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Bwah hah! Lisa Schwartzbaum damns the 50 Shades of Grey movie with faint praise in the linked review. I particularly like the line quoted in the subject.

The general consensus appears to be that this movie is decidedly mediocre: not so bad it's good, but definitely hampered by the headliners' limited acting abilities [I'm looking at you, Jamie Dornan!], a sort of generic set dressing and the refusal of the script to let the main characters take off their pants and actually do something significantly sexy.

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Last December I noted that Vermont Teddy Bear had a bear clearly inspired by 50 Shades of Blaugh, which was discontinued [after it sold out] because it was unlicensed. Well, it looks like VTB got the legit license to do Blaugh bears, 'cause here they are. I just know they're going to sell out, especially in conjunction with the Valentine's Day release of the Blaugh film adaptation, which is going to be a turd.

The impending release of the movie has people online talking about the books again and their abysmal portrayal of pretty much everything, but bdsm in particular. Now I kinda wanna read it again...

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Apparently Vermont Teddy Bear had a 50 Shades of Bear teddy bear that, with its suit, mask and handcuffs, was clearly inspired by the character Christian "50 Shades of Abusive" Grey in the 50 Shades series. Media consensus agreed with Cosmo that it was "quietly unsettling," and yet the item sold out, though it disappeared from the site after Valentine's because apparently it was not an officially licensed 50 Shades thing. Whoops.

P.S. Why were the bear's eyes blue? What's-'is-face has grey eyes.

P.P.S. Did it come with an Ana doll that tripped over its own feet and had a voice box to say, "Wow!" and "Double crap!"? No? Okay, then I'm not interested. :p

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I made this mini universe story this weekend just so I could have a chance to make this pun. Well, I also did want to use my new Montespan Interior Scene and Jareth's fabulous Baroque outfit. Anyway, enjoy.

Note: Jareth is reading the third in the 50 Shades Trilogy. All the faces he makes come directly from my own reactions, although, in my case, there was a lot more yelling at the book. :p
Read more... )
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Hey kids! I know that you eagerly awaited my scathing rant on chapters 2 through 5 that I promised, but too bad. I will dispense with an analysis of all the problems in chapter 5 to zero in on a particularly repugnant snippet therein.

To set the stage, immediately before chapter 5, Ana and acquaintances go out drinking to celebrate the successful end of finals. Ana becomes sloshed and drunk-dials Christian. Her so-called friend Jose sexually assaults her, only to be fended off by Christian, who has tracked Ana's cell phone and come to pick her up. Jose leaves as Ana, no doubt mirroring the reader's disgust, pukes everywhere. She and Christian dance for a little bit until she passes out.

Chapter 5 begins with Ana in an unfamiliar bed. She quickly realizes that Christian has taken her to his house and removed her pants. Inevitably, Ana wonders if he raped her. Christian assures her that he likes his women "sentient and receptive" [p. 66], so he did not assault her while she was unconscious. Ana appears disappointed by Christian's assertion. In a paragraph discussing her confusion about his apparent lack of hots for her, Ana muses [p. 69]:

"He said he likes his woman sentient. He's probably not celibate then. But he's not made a pass at me... I don't understand. ... Am I repellent to him? You've slept in his bed all night, and he's not touched you all night. You do the math. My subconscious has reared her ugly, snide head. I ignore her."

As we have already observed, the math is pretty easy to follow. Here's the equation:

Christian + unconscious Ana rape

Ana, however, seems to wish that Christian had touched her when she was unconscious. In her perspective, his sexual assault of her in her unconscious, unable-to-consent state would prove his desire for her. Because she apparently subscribes to the trope of romance novels that men can't control their libidos, she conflates rape and desire. It's a testament to how deeply she has been indoctrinated with a misogynist rape culture that she regrets not having been fucked over in her sleep.

This instance represents possibly the only moment in the series that Christian exhibits a modicum of basic human decency, and yet he gets no credit. I'm not expecting the the story to glorify his not raping an unconscious woman. However, it would be nice if the main character, with whom we are supposed to sympathize, didn't fault him for it.

I think this excerpt represents E.L. James' troubling inability, on a global level, to assign the appropriate ethical weight to...well...just about anything. She treats Jose's sexual assault of Ana like an awkward date, after which Ana feels guilty that she doesn't call him. She treats Christian's tracking of Ana through her cell phone as charming protectiveness on his part. She treats bdsm as a dramatic secret nurtured by broken psyches and peeing on a consenting partner as something akin to pedophilia. Whether she's dismissing significant problems of surveillance, control and consent or using her sense of revulsion as a moral proxy, she gets it wrong again and again.

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Hey, kids! I've progressed up to chapter 5, so I have a significant commentary to write on the pages I have spanned since my last rant. However, I do not have time for full-length vituperation, so I will just make a single comment: E.L. James needs to find another way of describing things besides the "it's all x, y and z" model. Here's a random example on page 56, where Ana is observing her so-called "friend" Kate's outfit:

"She's all tiny camisole, tight jeans and high heels, her hair piled high with tendrils hanging softly down around her face, her usual stunning self."

I have no intrinsic problem with this phrase; in fact, I like to use it myself on occasion because it gives a sense of a person fascinated by the details and yet also overwhelmed by the overall effect of something. But I only use it on occasion. James, on the other hand, finds a phrase she likes [q.v. "fair point well made"], beats it till it dies, waits till it resurrects as a zombie, then beats it to death again. I repeatedly felt impelled to throw the book across the room, but then I realized I was on a bus, and none of the other passengers would appreciate being bombed with a bomb of a book.
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All right, individuals, it's time for another installment in 50 Shades of Meh!

When we last left off, I was on page 11. Let's see how far I get today...

P. 12: "You sound like the ultimate consumer."

Anna makes this observation after a string of control freaky observations on Christian's part. I think she's onto something here.

Christian is an extremely materialist individual who wishes to possess the newest, latest, most expensive objects. He also believes that he can possess people by controlling their finances, as he does with his ex-domme [owning a stake in her salon chain] and ex-sub [bankrolling her therapy]. If he can't control people financially, he attempts to create bonds of obligation between them and him with extravagant gifts -- he gives Ana first editions of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, as well as a phone, a computer, a few cars, etc., etc.

Do we notice a pattern here? Christian substitutes economic transactions for emotional intimacy. Everything has a price, and he's willing to pay it to create attachments between him and other people. He really doesn't know about the giving and receiving of oneself that forms a non-obligatory, mutually enjoyable, emotionally based relationship.

In other words, this interview that Ana's conducting gives Christian opportunity after opportunity to advertise his complete unsuitability as a romantic partner. But who cares? He's hot!

P. 13: "'Are you gay, Mr. Grey?' ... How can I tell him I'm just reading the questions? Damn Kate and her curiosity!"


Again, Ana -- you chose to ask this question. Kate did not force you. You are not being impelled by forces outside of your control, but by your own damn self. Stop  having an external locus of control.

...Okay, I got up to page 19.

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Gather 'round, folks. I couldn't wait for my own copy of 50 Shades to materialize, so I borrowed one from the library. I'm working my way through from the beginning, commenting on whatever catches my eye, until I become bored.

P. 3: "Damn my hair -- it just won't behave, and damn Katherine Kavanaugh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal."

Look, readers -- it's our first glimpse of our endearing Everywoman protagonist, and what's she doing? Whingeing about her appearance and cursing her so-called best friend for having the temerity -- the utter chutzpah! -- to come down with a cold. Though Ana insists that she feels sympathy for Kate, she cusses her out an awful lot in the first few pages.

Ana, you stinkin' pushover -- it's not Kate's fault that you blew off your senior finals and essays to do a favor for her -- i.e., interviewing Christian Grey. It's your own dang fault for having all the gumption of a doormat. Try developing some assertiveness and the skills of saying no effectively. Establishing and maintaining personal limits and boundaries proves essential in all relationships, whether with so-called friends, family or BDSM play partners.

P. 5: "It's a stunning vista, and I'm momentarily paralyzed by the view. Wow." 


The first of many examples in which Ana's interior monologue adds nothing whatsoever to her narration.

P. 6: "I know nothing about the man I'm about to interview. He could be ninety or he could be thirty. The uncertainty is galling, and my nerves resurface, making me fidget."


Christian bankrolls Ana's university, but she doesn't even know that he's in her age bracket?! Wouldn't news of him being not only rich, but also young and handsome, travel generally around the campus? ["Yeah, that CEO -- you know, the one who's like 27 and looks like a movie star -- he just endowed another building. I'd like to see his endowments, if you know what I mean, nudge nudge, wink wink."] Ana's so completely clueless that it hurts.

P. 7: "I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet and falling headfirst into the office. Double crap -- me and my two left feet!"

Seriously -- who says "double crap?" Who?!

P. 11: "Well, to 'chill out,' as you put it -- I sail, I fly, I indulge in various physical pursuits. ... I'm a very wealthy man, Miss Steele, and I have expensive and absorbing hobbies."

Whoop de doo, Christian. You do realize that you've just said the equivalent of, 'I like to do things when I'm not at work. Some of the things involve vehicles, and some of them don't. All of them cost money and take up time'? In other words, you took a whole bunch of breath to say nothing.

Okay, that's enough for tonight. I'm going to work on something more entertaining.

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The subject is, of course, French for "Because I am a masochist, I bought it yet again." "It," of course, is the shit heap known as 50 Shades of Grey, which I read about 1.5 years ago and made the mistake of donating to the library when I was done. I don't regret donating it to the library as much as I regret letting it out of my possession. It's now returning to my personal library to hang out with Warrior's Woman, which I assume will just point, laugh and mock 50 Shades mercilessly for being such a repository of incompetence. [One of these days I need to write an essay about Warrior's Woman and its influence on my narrative imagination.]

As soon as 50 Shades comes, analysis, sarcasm, incredulity and other fun stuff will no doubt ensue. Watch this space! I also foresee some photostories involving my eminently sardonic dolls [Submit: "What's this about?" / Jareth: "Pain. Acute, chronic, unremitting, agonizing pain. Give me that."] and possibly a book smackdown or two. [50 Shades goes up against a variety of rivals and gets trounced.]
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I know very little about the impending 50 Shades movie, currently slated to come out February 15th, 2015, just in time for Valentine's Day -- because nothing says commercialized heteronormativity than a grade-Z flick glorifying abusive relationships! Anyway, the only person attached to the movie that I'm remotely familiar with is Jamie Dornan. He played the sheriff of Storybrooke, Graham, for the first few episodes of season 1 of Once Upon A Time and died before he did anything interesting. Anyway, in 50 Shades, he has the role of Christian Lead Fit-Thrower. My official reaction is "Meh."

This movie is going to be such double crap... :p

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One of the many reasons I enjoy my new avatar photo is that Jareth looks both considering and on the verge of laughter. In other words, he has on his face the same expression that I had on mine when I was reading Flush Blush Crush Rush by Maya Banks. Well, at least I exhibited aforesaid expression up till page 33, which I just lost it and cracked up.

Rush is not written as a comedy, however. It's the first in a trilogy of novels about a young, inexperienced ingenue hired to work for an older, richer, wiser dude who overmasters her with his sexy sexiness and seduces her into the thrilling, glamorous world of BDSM, where he dominates and she submits and -- hey wait -- where have we heard this before? Oh right, in E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Tedium Grey, Sylvia Day's Bared to Complementary Neuroses You and the herd of other BDSM lust novels that have sprouted like post-rain mushrooms since about 2011. For Pete's sakes, people -- find a new template!

Anyway, at first I thought that Flush might prove better than 50 Shades, as it's written by an experienced, prolific author. Well, no dice. Bank writes in generic statements and superficial vagueness. A paragraph on page 29, wherein the ingenue eyeballs the rich dude's office, epitomizes this flaccid style:

[The office] screamed classy and expensive. Rich mahogany wood, polished marble floor that was partly covered with an elegant oriental rug. The furniture was dark leather with an antique, old-world look. Paintings adorned three walls while the last wall was all built-in bookcases filled with an eclectic mixture of works.

As anyone with a modicum of real-life and/or reading experience knows, looking into someone's personal space -- bedroom, study, den, boudoir, office, etc. -- provides a wealth of information about their activities, routines, interests, preoccupations and general character. The paragraph above, full of missed opportunities, demonstrates Banks' generic, inexpensive style because it, technically speaking, contains detail, but doesn't really communicate anything. The mahogany, marble, oriental [sic] rug, leather furniture, paintings and stocked bookshelves stereotypically signify wealth. Without any further modification to particularize them so that they reveal the character of the rich dude, the stereotypical signifiers just lie there limply like the authorial equivalent of spaghetti flung against the wall in a test to determine its adhesive properties.

As I intimated, Banks passes up a huge chance for the reader to get to know the dominant dude. If she would just give us more specifics, we might ground the story and the characters a little bit more. What's the design on the rug? What figures, palettes and styles appear in the paintings? What subject matter fills the books? How is everything arranged within the room? Are there focal points or salient details and, if so, what? Music, traffic noise, computer keys clicking? Garish fluorescent lighting, natural light from huge windows, cave-like dimness? The smell of carpet shampoo, dried spooge, expensive cigars, floral perfume? We'll never know. In paragraph after paragraph like this, Banks builds empty edifices of stereotypical tropes that may seem to evoke certain worlds, personalities and feelings, but which ultimately leave the subjects that they describe mysterious and cipher-like.

The gummy, rubbery prose, impervious to all attempts at the incision of fine detail, does this book in. I bravely put up with it until the ingenue's discussion of her impending BDSM contract with the rich dude on pages 32 and 33:

"And this relationship you propose. What exactly do you mean by nontraditional?"

..."I'll own you. Body, soul. You'll belong to me."

Whoa. That sounded so...heavy.


Right there was where I bust out laughing. The 24-year-old ingenue has evinced no particular idiolect up until this point, except for a distressingly ableist propensity to describe stuff that she thinks is pathetic as "lame." Suddenly, for no reason that I can discern, she sounds like a mash-up of Neo from the Matrix and Marty from Back to the Future. The odd combination of two elements totally anachronistic for this character's generation struck such resoundingly wrong notes that I just had to give up. When the supposedly steamy and erotic BDSM novel has me snorting and rolling my eyes at the glaring infelicities of style, it ain't really having its desired effect.
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Bared to You by Sylvia Day [Crossfire #1] shares a lot in common with the [unfortunately] more popular Shades of Grey by E.L. James. As in the 50 Shades trilogy, the Crossfire trilogy follows the first-person adventures of an administrative-assistant-level young woman, Eva in Bared to You, and her rollercoaster relationship with a young rich man, Gideon in Bared to You, who owns the company for which she works. They have sex and fight a lot, sometimes simultaneously. Their relationship involves some bdsm, submission for the protagonist, domination for the love interest. A series of assumptions, piss-offs, misunderstandings, apologies, jealousies, running-aways and reconciliations passes for plot. And don't forget the sex. At the end, the reader is exhausted, but there are still two books to go!

But that's where the similarities end. Crossfire exceeds 50 Shades in quality at every level.
Read more... )
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I finished the book...and the series! God, I thought it would never end. After the official conclusion, there is, of course, an epilogue in which Ana and Christian gambol about with their son [because the Penis of Doom always generates a first-born son] and coo about their upcoming daughter. The epilogue contains awkwardly inserted flashbacks and serves no purpose whatsoever except to hammer home that Ana and Christian live happily ever after in true love, perfect bliss and harmonious, nurturing parenthood. Yeah, I'm not going to believe that until I read transcripts of their kids' therapy sessions.

And then, after the epilogue, we get a 50 Shades of Christian section, which, I assume, is bonus material supplied for the Vintage republishing. James gives us a first-person report of Christian's first Christmas with his adoptive family, the Greys, which adds nothing to the story because we've already been inside young Christian's head in the prologue when he was telling us about his nightmares. If anything, this section tickles my gag reflex, as James writes the 5-year-old Christian without nuance, realism or complexity. It's just...baby talk for pages and pages.

Just in case you haven't had your fill of redundancy, 50 Shades Freed finally, finally, finally closes out with Meet 50 Shades, an exhaustive recap of Ana and Christian's first two meetings from Christian's point of view.

Insights I gained from Meet 50 Shades:

1. Christian is an asshole.

2. He has the hots for Ana.

3. Even though he has no "subconscious" or "inner goddess," Christian's interior monologue sounds exactly the same as Ana's: repetitive, shallow and unindividualized.

4. Wow, that was a pointless section.

On second thought, scratch that victory lap. Now that I'm done with the 50 Shades trilogy, I'm too exhausted to put forth more effort. I just read 514 [book 1] + 532 [book 2] + 579 [book 3] = 1625 pages of erotic romance over 9 days. It was clearly a feat of endurance for which I should get a prize [preferably in the form of well-written erotic romance]. I understand the commercial impulse behind stringing the story out over 3 books and thereby making $$$ [or, for E.L. James, £££], but oh my God...the trilogy could have been easily cut down to 400 pages by a ruthless and judicious editor without losing any of the traits that make it such a gloriously bad read.

It's victory nap time instead.
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Of all the recycled phrases in the 50 Shades trilogy, the one that's driving me up the wall the most is "Fair point well made." Ana and Christian say this about as often as they have sex, which is up to twice a chapter. Sometimes they even say, "Fair point well made as ever."

I have never heard anyone in my life say this, especially not a 26-year-old Harvard dropout [Christian] and a 21-year-old recent college graduate [Ana]. If people under the age of 30 who have been born and raised in the US want to acknowledge someone's opinion that they disagree with, they typically use one of the following phrases:

"Yeah, but..."

"Okay, but..."

"Touché."

If one feels the burning need to use the word "point," one could say, "Good point."

One could also say, "You have a point."

If one feels like being particularly snotty, one could also say, "Fair point." I've never heard anyone actually use that phrase in the wild, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. I think I've probably read it in a novel somewhere.

But "Fair point well made"?! What the hell? Who even says that? Is it some sort of Britishism? If so, I've never encountered it in any of the British literature I've read before the 50 Shades trilogy. [The author lives in London, England.] It could possibly be a function of E.L. James' fallback on her own British idiom and her lazy refusal to invest in any research that would make the voices of two US citizens in their 20s realistic and believable. However, I can't really tell much about the origin and current use of this phrase, because, hilariously enough, most Google results of "fair point well made as ever" point to pages lambasting the 50 Shades trilogy for this irritating verbal hiccup.
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Oh for God's sake! Less than 2 pages after fearing for her safety because she's pregnant, Ana suddenly changes her mind (p. 413):

"...Perhaps I shouldn't tell Christian. Perhaps I...perhaps I should end this. I halt my thoughts on that dark path, alarmed at the direction they're taking. Instinctively my hand sweeps down to rest protectively over my belly. No. My little Blip. Tears spring to my eyes. What am I going to do?"

Well, because this is a romance about a fertile, heterosexual couple, they will be brainwashed by Baby Magic into abandoning their previous agreement to postpone kids. The Miracle of Reproduction will overawe them, activating their dormant, but hereditary and totally natural, parental instincts. With surprising ease and no ambivalence at all, they will quickly convert to anticipation and adoration of their little Blip. Baby Magic is overtaking Ana even in this paragraph: Automatically characterizing her thoughts of abortion as a "dark path," she "instinctively," without any thought at all, develops protective inclinations. YAY BABEEZ!

I detest this trope so very much. I've discussed before, in relation to Bones' pregnancy on her eponymous show, the trivializing, insulting and misogynist ways pregnancy is portrayed in popular media. It compresses a range of emotional, intellectual and characterological responses into a single trajectory of blissfully complaisant, essentialized and instinctive [ergo brainless] femininity. It's pretty much always a horrible derailment of character that represents a descent into utter boredom.

This can't end well either.
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As irritating and pretentious and unfunny as I find Gilbert Gottfried, I must admit that this fake commercial of him reading explicit excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey, less because of Gottfried himself and more because of the increasingly horrified expressions on the readers' faces. Needless to say, this contains explicit sexual language.
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I'm almost halfway through 50 Shades Freed, book 3 of the 50 Shades trilogy, by E.L. James. Forthwith, some random remarks:

1) Remember how I objected to Ana's sudden promotion from executive assistant to editor at the end of 50 Shades Darker, saying that it made no sense and that Christian should have been behind it? Well, he was. Okay, fine. I still don't think she's remotely qualified to be an editor, though.

2) Ana and Christian have a big fight about Ana wanting to keep her surname. This fight occurs about a month after they get married. Apparently they just forgot to address the subject before they got married; they must have been too busy "quirking" and "pouting" and saying, "Fair point well made." Seriously, people? You just neglect a subject that affianced couples notoriously have strong views on? You couldn't even be bothered to ask each other your preferences?

3) Speaking of fights, I'm way more interested in all of Ana and Christian's arguments than their sex scenes. In fact, after the first sex scene, I've been skipping them all and paying close attention to their disagreements instead. It's like Conflict Porn!

4) There's a notable amount of alcohol consumption in this trilogy. Before dinner? Have a drink. During dinner? Have a drink. After dinner? Have a drink. After sex? Have a drink. Hectic, worrisome day? Have a drink. Angry at your spouse? Have a drink. Nervous? Have a drink. Since they have sex, eat dinner, feel worried and get angry with each other frequently, Ana and Christian drink copiously. I'm waiting for someone to either get drunk and do something really stupid or to develop alcoholism. Or both.
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The probability that a book will be challenged, banned and/or censored increases exponentially as the book approaches mega-bestseller status.

As a corollary, if a book or series hits mega-bestseller status, somebody somewhere will challenge, ban and/or censor it for one "reason" or another.

Libraries around the country are currently throwing fits about the 50 Shades trilogy. So infuriating. Censorship is wrong. I don't care if you disagree with the views stated in the trilogy. I don't care if you think it's pornographic. I expect my public library to offer reading opportunities, rather than remove them. Public services have no right to selectively and arbitrarily limit reading material like this just because someone somewhere thinks it's icky. "Ewww!" is not a valid argument against anything, from marriage equality to 50 Shades of Grey.
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The plot with Ana and her sleazy boss winds up this way: The sleazeball harasses Ana, so Christian has him fired. Somehow, after only having been an executive assistant for a week, Ana gets the sleazeball's job, becoming head editor at Seattle Independent Press! Amazingly enough, Christian has nothing to do with her sudden promotion.

THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Why would the press stick Ana in the position of a seasoned executive? Even if her sleazeball boss has praised her work, she has no track record at the company, so why should anyone trust her? She also has zero related experience, her job during college having been cashiering at a hardware store. From what little we know, she's conscientious as an assistant, and, uh, she likes to read British literature. That's not enough to recommend her. As much as I object to Christian's abusive, control freaky behavior, if he had gotten Anna the sleazeball's job, that would have made been much more logical and believable, narratively speaking. E.L. James really doesn't know how to write.
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I got about halfway through 50 Shades Darker [book 2 in the 50 Shades trilogy by E.L. James] last night. It picks up several days after the end of the first book, when Ana and Christian break up, for reasons that I'm not quite clear on. When Christian proposes that they try again with a non-kinky, completely vanilla relationship [hah hah hah!], they're off and running [or, rather, bonking]. There's something of a plot in there too, involving Ana's new job at Seattle Independent Press, Christian's ex-domme, one of Christian's emotionally labile ex-subs, Christian's secret past, et hoc genus omne.

I'd like to talk about Ana's "inner goddess." Introduced toward the end of book 1, she appears in pretty much every other paragraph, usually in counterpoint to Ana's "subconscious." Like Ana's "subconscious," the "inner goddess" is personified, apparently as a multi-talented Olympic athlete, given her acrobatic performances of joy whenever Ana thinks about getting kinky. Beyond that, she serves no useful function; she's just a convenient image for James to use in describing Ana's lust. So, if the "subconscious" and the "inner goddess" do nothing to advance Ana's character development or the plot, why does James insert them on every damn page?! Characters in one's head can be interesting, compelling and revelatory if done with care, purpose and depth, but these are just useless, stupid and annoying.

On another note, I'm fascinated by the tensions of class warfare as exhibited by Ana and Christian. Ana seems to have grown up [from what I can tell -- she doesn't have much history] in a middle-class family; as a college student, she had little spare money [hence driving the same beat-up car for three years], and she currently earns an entry-level publishing salary [which, let me tell you, is diddly squat] in her first post-college job. At this point, I'd call her lower middle-class, aspiring to higher, and rather anxious about money.

Meanwhile, Christian has millions, maybe billions. For the first few years of his life, he grew up in poverty, but, since adoption at the age of 4, he has been surrounded by ostentatious, fabulous wealth. He uses money casually and confidently, without anxiety about it at all.

Ana and Christian clash on financial matters. Christian spends exorbitant amounts on gifts for Ana, including a set of first-edition Tess of the d'Urbervilles, a laptop, a Blackberry, an Audi, an iPad, diamond jewelry and a Saab. He doesn't understand that this makes Ana, who earns much less, feel unworthy, subordinate, bought off and kept. He explains that he wants to "give [her] everything," that this is "how [he is]" and that this is "part of [his] world." Nope, he just wants to make her his objectified possession, as evidenced by the fact that he buys the publishing company Ana works for [ostensibly because he's jealous that Ana's boss shows interest in her, which is a great reason for a takeover]. He uses his socioeconomic privilege to control Ana's communication [laptop, Blackberry, iPad], transportation [Audi, Saab] and occupation [Seattle Independent Press]. It's like the 1% overruling the 99%, but with bonus secret childhood trauma!
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After mulling for a few days, I've determined some of the most problematic assumptions underlying 50 Shades of Grey. As I've discussed, it is about a young woman, Ana, who embarks on a submissive, bdsm relationship with the dominant and slightly older Christian.
I mention child abuse and rape below the cut. )
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Yes, folks, just in case you were curious, E.L. James' 50 Shades trilogy started off as Twilight fanfic. It starred Edward and Bella in a bdsm relationship, and it was entitled Masters of the Universe. No word if Skeletor and He-Man were involved. I doubt it. That would have been interesting, and if it's anything these books aren't, it's interesting.
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As far as I can tell, Ana and Christian's relationship in 50 Shades of Grey is based on the following:

1. Their mutual sexual attraction.

2. Christian's abusive need to control his partners.

3. Ana's delusion that she can somehow change Christian.

They don't really understand each other; they don't communicate well, and yet they love each other. Since they've known each other only several weeks as book 1 ends, I opine that they are feeling infatuation, but not love.

Even if they are in love, they don't seem to like each other. By that, I mean that they don't enjoy each other's company, unless they're having sex. I do not have high hopes for this relationship being satisfying for both partners for any length of time.
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Just finished book 1. The ending is abrupt, resolving nothing. I suspect that E.L. James initially wrote a single, much shorter story that was then strung out into a trilogy upon acquisition by an actual publishing house. God forbid we ever have a single novel that tells a complete story. Everything comes in threes these days. It's an extremely irritating privileging of capitalism over story.

And now to rustle up books 2 and 3...

EDIT: Awesome! They're coming [hur hur hur] on Saturday. I should donate them to the local library when I'm done.
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Christian, on page 135: "I want you to become well acquainted, on first-name terms, if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I'm very attached to this."

Given the unusual lack of explanatory prose around this bit of dialogue, I think we're supposed to take this statement straight, at face value, without self-consciously mocking undertones.

Sorry, Christian. I can't take you seriously any more. Not only do you have a HUGE CLICHE for your favorite body part, but you also use the phrase "making the beast with two backs" as a synonym for "having sex." I have never heard anyone, much less a modern, 27-year-old dude from the U.S., use this phrase, Iago excepted.

James clearly has no concept of voice and how all people -- and therefore characters -- have unique, individual, internally consistent ways of expressing themselves.
modernwizard: (Default)
I started 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, first in the 50 Shades trilogy, last night. The trilogy constitutes a very drawn-out romance novel with bdsm themes, starring Ana as an inexperienced college graduate and Christian as a 27-year-old CEO and millionaire. 

Let me tell you, folks -- it's a treat! And by "treat" I mean "a book in dire need of a ruthless and judicious editor." I found myself rolling my eyes up to thrice a page at some infelicity of style or bizarre authorial choice. I fear I'm going to sprain my ocular muscles by the time this book is through.

In no particular order, here are some of my observations after about the first 60-80 pages [I forget where I stopped]:

Ana has an unusual relationship with her inner monolgue, which she, in her first-person narration, inaccurately terms her "subconscious." Her "subconscious" repeatedly appears personified, tapping its foot and rolling its eyes at one of her stupid remarks, for example. This gives the unintentionally hilarious picture of a homunculus inside Ana's brain, providing MST3K-like commentary on everything she does. It's an interesting characterological device if you want to explore it, but, of course, James doesn't, so Ana's internal divide ends up revealing nothing interesting about her.

Furthermore, Ana's inner monologue sounds off indiscriminately, no matter what the needs of the story. It's almost always repetitive. For example, when Ana admires Christian's office building, she describes it as "impressive." Okay, she's impressed. We do not need to know that her internal monologue is saying, "Wow." Ana's inner voices have a reaction to every single event in the novel, mostly along the lines of, "I feel horrible for doing [insert embarrassing thing] in front of Christian." Since Ana's body language and speech, also detailed in the text, clearly demonstrate her chagrin, her thoughts add nothing to either the story or her personality. In fact, she ends up coming across as literal-minded, unanalytical and kind of stupid.

On another subject, Ana keeps tripping over her own feet and falling into Christian's arms. She should consult her primary care doctor about this. I think she might have problems with proprioception.

Speaking of Christian, he too is a very odd duck. He has the most labile emotions of any character I've met recently. His feelings change from paragraph to paragraph, as he vacillates between leering at Ana, freezing her out, then getting angry that she's not acting the way he wishes her to [which, of course, he hasn't communicated to her at all]. His actions are extremely unusual, in that most people don't cycle through emotions so rapidly. His transparent, fluctuating facial expressions suggest that he was inadequately trained in the socially acceptable methods of monitoring and expressing his emotions.

We know that Christian has some painful secret past, so it's possible that James intended his emotional instability to manifest his internal damage. However, given the way that James completely fails to recognize opportunities to psychologize her own characters, even as she's writing these opportunities into the story, I doubt that I'm supposed to be considering what historical effects led to Christian's emotional problems. More than likely, James wishes us to read Christian's instability as the seductive moodiness of a typical romance-novel alpha male.

On a related note, I see nothing but trouble for Christian in any sort of bdsm scenario. An ideal scene requires explicit, trusting communication between the participants about their roles, interests and dislikes. Christian would much rather impose his will on his partners, instead of initiating productive dialogue. He's the sort of creepy dom who would touch people sexually without their permission and probably ignore their safe words.

A particular incident between Ana and Christian set off warning bells for me about Christian's abusive traits. In one scene, Ana gets drunk for the first time and impulsively calls Christian. She has a short chat with him, at which point Christian flies off the handle and states that he is coming to pick her up. He tracks her location by using data from her cell phone call. Conveniently, Christian arrives just in time to save Ana from being raped by a "friend." Ana pukes on herself and Christian [that's what I think of him too], then faints, waking up in Christian's bed in her underwear.

Look, Mr. Grey -- I don't care how "justified" you are [according to the story] with the assault and the puke and the sexual tension. You are stalking Ana by finding her through cell phone data. You are assaulting her by nonconsensually removing her clothes. Furthermore, you are a classic abusive personality in the first place for using her phone call as an excuse to control and confine her behavior. You really are a repulsive individual. And if you "quirk" your eyebrows or grin a "sardonic" grin one more time, I'm taking away your poetic license.

The same goes for you, Ana. If you don't stop biting your lower lip and saying "crap" and "double crap," there will be consequences.
modernwizard: (Default)
...I ordered it, primarily because sources tell me it's based on Twilight Saga fanfic [!]. I had so much fun with the Twilight Saga [see "twilight" and "breaking dawn" tags if you really care] that I think I will at least have a little fun with 50 Shades.

Also, concerning 50 Shades of Grey, please see the related parody video by Flula: entirely ridiculous and safe for work. You're welcome.
modernwizard: (Default)
I read advice columns for the same reason I watch mediocre TV shows. I gain entertainment not only from the stories told, but also from the advice supplied by the columnist and, frequently, the commenters. Plus there's always the opportunity to castigate the TV show or the advice column for how good it could have been.

Before I go into critiquing the NYT's most recent Social Qs, let me just say that the only advice column I can currently take seriously is Captain Awkward. She's a person with no official credentials to tell other people how to live their lives, but she, along with the trenchant commentariat, manages to provide practical, straightforward, explicit, helpful advice to the questioners. Be warned, though; she does use sexist slurs ["bitch" and "dick"], as well as ableist adjectives ["crazy"]. Despite her failings, I approve of her generally open-minded approach.

Now back to my original subject. In the most recent Social Qs, a letter writer says that her daughter's future mother-in-law loves Fifty Shades of Grey, a BDSM romance novel. "As a feminist," the writer dislikes the books and wonders how to respond when the future MIL asks the writer what she thinks of the books.

Philip Galanes, author of Social Qs, advises the following:

Engage your future in-law, mother to mother. Steer clear of judgmental terms like “offensive,” but try to get to the bottom of her excitement. Say: “I’d hate for a man to treat me or my daughter that way. What do you think the big appeal is?” She couldn’t object, and it might start an interesting conversation.

Good advice. When someone asks you your opinion of something controversial with which you disagree, you can neutrally state that you have a different view and, if you're interested, attempt to start a more general discussion and go from there. Of course, you can react in other ways [for example, "I don't really feel comfortable talking about that" is also perfectly acceptable], but this is a polite option.

I agree with the advice, but I resent the snide tone in which it's delivered. Galanes spends one paragraph of four answering the writer's question and the other three making sneery judgments about BDSM. In effect, he undermines his advice to be respectful and tolerant about things you don't know anything about by being derisive and dismissive about a subject with which he is [clearly] unfamiliar. Wow, he's really shoring up his credibility.

Besides an anti-BDSM stance, I also detect some misogyny in Galanes' response. Romance novels are predominantly read by women and, for that reason, are frequently not taken seriously, especially by male critics. Galanes' incredulity that female readers could find romance novel tropes interesting seems to subserve his distaste with Fifty Shades of Grey.

P.S. We're not even getting into the letter writer's assumption that feminism is incompatible with BDSM.

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