Tuesday, December 31, 2013

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 1, part 1


Even though they're totally not dating anymore, Christian flies Ana in his helicopter to Portland so that she can attend José's photography exhibit. Ana and Christian are both sad. Ana has forgotten to eat food.  

Let us end 2013 the way we started it: absorbing the worst of pop culture, complaining about it, and then finding even worse stuff to complain about. 

I don't really know why I am drawn to such terrible things. Maybe I have some weird self-esteem thing? Do I think that I'm not good enough for good books? Maybe!

I do think that there's something intriguing about the simultaneously terrible and popular, though. When I read an excellent book, I feel a little bit like I know the author. Even a well-written piece of fiction can feel deeply revealing about its creator. But a book like Shadier? Doesn't tell me much about EL James. Tells me that she's bad at writing, doesn't think very highly of women, and is probably a foot fetishist. (Editor's note: see every sex scene in Fifty Shades of Grey for the foot thing. Or, better yet, don't, and just believe us.) Mostly, reading these books lets me know about the gaps in EL's knowledge. But I don't feel like I really know anything about her. 

But mustn't it say something about us that these books are so popular? I'm using the word "us" broadly. But c'mon! Lotta people bought these things! And read them! What this says about us I'm not sure. But maybe if I get to the end I'll figure it out? (Editor's note: that's what he said when he started the last book, but no such luck.) 

But let's catch up with Anastasia Steele, shall we?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Mutterblushers! Fifty Shades Darker: Prologue

That's right! As promised: The Complainist returns, just in time for Christmas, with the continuing adventures of Ana, Christian, and the worst romance in the history of literature. Hurray!

Our first entry will be an abbreviated one for two reasons. 1) 50 Shades Darker starts with a brief prologue rather than Chapter 1 so this week, we'll just be covering the prologue. 2) Darker is longer than the first book, but has fewer chapters, meaning that getting through a full chapter and the prologue in one go is a real chore. 3) I haven't done Christmas very well, dear readers. And as a result, not only did I fail to accomplish half the things I had planned pre-Xmas, I didn't finish covering all of Chapter 1 in time. So Chapter 1 will be your New Year's Eve present next Tuesday. For Christmas, we'll start with a reminder about where we left things with Ana and Christian, muse about Darker for a bit, and discuss the prologue. And then you can go back to watching bowl games and putting your new train sets together and that sort of thing. You know. Christmas stuff.

But what's that, you say? You've forgotten all about the plot of 50 Shades of Grey and so you need me to run through a quick summary before we get started?

Great. Here's everything that happens in Fifty Shades of Grey:
Ana is a naive college student who dated a billionaire for a couple weeks but broke things off with him because he spanked her too hard. 

It's kind of nuts how easy it is to summarize the first book, right? I didn't leave out anything important. You could even start following now, with the second book, even if you didn't read Fifty Shades of Grey or my hilarious insult-version of Fifty Shades of Grey. (Editor's note: Fifty Shades of Cliché. What do you think? Is that anything? Hm? Help me out here.) This is not to say that you shouldn't read my hilarious insult-version. Please do! But if you haven't, don't worry. Nothing really happens in the first book, so you'll have no trouble catching up.  

Speaking of summaries: Lemony Snicket is a wonderful writer and everyone should read everything he ever writes. In the first A Series of Unfortunate Events prequels, Who Could That Be At This Hour, a character gives this quite spectacular summary of a famous novel: "A bunch of elves and things get into a huge war over a piece of jewelry that everybody wants but nobody can wear."

Spectacular! I personally think that there is a lot to enjoy in that famous novel about elves and jewelry, so in that case, I'd rather read the whole thing. When it comes to EL James, though, the summary is better, because it's shorter. And that is why I'm here to summarize it for you. I already did the first entire book so you wouldn't have to! I quite literally wrote an entire book about a book! That's the sort of treatment that's usually reserved for actual scholars writing about actual books that are good. As in, there are plenty of books in which scholars carefully dissect the works of Virginia Woolf or William Faulkner or whoever. Not a lot of careful dissections of pop-erotica, so don't say I never did anything for you! I wrote you a whole book!

And now, the sequel! Just in time for Christmas! (Editor's note: Merry Christmas.)

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Complainist Fiction: Bag-Bag

No, I don’t need a bag. This really isn’t that much stuff. I mean, I have two hands! I can probably carry my stuff with just my hands! That’s what hands are for, right? 

Wait, is it a small bag? 

A small, paper bag? 

Oh, with handles? Oh. 

Now, normally I would say “no.” Definitely “no.” Because, you know, it’s about the environment. That’s where we live, right? I usually am like, a real bag-reusing wizard. I’ve got this bag that I stuff full of other bags. I call it my bag-bag. The kids are always reminding me--Mom! Get some bags from the bag-bag. And when we see someone in front of us at the grocery store, using a lot of plastic bags, we say, Oh, that’s a lot of bags to put in Bag-Bag. And then we went from that to this idea that Bag-Bag would get a belly ache because of all the bags. And from there, it was a pretty short jump before Bag-Bag became a sort of character. A person in our lives. We’d see litter or something, and be like, Oh, that would make Bag-Bag sad. Bag-Bag sort of became our environmental conscience. We’d say, What would Bag-Bag do? Should we drive, or take the car? Well, how would Bag-Bag get to the store? I’m thirsty. Can I get a bottle of water? Well, what would Bag-Bag say about a bottle of water? Don't you think Bag-Bag would rather you wait and drink water at our house so you don’t need a bottle? Bottles of water make Bag-Bag sad.

So usually I would never take a bag ever. Never dream of asking for a bag. You offered me one, so yeah, I’m thinking about it now. I’m thinking about maybe letting you give me a bag, since it has your logo and everything on it and it’s made out of paper and it’s recyclable but I would absolutely never ask for a bag. Besides it probably has your name on it, so I’d be doing you a favor, carrying it around, advertising right?

Oh, yes. It’s a nice-looking bag. Not one of those obnoxious, plastic “thank you” bags that are all crinkly and thin and make you look like you just bought dinner at 7-11 or something. Those bags are the worst. That kind of bag I would definitely refuse. That’s the kind of bag that we crunch down all small and hide in Bag-Bag and pretty much never use again because it’s embarrassing to bring something like that to Whole Foods where everyone has their own canvas bag or recycled bag or something.

I’ve never told anyone about this, about Bag-Bag. But the saddest thing was when there was that crazy oil spill in Florida and down there. The BP one. My youngest, Tree, she was worried about the pelicans and the alligators and everything. But more than anything else, she was worried about Bag-Bag. Isn’t that kind of sweet and weird? She took Bag-Bag to the couch with her, like this sack of bags was a person. Or, I guess, more like a teddy bear. And she talked to it and watched TV. And she’d be so sad at dinner time after watching the news all day. She’d be so glum about the oil spill, and she’d say, Can I eat my dinner with Bag-Bag? What could I say? She was my little environmentalist warrioress and I had to say yes. Had to let her eat dinner with Bag-Bag.

Then, though, she moved him into her room. There I go now! I just called Bag-Bag “him” like he was a person! But the sack of bags was for a specific purpose. To keep bags handy, so that when I need one for shopping or whatever, or for putting a new bag in the little trash bin in the bathroom or wherever. So that I can say, “No thanks! I brought a bag.” Which I usually do do. I usually bring a bag. A bag from Bag-Bag.

So Bag-Bag is not a toy. Bag-Bag is a receptacle. Bag-Bag is a tool for keeping me from having to spend so long talking to you about bags! You don’t need this conversation. You don’t need my whole life story! But here I am, talking to you about Bag-Bag, and all because Tree keeps moving Bag-Bag!
So everyone’s at school. The kids are at school. I need to go shopping. So I need my bags. I need some shopping bags. So I’m going into Tree’s room. Now, I respect my children’s privacy. They’re human beings. They’ve got their rights. But I go in and there’s Bag-Bag. Right in the bed. Under the blanket. The bed is made, more or less, and there’s this bag stuffed with bags and it’s peeking out of the covers. I mean, in the sense that a plastic bag without a face can “peek.” I don’t know why it bothered me so much, but it was kind of disturbing.

Kids get home. Tree runs to her room. Comes back. Says, “Where’d you take Bag-Bag? He was having his rest time.” And I say, well, I needed Bag-Bag because I needed bags for my shopping. That’s the whole point of Bag-Bag. Keepings bags ready for when I need to buy groceries. So we have food to eat. So Tree says, Bag-Bag is my friend. We don’t use our friends. We don’t pull the insides out of our friends.

What am I supposed to say to that? What am I supposed to say to Tree about bags and Bag-Bag when she gets like that? Hopeless. You try to teach your children these lessons. About the environment. About friendship. And then we hit this impasse. So, I skipped it. I said, fine. Take Bag-Bag. Take your friend Bag-Bag, and I’ll just get all new bags. And won’t that make Bag-Bag sad? Tough!

So you understand where I’m coming from, I’m sure. You get me. You understand that I’m not going around, being wasteful, accepting bags that I don’t need, bags that are just going to end up in a landfill choking pelicans. You know that even though I am going to say yes, yes I would like a bag, you understand that I am not a bag person. I’m a concerned citizen of the planet who, because of some complicated circumstances, is forced, today, in a unique, very unique situation, to accept your gracious offer of a bag to put my things in.

Paper bags are better anyway. We all know that. They aren’t as bad as plastic bags because they’re made out of paper and not plastic.  They don’t get added to Bag-Bag, either. Paper bags go into Brown Baggie. Brown Baggie is better too. She’s fun because since she’s made out of paper, Tree and I decorated her with magic marker and she has this big crooked smile and I always like seeing her when I go into the pantry to fill her up with more paper bags. 

Actually, now that I’m looking at it? Could you double bag please? Thanks!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

UPDATE- The Complainist vs. Christmas

It has been a full month since the complainist completed its great work: an exegesis of Fifty Shades of Grey, the most popular novel in the history of Kindle.

We are happy to report that, since completing the first draft of this great work here on the internets, we have edited it into a lean, precise 200 page manuscript and are pursuing literary agents who might care to represent this book. Just kidding! That hasn't happened at all. It has only happened in a sort of imaginary way, although I still hold out hope that I may get my act together enough to ride EL's coattails all the way to some sort of pity-project book deal. You never know!

Ana Steele's adventures will continue on Christmas Day, when Chapter 1 of whatever the next book is called will be posted here for your reading pleasure / displeasure. Why? Simple: I must face the fact that I have nothing to offer the world besides the quality of my own scorn. When a person has but a single talent, it is ungrateful not to put it to good use.

Until then, it is December, and I am at war against Christmas, as I am every December. The War on Christmas is not new. Please note this oft-overlooked section of The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels:

You are horrified at our intending to do away with Christmas. But in your existing society, Christmas is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a holiday, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any holiday for the immense majority of society. In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your Christmas. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.

Controversial words! Controversial, but important to keep in mind this holiday season.

But this year, the War on Christmas faces a particularly nasty adversary: former small-time politician / hockey enthusiast Sarah Palin. 

Official copy reprinted below: 

In her New York Times bestsellers Going Rogue and America by Heart,Sarah Palin revealed the strong Christian faith that has guided her life and family. In Good Tidings and Great Joy she calls for bringing back the freedom to express the Christian values of the season. She asserts the importance of preserving Jesus Christ in Christmas—in public displays, school concerts, pageants, and our expressions to one another other—and laments the over-commercialization and homogenization of Christmas in today's society.
Interwoven throughout are personal memories and family traditions, as well as more than a dozen family photos, which illustrate the reasons why the celebration of Jesus Christ's nativity is the centerpiece of her faith. Palin believes it is imperative that we stand up for our beliefs before the element of faith in a glorious and traditional holiday like Christmas is marginalized and ignored. She also encourages readers to see what is possible when we unite in defense of our religious convictions and ignore the politically correct Scrooges seeking to take Christ out of Christmas. Good Tidings and Great Joy is a call to action to openly celebrate the joys of Christianity, and say Merry Christmas to one another.

That's right, folks! In order to fight the over-commercialization and homogenization, Sarah Palin is selling a book for money and encouraging us all to all celebrate Christmas the same way she does. This makes basically as much sense as any American politician / right-wing semi-pundit ever makes, so good on ya, I guess. 

But here is what I'm saying to you: 
It is not enough to secularize Christmas. Rather, we must attack it from the roots! In the words of the great Alfred Jarry, "We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well."


But the biggest joke in all of this is that Christmas is the absolute most popular thing in the world, and everyone basically loves it, and if we stopped spending billions of dollars every December on PlayStations or whatever the economy would probably collapse and and so our love of Christmas is probably all that's standing between us and some kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape. The best we can hope for, then, in this war on Christmas, are moral victories, and also if we can make some people mad by saying "holidays" instead of "Christmas," I say, good!

Here is the part in this post where I was going to invite you to steal a copy of Palin's book from your drugstore or whatever, and then send it to me so that I could make sure that those of us in the anti-Christmas movement could thwart her attack on her forces. But then I decided it would be poor of me to encourage you to steal books because what if you got in trouble? And what if I told you were to send the copy of the book you stole, and you were able to figure out the location of my Arctic bunker, from which I am conducting forays to learn the exact location of Santa's workshop? 

It's all too dangerous. Also, though EL James and Sarah Palin are both terrible writers and deserving targets, I need to branch out, lest I give anyone the impression that I have a particular problem with women who are terrible writers. I want it to be clear that I am hostile to the undeservingly popular in general! 

So please: if you care to play along, share with me some of your most-hated Christmas things so that you might fuel the efforts of this great war. Books, movies, so on. The only exception, in my mind, is Die Hard. Now that is a heartwarming Christmas movie. Oh, and A Peanuts Christmas. That's ok. 

Happy holidays, Sarah Palin!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 26

Holy crap. . . we made it to the end! My inner MFA student crosses rolls his eyes at me and goes back to reading the newest Lemony Snicket. 

Ana lets Christian spank her hard and then she dumps him.

The spanking part does actually get pretty rough, but if you're like me, you'll kind of want to read it anyway since it's the immediate lead-up to Ana dumping Christian, which is the best part of the whole terrible book. 

So. We did it. We reached the end. We read every chapter, and gave the thing more thought than even the book's own author. And you know--we learned some things. About life. About sex. About ourselves. 

Just kidding! This has been a total waste. Well. If you enjoyed reading any part of this, then great. It wasn't a total waste. But still. There are definitely better things I could be doing with myself, right? I kind of feel like there must be. Like, even sleeping. Just getting a little bit of extra sleep every week probably would've noticeably improved my health and happiness over these past months. But let's not get too caught up in that! Let's be so pleased with the fact that we're finally at the end! (Editor's note: Or, in another manner of thinking, 1/3 through the trilogy. But whatever.) 

This is still an accomplishment, sort of! I think I'm going to do nanowrimo this November, and now I'm like, boom! Easy. All I have to do is write out a dozen or so single-sentence chapter summaries on Nov. 1 and then crank out a chapter every other day. Boom. Zoom. Simple. I can write five-thousand words about this terrible, terrible book in a single evening. So why can't I write whatever? Maybe I can!

And that's what I was trying to do. Exercise my brain. Get it back into shape a little. So we'll see if I succeeded! And we'll see if anybody deigns to look at this blog between now and when I start posting about Fifty Shades of Grey: The Billionaire Spanks Back. Expect that for Christmas. Doesn't that kind of make sense? You got the whole family, all gathered around. Opening up presents. Talking about the new floggers Santa brought us or whatever. And then, firing up the old mean machine and reading the complainist. That is, to me, the perfect holiday! Merry Christmas, mutterblushers!

Oh right. Let's talk about the last chapter! I mean, if you want to. I already spoilered it but who cares. This blog isn't about the plot! It's about my zingers! Zing!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 25

Ana flies back to Seattle and then she has sex with Christian.

They have some sex. Using restraints and sensory deprivation. Whatever. I keep expecting stuff to get crazier, but nope! 

Someone named Jamie Dornan is the new Christian Grey, until he wises up and quits, just like that motorcycle dude did. I have no idea who this is. I haven't seen any of his listed credits on IMDB. Hell--I haven't even heard of any of his credits except for Marie Antoinette and that was basically his first credit so he's probably just a dude that opens up a door and says, "Oh, whuddup, Mary-A!" (I assume that's the sort of line that probably gets said in Marie Antoinette. Whatever.)

I'm basically going to do the same thing I do when following a political race: I immediately think best of the person I know the least about, because I don't have any real basis for hatred yet. So good luck, Jamie! Also: who cares? Also, IMDB offers this particularly useless bit of trivia: "Played a serious level of rugby in his native Ireland." What does that mean? No idea. Is this what his friends said before they staged a rugby intervention? "Jamie, we all love you, but we just need to talk for a moment about your rugby level. It's serious." 

But anyway, Jamie, if you are reading this, best of luck! Should you go through with this, 50 Shades will probably make you rich and ruin your career at the same time, as you'll be forever associated with this garbage. (Editor's note: this is also Alden's plan. He's weighed his options, and is happy making this his first and last book. Also, the publishing rights are still for sale. Ahem.)


The Penultimate Chapter!

Last week I got all sad and moped about how little plot this book's got. Basically none! I do whine about this basically every week, but it's only as we approach the end of this mess that the real "shape" of the "plot" becomes entirely apparent. I mean, I should've figured this out earlier, but only now can we start to reflect back on the earlier chapters and take note of all the possible plot threads that EL James introduces only to abandon:

  • José as secondary love-interest 
  • Kate as foil for Christian
Not very many! Almost none, actually! But let's do another list of all the little side-ideas that EL made us think were maybe going to go somewhere:

  • José's photography show. Was every important at about Chapter 3 but now I don't even know if it's a thing.
  • Ana was once upset about CG spending lots of money on her. He's spending more than ever, but we're talking about it less.
  • Ana's job search was resolved with absolutely no strain or plot implications.
  • It seemed as though there might be some stress related to our heroes meeting each other's families, but these meetings were completely amicable and worry-free once they actually happened.
  • CG presented Ana with a pretty complicated list of sex-stuff, but in practice, all he wants is for her to hold still and act like a corpse while they do the deed, so his personal sexual tastes haven't really affected the story nearly as much as his general dickishness. 

If EL would've developed either of the two listed (reasonably good!) potential subplots as subplots, maybe I wouldn't be quite so depressed right now! Having José as a sort of "anti-Christian" competing for Ana's affections and having Kate actively trying to chase Christian off would've given Ana something like an actual conflict to resolve. Even better if we were to also see more of Elliot. It's completely weird that Ana and her bff are dating brothers, but why not use it? EL could do far more to paint Elliot and Kate as a sort of happy, alternate-universe version of Ana and CG. She hints at it, but never uses it.

Even if readers split off into "Team Christian" and "Team José" factions we all still probably would've realized that Ana and CG were going to end up together in the end. But that's ok! This is commercial storytelling! It's not like when I go see the Transformers fight the Decepticons I think for even a moment that the Decepticons will win. That's not the point. In this kind of "junk food" entertainment, we're not really wondering how the thing is going to end. We know how it's going to end. What's entertaining is being surprised about the twists and turns the story takes before arriving at its scheduled destination.

So how does 50 Shades measure up? Not very well! Let's look at a sort of "default" romance plot, rephrased for more inclusive times:  person meets person, person loses person, person does some stuff and gets person back, and also maybe there's a cool montage. To generalize: the romance plot depends upon some kind of external obstacle which keeps apart two people we'd like to see together.

Right? Great. So what happens in this story? They get together immediately, and face no external obstacles. All the potential external obstacles are abandoned, and we just have the fact that CG is a shitty person and Ana is a complete maroon. I've discussed this before, I'm sure, but here I am again: the only thing keeping these two from having a happy relationship is that they're just not right for each other.

So instead of a story that's about some likable characters overcoming obstacles, what we have is some unlikable characters moping around until they decide that maybe they should just stay together because of inertia. Riveting!

Meaning this: This love story is basically the story of every shitty relationship ever, except for the part where the guy is a billionaire and has a specific sexual requirements. 

That's a weird genre of erotica, right?

But where were we?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 24

Ana and Christian fly around in a glider.

I'm going to spend a long time right at the top talking more about the sex from the previous chapter. Skip ahead to the jump if you want to miss out on that. Later on, I'm going to spend a lot of time wishing that Ana and Christian would hurry up and have breakfast-sex at IHOP, but that's just wishful thinking on my part. They don't actually do it. 

Those of you who read my take on Chapter 23 may be asking the same question I'm asking:

Wait, so this is supposed to be sexy? 

It is, right? Isn't that the whole idea? People using the phrase "mommy porn" are all idiots--there's nothing about this mess that suggests that it's aimed at mothers in any way. But, it is decidedly pornographic. Or, if that's too strong a term, it's supposed to be erotic at least, right? Isn't "erotica" just like, porn for snobs?

Here's what I'm stuck on: nothing happened in Chapter 23 at all, like usual. Pretty much it was just about Christian meeting Ana's mom, Carla, and Carla insisting that Ana head upstairs and have sex with CG, despite CG's obvious stalker tendencies.

And then they did have sex. And the first thing about that sex scene that's striking is Ana's absolute dependence on Christian. She's oddly removed from her own body--only enjoying herself when she cedes control to Christian and then takes things one step further, essentially experiencing her own sexuality exclusively through Christian's eyes. You're familiar with the concept of the male gaze? Shorthand for the way that art (visual art most obviously but the idea can be applied more generally) on the whole presumes a male audience--and to go further, a straight, white, male audience. Ana is portrayed in Chapter 23 as essentially needing to adopt this male gaze as her own and use it to perceive herself.

Part of what fascinates me about this terrible book and its popularity is this sort of contradiction. Here we have what is ostensively pornography for women, written by a woman, but a scenario that is completely geared toward a man's experience of sex.

This makes me think Bic's "Cristal" [sic] ballpoint pens. Finally! A pen for women! The listing on Amazon for Cristal is one of those delightful community satire projects that crop up on Amazon from time to time. Most of the reviews are, as you would expect, bitterly sarcastic. And they should be! Because it's just a mutterblushing pen! My understanding is that ladies have managed to write with the same pens as men for quite some time. At least as far back as Title 9, right?

And that's my question with 50 Shades. It's all the same ideas, the same scenarios you'd expect if this thing were aimed at men, instead. There's some pseudoscience that will tell you that men and women's brains are wired differently or have different bumps or whatever and that's why men like porn and women "don't" but it seemed intuitive to me (even pre-50 Shades) that maybe if someone tried to sell porn to women that actually presumed that perhaps women were human beings with opinions and desires, there just might be a market!

50 Shades proves this. . . . sort of. Millions of women have read it! But also EL's portrayal of Ana Steele is endlessly degrading. Ana is a complete doofus. She lacks any agency, any subjectivity. She requires a man's instruction in order to derive any pleasure from the body that she quite literally drags around with her everywhere she goes.

So what I'm saying is, it turns out that it wasn't even necessary to adjust the sexist assumptions of pornography in order to sell a commodity tailored for straight men to straight women. You just have to package it differently, and distribute it through different channels. That's the real difference here, right? 50 Shades found an audience through networks of Twilight fans and through internet fanfic sites and then exploded via Amazon and Kindle. These are not places that straight men are venturing when they're feeling horny, I expect. So maybe that's the lesson. The way to sell porn to women is just to sell it out a different door. Good job, capitalism!

Here's what I'm really trying to figure out, though:
Why was it so important for EL James to stage a sex scene while Ana was menstruating?

The Complainist's resident medical advisor offered, unsolicited, her take:

"Can I offer a lady person's perspective on the last published 50 Shades chapter? Gross. Yeah, mostly gross."

This is reassuring to me in two ways. First, I work from the assumption that men and women aren't nearly as different as our popular entertainments, lazy comedians, and so on would have us believe. But despite this assumption, I do recognize that there's something potentially offensive about a man (me!) heaping such clever insults at a book marketed as entertainment for women. (Editor's note: and here we are excluding EL James herself, whom we actively seek to offend.) There's that chance that someone will try to convince me that I simply don't get it, because I'm a dude. So! I am always particularly reassured when women agree with me. Because some of my best friends are women! I swear!

Second, as readers who know me in real life understand, our resident medical advisor shares my actual residence. And so little would trouble me more than to learn that she found any of this book appealing. You, gentle reader, may have learned some troubling things about me as we've shared this time together, but I have not yet learned anything troubling about anyone else, and I do hope that remains unchanged.

But back to Ana and what is, perhaps, the bloodiest sex scene in popular fiction: why? Why, why, why? What did EL James seek to accomplish in Chapter 23, when she showed us so very much about Ana's uterus?

As I often find when trying to make sense of this dumb book, I can come up with a few plausible answers, but they all seem insufficient, so I don't trust any of them. Here are a few plausible answers, all of which fail under actual scrutiny:

  1. CG's willingness to do it every single day of the month means that he's particularly generous and considerate of Ana's desires. Interesting theory! It's too bad that it's contradicted by the whole rest of the book, since CG is not at all generous nor considerate. Besides, if he were really being considerate, he could've been like, "Oh, is this an awkward time? Why don't you tell me using words what sort of sex things you'd enjoy doing on this particular night, and we can do those things, and I won't be disappointed if the things on your list don't match up perfectly with the things I'd most like to do myself." You know--instead of acting totally unilaterally. (Side note: this draws attention to just how limited CG's actual sexual repertoire is. He's basically limited to missionary plus restraints. Yawn.)
  2. EL probably chose to talk about Ana's period because EL is such a stickler for realism. This is a real-life thing, so shouldn't it be part of this very realistic novel? It is true that EL does often overwhelm with pointless details that any other writer would skip, but come on. The pointless details are not because EL wants to be realistic. They're a result of EL's writing process, which mostly involves treading water in between arguments or sex scenes. Plus, the sex was already the least realistic part of the book. 
  3. The fact that Ana's on her period makes the scene extra sexy for the reader! This isn't true, is it? I'm pretty sure this isn't true. At least, that wasn't my experience, nor the experience of my medical advisor, but I suppose your opinion could vary? Seriously though: go ahead. Tell me if you think this is anything but the worst! You can even do it anonymously! I don't care! But don't lie to me. Only post anonymously that you enjoyed it if you did. I don't need a bunch of trolls, trolls!
  4. This is just more vampire shit, right? I guess this is most likely. The whole scene was just some vampire bullshit that got left over from a previous draft in which Christian was literally a vampire. Which, in a way, makes it worse, right? 
Seriously, though--if anybody wants to explain to me how any of this is hot, I promise to listen! Because it would be way more fun to read this mess if I found any of it hot. 

But where were we?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 23

Christian meets Ana's mom and then Ana and Christian have sex in Christian's hotel room.

There will be blood.

(Editor's note, Monday, 7:47PDT: Alden is once again, behind schedule. We told him to take the week off, but he called us "mutterblushers" and threw a bottle at us. So, despite our suggestion, and the advice of his doctors, Alden decided to power through and complete this essay in a single evening, fueled only by a cocktail of cocktails and his own rage. The decreasing quality that you will doubtless detect as you approach the end of this essay is due to the author's inebriation and the lateness of the hour. Enjoy!)

Right! Starting this off completely sober (Editor's note: Well, basically sober. One beer, so far.) but with no idea at all what actually happens in this chapter. It used to be that I'd read through the chapter, then go through it a second time while taking notes. This is probably why my earlier summaries were more coherent. But let's be real: I've got senior-itis. I'm about to graduate from this dumb book and I've already been accepted at my backup college, so we're working kind of fast and loose here. Whatever. I'm still probably putting in more effort than the author of the original source material. 

One note from last week:
I made a whole thing out of this particular sentence: "And my period has started, so I must remember to take my pill in the morning." I received a consultation from The Complainist's house medical expert (a real doctor!) who noted that those starting a birth-control regimen are sometimes advised to start said regimen when their period starts. The reason for this is simple: that way, you know you weren't pregnant when you started your prescription. 

My version, to be fair, was funnier. But this does get at a deeper issue. Ana mentions taking a pill in Chapter 22. She was prescribed her pill in Chapter 18. That feels like forever ago! But, in fact, it was basically one weekend! Chapters 18-20 all take place during a single obnoxious day. Chapter 21 is the day after that. And Chapter 22 is the day after Chapter 21. So to me, it felt like Ana had been on the pill for ages but now that I look at it more carefully, she was only written a prescription a couple days ago and omigod this book is so slow. It's almost unbelievable how little is happening in this thing. 

And now, for a bunch more nothing!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 22

Ana flies to Georgia and then Christian flies to Georgia.

Christian does the stalker-type stuff that he always does.

I declared in the beginning of 2013 that I was going to spend too much money on stereo equipment and write a book. I have, effectively, accomplished both of these goals (Editor's note: "predictions" might be more fair here.) although not quite in the manner I expected. You see, I have basically written an entire book about Fifty Shades of Grey.

In total, I've written about 125,000 words about this dumb book. Has anyone written more about it, by volume? I don't know. I mean, probably, but I only say that because I just seem an unlikely person to have written the most criticism about 50 Shades. I have no evidence. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who've written a million words or more of 50 Shades fanfic, and I see from a quick check of Amazon that there are a number of digital-only parody versions and a surprising number of tangentially related cookbooks. But I don't see anything like a readers' guide, which I guess I'm kind of working on in my own bitter way.

Now all I have to do is convince some risk-taking publisher that the inevitable movie-backlash is going to make my brand of snark a lucrative investment. This thing is probably worth hundreds of dozens of dollars, right? I'm assuming that the price of the paperback version of this book (Editor's note: the only print version.) will be ten dollars, and that it will sell more than 200 copies.

I'll also clean it up a bit, make it a little less bloggy, and not mention as often how much I'm drinking while doing this. Or maybe that's what people want? Even more cocktail recipes? Not sure! But in any case, that's what I'll be up to in a couple weeks when our heroes have concluded the first third of their adventures: trying to get in on some of that sweet, sweet, 50 Shades cheddar.

But first! A trip to Georgia!

Friday, October 4, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Catching up before the final 5 chapters

The following is a special note for anyone just joining us. Sure, we'd love it if you started from the beginning, but you can also just start here! If you're lazy! We understand lazy! You merely adopted laziness. We were born in it, molded by it, so we know where you're coming from. Start here! And follow along as we speed along to the unthrilling conclusion of Fifty Shades of Grey.

This is it, Complainers! (Editor's note: that's a cool collective term for anybody who's ever read this blog, right? Complainers? No?) Just five chapters separate us from the end of Fifty Shades of Grey, the inexplicably popular novel we've been insulting in surgical detail.

One might even say robo-surgical detail!
Many of you have been with us since the beginning, and we thank you. Still more have checked in now and then, and we thank you, too, but we can't help but wonder quite why you skipped 15.2, for instance. (Editor's note: We know you skipped 15.2. Everyone skipped 15.2.) 

But still others may have heard about our little project and said, "Wow this seems fun, but since I wasn't on board from the beginning, jumping in now would be akin to leaping into the DC Universe, and by that I mean jumping in at some point other than one of their frequent reboots!"

Never fear! This special update is for you! These are some extra notes to help you join us as we count down to the ridiculous conclusion of this ridiculous book. This is going to be kind of like that time I had a housemate who was way into Sex in the City and and I watched the last five episodes with her and was all like, "Oh, snap! Turns out Baryshnikov is a real jerk! I feel so invested!" (Editor's note: this will totally make sense to you if you're a huge Sex in the City fan like we are.) That's all you need--a real "fan" to sit on the couch with you for these last few outings, and then you'll have no trouble following all the novel's nuances as we rocket toward its stunning conclusion.

First thing to note is that there are no nuances. Just one uninteresting conflict, attacked again and again in essentially the same ways: Recent college grad Ana Steele has a billionaire boyfriend named Christian Grey who's possessive, cold, demanding, mercurial, and terrifying. But, he's super good at sex, so maybe Ana should stay with him after all?

That's basically the whole story. Author EL James uses two sorts of scenes throughout the novel: 1) jerk scenes which show us how much of a jerk Christian is, and 2) sex scenes which show us how good he is at sex.

The unfortunate thing about this book is that EL is far more convincing in the jerk scenes than in the sex scenes. As in, yes, EL is utterly successful in making me hate CG (Editor's note: We use a lot of shortcuts here. Because lazy.) when that's her plan, but terrible at making me feel like he's got redeeming qualities and terrible at making me think that he's sexy. He seems just as unpleasant in the bedroom as he seems anywhere else.

About the sex: yes, they have a bunch of sex. You probably know that this book features not just sex, but a particular sort of sex. You know--kinky sex. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not very interested in having kinky sex, but if someone wants to write about it a way that sounds compelling, I have no qualms about reading.

EL does not make it sound compelling, however. Instead, she makes it sound pretty much boring, and also? Not even that kinky. Early on, Christian gives Ana this whole long list of stuff that she's to do and not do in order to fulfill her part of their mutual BDSM relationship. The list is super-detailed, and mostly names stuff that Ana must not do. It also has a list of sex-stuff that CG wants Ana to agree to do. It's presented in blandly clinical detail, but it's still Christian's sexual wish list, and it's lengthy.

It makes the reader expect that some complicated stuff is going to go down, but the reader's expectations are proved false. Christian and Ana have basically regular sex, aside from the fact that Ana is basically forbidden from ever moving (sometimes restraints are involved, sometimes not) and sometimes gets spanked. Ana enjoys herself, which is great for her, but this reader finds the scenes dull. Maybe you will find this sort of thing interesting, but to me, the power dynamics of their relationship makes the sex less sexy, not more.

In essence, it feels to me like EL James is borrowing some of the trappings of BDSM culture, but none of the content. She's taking a relationship that is borderline abusive, but using the jargon of BDSM to make it sound like what Ana and CG have is something novel, when instead, they have something completely mundane: a relationship where one party calls all the shots and the other party is mainly miserable but is offered just enough affection at just the right time to consider it worth sticking around for another day. Fun, right!?

Also, nothing ever happens in this book. It's just a lot of Ana worrying about whether or not things are working well between her and Christian (they aren't!) and then the two of them having sex. Occasionally, other people are brought in, but they only appear to give further expression to this central, boring conflict. For instance, Ana's roommate Kate shows up periodically to tell Ana that her relationship is shitty, but Ana never listens.

Kate is the only person we might call a secondary character. Everyone else is tertiary at best. There's José, a guy who likes Ana, but he's just in the background so that Christian has someone to be jealous of for no reason. There's also Elliot, Christian's brother, who is also Kate's boyfriend. While it is super weird that these two brothers are dating roommates, no one ever comments on how weird this is. This is true of a lot of the super weird things that happen in this book all the time.

A lot of this weirdness is due to the fact that, when she wrote the book, the author (who is English) had never been to Seattle, where her novel is set. I'm sure that thousands of Americans have written novels set in London despite never having been, so I can't be too upset. But I am surprised by just how poor a job EL does of making her characters seem American. Isn't American culture totally inescapable? Don't we push it all over the globe and make it nearly impossible for anyone, particularly in the English-speaking world, to not know exactly what's going on in American pop culture?

I guess the answer is "no," much to my surprise. EL James is proof that you can live in England and find Americans totally baffling, because no one in this book sounds American. I'm not saying that they sound British because I lack that expertise. But they don't sound like Americans. It's one of the factors that makes dialogue almost impossible to trudge through.

Right. So if you're jumping in now, don't worry that you've missed out on any plot, because you haven't missed any plot at all, since there isn't any. The only thing that might interest you at all is know that, at the end of Chapter 21, Ana made her way to the airport to get some time apart from Christian at her mother's house in Georgia.

Some things happened, sure, but none that matter to your understanding of the end of the book. It would be wrong to call this book "episodic" because that implies lots of little plots, the way that a TV show is "episodic." This has no small plots and no big plots. Just a bunch of tension due to the fact that CG is a terrible boyfriend and often seems like he just might murder Ana or, at the very least, lock her in a dungeon. (Editor's note: his condo does have a sex dungeons, so you never know!) There's tension, and every once in a while it gets resolved temporarily because Ana generally has a nice time when they have sex with each other, which allows for a period of calm between them. But then that calm leaves us, and the exact same tension returns.

So please, jump in next week! No reason not to worry that you won't understand what's going on. Basically nothing ever goes on, and in many cases, having actually read the book isn't very useful as preparation anyway, since the actual events tend to be so ridiculous. And if you enjoy some of these final chapters, please to go back and revisit some of the earlier entries. *

*I think the first few are probably the funniest, because each subsequent chapter makes me more jaded, miserable, and less capable of being hilarious. Hence the diminishing returns. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 21

Ana has an interview for an internship with a publishing company and then she goes to the airport.

This chapter is heroically dull. 

Ugh even I didn't think the notes on that last chapter were very entertaining, and nobody likes my jokes more than I do. So if I didn't thoroughly enjoy myself, the rest of you had little hope. At least we'll get to learn this week whether or not Ana will manage to buy a ticket to Georgia on the same day that she flies. Oh! And maybe we'll come to learn why she lives in Seattle and her mom lives in Georgia. See? This could be better! We could really get somewhere this week! I'm feeling optimistic!

Wait! I just remembered that 50 Shades wine is a thing and now I'm sad again. One great thing about writing these essays is that now my friends have made me a sort of clearing house for all 50 Shades news and non-news. This is fun for me keep it up not even being sarcastic! Or maybe I am and can't tell the difference anymore because reading this book has alienated me from genuine human emotions!

Either way, you want to know about EL's wine, right? Great! Figured you would! Allow the LA Times to catch you up to speed. I'll wait!

Back? Great! I think it only appropriate that this terrible wine designed to cash in on the fame of a terrible book gets a terrible article. First, the headline: "'Fifty Shades of Grey' wines now available -- handcuffs not included." Heehee. It's funny because Christian is always using handcuffs on Ana! (Editor's note: so far, Ana has not once worn handcuffs.)

But wait! There's more! 

"If you'll actually admit to reading any of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' novels, and don't pretend you've never heard of them, you know wine plays a large part in the book. For one thing, the characters are always drinking it."

Wine plays a pretty trivial role in this book. Or, maybe I just drink so much trying to get through this that I no longer can tell what's a normal amount of wine to drink? This is possible. The only particular wine thing I can think of is that one part where Christian spits wine into Ana's mouth and now I kind of think that anyone who drinks this stuff should have to have it spat into their mouth. 

Oh but I'll write a thorough review if you send me a bottle. Also now I'm amusing myself by imagining someone ordering it at a restaurant. "Now I don't see it on the wine list here, but, um, might you have a bottle of 2009 Fifty Shades of Grey Red Satin?" he murmured dryly. 

That "2009" part was not a typo. The red is advertised as having been vinted in 2009, two years before Ana and Christian met. What foresight! The website for the wine almost makes it sound like they want me to think that EL had something to do with this other than cashing a check. "I’ve always had a penchant for good wine, so combining two of my passions to blend Red Satin and White Silk was a natural extension of the Fifty Shades trilogy." 

You see? This is totally natural! In fact it's weird that it took this long for this bad idea to finally happen. But seriously--by advertising this stuff as a 2009, they're at least showing some decency. I would've assumed that this wine was some undrinkable garbage found in an abandoned tank somewhere (what my winemaking father would refer to as "otter water" which is a hilarious thing to call bad wine!) but by letting me know that this was made in 2009, I now know that this wine is some undrinkable garbage found in an abandoned tank somewhere. 

(Editor's note: EL, if you send us a bottle, we'll put up a post with the title "Just Kidding!" and the body of the post will just be, "This book is great! This blog is elaborate satire!" What I'm saying, EL, is that writing this blog is driving us steadily toward insanity / alcoholism, and so we're constantly desperate for drinks so hook us up!)

Well. That's enough procrastination! On to Chapter 21! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 20

Ana and Christian have boathouse sex and then go home for mild spanking and bed sex and then we get a pretty uninteresting revelation about Christian's past.

There is a bunch of sex but it isn't as gross as the end of Chapter 19 hinted it would be. 

Here we are! Chapter 20! The home stretch, I guess! Well. The home stretch of the first book, at least. Chapter 19 somehow managed to inspire my best-ever day of traffic, and my previous forays into non-50 Shades posts have made it clear that you only like me when riding EL's coattails. The combination of these two facts means that I'll eventually get to books 2 and 3, though I think I've earned a bit of a break and will not move immediately from this book to whatever the next one is called. I think it's Fifty Shades Into Darkness but I forget. Anyway- if you have any suggestions for things I ought to mock pointlessly (since that's my only real skill) do let me know. I would like to add some sort of non-EL project into the mix to serve as a break between books.

And thank you for telling your friends to read my little blog. You must have done so; I long ago gave up trying to do much of anything to add readers.

A dear friend let me know that there are, in fact, certain people who do not want to read my analysis. I share her story below, so that we might all learn from it. (Editor's note: she also mentioned that a security guard was fired from her workplace for watching pornography from his station, but I think that was more of an anecdote than a warning.)

And I learned another lesson about 20 minutes ago. Don't be stupid and forget that you are at St. Bernard Parish Hospital and that means the people here are a certain way. So when you see someone reading something on a kindle, dont get all excited cuz you were dumb and forgot where you worked CUZ BOOKS and then happily nose into their beeswax asking what they are reading cuz you love to know what people are reading cuz OBVIOUSLY they are reading fucking 50 Shades for the 2nd time cuz this is st bernard and they sold that book at the counter of Main's Grocery store, the ONLY BOOK EVER to be sold at that counter.  And stemming from that same lesson in not forgetting where you work, DO NOT THEN TELL THAT PERSON who is reading 50 Shades FOR THE SECOND TIME that your friend is writing a blog where he breaks down all of the ways in which that book is terrible. Because it is a dumb fucking thing to say, you idiot, cuz when a person reads in this parish, it is a BFD, and to read a thing TWICE is a VBFD, and mocking that thing makes that other person's face turn red as they make a face at you that clearly states you are an asshole and the conversation is over.

You guys have heard of St. Bernard Parish, right? The place next to New Orleans where they found brain-eating amoebas in the water supply? No? Well they did! But anyway, lesson learned. You know, I'm effectively reading this book twice, so I guess I can't really complain about anyone else reading it twice, either. So I'll save my worst insults for anyone who reads it three times. Or enjoys it once. 

Moving on!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 19

Ana and Christian eat dinner at Christian's family mansion.

Nothing real bad happens in this chapter, but its final moments suggest that some real bad stuff might go down next chapter. 

Hey so I watched Pacific Rim starring Charlie Hunnam, whom you will eventually know as "cinema's Christian Grey" and now I think he's fine for the job. He's still kind of too scruffy, but I'm sure Hollywood can descruff him or whatever, so I'll just assume that he cleans up ok and will look good in pants that hang "in that way" whatever that means. What changed my mind is the reminder about one of his tendencies as an actor, both in Pacific Rim and Sons of Anarchy, is to deliver what's supposed to be earnest wisdom in a way that just sounds patronizing and dumb. I can already imagine him telling Ana how beautiful and smart she is or whatever. Based on his previous work, he'll deliver the declaration like he's talking to a six-year-old who just got home after a hard day at school, which is more or less Christian Grey's style. So forgive me for doubting you, Charlie Hunnam. And forgive me, gentle reader, for acting like any of this matters at all. It does not.

Is this a still from Pacific Rim or a weird sex thing? I'll never tell!
This is my way of saying that, yes, EL, I am willing to do a quick punch-up on your script. You know where to find me. My fee? We'll work it out. Probably just a gift card or something.

Moving on! Let's meet the parents!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 18

Ana has an appointment with a gynecologist at Christian's house. She's prescribed birth control, and then Ana and Christian have sex-dungeon sex.

May contain sex-dungeon sex. 

We're getting close to the end, you know. I typed that, and then I looked down at my book and saw that Chapter 18 opens on page 314, meaning that we have 200 pages left, meaning that we're at about the 60% mark, meaning that we're not close enough to the end. I wish we were closer.

This project is some sort of awkward middle ground between writing and not writing. I basically haven't written anything besides this in 2013. Barely read anything besides this terrible book, either. I tell myself that there is an ebb and flow to this work but it's been all ebb for a long time. My problem is that I really only have the patience for writing jokes, I'm pretty sure. So what do you do if all you want to do is write jokes? Hang out on twitter? I guess. Hang out on twitter or make easy jokes about a terrible book. Hooray!

As a bit of a warm-up for this week's chapter, let's see if we can figure out how to cut the first 17 chapters into something more manageable. Let's think like an editor!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 17

Ana and Kate move to Seattle, then Ana goes to Christian's house. 

This chapter is a waste of everyone's time. 

EL announced some cast details for a dumb movie about her dumb book that I'll end up going to see probably because literally several people are counting on me to deal with this shit so that they never ever have to. (Editor's note: We'll put up some type of sponsorship deal where you can sponsor our ticket or all the booze we'll have to drink ahead of time to make it through two hours of Ana blushing. Because we're not paying for this thing ourselves. We're just not.)

Ana and Christian are going to be played by Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam in a film to be released in 2014, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson. You may have seen Dakota Johnson in The Social Network, but I didn't because who cares. You will not know Sam Taylor-Johnson from anywhere. You may have seen Charlie Hunnam in lots of thing, but the only one to leave any impression on me is Sons of Anarchy. Here's my main impression: "This guy is great at playing a greasy motorcycle guy!" Here's an impression I never got from him: "He seems like a billionaire British vampire!" Although he was born in England, it turns out, so maybe he'll be ok? Whatever. For me, and all "true" "fans" of this mess, there can be but one Christian Grey, and his name is Sherlock Holmes Khan Julian Assange Benedict Cumberbatch. Whatever. I'm angry at myself for actually having an opinion about this, and I kind of do have an opinion about this! What's wrong with me? (Editor's note: Let's assume that was rhetorical.)

How about a little game!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 16

Spanking, then sex. 

Again--refer above. 

I have this problem where I troll the "Writing Gigs" section of craigslist and respond eagerly to the oddest requests. This has been more fruitful than you might assume! For instance, last year I was contracted to ghostwrite a single chapter of a novel. My employer never did get around to letting me know the last names of any of the book's characters, but he was pleased with my efforts, and paid promptly. More recently, I volunteered to "beta read" a draft of an "erotic mystery." I read and gave quite a few notes because I'm very good at that kind of thing. (I'm friendly about it, too. If 50 Shades were the work of some earnest, anonymous scribe pleading for help on craigslist, I'd be infinitely more generous. But! This thing has made EL James more money than can be found within the borders of certain small countries. The world has already been generous to her, so I don't have to be.)

Anyway, I mentioned on Facebook that this craigslist author got me a gift card for fifty bucks. Quite nice, considering that I volunteered without any offer of payment. The best part is that a handful of my friends conflated the gift card with this blog, and thought, even if only momentarily, that EL was the author mailing me gifts. This, of course, is not the case! However, I would like to state now, as publicly as I can, that I am willing to be bought, and I am not expensive. So, you'll know what happens if, a few weeks from now, I start a post by writing, "Hey you know, I never thought I'd say this, but this thing is kind of growing on me a little!"

In the meantime, I am kind of stuck. I just don't understand how this book gets read by anybody other than people who despise it because seriously. Chapter 16 is a nonsense chapter, totally lacking in plot or intrigue.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 15.2

Ana and Christian have sex. 

See above. 

Remember when the last Harry Potter got split into two movies, and then I only saw the first one? Or maybe neither? Because I can't remember? And then Twilight did the same thing? And now The Hobbit is three movies? Wouldn't it be terrible if I started doing that? I mean, I'm already writing chapter "summaries" that are, at times, longer than the actual chapters as originally written. So what if I stretched it out even more and turned this same dumb chapter about nothing into several weeks of mean-spirited jokes and repetitive screeds?

I'm sorry about 15.1. I said a bunch of things that I've already said a bunch of times. In my defense, the chapter was basically a bunch of stuff that's already happened in the book. It's hard to not sound repetitive when you're riffing on something that is itself so repetitive.

So here we are. Let's make this one a quickie, ok? (Editor's note: Yeah, that's a dumb sex joke. Think of it as a transition, because we're about to talk about some dumb sex.) 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 15.1

Ana and Christian discuss "soft limits."

Warnings: They talk about sex stuff for a long time and then have sex, only they're going to do that next week because I'm lazy.

I post these on tumblr, too, only I'm bad at remember to post them, and so I'm way behind over there. Recently I was pasting my Chapter 8 essay over at aldeneagle.tumblr and I kind of got worried that this book is wearing me down to the point that I may have already peaked. Like, I had all these funny pictures and stuff? And that essay was super long? What I'm saying is that I'm trying, but I'm a little concerned that the book is winning. And I'm losing. Seriously. I looked back at that thing, right? And I posted it in June, and now it's August, and part of me was like, "Wow. Those were the days. I was so young. So full of life."

But now you see me? Just a withered husk, which is too bad. As I am a mere shadow of my former self, I didn't even manage to complete this week's assignment. Shocking, right? Instead, I just leave you with a half-assed, short essay that doesn't even cover the whole chapter. I'm making you wait to read about the boring sex that Ana and CG are going to have. I hope to do 15.2 before next week but who knows! Hard to say just what will happen in these complicated times. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 14

Ana and Kate graduate from college and Ana agrees to sign Christian's sex contract. 

Warnings: I dunno. More of the same. There's some riding crop sex at the beginning, but it turns out (SPOILER ALER) it was all just a dream. So clever!

Chapter 14 is the sort of chapter that I enjoy writing about because it's the kind of chapter where a bunch of characters run around doing a bunch of different things and because they're doing these different things out in the world instead of in Christian Grey's sex-room, EL James' frequent misconceptions about how the world operates are at their most frequent and most jarring. As awkward as the sex-scenes can be, as terrifying as the central romance is, the mundane absurdities are what keep me going.

Ana declaring that she's never had an email address, for instance. Ana expressing amazement about the idea of shaving one's armpits. Ana being absolutely shocked by the idea of oysters. These precious, stupid memories are what make reading this book possible, which means that, in essence, I'm getting weighed down by the sex parts and, in comparison, tolerating the useless filler parts thrown in, I assume, to give the reader some breathing room in between sex parts. Meaning, the only parts that entertain me are the parts that more engaged readers are likely skipping and not even thinking about. Oh well!

But let's dive right in! Time for a sex dream!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 13

Ana and Christian negotiate their contract over dinner and it seems like things are going to get kind of hot but then they don't.

Let me start this week by mentioning that I'm in a better mood this week than last week and feel better able to further investigate Fifty Shades of Grey as a social phenomenon. Why? Because of the hundreds of clicks Chapter 12 received! Just kidding. It remains under fifty, and also, our little blog has been discovered by some manner of spam-robot, and so I fear that I'm getting an increased volume of "traffic" that isn't really traffic at all. Ah, well! These are the problems we face in the digital age! (These, and all the regular, real-world problems we haven't solved yet.)

Maybe I just liked this chapter more because no one gets tied up or has wine spat into her mouth? Who can even speculate! SPOILER ALERT: no one gets tied up or has any wine spit into her mouth in this chapter, so you'll want to stop here if you're just in it for the wine-spitting.

I do want to return to last week's chapter for a moment, though, and add a couple of caveats to some of my criticism. It's a terrible chapter--this is not a retraction or anything that bold.

I do want to make it clear that I understand the drive to take sex, add danger, and stir. My problem is that when this book pairs them together, the ratio of danger to sex is askew, and everything ends up being pretty gross and terrifying.

The "stuck in a rut" marriage between oldsters or middle-agesters is a pretty common cliché, but like most clichés, there's something obviously true at its core. (Editor's note: clichés are not to be confused with stereotypes, which are things made up by bigots.) Overfamiliarity can inspire boredom. Obviously. And, several chapters ago, when those crazy kids first took a long enough break from blushing and muttering and murmuring dryly to have sex, we talked about how there's only so much a reader can really get out of a straightforward sex scene.

But by making things dangerous the sexy writer (Not talking to you, EL.) creates tension. What we expect to happen might not happen at all, once danger is involved, so we better keep reading to find out! We all know this. This goes back forever. This goes back as far as Zeus turning into a rape-swan or Dracula biting ladies all sexy-like. Somebody has probably already written a book about how every "erotic thriller" is basically just Dracula repackaged, so I won't do so myself. But the thing about danger in a novel is that danger is a thing introduced by a villain, and a villain is someone to be thwarted and defeated.

So I'm not saying that I wish Ana and Christian could just meet and cute and and have 500 pages of undangerous sex because that would be terrible. Rather, I'm saying that in Dracula, Dracula is a sexy villain, and the point is that he's hard to fight because he's so sexy, but he's still a villain. Christian Grey is, in basically every regard, Dracula. I keep reading this book wanting to see Ana improve herself so that she can get away from Christian. But instead, the story is about Ana learning to reduce her own independence so that she can submit to Christian. Fifty Shades is like a weird version of Dracula in which Mina does her best to make sure that Dracula feels at home once he moves to London. (Editor's note: we're claiming that idea, so you owe us if you use it, Hollywood!) 

Extra note: I think it's important to separate EL's "literary" BDSM from the sorts of relationships people might have in the real world. Because in this book, CG's interest in kink is perfectly analogous to a vampire's need to bite people and drink their blood. And of course these things are not analogous in real life. But think about it: CG was essentially "infected" with kink at an early age, and now he desires nothing but to pass this "infection" on to Ana. And, it's incurable. Once a sex-vampire, always a sex-vampire!

Hm. I didn't plan on writing nearly so much about vampires to start this section, but then, this is a book about vampires, as we all know, so I guess I ought not be that surprised.

And now! Back to Mina and the Count!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 12

Ana sends Christian an email saying she doesn't want to see him anymore so he comes to her apartment and forces himself on her.

Warning: this is another sex chapter, and Ana's consent seems coerced at best. 

This is getting more difficult to do, and I'm getting more and more confused about this book's popularity. In Chapter 11, nothing at all happened. In Chapter 12, Ana and Christian are just going to have sex again and then exchange a few emails and there's nothing really to distinguish this sex from their previous sex or these emails from their previous emails. If anything, the sex and emails are worse in this chapter than previous sex and emails, because Chapter 12 forces the reader to reach the rather chilling conclusion that CG simply will not take "no" for an answer. (Editor's note: most readers will have already realized this; any holdouts will now realize it.) Someone should write an essay about how CG is a metaphor for US foreign policy, because he's always negotiating and bringing in paperwork and making things seem terribly official but then ultimately he just does whatever he wants anyway and makes you wonder why you had to jump through all those hoops. (Editor's theory: maybe at some point, we will learn that CG's real fetish is for meaningless paperwork?)

I'm too angry at the previous chapter for being so pointless and too depressed about how borderline terrifying this sex chapter is to introduce this week's remarks with any grand theories or fun writing advice, so I suppose I have no choice but to jump right on in.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 11

Ana reads some stuff and sends some emails. 

Warnings: I have lost all passion for life. Also, the usual warnings.

Most of this was written before the sort of vacation that all sensible people try to avoid. Wanted to get it finished in time to post while I was away, but failed! Now I will try again. Expect regular Tuesday schedule to return next week. Also, this post is pure text! That's what happens when I hate a chapter particularly much: I press on, and don't include any internet memes or whatever. Oh well. 

Last chapter we learned a bit about Christian Grey's background, at least sex-wise: when he was a teenager, an older woman seduced him and he was her submissive and obviously that's why he enjoys dominating women now because that's how it works, right? We don't need to rehash that bit too much. Just seems that EL wants to have her cake and eat it, too--on the one hand she wants CG to be edgy and enticing, but she also establishes that his sexuality a result of an inequitable relationship when he was younger. Hence she sets up the most obvious (Editor's note: and least interesting!) arc for the trilogy: at least as far as the bedroom (or sex dungeon) is concerned, CG and Ana Steele are going to meet somewhere in the middle. Which is to say, by the end, I presume CG will still be bossing Ana around because gender roles, but they'll be married and stuff and the kinkiest thing they're likely to do is to have the occasional episode of tied-up-with-a-necktie sex. See? CG will be "cured"! Isn't that so exciting? Terribly.

But before that digression, I wanted to compare how EL offers us some background for CG but none for Ana. Granted, he still doesn't quite make sense--he's a billionaire at 27, but lives like a man twice his age. And how did he make his money? Don't know. "Business." (When I rewrite this book I'll call it alternate-universe fan fiction--What if 50 Shades were set in an alternate universe where the standard conventions of narrative applied?! And then I'll make him a tech billionaire because obviously I will.) And is he from the northwest? Probably, because his mom and bro live close, but who knows. Don't really know anything about him other than the fact that he likes people tied up when he has sex with them, probably because he got tied up in his own first sexual encounters. (EL's psychology speaking here, not mine.)

So what do we know about Ana?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 10

Ana and Christian drive back to Ana's house. 

Warnings: Hell, I dunno. Christian probably threatens to rape Ana at some point? Look, guys. This is hard. 

I'm kind of dreading writing about this chapter because it poses a dilemma. The whole thing's so pointless that I'm kind of stuck talking about either everything or nothing and I'm worried that I'll accidentally end up talking about everything. At least the sex chapters have a certain narrative logic. Not to be needlessly crass, but sex scenes move towards, you know. A "climax." They go somewhere. Now that we're out of the sex chapters for a while, we're stuck with just a lot of bullshit meandering while we wait around to figure out if Ana will either a) sign CG's sex contract or b) "cure" him of BDSM. It's sad that, while there are two possible outcomes that the novel hints at, they're both really the same. They both involve Ana and CG being in wuv forever and ever, and with no conflict on offer besides the simple fact that Ana is dumb and boring and CG is a shitbag, there's not much reason to keep reading, is there?

Oh, right! My hilarious jokes! Phew. Good thing. Forgive me if I'm a bit off my game. I gave myself a week or so vacation. Hard to say exactly how long, because time spent with EL behaves differently from normal time. It really can warp your perception. For instance, at this point Ana and CG have known each other thirteen days. They met on May 9, and it is now May 22, and this is this particular weekend marks the first substantial amount of time they've spent together. Wild, right? Doesn't it seem like we've been putting up with them for weeks? Oh, right. Because I've been writing these things for weeks and you've been reading them.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 9

Ana and Christian have some more sex and also breakfast and also Christian's mom shows up. 

Warnings: This is just like the previous chapter, only less so, and with breakfast. Also, while Ana and Christian do have consensual sex, Christian says things periodically that can only be interpreted as rape threats. 

It's taking a lot longer than I expected to get offered a job editing romance novels, you know, considering how obvious it is that I'd be super good at it. Which means I have get to keep writing these! So that's really a win-win-win. So we all have something to be happy about!

Some thoughts on Domination / Submission and Reader Expectations:

One thing that's annoyed me about this mess from the beginning is the fact that Ana and CG are both exactly the same in real life as they are in the bedroom.  And whatever--maybe that's realistic. I don't know, nor do I particularly care. But wouldn't this book be way more interesting if CG weren't a demanding asshole literally all the time? If there were some moments, sometimes, when he wasn't threatening to beat anyone?

When I rewrite this novel (which I pretty much think maybe I should? At this point I expect I could do it in 200 pages instead of 500. And 200 might be generous.) I'm going to establish a gap between CG's public person and his private persona. Here are two angles, both of which I think would be upgrades:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 8

Christian and Ana finally have sex and then Christian plays a piano while sad. 

Warnings: This chapter contains both extremely vague and extremely specific descriptions of Ana lying perfectly still while CG does sex to her / lectures her about different things. There will be blood. It will be terrible.

So, here we are, at the point that you've either been dreading or awaiting eagerly. The part where they start having sex. After one hundred pages of notsex, they finally give in and do the thing that we've all known they were going to do. Yay.

Here's a little game to play! Just something for me to talk about for a moment while I stall for time before I have to actually talk about this chapter. Help me procrastinate. Think about who ought to play these crazy kids in the inevitable film adaptation! This is a test, there are right answers. Or, rather, there's at least one right answer, which we'll share after the jump!

Monday, June 17, 2013

50 Shades Controversy! Some reader criticism

Gentle reader:

The following is a reader-submitted note, or, perhaps, a complicated thought-experiment / hoax conducted by the author, meant to allow him to be his own devil's advocate! How about that? (Editor's note: Actually, it's just a note that's being posted unattributed. We're about to get into some pretty explicit stuff, and not everyone will want google associating their name with it.)

I've been following (and sharing) your 50 Shades series with great amusement up until now. Unfortunately, your rundown on ch 7 was really disappointing. Partly this is because the book itself is so depressing, but mostly it had to do with your evident ignorance of, and distaste for the BDSM community. I can not say that I speak for this community as I picked up most of my knowledge from conversations in and around college gender studies classes. Yet it seems to me that you kept going for the cheap joke by shaming those who enjoy this particular kink instead of focusing on how ham-handed EL's portrayals are.
I mean, you're right that a second date is a ridiculous time to be bringing up contracts, hard limits or giving out tours of ones dungeon, but there really are written contracts in this community, and they exist for very important reasons. And yes, it seems peculiar to mention hard limits that would sound obvious to those outside the community, but by in large this is a subculture which gets it's kicks from transgressing social norms, so the ones CG listed really aren't that extraordinary.
Moreover, "Nice" sex is not everyone's introduction to adulthood. In fact I'd say it is shockingly rare (probably something to do with abstinence only sex ed programs or something). And of course the implication is that atypical sexuality is not "nice", which really puts my teeth on edge.
So here is what I ask. If you are not interested or willing to do the research in order to discuss different sexualities/preferences in an informed way, could you stick closer to your most excelent observations about the craft of writing instead?

Our commenter has correctly identified the fact that I don't know anything about anything. I know so little, in fact, that it was only the other day that wikipedia informed me that I was wrong about what BDSM even stood for. I've also never proclaimed myself an expert, but that's not a particularly good excuse. In American political life, "I'm no expert but" is usually the thing that somebody says right before saying something hilariously dumb. I recognize a lack of expertise as a fault rather than a convenient excuse for failing to address one's own ignorance. 

I'll also acknowledge that there can be something uncomfortable about mockery of a subculture coming from someone unfamiliar with said subculture. It's like how it's okay for you to make a joke about someone in your family, because you love your family, but the same joke coming from the mouth of an outsider would seem cruel. 50 Shades does not belong to a subculture, though. This is not a bit of fringe literature that I dug up for mockery, but the fastest-selling book of all time. EL has sold more than 35 million copies of these books in the US. Think about that for a minute! That's more than 1 copy per 10 Americans! So this is a mass-culture phenomenon, not something from the fringe. Which means that the vast majority of readers will be reading about sex contracts and dungeons and floggers for the first time. While I may be ignorant when it comes the sort of things that excite Christian Grey, I'm every bit as knowledgable as the book's average reader, which in turn disinclines me from worrying that my jokes ought to be better informed. 

I don't wish to shame anyone, except for a couple of fictional people and also EL James. I am of the opinion that whatever other people consent to and find fulfilling is no concern of mine, so I do feel bad for coming across as distasteful. 

It's probably CG's contract that I took the most "cheap" shots at, even though it does make quite logical sense to me that people engaging in kink naturally have to rigorously spell things out. In truth, it's not the contract or even the sex dungeon that make me feel uncomfortable. What I find distasteful, and will continue to find distasteful, is the way that Christian Grey's version of "kinky" lines up so nicely with "regular" misogyny. This book is, at its core, deeply conservative. 

That's what drives my fascination with this book and its popularity--it's perceived as "edgy" but often just reads like the story of a man bullying a woman. And that's depressingly ordinary. 50 Shades feels like a book that's sort of slapped a coat of BDSM paint on top of a harrowing tale of emotional manipulation. 

At least in the parts of this book I've managed to read, we don't see the "submission" part of dominance / submission. Yes, Ana Steele goes along with whatever CG wants, but though she (so far!) is having a pretty nice time, it never seems to me that she's deriving any particular pleasure either from the act of submission or from how her submission affects CG. Which is part of the point, right? 

CG looks to me less like a dominant seeking a submissive, and more like an "active" seeking a "passive." My impression, from my limited reading, is that few people actually experienced with BDSM appreciate its portrayal in this novel, for reasons that will become more and more obvious if you continue reading along with me. 

In the meantime, though, I'll try to take aim at this novel in particular and minimize collateral insults that might land on those who simply have interests that I don't share. 

I'd also suggest that no one use this book as any kind of reference, because seriously. 

Tomorrow morning! The sex chapter we've all been waiting for!