Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fifty Shades of What the Fuck Am I Reading?

You wanna know why I like Britney Spears?

Because a respectable percentage of her songs are dedicated to challenging other people to man the fuck up.

"Spit it out 'cause I'm dying for company," she says in "Till the World Ends."

"[Time to] be a little inappropriate, 'cause I know that everybody's thinking it," in "I Wanna Go."

"Piece of Me" is the Britney equivalent of Eminem's final battle in 8 Mile (I'm not perfect and so what, asshole).  And "Do Somethin'" (a personal favorite) is exactly the challenge its title suggests; it can be applied to a plethora of scenarios.

In the way that people do, people have done a lot of talking (and writing) recently about what the wild popularity of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy "means."  Much of what I've read on the subject has reminded me of Britney Spears, who can convincingly sell a line like, "When I crack that whip, everybody gonna trip," who can make a number one hit out of daring someone to join her in a threesome, but who also somewhat pathetically mopes around in her real life like the real and flawed human being she is.

The success of 50 Shades of Grey, which tells the story of the unlikely and (supposedly) kinky BDSM relationship between Anastasia Steele (*cough*Bella Swan*cough*) and Christian Grey (*cough*Edward Cullen*cough*), has - according to much I've read - volumes to say about women like Britney.  Women who are now a major force in nearly all corners of the business world.  Women who are in charge of their own lives, who are self-sufficient and successful, but who, at the end of the day, maybe have a secret yearning to surrender completely to a man bold enough (strong enough) to think he could add something to her life.  Literally, it's "hit me, baby, one more time."

Newsweek sold that idea fairly well in the cover story it ran on the 50 Shades phenomenon a few months back.  I hadn't read the trilogy when I read the article - didn't have any desire to - but the article stuck with me.  I started to think that maybe this was one of those things that I should be familiar with because of its influence on pop culture (Vanity Fair reported last month that it's on track to become the bestselling book series of all time)...and that maybe, just maybe, my own inner Britney would enjoy a story about a guy who loves to take control.

So I started to read.

Five chapters in, I was underwhelmed.

Ten chapters in, I was still waiting for it to get better.

Fifteen chapters in, I was wondering if God was playing a joke on all of us in making this story this popular.

I am currently exactly one-half of the way through this trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey down, Fifty Shades Darker at the halfway point), and here are my thoughts so far (very minimal spoilers below):

1.  This is a Twilight fanfiction story.  Yes, it has been set in an alternate universe, yes, the names have been changed...but nothing else has.  This is Twilight, right down to the piano-playing and the bad weather, except with more sex.  And since no one in their right mind would call the Twilight saga a celebration of female empowerment, that brings us to...

2.  How the fuck did Newsweek (or anyone else) wring out of this that this was somehow a side effect of a cultural shift toward women in powerful societal roles?  That has absolutely nothing to do with this.  This is nothing more (or less) than a side effect of people liking to read smut.

3.  Which, full disclosure, I've read my fair share of.  So I can say with authority that even by X-rated fiction standards, this is pathetically devoid of plot.

4.  And of editing.  Grammatical and punctuation errors are all over the place.  As are gaping plot holes.  (Which, come on, really shouldn't be an issue considering point #3.)

5.  Word and phrase repetition are being redefined in front of my very eyes.  Oh my, this is some lazy writing.

6.  In terms of specific complaints about criminal-level stalker behavior being treated as acceptable, and about a self-conscious and ambiguously bland heroine being badgered into giving up her entire life for said stalker, whom she endlessly feels she's unworthy of because of his physical perfection, please refer above to the fact that this is a series based on Twilight.

7.  In thinking a little more about that, is that even legal?  I thought all those disclaimers on fanfiction stories made stuff like this not possible...

8.  And you know, I wouldn't even care about any of this if it were a compelling story.  I read shit all the time that is terrible on a logical level but entertaining nonetheless.  But this is so incredibly bad.  I don't understand!  There is so much better fanfiction out there!  And you don't have to pay for it!  (For the record, I did not shell over any money for my reading experience.  I am all about sharing my media these days.)

IN CONCLUSION, even though I still have five billion more pages to read, I can't help but pause at this point to grimace at the utter mediocrity of it all.  The story that may someday outsell all other books is just someone's middle-of-the-road fanfiction story, lifted directly from the internet and stuck in a binding.  It's not a cultural indication of anything.  Except maybe that the free market really does place way too much value on blind luck and word of mouth.

Then again, this far into the story, it hasn't really delivered on its kink aspect either, and that might be part of my problem with it.  Christian Grey, the "fucked up" disciplinarian, proved himself pretty vanilla when he allowed himself to be flummoxed by someone as pliant as Anastasia Steele.

It's fine to sell this story for what it is (bad porn), but let's not delude ourselves into thinking that Christian is some kind of token fantasy guy for all the women out there who regularly challenge the posers on the sidelines to "do somethin'"...


  1. I LOVE this and I'm so glad for another post from you! When my Wit returns to me, I will reply, and I will post myself. (Wait, what?)

  2. Sex sells ... that's the words I have for it. I haven't even read the story, but as soon as I heard what the book was about - porn, sm porn at some point (?) - I knew it would be a hit.

    Just think about the fact that currently - I think it was - 8 out of 10 bestsellers in UK are so called erotic novells (or something like that).

    This the age of "how deep can you sink mankind?" - for me anyways.

    Annie S.

    1. I think what strikes me most about this whole "phenomenon" is that it's *not* a phenomenon. People have been reading dirty stories for as long as there has been printed language. Everyone seems to be freaking out because this story is both incredibly successful and (allegedly) incredibly dirty.'s really not that dirty (by fanfiction standards), and the only reason it's successful is because people keep talking about it.

      I have no problem with smut, but I do feel like this whole situation has been blown way out of proportion, and I very much sympathize with the many, many writers out there who are angry that something of this caliber is so successful. So many people struggle long and hard, pour their heart and soul into works that are wonderful in so many ways, and see little if no success come of them. I think this time last year, I would have been much more bitter...but at the moment, I'm just kind of shrugging my shoulders at how little "success" reflects on quality these days anyway. :)

    2. well, I totally despise the so called sexual revolution of the 60s - so everything that goes with that is to be doomed with me.

      That sounds bad, but I am tired and what not ... so I am not a real poet today. sorry :(

      As to your success: I soooo wished you had been given more credit for your book - it sure is a better story than many many many I have been reading thru in my life. I am still crossing fingers you fork out that hit :)


    3. oh and please don't hit me for not being a fan of above mentioned revolution.

    4. It takes a lot more than expressing an opinion for me to want to hit anyone! :D

      And thank you for your support on my writing. :) I, too, hope it finally gets me somewhere!

      Just out of curiosity, I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on the sexual revolution. I've always thought of it as empowering to women in particular, because of birth control, and because a lot of the women's liberation movement was tied very directly to it. But I'm guessing you are looking at it from another angle, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts!! :) (Only if you're interested in sharing, of course. :))

    5. you know I am all about sharing my opinions ;) but I should warn your first...

      thing is: I don't want to provoke something that can get out of control - between the two of us...or even more when other readers come by.

      I am on a very lonely position with my point of view - and it is a very tough one - about this "movement". Even within my family it leads to anger against me.


    6. You certainly don't have to divulge anything! :) I was just curious, that's all. You're entitled to your opinion and I would never judge you for it! But in this case, if you think it might cause some heated debate, then I totally stand by you in keeping those opinions to yourself. :)

    7. It's like I don't stand my ground in (heated) debates, or I am afraid of it ... but I learned the hard way that I shouldn't start a debate on subjects that provoke strong feelings - especially most people don't "get" the difference between judging a behavior and a person. I practically never judge a person - but behavior. That is a whole different thing to me, as a person is not defined by a (handful) of behavior(s).

      Therefore I shy away.
      Especially on an open board like this - drama is the last thing I want to bring here ;) #hugs#


    8. ooops...what a typo... it was meant to be

      "It's NOT!!! like I don't stand my ground in (heated) debates.............."

    9. Haha, that one word does make a difference! :D I completely respect your decision. :) We're all one big happy family here!!

  3. OH THANK GOD!!! Someone else agrees with me. Im got a 1/4 of the way through the second one and i put it down. With no desire since to even look at the cover again.

    I dont know how the books end obviously because I havnt read them, so I admit that my opinion may change and Im not 100% educated to make strong judgements but I'm pretty set in my ways though ;) So in saying that-

    I HATE THE CHARACTERS! I hated Bella, Ana is Bella. I hated Edward, Christian is Edward.

    Give me a book with a strong female lead, one who knows what she wants and wont bow down (literally) to get it. Give me Hermionie or Katniss anyday!! I like my "phenomenon books" but I cant stand the ones that teach young women that behaviour like that is acceptable and you should seek out men that treat you that way. I would NEVER allow someone to tell me what to wear, what to eat, when to exercise let alone all the other stuff.... If a relationship invovles a contract- GET THE FUCK OUT OF THERE! Maybe im too mature for my age- But the whole time reading whatIi did of this series two thoughts kept crossing my mind. "This woman (Author) has teenage sons!!!!" and "GOD HELP ME if my 16 year old god daughter picks this up)

    1. Sam, I’m SO GLAD that you’ve read at least some of this and that you so strongly agree with me!!! I’ve read even more about this series online since I posted this and I am absolutely floored by how many blog posts and articles are out there talking about how yes, the writing is bad, but ultimately it’s “all in good fun.” I couldn’t possibly agree with you more on the extremely unhealthy behavior these books portray as “romantic”!! It’s not the sex (I would never condemn someone’s kinks and fetishes), it is – EXACTLY as you said – the emotional aspect of their relationship!

      Christian spies on her, has people trailing her at all times, goes ballistic and leaves meetings/other cities any time she “defies” him by changing her mind and acting independently (even when she tells him what she’s doing in advance!)…what the hell? And she puts up with it because… ??? Because he’s hot, because he had a damaged childhood, because he’s hot, and because he’s hot. It’s like the overarching message here is that it’s acceptable to dictate every aspect of other people's lives as long as you’re hot (and rich).

      I finished the last book last night. After writing this post, I really debated whether or not I should continue reading, but I stuck it out (and wound up skimming parts). You aren’t going to miss anything if you don’t finish them. The last book was the most palatable of the three because they at least had a few in-depth conversations, but right till the very end, Christian was still controlling in ways that made Anastasia uncomfortable and because of that, I could never buy this as “love,” but only as “unrealistic obsession.”

      I get the fantasy aspect – Lord knows we all need some fantasy in our lives! – but I am so, so with you on this one, Sam. That’s not my fantasy at all, and I agree that it’s disturbing to think that impressionable minds might see this as something they should be looking for in real life. :-/

      (Team Hermione/Katniss all the way!!)

  4. I can't decide whether I want to read this or not. To read the atrocity for myself just to know what everyone else is already saying, or resist the hype just to be able to say that I never bought in to it...

    1. As someone who read this purely because of the hype, I have to say I don't think you're going to be missing out if you don't read!! If you have a rough idea of the plot, then basically you know everything that you would be reading anyway, so...

      (That said, if you *do* wind up reading this, you have to let me know what you think!!!)

      (And if you don't wind up reading this, then with that time that you *would* have spent on it, maybe you'll read something that could actually add something to your life. ;))

    2. Wow, re-reading my last comment, I realized how incredibly harsh that sounded... I've talked to several friends of mine since I wrote this entry, all of whom had read this and all of whom were really into it. I love that everyone is so hyped up about a book series because reading is awesome...BUT, if I'm going to have multiple conversations about the merits of a series, I really wish it was a better one than this one...

  5. Haha, I thought it was a brilliant reply! :-) I think I'll go with reading something that will add something to my life. I need that more right now. Well something positivt, that is (I'll explain more in an e-mail that I've promised you for some time now... Sorry, I WILL get it written some day in the near future).

    However, I can't help but feel a bit disappointed, cause I had some high hopes when I first heard about this book. Not for being a Twilight fanfic, but for dealing with the subject of BDSM, which I think is important for more people to know about. As well as with everything else that has to do with predjudices regarding sexual practices. People are just way too judgemental and too uniformed to even have an opinon. Doesn't seem to stop them though, and I was kind of hoping that these books immense popularity could have a liberating effect. But then I heard that it was all pretty lame and badly written so I think I'll just skip it. It could have been groundbreaking, but just failed.

    Also, of all the brilliant fanfiction that is out there, it's a disgrace that it's a shitty one that gets published :-(

    1. EXACTLY!! Did you ever read (or start to read, since it was never finished) "The Ties That Bind" during our BBM days? That was the only real attempt that I could think of in the Brokeback community to deal with BDSM issues, and I remember it being a real eye-opener for me. But then it never went anywhere... At any rate, I thought about that fic a lot while I was reading this series and thinking about how mundane and unrealistic Fifty Shades was in comparison. I've never really thought of my fanfiction reading (of which I have done A LOT) as anything more than a guilty pleasure, but it really has exposed me to a lot of things (including writing styles!) that I never would have been familiar with otherwise, and it's too bad that the people reading this series won't really get anything deeper out of it. (And as I write that, I realize that adding insult to injury, this story may put a lot of people off of fanfiction who have never read it before, and think that this is representative of the entire genre.)

      As always, write anytime!! And I wish you luck in finding something a little more nourishing to fill your reading time with! :) (I jumped straight into The Audacity of Hope after this, and it cleansed my reading palate quite nicely. :))

  6. I have a vague recollection that I might have read that one (or what was written of it), and if I remember correctly it was quite good (and explanatory with the whole trust issue and how it is in fact something to be practiced between equals)and could have done so much for a general understanding of BDSM. Too bad it was never finished.

    And I agree, it is so sad if this (Fifty shades) sets the standards of fanfiction for the general public. It can be SO much more and HEAPS better!!

    I'll try to write soon, things have been kind of crazy lately (more than usual) and I've been completely drained of energy :-(


    1. I'm sorry on the last point, though I completely understand. :( Lots of hugs!!

      Yes, TRUST is the big issue! I'm not giving anything away by saying that there was a line - one, single line - in 50 Shades of Grey about the submissive being the one with all the power in such a relationship...but then not only was that not explained, it wasn't even shown to be true of the relationship portrayed in the book. I guess one upside to all of this is that there will be (and probably already are) TONS of copycat books out there, and maybe they'll handle the issue better. But yeah, I couldn't agree with you more on this being a wasted opportunity on so many levels...

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  9. I love this post! I thought the exact thing about Twilight! haha!

    1. Haha! I can't believe these books are STILL SELLING COPIES!!!