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.