Wednesday, September 19, 2012

50 Shades of the Absent Referent

It is said that anything successful eventually has its own parody.

Parodies often point us toward truths while making fun of something; in finding a "hook" to something in popular culture, it may also open up a way of seeing through what has made it popular.

How else to explain the awful parody, "50 Shades of Chicken"? Filled with double-entendres that reference bondage, it boomerangs off of the "50 Shades of Grey" bestseller while exposing a fascinating truth.

First, the language of the parody:" If Fifty Shades of Grey left you hungry and lusting for more (more, more!), then sink your teeth into this naughty tale of a young, free-range, and very fresh chicken who, like Anastasia Steele, finds herself at the mercy of a dominating man; in this case, a kinky and very ravenous chef."

Dead chicken = Anastasia Steele

Chef who binds and trusses and cooks dead chicken = Anastasia Steele's lover.

And voila, we have yet another sizzling example of the Sexual Politics of Meat.

The cook is not just a man but a human, the consumed is not just described as female, but is an animal. Thus the parody reminds us of how the man-woman dualism intersects with the human-animal dualism and a dominant-subordinate dualism. 

And Huffington Post finds this "hilarious"?

I have not, nor do I want to, read "Fifty Shades of Grey." It has been suggested that the book shows what women really want, which is to be dominated.

But the parody suggests a more profound truth: what is happening when the language of bondage is leveraged and applied to dead animals? In meat eating, the animal who is consumed becomes an absent referent, whose will, life, and body disappear through the process of consumption. There is no actual chicken desiring to be dominated, bound, trussed, man-handled. It is all part of a fantasy --the idea that chickens's lives are fulfilled through consumption.

50 Shades of Chicken is like Sesame Street's Chicken song.

Here, the absent referent is given a voice to celebrate her consumption.

And maybe that is what the parody reveals about 50 Shades of Grey: In a culture waging a war on women, with policies and politics that are trying to turn back the rights of women to make decisions about our own bodies, what better way to reinforce regressive politics than through sexual fantasies in which the absent referent of "woman" is given a voice to celebrate her consumption, er.  domination?

26 comments:

  1. Comment from facebook; Mary wrote: "I guess every cookbook with animal products in it is a bit of a 50 shades book! Even though I personally do enjoy the occasional trashy romance, I refuse to read 50 Shades. Bad message, equally bad writing, and definitely bad timing in light of the current political attitude increasing against women."

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  3. Do not get me started on how much I hate the "50 Shades" trilogy.

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  4. Ms. Adams, aren't you just a little curious to read 50 shades of grey now?? :) I am a little too prudish/asexual to be able to enjoy a book like that but I would love to hear your critique. Who knows, maybe it's not all horrifying.

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    1. No, I am not tempted. But thanks for asking.

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  5. I was disgusted when I first saw this cookbook a few days ago. To make light of animals and women in the guise of a cookbook? It's offensive on multiple levels including the art of cooking.

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  7. I had a copy that was sent to me by a friend. She was all excited about it. I didn't say anything about my opinion of that but really got disturbed by the idea of someone wanting to see herself as dominated.

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  8. I am a kinkster. Queer. Female assigned. Gender nonconforming. And also sadistic who plays with women and others who do in fact, sometimes wish to be consensually dominated, which in some ways, I find to mean that it is not domination in the same sense of nonconsensual domination. I can be brutal, but we find egalitarianism in the exploration of doing what we want together and not shaming ourselves for whatever that may be, even if it does come from our pasts or the world we grew up in.

    Now that I (hopefully respectfully) got that one (of the few) differences between Carol and my views on sexuality out of the way, I felt sick to my stomach when I first saw the posting of this chicken thing. I also have heard most (cool anti-oppression type) kinksters I know say that the 50 shades of grey books are indeed crap that promote nonconsensual violence against women. And those who aren't feminists still call it a silly watered down misrepresentation that will undoubtedly harm kink. In our radical queer and feminist kinkster meeting we discussed it's existence and while few of us have read it, we all agreed that it hurts kink by bringing a heteronormative patriarchal nonconsensual representation of it into the mainstream which also pathologizes the dominant and weakens the submissive- taking away the reality of the strength involved in both and the lack of need for pathology to have such desires.

    I think the most important part about this post is this paragraph: "But the parody suggests a more profound truth: what is happening when the language of bondage is leveraged and applied to dead animals? In meat eating, the animal who is consumed becomes an absent referent, whose will, life, and body disappear through the process of consumption. There is no actual chicken desiring to be dominated, bound, trussed, man-handled. It is all part of a fantasy --the idea that chickens's lives are fulfilled through consumption."

    It reminds us that chickens cannot consent and would never consent to this. And on the page we see real violence, not just fictional violence. We see a real dead body of one who had their life taken, not just for taste, but then for parody. And the parody is what makes me the most ill.

    Thanks for writing this.

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  9. Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I really appreciate that you shared your perspective on this. Very helpful. Carol

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  11. As soon as I came across the title "Fifty Shades of Chicken" and read the (very disturbing) blurb, I typed it into Google along with "Carol J. Adams" and voilĂ , I was reading this article.

    What an excellent critique! :)

    Lisa

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  12. This book was blatantly triggering and deeply offensive. I wrote a more detailed review here: http://academicabolitionistvegan.blogspot.com/2013/01/fifty-shades-of-chicken-intersections.html

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