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FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and the commodification of kink (fuck, another rant)


If you want any of this in oxblood, it'll cost 10 times as much...

If you want any of this in oxblood, it'll cost 10 times as much...

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have some class issues.

As some writers have already noted, a big part of the draw of Fifty Shades of Grey is not the kink or sex, it's the bling. If you extract the narrative (not difficult) and the dialog (if only we could), the Fifty Shades movie is basically a video catalog for some of the posh things that enough cash can get you. (I mean, in addition to enhanced tracking capabilities and support staff who won't even blink at your order to tow and sell the car of the girl you're stalking.)

In both the movie and the book, the protagonist Ana—the blank-slate character against whom viewers/readers can easily project themselves—comes from a humbler background, not poor, just, you know, humbler. An everyday person. Her life B.C. (Before Christian) is in bright colors and jumbled chaos. It's your standard college bohemia, well, faux-hemia, because it's the movies and any realer will take you out of rom-com territory. But you know, Ana has to work at a hardware store. Wow. Much humble, so relate.

Christian, on the other hand, has the money. He has all the money, and he lavishes it on his monochrome, pristine cars and watches and wardrobe and apartment, and on his equally monochrome and oddly sterile Red Room (OF PAAAAAIN). Christian gushes wealth all over Ana, like, drips it on her in scene after scene of symbolic "money shots". If not the strongest factor for Fifty Shades' popularity, the millionaire porn aspect is definitely in the top three, because poor girl/rich man has been a solid weapon in the romance-writing arsenal since before Pride and Prejudice.

At the same time, everyday people don't really trust posh nobs, so showing Christian's money is a handy shortcut for putting him in the "Do Not Trust" category. Not that there are not many other red flags a-flying in this film—SO MANY RED FLAGS—but Christian's wealth and willingness to use it in pursuit of his "specialized interest" absolutely nail the stereotype to the highly polished mahogany table: very wealthy people are self-interested and amoral.

My knee-jerk socialist lizard brain says, "Well, duh," and we could certainly discuss how massive quantities of money that one didn't earn oneself could have a corrupting influence in one's life, but again we'd come back to the problematic equation that kink = corruption and WHY is this movie promoting that again? Anyway,  I'm more interested in other questions, like how Christian's kink isn't really challenging a goddamn thing. It's set dressing. Very little of that expensive shit hanging on the walls gets used, and anyway, Ana doesn't want it.

Unlike Christian, who supposedly needs his elite brand of BDSM to be satisfied, Ana doesn't need the expensive items. She's just folks, remember? She doesn't need leather restraints and a set of antique Japanese canes (well, that's how they're racked up in the film, fucking orientalist bullshit) and an elaborate drop-down support structure for standing/hanging bondage. She doesn't need any of that. She just wants to touch Christian without asking permission. And go out to a movie. And get sensually eaten out on a regular basis. You know, the "normal relationship" things. None of that posh pervy stuff, with all the gear.

The thing is, no one NEEDS all that gear. Sure, if you have the resources and find it fun, you prioritize it as part of the budget, but consumption of kink goods is higher up on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It just is. You can frequent Home Depot and the dollar store, NOT to stalk the love object of your dreams and aggressively buy suggestive items at them, but to actually stock up on playthings on the cheap because that's what poor pervs have to do. We repurpose wooden rulers and thrift-store belts and clothes pegs, because that's what you do.

But that approach doesn't sell product, and that is part of what Fifty Shades of Grey needs to do. It is an aspirational film, heavily tied to the look, the accoutrements of kink. The audience has plenty to strive for; here is kink as a sign of class. Not too much. Not too hard.

That's the great thing about a video catalog: you don't need to dig deep in order to shop around.


Sometimes I write about my callers; sometimes I write about cultural issues. If you like my take on sex—and all the other shit—you should think about becoming a patron of mine over on Patreon.

Headin’ to Huntsville, AL (Nov. 8-9)

monkeylogoHaven't been back in two years, but dammit, it's right there, not far away from Atlanta, and I have got a number of wonderful friends there, so… why not! Dates were on a month ago, but now the shows are confirmed, too: Phone Whore on November 8, slut (r)evolution on November 9 (stay tuned for ticket links). This is the location that people always laugh about, when I give them the list of my tour stops. "Alabama? REALLY?!" Yes, really! Frankly, I have gotten more flak in much larger and non-Southern stops. It's really about the community and who is willing to go to bat for me in terms of marketing and publicity, and Flying Monkey Arts hits all of those points. Yay for the freaks and future-makers making art EVERYWHERE!

CALL OF THE DAY: The Handyman and the Case of the Sudden Dildo

I don't know, but I can't find room for any of my dishes. Maybe something's stuck?

I can't find room for any of my dishes. Maybe something's stuck?

I really thought most of my guys would have forgotten me, during my four months in the UK. I mean, because FOUR MONTHS IS AN ETERNITY FOR AN ERECTION. But no, I am getting requests, and sometimes from callers I just wouldn't have expected.

Like, The Handyman. I didn't have a nickname for him before, because his personality and fantasy just didn't seem strong enough to warrant one, but I am going to reward his loyalty with a nickname. And he does have a distinct narrative thread through his fantasies! Even if it's a very clichéd one…

The Handyman is always either a neighbor or a technician whom I have just called, and he's porn-helpful, in these 10-minute scenarios. Porn-helpful = he needs a really plausible excuse to be knocking on my door, right at a moment when I'm wearing a tight skirt (to show my ass when I'm leading him to whatever minor home repair needs to be handled), and high high heels with stockings (I've just come back from unspecified work or, in the case of this week, just came from the airport).

So, we have to start out with a household problem that I am not wearing the right clothes to deal with; he's right at the door and breathlessly eager to make things easy for me. He wants me to describe what I'm wearing, and then… this is where it gets silly. Because he's not just porn-helpful, the issue has to be a porn-problem, usually to do with a dildo: it fell behind my desk and knocked my internet cables loose. It's underneath the bed where he's fixing the bed frame. Things like that. What started out as a simple helpless female dilemma blooms into a sudden exposure of how ravenous my pussy is, because look at that dildo! I am the slut clown and he is the straight man.

We both understand the formula here, but I still like asking him what our scene is for the day, because a) I like that he is aware enough that calling it "a scene" doesn't put him off, and b) he honestly spends a few seconds creating the back story, and when we get to the "suddenly dildo" part, he clearly experiences a little bit of glee and creative charge, coming up with some reason for that dildo to be there.

This week's story had me calling him in because there was something wrong with my dishwasher. I had loaded it up and started it running before I went on vacation, but when I pulled it open to get the dishes out, they were still a little dirty, it was so weird, could you come over and take a look? When he rummaged in the dishwasher… oh, dear, I'm so embarrassed, here, give me that, I don't know how I could have forgotten… yup, the dildo that I was cleaning in the dishwasher had jammed up the sprayer. Oh dear. But I'm glad it's okay! I sure wanted it while I was on vacation! None of the guys I met were really well equipped. But YOU, Handyman, you always have the right tools for the job!

And then of course it's all over but the fucking (dildo demonstration, then standing while bent over the bed or doggy-style, please leave the stockings and heels on!).

I feel like the Handyman probably watches a lot of porn, but still gets drawn into the little plot that is there: "Oh wow, what's going to happen now? She doesn't have enough money to pay for the pizza!" His engagement with the non-sex action is … cute. I don't know why he needs me to help him lay it out, but I'm glad he does.

CALL OF THE DAY: white lines and mysterious powders

Like, I don't want to snort this, I just want to jump in it, that's how naive I am.

Like, I don't want to snort this, I just want to jump in it, that's how naive I am.

The calls that require the most acting from me are the ones in which I am supposed to be submissive, which is funny, on the surface of it, because in my real sex life I can be incredibly submissive in certain very specific ways. But a) that submission is happening with people who I know and trust, and b) most of my "dom" callers have only the dimmest, most cartoonish, broad-stroke understanding of power dynamics (see Extreme Top), so the scenes they lay out are laughable, and I have to enter into those scenes and make them work somehow.

The calls that require the second most acting from me are the ones that involve drug use. I don't have enough (read: any) personal experience with harder drugs like crack or cocaine or meth or anything like that—thank god—and the kinds of movies or TV shows that depict realistic and at-length user experiences of those drugs, those are not the sort of shows that I'm interested in watching, in fact, I run away, EEEEEEE! I'm very drug-squeamish, basically, so when someone wants me to act like I'm doing hard drugs, or make them do hard drugs, I have next to no idea what the fuck I'm talking about.

So the call I got the other day turned out to be one of the tougher calls I've gotten in a long time, because he combined both of these things and he was SO BAD AT IT. He was so ham-handed about verifying my submission—I took a chance on calling him "sir", and he ate that shit up—and ramming all kinds of things up my ass, and I had to choke on his dick (I get why this is a good fantasy noise for many guys, because seriously, MOST OF Y'ALL'S DICKS ARE JUST NOT CHOKE-WORTHY). It was going along fine, until about ten minutes into his 15-minute call, when the caller said, with what I guess he thought was a Villainous Dom growl, "I've got a vial of white powder here, do you know what it is?"

I first thought "cocaine," but then in a flash I totally second- and third-guessed myself. What if it's ecstasy, all chopped up? I saw people doing that in London; I didn't know you could powder ecstasy. What if it's some other powdery drug that's really popular right now, that I've never heard of? I mean, I haven't heard of a lot of drugs. I don't want to be uncool and guess the wrong thing! Why have I suddenly gone into high-schooler head space around this stupid caller and his stupid vial of mystery drug?

So, I said, in what I thought was a nicely quavery, submissive, naive, afraid housewife voice, "Oh, god, uh, I don't know, what is it?" Because, right? Would most 47-year-old housewives really know anything about drugs? This was not the right approach, apparently, because he hung up.

My dispatcher didn't say anything when I had to call back and let her know about the hang-up. But now I'm wondering how I can take care of this gap in my knowledge base. Using the drugs is obviously right out, and I'm kinda pushing back against the prospect of even reading up on the effect of drug use on conversation style and mannerisms. I mean, I don't get very many of those calls at all! On the other hand, I get more of them then I do snuff calls, so … And I don't want to have callers, even one person, hanging up because I'm not getting it right. That stings my professional pride.

Ugh. It's so strange. I know all this shit about sex, and nothing about drugs. My naivete is both narrow and profound. I am okay with that, but some of my callers aren't.

Do clients ever leave the nest?

I don't want to push them, I just want to beep at them...

I don't want to push them, I just want to beep at them...

I've been back on call for a few days now, and am relieved that regular clients are finding me again quickly. Not all of them, I mean, I'm sure I lost more than a few to the immediate pressures of needing to wring one out. But there are a gratifying number of callers who either remember the date that I said I was coming back and are asking for me specifically, or who finally, FINALLY, hear my name in the line-up again and jump on me, metaphorically.

One of them is my surfer dude. I got him my second day back for a call that was five minutes longer than his usual. Good thing he got that extra time, because he was full of excitement about his summer happenings—"I went to seven shows in 29 days, man! It was amazing!"—and more importantly, his new girlfriend, who he met at one of the jam-band shows he loves so much. She's AWESOME, she's smart, she's so frickin' hot, "and she loves Phish too!" In short, this new girlfriend is everything good for Surfer Dude… except she doesn't know about Wendy, the hot-lesbian-bitch alter ego that he puts on to role-play with me once or twice a month.

"l still want to do Wendy every now and then," said Surfer Dude, "but I'm probably going to be calling you less." I make the supportive, believing noises, and say the congratulatory things that he clearly wants to hear, but in my head I'm going, "Fuckin' TELL HER ABOUT WENDY!" Just TELL her. Suck it up and talk about role-play, and what has she done, and what have you done, and what could you do together? She's a free-wheeling, jam-band-following type. I DON'T THINK SHE'S GOING TO FREAK OUT.

I would be happy if Surfer Dude stopped calling because he had found someone in real life who he loved and was able to play hot girl-on-girl talk fantasies with. I would be thrilled. I would be happy if some of my cocksuckers were actually out there sucking actual cock in a safe, sane, and consensual way. I would love to hear that any of my panty boys had gotten up the nerve to ask the women in their life to come shopping with them at Victoria's Secret. I wish there were a way for me to know if these steps forward happened. Seriously. I would love for my work to be obsolete for that reason.

Because while some of the stuff that comes up on my phone line is not possible, for legal, ethical, or laws-of-gravity reasons, a lot of the things we talk about are totally possible, and I just… GRRRGH…. i just want to reach through the phone and shake them and say, "Go on! Be brave! Say what you want. I do it, even though it freaks me out sometimes. You can do it too. You could have so much fun! It's worth it!" But my callers aren't paying me to be a life coach. They are paying me to help get their jizz out, in the easiest way possible, in a way that doesn't involve hard conversations or potential plate-throwing or furtive checking of underwear drawers to make sure that nothing's missing.

That means that Surfer Dude's girlfriend will remain blissfully oblivious to one little corner of her boyfriend's libido, and… well, I can yell in my head as much as I want, but that is just not my problem.

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