Fifty Shades of Grey has sparked a lot of debate. Some like the fact that a popular movie now breaks the taboo on BDSM and seeks to challenge common stereotypes. Others condemn the movie for romanticizing violence.
So far, however, no philosophers seem to have joined the debate. That’s unfortunate, for how we should assess Fifty Shades and its BDSM theme depends on a range of philosophical issues such as consent, harm, voluntariness, respect, dignity, and the role of fiction.
BDSM is a somewhat radical topic, and for philosophical purposes, that is often an advantage. Radical topics – like thought experiments – put our principles to the test. (If you think Fifty Shades is grotesque, you should be warned that it is a walk in the park compared to many of the standard thought experiments in ethics).
For philosophical reasons – and philosophical reasons only, of course – I recently went to watch Fifty Shades of Grey.
Grey and Steele
To the extent that Fifty Shades has a plot, I shall now spoil it. The movie tells a straightforward story about Christian Grey – an intelligent, handsome, and very rich young man – and Anastasia Steele – an English literature major at a local college. They meet during an interview, find each other attractive, and initiate an affair. Christian is secretive, possessive, and controlling, and he is very much into BDSM. Anastasia lets Christian do some of his BDSM things with her, and she enjoys parts of it.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.