Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The first and last thing you will hear from me about "50 Shades of Grey"

I was signing in at the dermatologist and the receptionists were talking about it.  "I don't know what all the fuss is about with this "50 Shades" book. It's not that great!"

Thank you receptionists of Dr. Weinberg. You give me hope.

I'm not going to write about how horribly, horribly offensive it is to kinky people, women and lovers of literature everywhere or how Christian Grey is just a sociopath. I actually read all three of these things (I don't really know why. They just made me angry) and my friends I could not stop talking about it. Not because we loved it, but because we hated it and couldn't understand why so many people loved it. That's what I'm really curious about. How and why did this repurposed Twilight fan-fiction e-book sell 20 million copies. It's not like it's the first "erotic" / BDSM-ish book ever made. 

At brunch the other day, we were debating the various unfathomable reasons why this thing is so popular. One theory was because it was sort of a bastard child between romance novels and porn. A friend who's a science fiction junkie intersected, "It's not a romance novel, it's fantasy."

She's right. I was amazed at how incredibly unrealistic it is. SPOILER ALERT IF YOU CARE: the main character Ana (or Anastasia if you're nasty) is 22, the only job she's ever had has been in a hardware store and within months she's an editor at a publishing house. If you're a 27 year old billionaire business owner you aren't Christian Grey. You're Mark Zuckerberg. She also has the magical ability to orgasm every time they have sex without so much as mentioning  a clitoris. She is pretty much devoid of personality. There's nothing particularly extraordinary about her at all. She's pretty, but not stunning. She's smart, but not a genius. She comes from a happy, loving family, but they've had their share of issues. In short, there is nothing to latch on to, there's nothing to doubt or question about her. She's a blank slate. The reason why she's so lame, is that she must be lame. Any woman, of any background, anywhere has to be able to put herself in Ana's borrowed plum dress. She has to be everyone. She has to be so young and inexperienced because she's a jumping off point, she's the starter of a fantasy that anyone can finish in anyway they want. The character of Ana is a template that can be transferred on to anyone.

For example, my biggest pet peeve (aside from the notion that you must be damaged to be kinky and only the love of a innocent girl can save you from your desire to perform mediocre BDSM-101 acts on equally emotionally damaged women) is the tea thing. In an attempt to give Ana some kind of character, she's always bringing up her favorite tea and is so grateful and impressed when he remembers her favorite tea. You know what it is? Twinings Earl Grey. Only available at every god damn grocery store in America. For God's sake the author is British! She couldn't even say PG Tips!


In a good book, the reader looses themselves in a character, they imagine themselves as that person, to live vicariously in someone elses shoes. In 50 Shades Ana is there to become whatever the reader wants her to be.

My one comment to anyone who asks me about it is that it's like it was written by a 14 year old. She writes about sex and relationships like someone who has never has sex or been in a relationship. Once you know something, you can't un-know it. The author is a former t.v. executive, married with two teenage kids. She's not a 21 year old virgin who's never had a boyfriend. You can be a bad writer, but this is a bit beyond the beyond.

So this is what I think. I think E.L. James is a fucking genius. Not because she wrote a brilliant book, but because she wrote an extraordinarily bad one. I think that she dumbed it down just right to fit her audience so perfectly that it's destiny as a block-buster cultural phenomenon was inevitable.

Oh and don't give me the argument that it doesn't have to be well written, it's just fun! It's not Shakespeare. Bullshit! There are people who write fun, hot, sexy, romantic, smart, kinky stories out there and they are the one's who should raking in $50 fucking million instead of this crappy pablum churner.

Done. (slams mike down and walks off stage)

addendum: after further discussion (and drinking) we decided that she's probably just a bad writer. But what's interesting is that the source material (Twilight) is written for a young adult audience. Let's say 14-17-ish. I'm totally guessing. Ana's inexperience, in almost everything, is not that of a bookish-22 year old who seems to not have internet access. It's the inexperience of a 14 year old. A 14 year old from about 1978... in Amish country. Which makes sense. It's the fantasy of a 48 year old woman, remembering what is was like to fantasize about being a 22 year old when she was 14!

Then my friend quoted something from Roland Barthes and I mentioned something about Walter Benjamin and we decided it was time to shut this thing down and order another cocktail.

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