission and emotional dependence. The master/servant relationship is powerful and creates a clear imbalance. Like cult leaders, a master wields many implicit controls over an servant, and without the clear, philosophical understanding of what is the evolutionary process the servant risks becoming an abused corpse from a novel by the Marquis de Sade.
Abuse is what I fear for the uninitiated who misread S&M through the 50 Shades of Grey novel series. If you read The Story of O or The Beauty Trilogy, and want to try whipping, cuffing and binding to induce pain/pleasure principles, then by all means proceed and enjoy. I say this because you will out of necessity also read about the philosophical perspective shift that will need to take place within you to permit such exploration. The men and women in these novels break and rebuild themselves into stronger humans, but they experience great submissions and abuses, too. You will need to open your self-definition to complete upheaval, and be prepared for the paradigm shift that will take place within you and within your relationships. I fear that so few people reading E.L. James are ready for such transformation.
For this blog entry I decided to shoot a series of four images to match the theme. Each object was done against a black velvet background at f.1.2 to suck out the light and permit the tonal gradation seen above. Personally, I love the series and may continue shooting such objects over the next few months. Certainly, E.L. James could use them for upcoming cover releases, but I would be more likely to create a simple exhibition set for the theme.
To end I should assert that this was an uncommon topic choice for While We Can. The main purpose of this blog is to focus on the beautiful, the delectable, the brilliant, travel and photography; the focus has been on chasing the light around us. Tonight, I thought it best to add a bit of contrast to the mix, because light can also be found in the darkest of places. I have been to the darkest of places, and have no desire to ever return there unless it is for an essential reason. Regardless, one can best avoid danger, abuse, darkness and evils if one understands them fully and survives to tell about it. Fair enough…