17 February 2015

How's that boycott going, guys?

As nearly everyone expected, despite mostly-negative reviews and a boycott campaign, Fifty Shades of Grey is a monster hit, both in the US and overseas (in Britain, some theaters sold out two weeks in advance).  As I mentioned here, I have to admit I haven't seen the movie or read the book myself, and don't plan to.  Obviously I have no problem with anybody who doesn't want to see it because they simply find such material discomfiting or unappealing.  But I respect the choices and desires of those who do find it to their taste -- and when I see a mostly-religious, mostly-male clique of agitators telling a predominantly-female demographic that there's something wrong with their sexuality, well, a few alarm bells go off.

The fact is, dominance / submission play is a normal and healthy part of sexuality for vast numbers of people, most of whom have no interest in or even knowledge of the (apparently rather bossy and rules-bound) "BDSM community", just as many people who are sexually attracted to their own gender don't much care for a "gay community" whose self-appointed gatekeepers often seem more interested in respectability or political correctness than in fun and personal freedom.

Notice too that the great majority of the audience for the movie, as for the book, is female.  This should surprise no one.  Romance novels featuring varying degrees of dominance / submission fantasies have been selling in the millions for years, mostly to women, in disregard of the much smaller numbers of agitated pests of various stripes who sputter that such sexuality is "against God's plan" or "degrading to women".  In fact, I strongly suspect that people whose sexuality doesn't involve any substantial dominance / submission elements are very much in the minority.

(One point needs to be made clear here, for the benefit of those who have difficulty gasping it.  Yes, this movie apparently includes depictions of non-consensual situations -- emphasis on the phrase "depictions of".  This is a movie.  War movies similarly depict violence and killing on a large scale, and some of their popularity stems from the fact that male fantasies often involve violence and heroism, and such movies provide vivid imagery to fuel and enliven those fantasies.  The same thing is the case here.  People who are into dominant / submissive sexuality often fantasize about non-consensual situations and even play-act them out with consensual partners.  Movies and books can provide imagery and scenarios to enhance those fantasies.  That's all it is.  No one, except apparently the boycott-mongers, is confusing fantasy and reality.)

Those who view the great mass of humans as passive "sheeple", easily herded in this or that direction by marketing and advertising, are cutting themselves off from a valuable source of insights into both human nature and the zeitgeist.  Plenty of movies and commercial products of various kinds have been aggressively pushed on the public and fallen utterly flat; people are not so easily led.  (Totalitarian states dominate their societies more completely than any Hollywood ad campaign, but approved official culture in places like the USSR or Islamist Iran is usually disdained by the masses in favor of prohibited Western entertainment which they hear about only via underground channels.)  When something becomes a massive pop-culture phenomenon, very often it's because it resonates with some widespread if unsuspected impulse or fantasy or concern.  If you dismiss it with a barrage of buzzwords from your own ideology, you may well miss seeing something significant.

There's also a rather ugly strain of elitism in this.  "Yes, I myself have no difficulty watching violent fantasy and distinguishing it from what is acceptable in real life, but the unwashed masses aren't that smart and it would be dangerous to let them see this."  "Yes, my own tastes in entertainment are fully mine -- my own likes and dislikes -- but the millions of ordinary people don't know what they like and just flock to anything they see being pushed by ads and commentators all around them."  Again, if that's how it really worked, Russians in the 1960s would have raved over those somnolent state-approved boy-meets-tractor epics, while ignoring the Beatles.  You're not a different species from the millions, and they aren't nearly as dumb or easily-led, relative to you, as you think they are.

As with the earlier battles over gay culture, the spotlight needs to be turned around and shone on those who are now wielding it against others.  People with a "deviant" but consensual sexual preference are perfectly healthy; it's those who obsessively condemn that preference, and demand boycotts or even bans of any depiction of things that make them uncomfortable, whose psychology needs analysis.

If there's one thing I hope comes of the movie's success, it's that practitioners of "deviant" sexuality realize that they are in many cases far more numerous than anyone, even they themselves, imagine -- and that they should not allow the lies and distortions and name-calling of the ignorant to shame or intimidate them.

Finally -- again, this is a must-read on the subject.


Anonymous NickM said...

I do not always agree with you Infidel but I often do and here you get this bang-on. I suspect it is a dreadfully boring movie but it is so far from being the End of the World as to be a farcical of an idea.

You are 100% on the fantasy aspect. I am into BDSM and it is pretend control. It is really about trust, not sadism as generally understood.

Ultimately, a large chunk of the opprobrium is God-botheres thinking sex is purely for procreation.

Excellent post!

17 February, 2015 08:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as I abhor anonymous commentary, I will relent in this case as I have been a reader and commenter previously.

My partner and I have been Swingers for over a decade. Aside from the pure inherent pleasure of indulging within such a variety of sexual partners, there is a much deeper satisfaction that my life partner and I embody such deeply held trust and commitment in one another that we can even engage in this activity. And not surprisingly, when popular culture or the media dips it's nose into swinging, their portrayals invariably get it wrong. One such was Oprah who devoted half a show on swinging and the other half on cheaters, as if they are similar things. They aren't; they are diametrically 180 degrees opposite.

A few swingers, not a lot, are involved in BDSM. In fact one friend couple we knew met at a BDSM event and later married. They dropped the BDSM in favor of swinging because they said there wasn't enough sex involved in BDSM.

My limited exposure to BDSM or rather more D/s, was learned in the online virtual world of Second Life. Believe me, there is a LOT of BDSM going on in virtual space. The attraction, of course, is one can immerse themselves into all the feelings and experiences of the activity without any of the real-world ramifications; esentially it's a safe place to explore.

I did read on online version of "50 Shades of Grey" when it came out; I found it rather tedious. The proposition that the main female character is a soon-to-be-college graduate and yet still a virgin I found to be rather laughably unbelievable. And it ends (predictably) with her eschewing any relationship with Mr. Grey because, well, how else simple common folk who find this sort of thing titillating expect it to end?

It is probably true of people who are into BDSM as it is true regarding Swingers; It's more mainstream than you might imagine. Visit any shopping mall, every sporting event, yes even in church, there are likely swingers (and probably BDSM participants, around you and you would never know it.

17 February, 2015 14:34  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Thanks! The movie sounds like not my cup of tea either, but I find its cultural penumbra -- both its extreme popularity and the boycott campaign -- interesting.

It always astonishes me how many people who are perfectly able themselves to keep fantasy and reality separate worry that "kinky" people can't do so. As I said, it's a disquietingly elitist attitude.

Anon: Thanks for the insights. The "swinger" lifestyle, again, is something I haven't personally ever sought out, but it should certainly be accepted and celebrated for those who do find that it's what they want. As for the Oprah-class MSM getting it wrong, it would be astonishing if that were not the case. The prurient-interest factor is sky-high, but viewers will also want their prejudices and stereotypes confirmed, to reassure them that there is indeed something a little "off" about "those people".

.....they said there wasn't enough sex involved in BDSM.

That's been my impression from the few visual portrayals I've seen -- but again, who knows how accurate those are?

Visit any shopping mall, every sporting event, yes even in church, there are likely swingers

An intriguing suggestion, and I have no reason to doubt it.

.....as I have been a reader and commenter previously.

Now I'm going to be wondering who you are -- don't worry, I don't pry. :-)

17 February, 2015 18:16  
Blogger Grundy said...

Well said.

If they really didn't want it seen, they just needed to pray harder that people wouldn't go see it.

18 February, 2015 08:46  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Grundy: Thanks! Actually, even praying might have worked better than calling for a boycott and yammering about how perverted the movie is. That's like trying to scare ants away from a picnic by pouring sugar on the ground.

18 February, 2015 16:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in the lifestyle and active in the local community. Of topic currently is consensual nonconsent - specifically how does one negotiate a rape scene to ensure safety but allow for the non-consent. A tricky dance to be sure.

What all BDSM and sex for that matter boils down to is what two consenting adults want to do with and to each other without harming themselves or others. It would awesome if porn reflected this ideal but it doesn't. It reflects the current culture of nonconsent. That is my issue with 50 Shades, and for that matter most porn.

I practice yes means yes. As a practicing masochist over 50 I've had to suffer my fair share of "Doms" who read a book and thought they knew everything. They did talk a good talk but walking the walk...

Perhaps being mad at 50 Shades is misdirected. At least it's opening up the conversation so people like me aren't so much the freaks we've been told we are.


PS - Another hot topic is how to police for the predators when the DA's office will not touch any case involving BDSM. So many ideas thrown up on the wall only to come tumbling down when hit with logic. So far communication seems to be the best answer. Abuse thrives in silence. We've ended that silence.

Thanks Infidel. You make me think. :)

18 February, 2015 17:09  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Connie: Thanks for the insights, into a world of which I have to admit my knowledge is mostly second-hand. I do agree about communication, though. If you have good communication with your partner, these kinds of issues, like all others, should be possible to handle without problems. Personally I'd be very reluctant to get into any sort of unusual sexual situation with somebody I didn't at least know really well first.

19 February, 2015 17:50  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

As for this 50 Shades flick, no, I havent heard about a boycott or whatever, but got sick of hearing about it's in the mainstream, because to me it sounds boring, or nothing more than a yuppie romance flick with mild BD/ SM, nothing that would thrill or interest me. I seen "Selma" recently which was kinda boring in a way, but educational to an extent for the young I guess. I seen "American Sniper" on IMAX screen, only because Clint Eastwood was behind it (I love Clint flicks), and it was alright, I liked it better than Selma, pretty good close up action, but no, I am not going to watch this 50 Shades (or at least pay money to) if its just some yuppie romance spanking each other in blindfolds.

03 March, 2015 04:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I don't think the movie itself would appeal to me much either. I'm interested in it more for what its popularity says about the culture.

03 March, 2015 05:09  

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