I’m still working on my follow up articles to Planescape Torment, and I think you’ll all be pleased. But I’m also exhausted. Trying to describe all the different aspects of Planescape is like diving into the ocean. It’s so deep and vast, it’s a challenge to even know where to begin. So I took a brief break to dive into a thimble to clear my head.
Let’s talk about Fifty Shades of Grey.
Is it Really That Bad?
Fifty Shades of Grey
If you’ve been alive and on the internet any time in the past year, you’ve no doubt heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s sold 100 million copies and has been decried as the worst book ever written and a shameless smut peddling disgrace to literature. People have accused it of glorifying an abusive relationship, trying to recruit people into the BDSM lifestyle and trying to demonize the BDSM lifestyle. Kind of like that episode of Parks and Recreation where people object to Twilight as being both too Christian and not Christian enough. So with all this media attention I began to wonder:
Is it really that bad?
Two weeks ago I began reading Fifty Shades in order to answer that question. And since I’m obviously not the target demographic for this novel, I asked my friend Hali to assist me.
What we both agreed was that the first fifty or so pages of this book are some of the worst stuff ever written. First of all the beginning is utter trash, it starts out with Anastasia (no really, that’s her name) getting ready to interview Mr. Grey. No getting to know who this girl is, no characterization at all. Which might be a good thing because the author clearly doesn’t know how to characterize. Or anything else about writing really.
Show don’t tell is a pretty important rule in good writing, but here’s how Mr. Grey is first introduced to us:
“…as an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our university…”
Come on, E. L. James, that’s just fucking lazy. There were so many different ways you could do this:
Mr Grey was worth 500 million dollars, was featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, and the University’s library was named after him.
See how easy that was? Details are the key to a good story, and Fifty Shades rarely gives you any kind of detail about characters, places or really any details outside of a sex scene. For instance it plays up Ana as a lover of “British Classics.”
How does the book tell you Ana is a lover of classic British authors? By telling you she loves classic British books. Not a single title or author is even mentioned, but the fact she loves British books is repeated over and over again.
“See!?” The book seems to say “She’s a nerdy girl! She likes books! She doesn’t know the name or author of these books, but she loves them!”
When the name Thomas Hardy is finally dropped we’re nearly halfway through the book, and it’s only mentioned so Mr. Grey can buy her expensive first editions of his books. What’s really galling about this is that E. L. James is British, she should have known at least one British author to mention. In fact, forget the fact she’s British, who the hell hasn’t heard of Dickens? He’s the epitome of the English Classic.
Of course when she does add detail they’re usually either straight up wrong or just bizarre.
For instance when Ana sets off to interview Mr. Grey:
“The roads are clear as I set off toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early and I don’t have to be in Seattle till 2.”
Well it’s good you don’t have to be in Seattle till 2 but you’re going the wrong way.
Portland is south of Vancouver, Seattle is North. Now even if I wasn’t a native of the area, if I’m writing about an area I don’t know about I at least do some research. That Google Map search took 10 seconds. Now maybe Ana was going to Portland to do some shopping or something, its like a 10 minute drive to get from one city to the other, but if that’s the case it’s never mentioned!
Then there are the other bewildering details she adds, like Grey’s building being made of “Glass and Stone”. Glass okay, but stone? Is this building in Minas Tirith? Concrete, yes; steel, yes; but stone?
And then there’s the floor of Grey’s office, which is sandstone. As in it’s colored sandstone or it’s literally sandstone? We’ll never know because she doesn’t elaborate.
Then of course there’s the fact that everyone still talks like they’re in the author’s native land of England.
“He sounds quite taken with you!” Her friend Katherine says to her. Now I use verbal communication so infrequently that I’m pretty sure I’m a telepath, but that is a phrase I’ve never heard an American say. The dialogue is filled with people using British vernacular when they’re all supposedly home grown Americans. At one point Ana says that Mr. Grey “utters an oath.” Which is the fancy British tea-and-crumpets way of saying he swore.
All that said, once you get past the horrible opening third of the book, the rest of it isn’t so bad. I mean yes it is bad, but it’s interesting enough to keep reading and it’s by no means the worst thing I’ve ever read. And once you get into the mystery of why Grey is such a fucked up control freak, you do get genuinely interested in how he became that way.
But enough about all that, I know what all you perverts really want to know: the sex. Is the sex as weird and freaky as everyone is making it out to be?
No, not really. It was frankly a bit disappointing. It felt a lot like reading the reviews of Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was a lot of hype for a pretty mediocre title. Similarly, the build up and hype surrounding 50 Shades made me think it was going to be strange and/or hideous. The reality…it was just another trashy romance novel with some kinky stuff thrown in.
In fact most of the sex scenes are just straight up “vanilla sex,” as Christian Grey would say. Their first encounter is entirely just plain old sex, and 19-year-old Virgin Ana has multiple orgasms on her first try because Christian Grey is just so good at sexing, you guys. He doesn’t have an Adonis-like physique for nothing! (No, really she literally describes him as an Adonis at one point.)
The sex scenes are ridiculously common and incredibly ludicrous depictions of sex. My friend Hali, who has a PHD in Sexology (IE she has had sex) tells me that Ana having multiple orgasms her first few times having sex is a fantasy on par with a Unicorn eating ice cream from a Yeti. And they have sex so often that I’m pretty sure the friction alone would have left made both sets of genitals slough off and leaving them with Barbie Doll style amorphous mounds.
But that’s the fantasy that sells these books I suppose. Yet that’s about as shocking as these scenes get, just the sheer amount of sex.
The “infamous” tampon scene was one of the most disappointing in the whole book. Apparently people are pissed off that the movie didn’t include this scene. So after hearing so much about it, I thought Christian Grey would use the bloody tampon to write obscene words in her own blood. Or maybe, given this book’s origin as a Twilight fan-fiction piece, he’d start sucking on it like fucking Nosferatu.
You know what happens? Better brace yourself, cause this is gonna just blow you away.
He takes the tampon out…
And then he throws it in the toilet.
Then they have sex. That’s it. That’s the big, scary, taboo subject that the director was too afraid to show and people are pissed off at its absence. That’s nothing!
Breaking News: A dude still wants to have sex with his girlfriend even though she’s on her period, because like most dudes he’s a horndog who would have sex in a landfill if it came down to it.
Is that supposed to be kinky or something? The fact that she’s on her period and he wants to have sex anyway is somehow…weird?
Maybe this is getting into the too much information department, but I wouldn’t have a problem having sex with a girl on her period. Sure there’s gonna be some extra clean up, but holy shit you guys, grow up. We’re all a bunch of filth-beasts rubbing our filthiest parts together in a filthy display of filth because it feels good. If a little extra filth ruins it for you…well go back to being the obsessively compulsive germaphobe everyone hates.
I’d imagine that the girl would have a bigger issue than the guy when it came to sex during a period, because they’re going through all the cramps and hormone shifts.
I suppose that so many people saw this scene as “shocking” or “gross” indicates how archaic our views on female sexuality are, but otherwise there’s nothing special about this scene.
The other scenes include a hand spanking, a leather-pleated riding crop, and a belt. And other than the final scene with the belt, none of these scenes come close to pushing any boundaries or shocking me. And the belt scene was only interesting because of her emotional reaction to it, not any of the action itself. Those 100 million people who bought this thing must have lived really sheltered lives.
So the writing is bad, but isn’t the worst thing I’ve read. The sex scenes are tame and relatively uninteresting. The only thing left is the controversy of “Is this an abusive relationship?”
I’ve read a lot of articles on whether the relationship depicted is abusive, and most of them fall on the side of “yes.”
And I have to say I have no idea where they’re coming from, and I think some didn’t even read the book before coming to that conclusion. Most of them focus on the “Fuck Contract” as people have taken to calling it, but she never actually signs it and in fact most of the book is her thinking about it and negotiating with Christian over certain aspects.
I can tell you that NONE of those things happen in the book, and while I admittedly haven’t inflicted the movie version on myself yet, I can’t imagine they’d add anything to change my mind. Here’s how my friend Hali weighed in on the situation:
“I read a few commentary things before reading the book, and there was plenty of information claiming that Ana was being taken advantage of, or like the next question- she was in an abusive relationship / involved in a domestic violence situation. I really didn’t take that away from the actual book at all. Most of the time she stood up for herself and she wasn’t afraid to make fun of Christian or call him out on being a control freak. So I don’t think she had self-esteem issues. Maybe she didn’t think she was that great looking, but most girls are critical of their looks. Also, Christian was very upfront about what they would be doing and she always had a say in the sexual stuff as well as asking him for “more”.
So I don’t think the relationship could be considered abusive. There were no classic signs of abuse, like belittling or trying to isolate her from friends and family. If anything, he increased her confidence and encouraged her to visit family. Yeah, he was asking her to step way outside her comfort zone and try a relationship that probably wouldn’t end up being the normal boyfriend/girlfriend relationship that she had imagined, but he was being honest and open about what that meant.”
Exactly, in fact at one point Christian even tells Ana straight up front that she has all the power in their relationship. All of this controversy is just Much Ado About Nothin’.
None of that is to say I think this is a healthy relationship, to me it reminded me of a high school romance or Romeo and Juliette. They’re just so caught up in their emotions and, more importantly, hormones that they can’t just settle down and talk like rational adults. Every time they try to have a serious conversation about their relationship, it immediately devolves into sex. So yes, this relationship might result in a double suicide at some point, but not because it’s abusive.
They’re just idiots.
So is Fifty Shades of Grey That Bad?
Is it a literary masterpiece? Good god no.
Is it a good book? Ehhhh, not really, but it can be enjoyable in places.
Is it the worst book to ever exist? Not by a long shot.
The only reason I think this book became so popular was because of the controversy surrounding it. And that controversy itself is so painfully shallow that there’s a no-diving sign over it.
Is it trying to recruit people into BDSM? If it is, it did a shit job because it made the whole thing look so fucking boring. Seriously there’s a good 3 or 4 pages dedicated to that stupid contract.
So really, everyone needs to calm the hell down about this book and movie. People enjoy trashy things like this, don’t judge them. Some of you reading this have probably seen all 7 SAW movies, and they’re utterly terrible on almost every level. I know a lot of my readers watch Walking Dead, and you KNOW you’ve seen some pretty bad writing there, don’t even try to deny it.
So everyone calm the hell down and concentrate on what’s really important.