Friday, 19 September 2014
FIFTY SHADES -- TWO YEARS ON...
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about Fifty Shades of Grey; it’s been even longer since I’ve said anything nasty about E.L.James’ venture into the Erotica genre. But with the News channels buzzing last week about the film adaptation of Fifty Shades, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, due to premier on Saint Valentine’s Day next year, I got to thinking about the book all over again.
It cannot be denied that James’ book is an overwhelming success. Her sales figures are astronomical; Fifty Shades is loved by millions. The book has had 7,674 reviews on Amazon alone; it’s amazing!
So what am I griping about?
It’s been about two years since I read the book. I wanted to like it, I really did. My beloved genre of Erotica, at last, having a voice. For far too many years Erotica has lived in the shadows; no one seeming to know how to define it. It’s not Romance and it’s not Pornography; it’s somewhere in between. And, as I say I really did want to like it.
BUT I was BORED! And that, I cannot forgive.
So much has been said about the irritating characterization of Anastasia; her constant bickering with her “inner goddess” and her whiny “subconscious.” But where the book really began to fail for me was James’ failure to establish a cohesive, consistent character in either of the two lead characters. Neither was likable; neither was believable enough to make me care enough about what happened to either of them. As I was reading, it seemed to me that the actions, and reactions of a particular character was so out of touch with what had been presented about them that, for me, the story fell apart. I could not trust the characters and I could not get lost in the tale. I was always painfully aware that I was reading a book. The narrative meanders on with no noticeable change, no plot driven personal growth evident in either character.
In his review of Fifty Shades, Patrick Whitehurst says;
“In some books main characters are expected to remain stagnant with little growth. Fleming's James Bond for instance, but in a book like this, you pray for it.”
Rita Reger’s view is;
“Overall, the book left the reader with a sense of bewilderment, confusion and annoyance. Certainly not the stimulation that it sets out for. I found myself wondering, as smart as Anastasia was supposed to be, how dumb was she to continue to dribble and drool over this self-absorbed, immature and emotionally stunted oaf who had never really been successfully painted as "intriguing" or "dangerous." In my mind, he came across as just beautiful, rich and annoying. He probably smelled good, I'll grant the girl that much, but, still - not enough to warrant that kind of simpering, tripping over herself, compelled "moth to a flame" complex he seemed to generate in her. Sure, there are lots of dumb, beautiful men out there, but does that warrant regressing to 13-year-old teen heartthrob idolatry? She was painted as smart, savvy, capable and sassy, yet responded as naive, inexperienced and insecure. Christian also had the mood swings of a psychopath and was even less three dimensional than Anastasia. It felt like random facts about him were simply thrown together from different jigsaw puzzle boxes (he's had a screwed-up history, he plays piano, he's rich, he's mean, he makes mysterious phone calls to Darfur, he pilots a plane, he likes to spank people, etc.) with no attempt to actually integrate them into a cohesive picture that really tells you who this man is. And maybe that's the point - he's not a man, but a screwed-up, selfish little pouty boy with too much money. There was no explanation, no great reveal, not even an enjoyable journey along the way.
At the end of five hundred-plus pages of confusion and annoyance, you still have no idea what the book was supposed to be about, what its theme was or what target audience it is supposed to appeal to ... or why? Keep the Fifty Shades drawn. If he's supposed to be the fantasy man, I'll take a rain check, and a real man, instead.”
Although Anastasia is irresistibly drawn to Christian Grey sexually, she cannot budge from her position that “something” must have happened to him to have allured him into Sadomasochism. She cannot just accept him as he is with all his kinks; if she’d told him that she couldn’t deal with his predilections and walked away, that would be honourable. He must be changed, in other words “made normal.”
I have no idea whether Ana succeeds in making Christian Grey “normal.” The first book was enough for me; I don’t know what happens in the rest of the trilogy. I had no intention of investing anymore emotional energy in James’ one dimensional characters.
Can our sexual identity be changed or is it fluid? That’s a tricky one – a question worthy of a blog post all of its own. At a very basic level, I would say that you can make someone realise that their desire to do something is wrong, or just plain distasteful – but you cannot take away their desire to do whatever it is. A look at paedophilia illustrates that very point – a paedophile can be made to understand the seriousness of his paraphilia – right up to the point where he stops placing himself in situations where he has access to children, but you cannot take away his desire for sexual contact with children. This has been illustrated so many times – while incarcerated, the offender undergoes intensive therapy with the best psychologists and psychoanalysts on the planet – but the desire is still there -- you cannot stop his dreams and fantasies. He may never offend again, the loss of his liberty is too big a price to pay – but tragically, some do.
Or if I have not made it clear what I’m talking about – an alcoholic can be rehabilitated. He can stop drinking; full stop. But the desire for alcohol is still there; the craving may diminish, but his best ever fantasy would be to drain a bottle of Jack Daniels, or a pint of his favourite beer.
So what’s going on with Christian Grey and his need for bdsm? We learn that at one time, when he was a young man, he was seduced into the role of submissive by a Dominant lady. A position that he responded to and apparently enjoyed. “Aha” – Ana thinks! That’s what lured him into bdsm – at one time he was “normal”— it’s the fault of this scheming woman. But that is not really the point is it? Bdsm requires a negotiation of position. The participants, however many there are, have to be consenting – otherwise, it’s just plain old abuse. By allowing himself to be allured by this older, Dominant woman and going along with whatever she wants him to do he is consenting – he is enjoying the role play.
So, you get the idea that I am not happy with James’ book. Neither is the bdsm community. Their view is that it treats bdsm proclivities as symptomatic of a messed up mentality that needs to be cured through true love. James portrays a relationship that is abusive rather than fully consensual and condones practices that are deeply unsafe. They see the book as unrepresentative and irresponsible.
I said earlier that I was bored; never more so when Ana wades through that turgid contract that Christian Grey wants her to sign. It’s supposed to be sexy – it isn’t. It’s dull. I’m supposed to think; “wow – can he really expect that? Will Ana agree to do that?” I’ve waded through a very, very similar contract, so similar it is uncanny, in Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 book Venus in Furs. Christian Grey’s contract for Ana is indeed so uncannily similar to Sacher-Masoch’s contract drawn up by the voluptuous, whip wielding beauty, Wanda von Dunajew for the submissive, Severin von Kusiemski, that I am tempted to throw plagiarism into the mix.
So what exactly is going on with Fifty Shades? If it is such a ridiculous book, how did it get to be top of the Erotica best sellers lists? Did writers and publishers of Erotica take their eye off the ball? Erotica was a cosy little genre; we all had our favourite writers, even if they remained unheard of by the general reading public. Fifty Shades is an example of excellent marketing; indeed, creative marketing and James has a background in marketing. She brought her own bland version of Erotica to readers who didn’t even realise that there was an Erotica genre.
Oh, Erotica was definitely there, it sat on the bookshelves gathering dust; you had to know what you were looking for to find it.
My own reading illustrates this point. I’d always been turned on by the Victorian writers; Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë. I was in no doubt that those ladies, when they talked about Romance, were talking about sex and dark desire – particularly in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. The smouldering Heathcliffe is a template for anyone keen to indulge in a bit of extreme bdsm. The only contemporary fiction I could find, which hinted at seduction was in the Romance shelves of book shops and my local library. Then I picked up a Mills and Boon Romance by Samantha Hunter, “Virtually Perfect”. Here was a woman writing Romance who was not afraid to call a penis a cock. She wrote about orgasms, real orgasms whereas Barbara Cartland wrote about “soaring spirits and being at one with the stars”; Samantha Hunter wrote about cuming, the clitoris and ejaculation and I realised that if lovely “safe” Mills and Boon were prepared to stick their neck out and publish such stuff – well there must be something, somewhere that I was missing. I Googled “Erotica” and I was blown away. Here was what I needed; I never looked back and eventually began to write my own Erotica – the stuff that I like to read.There was a massive bunch of readers just begging for more than “just Romance”.
But oh, those wonderful writers of Erotica, writers who have been crafting their books superbly for years; they still remain unheard of by the reading public. Please, lovers of Fifty Shades, read some real Erotica. And before “Anon” or several little baby “anons” tell me that my books are crap and should be written on toilet paper, I AM NOT talking about my books! I am talking about great writers like Patrick Califia, M.Christian, Janine Ashbless; they are all there on Amazon! Look, I’ll even make it easy for you! Get the Master/slave anthology, edited by N.T.Morley; it’s a cool selection of “tales from the top and tales from the bottom.” I tell you what else you should go for! “Topping from Below” by Laura Reese and her latest book “Panic Snap” -- now there’s Erotica, real Erotica that will blow you away!
And just to make it even easier – here are the links! Master/slave at Amazon U.S. and at Amazon U.K. Here is Topping from Below by Laura Reese at Amazon U.S and at Amazon U.K. And here’s Laura’s latest, Panic Snap at Amazon U.S.and at Amazon U.K.
Finally, for your amusement, here’s a cool review of Fifty Shades, from C.E. Wallis, on Amazon. Made me smile…
“Oh My, I mean really, Oh my, oh my, oh my......No readers, I have not just been whipped (pardon the pun) into a bosom heaving wreck by the size of my partner's "impressive length". I have in fact, just dragged myself through to the final page of this ludicrous nonsense and found myself almost speechless. Almost...
The main character, Christian Grey, is quite obviously deranged. This does not however, deter Ana, who for some inexplicable reason, has spent so long with her head in a book that she has never looked in a mirror and noticed that she is a "total babe". A "total babe" who also happens to be a 21 year old virgin. No, Ana, in the space of 3 weeks, falls so crazily in love with "Mr Grey" that she manages to bypass the whole deranged thing and instead concentrates all her efforts on a) going from virgin to porn star faster than Hussain Bolt off the blocks and b) deciding whether to let him hit her with stuff. As you do.
As for Mr Grey, obviously, readers can't be allowed to see him as simply a deranged, manipulative psycho so let's give him smouldering good looks, a few zillion quid to throw around and hey, and this is the clincher, the ability to love art and music (y'know, like Nazi's do in the war films). (Note - the bit where he plays the "haunting" piano piece, semi naked, with his eyes closed actually made me laugh so much that I almost wet myself - in a non-orgasmic way. Check it out....enjoy! ). As if that wasn't enough he also has a personal and financial interest in saving the world from famine. Just that old world peace and cancer to sort out and then hey, job's a good `un. I mean really, how did the world ever shamble along without him? So what made this beautiful, charismatic and talented man so brutal? Could it be a traumatic childhood perhaps? Why, yes I think it could...yaaaaawn....
So, the 2 beautiful people come together (Oh my, another pun) and the rest of the book is basically about Ana wondering if she should let him hit her with stuff and then letting him hit her with stuff and Mr Grey wondering if he should stop hitting her with stuff but still hitting her with stuff while she whines on about wanting "more" love and less of the hitting stuff and he whines on about how he doesn't know how to give "more" cos he has only ever hit people with stuff.
In between these nonsensical blatherings they have lots of sex, which, like piano playing, speaking foreign languages and making zillions of quid, he possesses boundless expertise. Obviously. Luckily, virginal Ana also has her "inner Goddess" to guide her on the art of sex play and soon becomes an orgasm machine, chucking them out all over the place in a rampant, fevered haze of lust. So much so that she overlooks Mr Grey's general bastardry and bends over nicely for a few beatings. She is also too enraptured to take much notice his incessant stalking, which would have got lesser men arrested. Oh, and his `feeder' tendencies that, if successful, would have surely added a good 10 stone onto Ana's lovely buttocks which in turn would have incurred the cost of a refurb' to the `red room of pain' when his ceiling shackles needed reinforcing. Luckily he can afford it.
As many other readers have noted, the writing is appallingly poor and, if you removed the sex bits, would resemble a love struck teenager's diary. It's all been said before so I won't dwell on it. I will just say, if you are looking for erotic fiction, look elsewhere, if you are looking for an unintentionally laugh out loud bit of fluff and nonsense then crack open a bottle, put your feet up and prepare to be amused. Personally I would just say that there goes a day of my life that I will never get back. Oh my!”