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!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 7

Ana sees Christian's sex dungeon, and all but agrees to his weird sex contract on the spot, but then Christian gets all angry at her for being a virgin. 

Warnings: Chapter 7 = sex dungeon, and the first parts of a pretty intense and terrifying sex contract. Chapter 8 = One long sex scene. Chapter 9 = Two more sex scenes but also they eat breakfast. 

We have almost arrived, my friends. Chapter 7 is the calm before the storm. It's a preface, really: we're going to see the sex dungeon, and get our first look at the mysterious paperwork. The whole thing is in and out in right at ten pages, so I'll probably be able to get through this summary in about twelve.

I often like to start these summaries with a sort of philosophical preamble. Something general about writing, or some bit of wisdom I've picked up on while trying to be a better writer. Instead, for this week, I'll hand that job over to EL.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

50 Shades of the Complainist: Chapter 6

Ana and Christian take a helicopter to Seattle and Ana sees Christians sex dungeon for the first time. 

Warnings: Besides the fact that this chapter ends with Ana stepping into a sex dungeon, it's actually pretty bland. 

50 Shades is kind of like the novel-version of that time you had to stretch a term paper out from five pages to ten, so you adjusted the margins, added an extra space between each sentence, and then basically just typed in extra filler. Chapter 4 was a contrived excuse to get CG and Ana back in the same place at the same time; they wanted to be in the same place at the same time, only they had contrived reasons for not doing so, which resulted in a need for a second contrived reason to overcome the first contrivance so that the novel could move along again.

Chapter 5 is a bunch of foot-shuffling and throat-clearing, and in the end, CG is all, "Okay, I'll tell you my weird secrets, but I have to do it in Seattle." Chapter 6 is mostly waiting around for them to get to Seattle. Chapter 7 is all weird secrets, and Chapters 8 and 9 are just sex. Astoundingly inefficient! And, I expect, part of why you'll hear so many people talk about how they read the whole thing in a night. These readers may express genuine enthusiasm for the book, and state that they read it so fast because they enjoyed it so much. But, on some level, I expect plenty of people are reading this book quickly because there are just so many long stretches in which nothing of any importance is happening. Those stretches are quite easy to skim.

Like basically all of Chapter 6, for example!

(Editor's note: we did not skim. You know--for science!)