BDSM in Popular Culture; how does hit TV show ‘Normal People’ fare?

Analysing the accuracies and inaccuracies in media portrayals of BDSM culture has become somewhat of a passion of ours recently. This is because each new release seems to throw up some gobsmacking scenes for us to dissect. Take the “modern classic” 50 Shades of Gray for example with its overt assertion that any attraction to kink is borne from and a direct result of some earlier abuses. We do occasionally get dealt a nice surprise though. Take for example the recent Finnish film we reviewed, ‘Dogs don’t Wear Pants’. They absolutely nailed their portrayal of the BDSM scene, and how? Because they did a little research! That’s literally all it takes!

For the those of you who haven’t seen it yet, ‘Normal People’ was an instant TV hit, arriving with a literal bang into our living rooms. Boasting full-frontal nudity, it managed to announce itself by causing quite a bit of upset within the more conservative quarters of our society. Which, I think, is always a marketing masterstroke. So, it’s undoubtedly grabbed the attention of the curious masses. Bear in mind, some of these may well be experiencing their first venture into ogling the world of BDSM.

How do you think these scenes were portrayed?

So, what’s the deal with the BDSM in ‘Normal People’?

Well, I hate to spoil the surprise, but even one episode in and the prognosis does not look good. To begin with, we’re introduced to two main characters, Connell and Marianne. After not seeing each other for a prolonged period of time practically explode with desire. This results in a fairly true to life vanilla sex scene. No problems there, obviously. However, when Marianne asks Connell to hit her during this passionate outburst, it appears that the moment is completely ruined. To this point, that’s all fine – no consent is violated. it is also relatively obvious that this topic hadn’t been discussed between the two lovers previously. So yeah, one could imagine that Connell got a bit of a shock.

And here begins the problematic bit. You see, when Marianne ashamedly escapes to her own house, her brother forcibly smashes her in the face with a door. This insinuates that her initial desires for rough sex were brought about by the traumatic conditions of her home life…

Do you think the programme showed an abusive side to BDSM?

Uh oh… here we go again with that old baseless assumption!

This is where most portrayals end in their inaccuracies, but remarkably, there’s more! The concept of consent then rears its head further through the narrative, when Marianne’s’ new ‘kinkier’ boyfriend won’t allow her to shower. He does this even though she has stated in no uncertain terms that she has no interest in roleplaying. What really got my blood boiling however, and what made this infinitely less realistic than 50 Shades was that there didn’t seem to be any joy to what Marianne was doing. At least in 50 Shades, Ana appears to at least be enjoying the BDSM scenes! Whereas here, Marianne’s’ experience seems devoid of anything resembling pleasure. Marianne is portrayed as looking totally withdrawn, as if her mind has gone elsewhere to escape the reality of it.

So, why did they choose to portray BDSM as inherently ‘bad’?

‘Normal People’ generally misunderstands (perhaps wilfully) the characteristics of BDSM. It seems to be ignoring the fact that consent exists and perpetuating the myth that all BDSM enthusiasts are ‘damaged’. And, it also has an ace up its sleeve. It seems to be aiming at something beyond simply overlooking the research element of developing a coherent script. It seems to actively be attempting to posit that vanilla, classically romantic sex is by its nature ‘good’, and that everything outside that is essentially trash. So, I can’t say my usual bit and just simply accuse them of not trying hard enough. Instead, my guess is that there was indeed an effort made – just not toward the right outcome.

What did you think of the show Normal People? Leave us a comment and let us know

Written exclusively for Female Fetish Federation

2 responses to “BDSM in Popular Culture; how does hit TV show ‘Normal People’ fare?”

  1. I heard an interview with Paul Mescal and he believed that the scenes were shot completely addressing consent and a healthy view of the BDSM scene. But when you include the scene that followed with the brother beating her it can have a very different more damaging tone behind it all.

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