Let it be plainly said now before the elaborate descriptions of dreamy Christian Grey to follow: I am not a prude, and I am an enormous fan of masturbation. While it cannot also be said that I am an enormous fan of all cultural materials that are created to assist masturbation, this is due less to a dislike for pornography per se than it is to the conditions of a world that demand orgasmic efficiency. Our lives and the things we consume within them, including pornography, are kept to a timetable and a structure.

Just as we must work efficiently and to a standard, we are required to climax within the same sort of constraints. Most often, the materials we have at hand to assist our hands are efficient and standardised, even if they also happen to be unlawful. There are exceptions, of course. There is rebel porn that doesn’t care about standard time and standard desire. In the works of Maria Beatty, we find unexpected and unexpectedly feminine scenarios that explore the shape of desire rather than just simply produce an efficient end to it.

If there really is a division between pornography and pornographic art as some like to claim, it can probably be measured in millilitres. Which is to say, Beatty’s well-regarded Sassy Schoolgirls might not be as physically productive for the viewer as 10 minutes at YouPorn. But it might produce a deeper, more conflicted and even more aware state of arousal.

“Art” could be said to be the kind of thing that takes us out of normal time and out of normal modes of visual consumption while items from the culture industry just keep us inside these parameters. By this measure, Beatty gives us art, and so does Georges Bataille. For the most part, the offerings of Foxtel’s Adults Only channel keep us on schedule and within normal parameters of desire. And so, despite its purported “BDSM” fixations, did terrible best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey, whose film adaptation last week released its second “steamy” trailer to great interest.

The “book”, published initially on a fan site as an erotic tribute “fic” to Twilight, broke a dozen publishing records. It remains history’s biggest selling e-book, according to some accounts; the trilogy (yes! There are three of them!) has outsold the Harry Potter series, and UK publisher Random House said the text was more widely read than the mandatory guide for road rules, The Highway Code.

E.L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey may have been uniformly reviled by critics and anyone who does not despise sentences. But it was the blockbuster of a year and possibly an era and so, it was bound to become a movie.

It is also bound to become, as a film, again as widely discussed as it was as a book. And as there are bound to be another 5000 serious sexplanations by serious journalists about why Fifty Shades is a good thing for women because it “allows” them to be sexual, I thought I’d get in early and tell them why they are all as wrong and idiotic as Anastasia Steele herself.

While those assigned the labour of the screenplay rewrites have worked on decent flicks like Notes On A Scandal and Saving Mr Banks and are likely to be more adept than James at dialogue (one of my favourite declarations from the book remains “You’re very beautiful, Anastasia Steele. I can’t wait to be inside you”, which provokes the narrator to opine: “Holy shit. His words. He’s so seductive”), the film is still likely to be a massive pile of stinking balls. Certainly, the trailers give nothing away of the “Oscar buzz” reported by liars during production. I mean. Look at it. Dakota Johnson’s miserable hipster Anastasia lopes through a grey Seattle with all the bloodless form of a vegan steak. She makes Kristen Stewart’s resentful adolescent act seem like Tony Montana on a coke binge, and she has inherited nothing of her grandmother Tippi Hedren’s understated Hitchcock grace. Why, pelican, why?

We all know this film is bound to stink worse than Anastasia Steele’s undies, but even so, it will be redeemed by critics just as the book was for its utility in efficient female masturbation.

Isn’t it marvelous that women can finally act as men do and take their pleasure openly and without guilt!? Isn’t it liberating that female desire finally has a standard representation!? Isn’t it just thrilling that sisters are doing it to themselves!?

Well, yes. It’s fan-fucking-tastic but only if one thinks of equality to a particular normalising standard is a reasonable goal. And only if one thinks that for women to gain the same “rights” of institutional surveillance and scheduling as men is good. If one does think such equality is good, one necessarily presupposes that the time and efficiency standards demanded of the average male labourer is good. And one also presupposes that access to an efficient and standard orgasm such as that provided by Anastasia and Christian is good.

You know, being a lady is, in some respects, no picnic. As the receptacles for the rotten idea of gender, we cop a lot of garbage. Every woman, no matter her class, is subject to an understanding by others that is always gendered. Everything that we do or that is done to us is interpreted as a by-product of our femininity and this is not the case for those seen as completely male. This is not to say some women don’t enjoy immensely good and prosperous lives but it is to state the obvious: ladyhood can be very inconvenient.

But it has occasional, if incomplete, advantages.

We do not go to prison as often as men. We are not compelled to join the military as often as men. Before the 1970s, we did not punch time-cards as often as men and so we lived lives that were, although certainly impeded by financial dependence, not thoroughly organised by modern institutions. Sure, they were organised by the ancient institution of marriage, but they were not so comprehensively subject, as they are today, by a range of explicit regulations, time constraints and corporate surveillance.

Our working bodies now belong to the market and this, for mine, is not necessarily a thing to celebrate. And with Fifty Shades in its visual form, now our sexual bodies will be as compromised by the culture industry as those of men.

From Freud to Kinsey to Hite to the The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, scholars of desire have always found that female sexuality was a darker continent of study. Although women themselves have long been objects of sexual surveillance, their own libidos remained unregulated. There has been no standard industry catering to female desire because that part of female life had for so long dodged commodification. As sexual surveys find, women tend to more unpredictability in their desire than men. This is one of those incomplete advantages I was talking about.

And now, we celebrate the complete victory of biopolitics where one-size-fits-most porn exists meaningfully for women as it has for so long for men. Ladies, we are now all masturbating to the same dreadful thing. I am so very glad my bourgeois foremothers threw themselves to the ground in front of police horses. The territory of my vagina is now subject to the same cultural controls as the territory of the wang.

*This article was originally published at Daily Review

Peter Fray

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