Tuesday, May 27, 2014

50 Shades Shadier: Chapter 14

Ana and Christian are sad about things. 

Hey so after I wrote this, Elliot Rodgers murdered a bunch of people because women weren't blushing and forgetting to breathe around him the way Ana Steele does around Christian Grey.

I'd like to say more but I haven't managed to put together anything sensible yet, but I feel like I ought to mention it, particularly since last week, we read about CG's ex, Leila, who almost shot Ana and and CG.

EL James misrepresents the world on basically every page in large and small ways. It doesn't matter that EL, for instance, doesn't understand how popular mac and cheese is in Seattle. But I think it does matter that the big "danger" in this book is an unstable ex-girlfriend. It matters because even though Christian exhibits nearly all the textbook traits of an abuser, EL creates straw-men in order to make CG look better by comparison. José refuses to accept "no" in the first book. And now Ana's boss is a super-creep. And then Leila shows up in Ana's house with a gun.

But of course, statistically, Christian has always been the biggest danger to Ana. Because he's the boyfriend! And it's always, always, always the boyfriend. It's basically never not the boyfriend. Almost all women who are victims of gun violence are attacked by an intimate partner, not a stranger. Women who are shot in their own homes, like Ana almost was, are virtually always shot by a partner or former partner. In the US, three women are murdered by an intimate partner every day, on average. Women get killed by their boyfriends, not by their boyfriends' ex-girlfriends. Women get killed by men.

I bring this up because Christian Grey is exactly what a dangerous misogynist thinks he sees when he looks in the mirror--a clever man who knows what's best for women. A "gentleman" ready to treat a woman like a piece of property--but for her own good! A "catch" who's not like the other guys! No not at all! I bring this up because I find this entire shitty book indicative of a culture that tells men that women are things to be possessed.  And that is a mindset that gets people killed.

We're not starting out with a lot of jokes, I'm afraid. But sometimes this shit just isn't that funny.

There are some jokes after the break, I swear.

On to Chapter 14!

A big chunk of what bothers me about EL's portrayal of kink is the fact that her version is carefully defined by a pretty archaic notion of gender roles. For instance, Ana is upset about the fact that Elena had sex with Christian when he was in high school. Is it just me, or is Ana extra bothered about their arrangement because CG was submissive and Elena was dominant? You know--the reverse of the "correct" arrangement between a man and a woman.

During the middle of Chapter 13, Ana seemed downright jealous of Leila's willingness to submit to CG--despite the fact that Leila is clearly not well and potentially dangerous. Ana saw the way Leila dropped to her knees so readily as a threat to her own relationship with CG. To Ana, submission almost seems like something she wants to aspire towards--something that would make her more attractive to CG, and maybe just better in general.

But then at the end of Chapter 13, when CG basically does the exact same thing that Leila did--knees quietly on the floor--Ana is terrified. I mean, yes, it's pretty odd that CG does this. No question there. I'd be nervous too. But Ana isn't just bothered by CG's stillness or his abrupt change in attitude. It feels to me like EL wants us to see "dominant" as "hyper-masculine" and "submissive" as "hyper-feminine" and so CG on his knees is a "terrifying" retreat from masculinity. Whereas if Ana did it, that'd be super great! Ugh. Hard not to read EL's version of kink as just an exaggerated version of good old fashioned patriarchy. Which I'm sure is super hot to some people but mostly I just get annoyed about how conservative this book is at its core despite its "edgy" trappings.

But let's go through our traditional round of pointless updates, shall we:

Our story thus far:

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.
  1. Ana starts her new job at a publishing company and agrees to let Christian give her a ride to José’s art show. It turns out they both miss each other or whatever.
  2. Ana and Christian eat steaks at a restaurant. They rekindle their “romance” and Christian says that they won’t have to have rules anymore and he won’t punish Ana. They drive back to Seattle and Christian gives Ana back the expensive gifts that she'd returned to him when they broke up, along with a new iPad.
  3. Ana goes to work. She is confronted by one of Christian's ex lovers on her way out for drinks with her coworkers. Christian picks up Ana from the bar, and then they venture to a grocery store so that they can cook dinner at Ana's house. But then they get too horny to cook so they have sex.
  4. Ana and Christian eat dinner and then have ice cream sex and then in the middle of the night Ana has a dream about Christian's ex lover Leila, which worries Christian. Later, Ana and Christian fight about money, eat breakfast, and then go to a hair salon where the woman who introduced Christian to BDSM works.
  5. Ana is upset by the sight of Christian's ex-lover, Elena, and storms out of the salon. Christian insists that Ana come to his house because his other ex-lover Leila may be armed. Christian picks up Ana bodily when she disagrees with him. Ana and Christian retire to Christian's house and Christian allows Ana to draw on him with lipstick so that she knows which parts of his body he is comfortable having touched and which parts are off limits. 
  6. Ana and Christian have sex and get ready for a fancy charity auction at Christian's parents' house. Then they go to the fancy charity auction, and Ana bids $24,000 on a weekend getaway at Christian's Aspen condo. 
  7. Ana gets auctioned off to Christian for the first dance of the evening, but before the dance, the couple retreat to Christian's childhood room for sex. Christian's ex, Elena, threatens to hurt Ana if she mistreats Christian. After the party, Ana and Christian drive home, where they are informed by Christian's security staff that someone, most likely Leila, has vandalized Ana's car and may have broken into the apartment.
  8. Christian's security goons conclude that Leila is not in the apartment, but soon she sneaks into Ana's room while she sleeps so Christian and Ana go to a hotel because Leila may be dangerous. Ana has another of her famous Sunday morning home appointments with her gynecologist. 
  9. Ana and Christian buy a car and ride on a boat. 
  10. Ana and Christian eat dinner and play pool.
  11. Ana returns to work and Christian follows every little thing she does from afar.
  12. Ana returns to her apartment to meet Kate's brother Ethan, but instead finds Leila, who holds a gun.
  13. Christian disarms Leila and Ana has drinks with Ethan. 

And here's the extra complication: EL wants us to filter everything through our limited understanding of CG's childhood abuse.

Tears begin to ooze down my cheeks, and suddenly it is too much to see him in the
same prostrate position as the pathetic creature that was Leila. The image of a powerful man who’s really still a little boy, who was horrifically abused and neglected, who feels
unworthy of love from his perfect family and his much-less-than perfect girlfriend . . . my lost boy . . . it’s heartbreaking. 
EL is kind of playing Leila both ways. Here, Ana calls Leila "the pathetic creature" but I don't think there's any denying Ana's jealousy of Leila--her desire to be a little more like Leila. She basically convinced herself last chapter that CG was going to leave her for Leila! And now, CG exhibits the same behavior that made Ana jealous of Leila, and it's "heartbreaking."

Christian on his knees at my feet, holding me with his steady gray gaze, is the most chilling and sobering sight I have ever seen—more so than Leila and her gun. 
Oh yeah? Huh. Ana must know that she's the hero of this book and that it wouldn't continue if she died, so she knew there was no way she was going to die last chapter. That makes sense.

Anyway Ana gets down on her knees next to CG and spends a couple pages saying the same things to him that she's always thinking all the time and I'm scanning through it pretty quickly because it's like, yeah. I get it. I get it, EL. I. Get. It.

Then CG puts Ana's hand on his chest and that's like his no-touch area and so this is A BIG DEAL IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP and I'm like, great! We haven't had one of these BIG DEAL moments in like two chapters or something and you know how I live for these very important, very engaging BIG DEAL moments.

Oh wait. Here comes a shitty part. I mean all of these parts are the shitty part but here comes a really shitty part that's um. Well. It's not surprising. I think it's actually kind of obvious, but I thought it was going to remain subtext. Never expected to see it spelled out explicitly:

He takes a deep breath and swallows. “I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-
haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore—my birth mother. I’m sure
you can guess why.” 

Ew. Ew ew ew.

I also must note that we've never been given any indication that Ana is particularly "little." So basically it sounds like CG is saying "I like to whip little girls" because that is exactly what he's saying.

Well, that's unfortunate. CG doesn't just secretly want to sleep with his mother. He wants to do really complicated stuff to his poor mother. Sorry, moms! Wow. It's weird how you used to sometimes see this book called "mommy porn" because let's be real: 50 Shades is not exactly a love letter to moms! Sorry, moms. Espectially if you actually read this book. Ick. I'm sorry. Let's think of something nice for a while instead.

I googled "nice picture" and I'm now going to paste the top result here so we can see something nice for a sec.

Nice, France
Then it hits me like a wrecking ball. If he’s a sadist, he really needs all that whipping and caning shit. Oh fuck. I put my head in my hands. 
Cue "Wrecking Ball."

Here we are again! At the same place we always get to all the time all the time! "Oh noes! We're not compatible! What will we ever do? Oh noes!"

But wait! CG says a bunch of stuff about how he's doing better, and isn't feeling nearly as whippy now that he's got Ana. Yay.

Ooh! But here's a genuine surprise!

“What can I do to make you understand I will not run? What can I say?”
He gazes at me, revealing his fear and anguish again. He swallows. “There is one thing you can do.”
“What?” I snap.
“Marry me,” he whispers.
Ha! Oh is your shitty thing stuck in a shitty rut! DO A WEDDING. Omigod I can't even handle this chapter. I thought the last one was super bad and it was super bad but this one is super worse. This is absolutely the absolutely worst.

Here, read some more of this shit:

He smirks at me, but the crinkling around his eyes shows me that he’s hurt. It’s sobering. 
“You’re cutting me to the quick here, Ana. Will you marry me?” 
I sit up and lean over him, placing my hands on his knees. I stare into his lovely face.
“Christian, I’ve met your psycho ex with a gun, been thrown out of my apartment, had you go thermonuclear Fifty on me—” 
He opens his mouth to speak, but I hold up my hand. He obediently shuts his mouth. 
“You’ve just revealed some, quite frankly, shocking information about yourself, and now you’ve asked me to marry you.” 
He moves his head from side to side as if considering the facts. He’s amused. Thank heavens.
“Yes, I think that’s a fair and accurate summary of the situation,” he says dryly. 

Geez. This is, I think, the third time in this chapter that Ana has called something "sobering" so that's fun. EL has a real knack for instantly overusing something. She introduces a new little quirk and then BAM it's her new favorite thing in teh world and she won't shut up about it and that's what happened this chapter with "sobering."

But here's my real favorite part about this section: this whole chapter has basically been an emotionally-charged summary of their relationship so far, with a particular emphasis on the shit that just happened in the previous chapter. And then! Ana takes a break from this summarizing to summarize their conversation which is itself mostly a summary. And then CG is all, "good summary." And then Ana turns around and summarizes that. JK. That doesn't happen but maybe it should. This is so unbearable.

They settle on "Let's think about it" and now we know that we're going to have to put up with these jackasses getting married at some point and I'm dreading reading about that. It'll be just pages and pages of what color different tents are. Groan.

CG jumps back into food-shaming mode and hassle Ana about not eating and then starts digging through his fridge for food because Ana has to eat even though she doesn't want to. One "nice" thing about this book is that we've kind of shut up lately about how little food Ana eats and so I haven't had to worry all that much about whether or not EL has buried any pro-anorexia secrets into this terrible book. But this late-night snack part is hilarious! Sorta.

CG finds some mac and cheese in his fridge.
“Macaroni and cheese?” He holds up a white bowl lidded with foil. He looks so hopeful and endearing.
“You like macaroni and cheese?” I ask.
He nods enthusiastically, and my heart melts. He looks so young all of a sudden. Who would have thought? Christian Grey likes nursery food.
“You want some?” he asks, sounding hopeful. I can’t resist him and I’m hungry. 
This might not sound that noteworthy to you, but this is another one of those moments where EL gets Seattle utterly wrong. You see, if EL had spent, say, a week in Seattle, she would've learned that mac and cheese is on absolutely every restaurant menu in Seattle. Now, it'll be glammed up a little, of course. Pretty standard is to use Beecher's because that's a famousy Seattle cheese company, but other variations include versions with multiple fancy cheeses instead of just Beecher's. Oh and usually some kind of meat--some type of bacon or pork belly being the the most common options. But seriously! Mac and cheese is not a comfort food for kids in Seattle. It is a staple that is offered basically everywhere that there is a kitchen. But why bother knowing anything about a place before you set your book there? I can't think of any good reason.

Oh then CG tells Ana what he did with Leila while she was at the bar: he gave her a bath and then dressed her in Ana's clothes and I guess took her to Fremont.

Ana freaks out about the bath part. And I don't blame her but I also don't care even a little bit. The only thing going on is their dumb relationship and I know that they aren't going to break up, at least not permanently, so what am I supposed to do? Be upset? Oh noes what if they break up! Ugh. Who. Cares. I don't! Particularly now that one of the few plot-threads seems tied up. Right? I mean we dealt with Leila. And I expect this book will deal with Ana's creepy boss Jack as soon as he gets back from his trip to New York and then what will we have left? Their dumb wedding? Ugh. What's the point of any of this?

Here let me share with you some marvelous prose:

“Ana, look at me.” I can’t. I know that if I do, I will burst into tears. This is just too much to absorb. I’m like an overflowing tank of gasoline—full, beyond capacity. There is no room for any more. I simply cannot cope with any more crap. I will combust and explode, and it will be ugly if I try. Jeez! 

This. Mutterblushing. Book. "I'm like an overflowing tank of gasoline--full, beyond capacity." Does EL think that if you accidentally top off your gas tank it'll explode? Because that would be grand.

I know! Let's offer EL some variations on this dumb theme.

  • I'm like an overflowing pitcher of water--full, beyond capacity.
  • I'm like an overflowing plate of Beecher's mac and cheese--full, beyond capacity.
  • I'm like an overflowing toilet--full, beyond capacity.
Right? What a terrible, terrible bit of writing. Just unbearable.

Fortunately, we don't have to deal with anymore of it this week because next Ana goes into the bathroom and cries and that's the end of Chapter 14. Good. I'm getting sick and tired of your shit, Chapter 14.

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