Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Fifty Shades of French Reaction

THERE is something distinctly Anglo-Saxon about the E.L. James' book 'Fifty Shades of Grey', the French critics last October, when it was first published in France, did their best to dismiss it as 'too consensual' and hygienic in its approach to sex. It is the story of the sexual encounters of a green-horn girl, Anastasia Steele, and a worldly billionaire, Christian Grey, in Settle; the man is into bondage and domination, and the lass is a virgin. The French critics condemned it as typically lightweight, sanitised Anglo-Saxon tripe and hypocrisy, falling well short of the hard-core authentic sadomasochistic style of the Gallic folk across the Channel.

It has nothing of the lyrical style of Anais Nin – the great pioneer of female erotica; none of the intellect of Georges Bataille and no dark Gothic pretensions such as in Marquis de Sade, with his tales of torture, fantasies of sexual abuse and murder. None-the-less, last week, I saw a report in the newspaper about an English bloke, influenced by 'Fifty Shades', who had been so carried away following the script in the book that the lass who'd consented to the sex play took him to court for assault. The case failed because the girl had agreed to take part, presumably expecting a little light spanking.     When I read 'Fifty Shades of Grey', last August, I had just had to help a Safety Representative at Bury MBC to fight a case brought under the Dignity at Work policy, which he was accused of breaching. Avoiding breaching the Dignity at Work policy involves watching your 'ps' and 'qs' while  your at work; that means being careful what you say and being aware that the casual language of jokes and banter can be very risky indeed. Now it seems to me that the significant thing about Christian Grey is his essentially Health and Safety, contractual approach to the business of bondage and domination. There is page after page of contractual terms and negotiations between the parties, with amendments being forced through to rule out certain activities, which the 'Submissive', Anastasia, in her wisdom, feels unacceptable. It's sadomasochistic sex on a contract.

How very Anglo-Saxon! How very English! And yet, recent reported sales of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' give it estimated sales of 900,000 print copies and 40,000 e-books in France, since last October.  It is all about Christian Grey's passion for the torture chamber, while at the same time applying the contemporary moral side constraints of health and safety, dignity at work and the law of contract:  For example 'Does the Submissive concent to accept the following forms of pain/punishment/discipline':  Spanking; Whipping; Biting; Genital clamps, and so on.  I suppose this is what passes for post-post-moden erotica.

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