Friday, June 8, 2012

Fifteen Shades of Rage

This one's going to get Cinemax After Dark, so family members and sensitive friends might want to skip it.
So unless you've been living in a cave for the past few months you're all aware that the latest publishing phenomenon is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. And anyone who knows me at all will not be surprised to learn that I have a few issues with both the book and the phenomenon. Once again I put myself in the line of fire of the millions of rabid fans, but luckily very few people read this blog – so I'm probably safe.

As most people who know me will realize it's not the down and dirty BDSM I have a problem with, it's the following myriad problems, in no particular order:
  • Most of the women carting around these books are the same women who give me dirty looks and clutched their pearls for reading Marquis De Sade or Anais Nin in public. Ladies – I hate to break it to you – the S in S&M (which Fifty Shades focuses on) is named for the Marquis. So from now on I expect to be able to read 120 Days of Sodom anywhere I want, perhaps now with a post-it on the cover reading “It's like 50 Shades of Grey, but with a Better Vocabulary.”

  • This whole trilogy started as online Twilight slash fiction. Essentially it's Edward and Bella getting a little kinky. The only major thing that changed from fan-fic to bestseller was the names and taking away the sparkly vampire element . And judging from the horrible, repetitive, high school girl prose, that's really all that changed. I imagine that the editor they assigned to it had to get stupid drunk to get over the pain of paying for this drivel and passed out before they could bust out their red pen. If that's the bar we're setting for published works at this point I fear for the future of the written word. And I kind of enjoy the fact that some libraries don't want to stock it because it's so poorly written, not because it's naughty.

  • Most people (women) buying these books are buying it for some sort of e-reader, and most say it's because they don't want people to know what they're reading. And I call bullshit on that ladies. Especially since every other bored soccer mom is reading the exact same thing. It's not particularly naughty or salacious if every one's doing it. You can't claim to be a naughty kinkster unless you OWN it. Let your freak flag fly people.

  • I have a problem with how some of the kink is handled. And it essentially breaks down into two areas:

    a) They spend a lot of time setting up Christian's (the lead male/ dominant) troubled childhood and even send him off at the end of book one for some serious therapy. Guess what people – not everyone into BDSM, or the vast majority of sexual fetishes/kinks, has had some sort of troubled childhood, or needs a psychiatrist. As Dan Savage likes to say “It's a kink, not cancer.”

    b) The lead female Anastasia, who apparently grew up in Amish country as she's 21 and doesn't have an email address, is a wide-eyed virgin who hasn't even masturbated before meeting Christian. She then jumps into a full-time BDSM relationship and goes straight for the pain. That's like going from singing along with a song in your car to auditioning for a lead in a Broadway musical with no other steps in between. Really – a virgin with no experience, no fantasies, no self-pleasuring – just randomly decides she like being a sexual submissive. We're missing a few experiences somewhere in the narrative

    * I find it hilarious that all of a sudden all of these women claim to be into bondage and force and pain. Really ladies? Because I've found that most kinks show up in your mind somewhere before you and your book club get together to read a book and all decide you're submissives. And if you've made it to 35-40 without getting spanked during sex, or even thought about trying it, chances are you're not ready to jump into whips and ropes and domination. It takes a little while to build up to those things. And if you don't get off on the pain, or find pleasure in it, or properly prepare, it's just going to hurt.

  • I feel really, really, really bad for all the unsuspecting men out there whose wives/girlfriends are reading this and suddenly decide they're into bondage. These poor men are going to hunt down the closest sex shop and buy the special Shades of Grey branded anal beads, floggers and ropes at their wives/ girlfriends requests, take them home, attempt to use them on an unprepared or unaware woman and then get kicked in the nards when the women find out that it actually does hurt. Especially since the book does not provide all the instruction you need to safely delve into BDSM.

  • I am all for reading smut, but can't we read better-written smut? Or more honest smut? Or can't we all just acknowledge that we, as a species, like reading dirty books without all having to agree on one? And how exactly are the movies versions going to work? Because if they're true to the books it's NC-17 territory. And again I'm betting that most women waiting feverishly for these movies would judge me for my internet history, and some dvd purchases I've made.

  • I think the thing that's most upsetting to me is that women are proving to be a powerful consumer base for the publishing industry, but we're putting all our power behind books like Fifty Shades of Grey, and Twilight, and generic books in the Bridget Jones mode/ genre. And I know I'm losing girl points left and right on this blog, but I feel that there are better uses of our literary dollars. At least when we're getting behind The Hunger Games there's a female character who takes care of herself and everyone else around her. Or the Harry Potter phenomenon that gave us Hermione Granger, Ginny and Molly Weasly, and kick-ass Professor McGonagall, and a better love story than most in the form of Lily and Snape. Or we should have made sure that Tina Fey's Bossypants sold as many, if not more, copies as Fifty Shades.

I really feel better for getting all of that off my chest. As a final caveat – if anyone reading this book did use it as a way to finally express their kinks or as a gateway to legitimately discovering their kinks, then that's great. And if this eventually leads to a more sex-positive, everyone gets off the way they want to attitude, awesome, we need that in this country. I just feel like it's a fad that could really backfire on pre-Shades of Grey kinksters. (Most of whom are not reading the book. Mainly because we read The Story of O when we were teenagers.)
Let the angry comments commence.....

BookWench is currently reading Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. Hilarious and informative.