Friday, October 4, 2013

Let's Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 4!

I have to head down to New Jersey for another round of family drama, so you get a new chapter of FSoG!

When we last saw our intrepid heroes, Ana was falling down because clumsiness is the Designated Harmless Romantic Heroine Flaw, and Buff HardBack was using catching her as an excuse to paw and stare at her because he is gross.

Also, this is the beginning of the part of the book where we're going to want warnings going in, because hoo boy.  CONTENT WARNINGS FOR THIS CHAPTER: Stalking, rape threats, sexual assault, abuse of drunk people.

Kiss me damn it! I implore him, but I can’t move. I’m paralyzed with a strange, unfamiliar need, completely captivated by him.
Maybe he's an incubus.  That is seriously the only thing that would explain this.

Everything about how Ana describes attraction sounds painful.  It exists for no reason, fills her with anxiety, twists up her stomach, and now she's not able to even move or speak?  I'm really not sure that's desirable.  She hasn't once mentioned being happy to be around this guy. Only exceptionally stricken.
Kiss me, please. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and gives me a small shake of his head as if in answer to my silent question. When he opens his eyes again, it’s with some new purpose, a steely resolve. “Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you,” he whispers.
Bear in mind that all this is happening because she tripped and he caught her. After a coffee date where they sat around and listed their relatives' occupations.

Also, when someone straight up tells you that you shouldn't date them, roughly 9 times out of 9 that's because you seriously fucking shouldn't date them.  The "oooh, I'm too dangerous for your innocence" act tends to lead into actual bona fide danger.
NO! My psyche screams as he pulls away, leaving me bereft. He has his hands on my shoulders, holding me at arm’s length, watching my reactions carefully.
How "bereft" is she when he's not only still there, but he's still touching her?  Her screaming psyche is going to have a really rough time the next time he has to take a bathroom break.
“Anastasia… I… ” He stops, and the anguish in his voice demands my attention, so I peer unwillingly up at him. His gray eyes are bleak as he runs his hand through his hair. He looks torn, frustrated, his expression stark, all his careful control has evaporated. [...] “Good luck with your exams,” he murmurs. Huh? This is why he looks so desolate? This is the big send off? Just to wish me luck in my exams?
I'm fairly sure "desolate" isn't the word you're looking for.

"Inexplicably acting like they just broke up a five-year relationship, instead of being at the end of an exceptionally tepid coffee date" is less concise, but much more accurate.
I turn on my heel, vaguely amazed that I don’t trip,
Can't say she isn't self-aware.
Placing my head on my knees, I let the irrational tears fall unrestrained. I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.
I want to stop going "lol what a doofus" all the time and admit that I actually find this kind of relatable.  I've had times, when I was younger, when I emotionally invested way too much in someone I didn't honestly know that well, and I crashed big time when reality came home and I realized we were never going to have a grand romance.

Where my life diverges from Ana's is that I cried it out, life went on, the people went on their ways, and I grew a little more guarded and a little more realistic.  Nobody ever came back to me with a "just kidding, we can have a grand romance," and ultimately I'm glad for that.  It helped me create a space in my head for "I want you, but I can go on living without you," and that space is good for both me and my partners.
He’s too gloriously good-looking. We are poles apart and from two very different worlds. I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result. His words make sense. He’s not the man for me.
E.L. James writes like a graceful dancer, a dancer who flows like a river, and the river is also the ocean, and the ocean is deep like a freezer, and this one time I opened my friend's deep freezer and it was full of dead iguanas. I forget what I was talking about.
It’s Friday, and we shall be celebrating tonight, really celebrating. I might even get drunk! I’ve never been drunk before.
She's also never held hands before, never been on a date before, never been attracted to a man before, and most certainly and above all else never had sex before.  This is stuff I wouldn't criticize a real person for--hey, some people get to 21 without doing these things--but to give these traits to a character suggests the author is trying to make her perfectly innocent and naive, an absolute blank slate sexually and romantically, because for her to be otherwise would mean that Lump BeefBroth would have to work with an actual complex human being when he dominated her, and what's sexy about that?

...that was a really long sentence.
“Ana, there’s a package for you.” Kate is standing on the steps up to the front door holding a brown paper parcel. Odd. I haven’t ordered anything from Amazon recently.
How the hell did he get her home address?  I feel like even in the "possessiveness is love" romance universe, this is too far.  There's "he's pursuing me, ooh" and then there's "he is literally fucking inescapable," and even if you're turned on by the first, isn't this a bit much?

Unfortunately, I think this might be trying to show his domliness.  I've heard people before claim that not taking no for an answer is very dominant. It's an attitude that scares the shit out of me. Someone who can't deal with not getting their way can't be a safe partner for anything really, but they especially can't be a safe BDSM partner.
Why didn't you tell me there was danger? Why didn't you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks...
This is a quote Punt SpeedChunk includes with a bunch of super-expensive first edition novels in the package. What's that quote from?  Well...
“This quote – Tess says it to her mother after Alec D’Urberville has had his wicked way with her.”
So it's a rape threat.  That's not even subtext; it's fucking text.  They met twice and he found out her home address and sent her expensive gifts along with quotes about rape. This isn't merely bad romance writing.  This is some Gift of Fear shit.

Seriously, shouldn't it at least be a quote about infatuation or lust or something?  Unfortunately (boy, I'm using that word a lot today), I think it isn't because this is a kinky book and it's supposed to be a kinky love note.  And clearly rape threats are the kinky version of love notes.  I'm angry as a human being, of course, but I think I'm even angrier as a kinkster.
[She goes out to a bar with friends and drunk-dials Bold BigFlank.] “Anastasia, where are you, tell me now.” His tone is so, so dictatorial, his usual control freak. I imagine him as an old time movie director wearing jodhpurs, holding an old fashioned megaphone and a riding crop. The image makes me laugh out loud. “You’re so… domineering,” I giggle.[...] 
 “I’m coming to get you,” he says and hangs up. Only Splint ChestHair could sound so calm and so threatening at the same time. Holy crap. I pull my jeans up. My heart is thumping. Coming to get me? Oh no. I’m going to be sick… no… I’m fine. Hang on. He’s just messing with my head. I didn’t tell him where I was. He can’t find me here. Besides, it will take him hours to get here from Seattle, and we’ll be long gone by then.
I don't really have anything funny to say about this, I just wanted to keep you up to date on what a colossal creep this guy is.
“No José, stop – no.” I push him, but he’s a wall of hard muscle, and I cannot shift him. His hand has slipped into my hair, and he’s holding my head in place. “Please, Ana, cariña,” he whispers against my lips. His breath is soft and smells too sweet – of margarita and beer. He gently trails kisses along my jaw up to the side of my mouth. I feel panicky, drunk, and out of control. The feeling is suffocating. “José, no,” I plead. I don’t want this. You are my friend, and I think I’m going to throw up. “I think the lady said no.” A voice in the dark says quietly. Holy shit! Slate SlabRock, he’s here. How? José releases me.
SlabRock is not your savior, Ana, no matter how carefully the author sets you up with sexually aggressive racial stereotypes.  He's just the Scylla to Jose's Charybdis. (I didn't want to say "the rock to Jose's hard place.")
[Ana vomits copiously, repeatedly, and graphically into a flowerbed while Fist RockBone holds her hair.] “We’ve all been here, perhaps not quite as dramatically as you,” he says dryly. “It’s about knowing your limits, Anastasia. I mean, I’m all for pushing limits, but really this is beyond the pale. Do you make a habit of this kind of behavior?”
Really, dude?  Really?  You had to slip in a reference to how naughty and kinky you are while she's barfing?

(Not even getting into the victim-blaming here. Maybe he's just talking about the barfing. I'm going to go ahead and believe that.)
“How did you find me?” “I tracked your cell phone Anastasia.” Oh, of course he did. How is that possible? Is it legal? Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s still floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.
Oh god oh god oh god.  I have dug too greedily, and too deep. Who knows what I awoke in the darkness of this book.  Shadow and flame.  For fuck's sake, we're only on chapter 4.

I'll say this for E.L. James: she spells this shit out.  A lot of authors would merely imply that stalking is cool if the guy is sexy.  James puts it right out there.
He takes my hand once more. Holy cow – he’s leading me onto the dance floor.
Dude. She was just barfing. I think she's done for the night. Call her a cab.
My thoughts crash through my brain, fighting the drunk, fuzzy feeling. It’s so warm in here, so loud, so colorful – too bright. My head begins to swim, oh no… and I can feel the floor coming up to meet my face or so it feels. The last thing I hear before I pass out in Christian Grey’s arms is his harsh epithet. “Fuck!”
Okay, now call her an ambulance.

Man, Ana has shitty friends. Not only were they ignoring her when a guy was trying to assault her and she was vomiting, but now they're looking the other way while an older stranger (who her roommate knows is stalking her) takes her back to his hotel. While she's unconscious.

I'm going to make a Fifty Shades of Grey drinking game where you take a shot every time something about the relationship isn't terrifyingly abusive. So far I'm completely sober.


  1. I came here to laugh and be pedant, but now I'm just sad.

    Good luck at Jersey!

    1. :(

      I don't want this reading to be an exercise in misery. I am trying to keep it jokey. But I'm also working with what the book gives me, and boy does it give me misery.

  2. You know, this reminds me...
    Your writing has helped me to know when to go from "ok, wth?" to "ACK!! GET AWAY!!"
    So, Thanks for helping me redefine my understanding of such things, and giving me the knowledge to keep myself safe.
    You seriously kick ass, Cliff.

  3. I don't know about this... I'm usually on board with what you say, but fisking Fifty Shades of Grey just doesn't make sense to me. It's *erotica*.

    If I were to test everything I read on, say,, for consent and kinky best practices, it'd *all* fail the test. Because I *want* it to fail the test, because it's nice not to have to worry about the well-being of imaginary characters while getting off. (I also don't worry much about a logical plotline or good writing...)

    I'd never read THIS crap, but it's because that's not my particular fantasy. Some people wanna fantasize about a partner who is so helplessly bumbling as to be almost childlike, or a partner who "wants you so much he can't leave you alone", even though these things would not fly in real life. Most people are not idiots - they can identify Grey's behavior as creepy and unacceptable - but they like a little make-believe.

    I understand that because of our culture's weird relationship with porn, a lot of people might treat Fifty Shades like a real book, or worse, like a model for kinky behavior, and that's a problem. If you were discussing how Fifty Shades can perpetuate misconceptions, or play on entrenched gender stereotypes, that'd make sense to me. But this, while entertaining at times, just gives me the impression that you don't get the point of erotica.

    1. My problem with the book isn't so much that it's a stalking and nonconsent fantasy, as that it doesn't seem to know it is. It's being sold as "BDSM", not as pure fantasy, and later on they do things they call "negotiation" and "consent" without acknowledging how incredibly poorly they're done. It would be one thing to write erotica that fetishized being stalked, but this is more like erotica that assumes stalking just happens to be a sexy romantic thing. If you get the difference?

      ...Also, maybe you don't get the point of fisking, nyahhh. :p

    2. This. And you can't just say "I understand that because of our culture's weird relationship with porn, a lot of people might treat Fifty Shades like a real book, or worse, like a model for kinky behavior, and that's a problem." and leave it at that. If you understand that it's a problem, why the hell are you complaining? I feel like that was the rhetorical equivalent of "I'm not racist, but..."

    3. Do you know what (else) is horrible about this book ?
      The author thinks that it isn't porn. Seriously, she thinks that it's about "people in love". So it's not written as an erotic fantasy.
      From "What is" Times, The (United Kingdom), Apr 12, 2012, p5, 1p :
      "Some call Fifty Shades a love story, others prefer the words erotica or romance. A lot of people have written it off as trash. Men, particularly, seem to find it offensive. A US television host recently pronounced the sadomasochistic themes in the book "a rape fantasy".

      "That is ridiculous," James says, bridling again. Everything that happens in Fifty Shades is "safe, sane and consensual". Indeed, there are condoms littered all over the book. "No one gets raped. In fact I find that quite offensive." Surely, though, it is pornographic? "I don't understand what you mean by pornography," she says testily. "People having sex is not pornography, to me. You'll need to define your terms. People fall in love, they have sex. That's perfectly normal and natural. To call it pornography is weird. I think pornography for me is women drugged and ... something horrible. What's that Stieg Larsson thing? That rape scene. That's obscene. I saw the Swedish version of the film. It shocked the hell out of me."

      Unlike Larsson's fiction, James argues, hers is not misogynistic. Indeed, there are women out there who argue that her books are empowering, that Fifty Shades is encouraging women to be more open about their sexual desires.

      "Women aren't supposed to like this sort of thing. To have a man tie her up and dominate her." But because it's on the page, "it's very, very safe"."

    4. @Cliff: OK, if you draw that distinction between "writing erotica about stalking" and "normalizing stalking/rape/controlling behavior", then I get where you're coming from with this. Plus, I haven't actually read the book - if they do pretend to do some negotiation later on, that's even more likely to convince novices that this is the right way to do a D/s relationship, which is alarming. So I certainly see your point. I guess my point was just that characters in books doing fucked- up things is not necessarily, all by itself, cause for concern. But when a book straddles the line between erotica and normalizing the wrong kind of nonconsent, that certainly can be cause for concern.

    5. Anschel: Good point, but I feel bound to mention that I *didn't* just leave it at that - I followed that statement with " if you were discussing how Fifty Shades can perpetuate misconceptions..." which is to say I think this book should absolutely be criticized by people, like Cliff, who know what they're talking about, because it DOES have troubling elements. I just had some beef with the specific way the criticism was done. It's a small beef, though :)

    6. Godric: JESUS that's alarming. So classic for her to complain about being categorized as pornography - porn is so demonized in our culture that you have to throw up your hands and claim dissociation with it even as you write sex scene after sex scene. Awful.

      If she honestly believes that she's depicted a safe, sane, and healthy relationship, I'll retract everything... this lady needs to be called the fuck out.

    7. Kind of one of the nice things about reading online porn with bad stuff in it is the author will usually give content warning that make it clear what is and is not ok irl. BDSM not done properly with have a dubcon warning so you know and you know the author knows that it is fantasy (and also so people who dislike or are straight-up triggered by that stuff can avoid it).

      Shit most of the porn archives I hang at will put dubcon warnings on all sort of stuff that people at large tend to think is ok but really is not ok, I am really a big fan of that.

    8. As someone who's written erotica that A) is better-written than this, and B) is kinky while purposefully not noncon like this, and on behalf of all the erotica I read, kinky or otherwise, that was objectively better than this...excusing this by going "it's just the genre" is pretty erroneous and fucked up.

    9. At the risk of spoilers, I will say this book is actually quite anti-BDSM. I'll leave it at that and let Cliff handle it through future chapters.

      Also, E.L. James fails spectacularly at the whole suspension of disbelief thing. Many erotica writers, whether Literotica or Harlequin, manage to toe that line and portray domineering, inequitable and, yes, rapey relationships as desirable within that fictional world. And it's worked before. But dammit, James is just not that good of a writer. She portrays abuse in a very stark and literal way (as you'll see later in the book).

      I enjoy a good rape and humiliation fantasy as much as the next girl--see Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty for a good example. But E.L. James just wasn't skilled enough to keep up the fantasy.

    10. Also, I don't think this has been said yet, but it's not actually being sold as an erotic romance. It says it right on the back of the book. (which I am unfortunate enough to have right in front of me.) I feel that makes a difference, and lends more credence to the argument that it's supposed to just be romantic.

    11. Godric's E.L. James quotes above remind me of no one so much as Yoshio Sakamoto. Cliff has mentioned that he enjoys the odd game, so I thought that this would be apropos: picture that E.L. James, rather than being a woman writing about her ideas of the idealized romance between a man and a woman, is instead a man making a video game about his ideas of the idealized father-figure/protege relationship between a man and a woman. You now understand Metroid: Other M. The closest thing I can think of to fisking a video game is this thread:

  4. A while back, me and some friends watched a 50 Shades of Grey "parody" porn video (for the uninitiated, that usually means they legally got around making a porno of something they didn't have the rights to, not that its meant to be funny).

    ANYWAYS, we actually found it enjoyable to watch, and now that I'm reading your recaps I'm realizing why. The parody took all the rapey bits out! Without those, the story is just "man and woman meet awkwardly, woman dunk dials man at a party and he comes to help her because he's worried about her, and later they have enthusiastic BDSM sex". Obviously any porno is gonna edit the story to get to the sexy parts the fastest, but now I'm wondering how much of that was deliberate.

  5. Serious business time:

    "I've heard people before claim that not taking no for an answer is very dominant. It's an attitude that scares the shit out of me. Someone who can't deal with not getting their way can't be a safe partner for anything really, but they especially can't be a safe BDSM partner."

    If anyone ever learns anything ever, I hope it is this.

  6. I'm going to have to cast Jose as Scylla here. I mean, he's only a sexual assaulter. In comparison, Christian Grey is a stalker rapist abuser with a touch of kidnapping and manipulation and being as skin-crawly as fuck.

    Ultimately I ship Ana with Kate, and Christian with angry lobsters down his underwear.

    At least Wardo had a good reason for warning Bella off dating him - "I'm a bloodsucking vampire with difficulty controlling my thirst (until Stepehnie Meyer got bored of that plot point and deus ex machina'd it away)" - even if he was also a creepy abusive fuck himself. And a genocidal maniac. (It's in Midnight Sun. He's pissed that he can't stalk Bella to La Push so he considers murdering all the Quileute people to void the treaty.)

    1. "Christian with angry lobsters down his underwear."

      Hee! Anonymous, you are fantastic.

  7. These last several months I've been reading Erotic Mind Control stories, and the best ones start with a woman feeling unnaturally aroused,

    conflicted between her typical prudishness and overwhelming desire. Of course being a mind control story there is some fantastical explanation overwhelming

    desire, usually something purposefully wielded by either a straight male though often a gay woman, stories where a man is mind controlled are less common.

    I've been feeling really guilty since many of these are often with some distinctly misogynistic bent. Obviously they mess with the idea of consent, if they

    guy does ask for consent it might be after the fact, though just like Anastasia Steele those women inevitably forgive the guy for taking away their free

    will, because the sex was impossibly good, and they decide they like the feeling of being unnaturally attracted to somebody. I guess I feel the same way,

    descriptions of mind melting desire and orgasms are worth the misogyny implied by having "Bimbo" right there in the title when I need to get off. *skims over

    the parts about her stupidity, intently reads the part where she has 5x10^5 orgasms, prays to the gods of feminism for forgiveness*

    I identify as a cis-male feminist, and I understand and fully agree with all the criticisms outlined here, and yet I find myself sympathizing with the sort

    of woman who gets off on this.

    On the other hand there is the notion of a narrative that acts as if certain terrible ideas are simply facts of life. In the dachari08 vs. Cliff debate

    above, having submissive women as a fantasy is one thing, but a story that behaves as if all women are always submissive everywhere and forever is definetely

    problematic. Obviously if a person believes that all women are always submissive everywhere and forever that is going to cause real world problems, much more

    so than some guy who might want to have sex where he's in control *cough* possibly via hypnosis *cough*.

    Of course one could also say that having a stalker and blurred consent and a man who in general is more in control of your life than you are is somehow part of the fantasy, with the BDSM just being icing on the cake, really just a small part of the OMG THE MAN IS IN CONTROL OF EVERYTHING OH SO MANLY fantasy. I've heard that in the end of the series, she changes him and he stops the BDSM part, that it was just some manifestation of his own emotional baggage, and that her healing him and thus bringing him more inline with an ideal husband is another aspect of the larger fantasy. Of course having looking through various erotic mind control short stories, I've seen many featuring an omnipotent man, who can magically turn everyone in the room into his ideal girlfriend/concubine. I get the feeling that FSoG here actually IS a omnipotent man fantasy, though it replaces the magic with just enough romance tropes to make it hot for women instead of men.

    1. Right: the problem with 50 Shades is it's fucked-up abuse porn that won't *admit* it's fap fodder and wraps itself in the gauzy robes of a slightly-more-explicit-than-usual romance novel. If you're reading some story on Dirty Harry's Perversion Trove website you're highly unlikely to take it as a guide to how to act in real life ("Hm, should I really hypnotize my new secretary into becoming the office sex toy or... might that raise some problems with HR?") The unrealisticness of the scenarios and the relationships is explicitly acknowledged to be part of the transgressive thrill.

      50 Shades, on the other hand, acts like the ropes and leather are the transgressive element, and passes off the stalking and abuse as the realistic, happy romance part. It's the uncanny valley of erotica.

    2. In fact, the non-con porn I've seen is usually festooned with warnings at the beginning about how it's not real, it's a fantasy, the author doesn't condone this, don't do this in real life.

    3. This tendency of erotica to feature dominant men and submissive women is why i can't really read het erotica/romance. I have no problem with the dynamic, but it's impossible to find anything else. So now I just read gay erotica, because that way you can get the sex without so many gender roles (though of course those crop up from time to time. Just not as often).

    4. Oh don't be daft, the man gets mind controlled in the SLASH version of these fics. For example, there is a Star Trek fan fic (warning: it's pretty awful) called "Clan Leader" in which the alpha Vulcan induces uncontrollable arousal in his subjects and fucking ensues. Basically rapist-delusional style rationalization 101 if it were real life, but it's porn, so no.

      I don't read het much, partially for the reasons wandarox mentions. I've seen dominant female stuff, though, moon cycles and witchcraft and all that shit.

  8. I don't want to get too spoilery or ruin anyone's day, but I'm reading another snarkfest of this that is on the third-to-last chapter, and... yeah, we have not seen any changing of him. He is just as douchebaggy, stalkery, and abusive as day one, if not more so. I haven't seen the end yet so I don't know if he decides to stop the BDSM as it pertains to sex, but he certainly doesn't seem to have stopped anything as far as daily life is concerned.

    You're welcome. Go eat some cake.

  9. I have been following this to save myself from reading the book while understanding why it is making my kinkster friend's hair stand on end.

    I must say, I'm have been laughing my eyeballs out, but at the same time it twists my stomach. As someone who is starting to learn about concent culture, this scares the crap out of me.

    Colorful note: I'm a native Spanish speaker. The word "cariña" doesn't exist. "Cariño" is an endearment that is always male, regardless of the gender of the person to whom it is directed to. Not even the crappy racial stereotype is free from the gross lack of research.

    1. Haha, exactly what I came to say. What is a "cariña"? We should name a cocktail after that.

    2. A Carina is the little bit of cartilage in your trachea where it branches into the left and right bronchus, and is shaped like a pair of underpants. Maybe that's what he meant?

    3. calling a girl "carina" or "cara" is, if I remember correctly, done in Italy. the author was confused, methinks.

    4. Yeah, cara means precious, dear or valuable in Italian (if I remember correctly), and carina is a common diminutive of that, which is used as a term of endearment for girls and women. Sorry to be OT, but I love picking apart small instances of EL James being terrible. It distracts me from the larger horror.

  10. Ana has extra-shitty friends if they were ignoring her the very first time she got drunk!

  11. Everything about this book screams non consent from beginning to end. non-informed consent? Forget about it.

    That said, I just started Delta of Venus, and the first short is about pedophilia and incestual pedophilia. All in 8 pages. It was gross. But it got me wondering - is it the correct standard that erotica should be legal, safe, sane, and consensual? Or is erotica allowed to transgress?

    That said, nothing NOTHING is saving 50SOG from being relentlessly horrible.

    1. is it the correct standard that erotica should be legal, safe, sane, and consensual? Or is erotica allowed to transgress?

      Erotica doesn't have to be safe/sane/consensual, because it's fantasy. But well-written erotica at least needs to nod in passing at its transgressive elements.

      By all appearances, our 50SoG protagonist is going to dive head-first into the concrete-bottom pool of nonconsent with Flint McPecson. But so far, the story hasn't even begun to acknowlege that, in real life, this situation would be full of holy cow do not want.

      Well-written erotica acknowledges and moves past the point. In this kind of "consent, what consent?" play, the protagonist would express genuine fear or reluctance, even if ultimately it didn't direct the plot in the way that real life should (in a safe/sane/consensual way).

      For a work of erotica not to do so would be to make the characters emotionally unrealistic. That's poor writing, just as if the actual mechanics of sex were grossly incorrect: "He turned his philips-headed member a rotation and a half, and it began to vibrate. I moaned in pleasure and whispered, 'strip my threads bare, you mechanic.'"

      50SoG is even worse on account of what Godric says above: it's nominally not even supposed to be porn. If it's in any was supposed to describe a plausible relationship -- and by the author's words it appears so -- then it's actively harmful. It's okay for superheroes to jump off bridges; it's not okay for characters in Sesame Street Visits the Golden Gate Bridge.

    2. If erotica isn't legal, safe, "sane" (whatever the hell that means - that's a pretty ableist way to phrase whatever idea they were trying to get at, but that's a whole other issue), and consensual, it should contain the appropriate warning/tags. And as someone said above, if it's well-written, it'll at least acknowledge that this isn't the normal/safe model of a real relationship.

    3. That screwdriver sex sounds pretty hot actually

    4. But I do know what you're getting at :) I remember a romance novel where the guy was staring deep into her eyes while kissing her forehead. That's just bad writing, it pulls you out of the story while you try to figure out how that's going to work.

    5. "It's okay for superheroes to jump off bridges; it's not okay for characters in Sesame Street Visits the Golden Gate Bridge."

      Thank you! You have given me the perfect way to put into words why I - a kinky person who happily has a number of never-okay-in-real-life-in-any-way fantasies and greatly enjoys some really-this-would-never-be-okay-in-reality erotica/porn - am so deeply troubled by 50SOG. I'm going to use that quote (with credit, natch) whenever I have to explain the distinction/combat the "but it's just erotica, so it's okay" argument.

    6. @Amtep: That's why, every time I read erotica, I imagine that all the characters involved are professional contortionists. It really helps to avoid that kind of cognitive dissonance in mid-fap.

    7. @Neurite: I'm going to use that quote (with credit, natch) whenever I have to explain the distinction/combat the "but it's just erotica, so it's okay" argument.

      Go right ahead, and no credit necessary if it would be inconvenient. I'm glad my phrasing can help make some sense of the weirdness of fantasies.

      @Amtep: That screwdriver sex sounds pretty hot actually

      Chapter 1 is where the author put in all the effort, after that it's just like reading IKEA instructions. Tabs, slots, locking screws, dowel rods, and eventually parts are left over for no apparent reason.

    8. The "safe, sane, consensual" motto dates to the 1990s and was not intended to be ableist. Sane does not refer to the participants but whether the play is psychologically damaging to one or more of them.

      "Sane" isn't some sort of hard line between mentally ill or not. Take PTSD. Some people react to trauma by getting PTSD. They then may experience symptoms that we take to mean insanity. But they were not "insane" before the trauma. Sane is a latin synonym for well or hale. As you know well, one can be well and hale one day and ill the next. Absolutist jargon denies the reality of trauma and its effects on human beings. In other words you are saying there are "crazy" and non-crazy people and if someone is traumatized by a bad scene they were ipso facto "crazy" before the scene even began. This is not even remotely true.

      The ubiquity of mood disorders, attention disorders ought to make it clear that the tendency to mental illness is latent within all of us and a person labeled sane today might, under sufficient pressure, break down. This seems to be something everyone understood culturally 100 years ago, but since the discovery of chemical therapies for schizophrenia we've undergone a conceptual shift regarding madness, as if it's only ever some sort of obscure genetic brain disorder that can be quarantined out of the population.

      All this ableist talk seems to do is to derail and deny the very real trauma, disassociation, confusion, and other symptoms experienced by those who have been abused, tortured, imprisoned, and raped. Is there a qualitative difference in the interior experience of someone diagnosed with borderline who devolves into a depressive, painful spiral over a minor domestic interaction and someone who goes through the same meltdown because they have PTSD and they were triggered?

      I have a real problem with cordoning off "insane" and "crazy" for use only by those who have gotten a stamped certificate of such.

    9. Yeah, lots of people has this really weird idea that there's a sharp distinct line between insane and sane people. Sane people have well-balanced neuro transmitters, while insane people have too little or too much of one or several transmitters. With the right kind of medication though, insane people can be made sane. Just add a bit of what they lack, or subtract a bit of what they've got too much of, and they're gonna go normal.

      There's so much wrong with this picture so I hardly know where to begin. The old Freudian view on mental illness was obviously not that accurate either, but this modern one is AT LEAST as stupid.

      (Note: I take anti-psychotic medication myself, and I'm absolutely not against medication. I'm not saying either that actual mental health professionals believe the above - but lots of laypeople think something like that.)

  12. Holy shit. I got to the "iguanas in the freezer" line and cracked up and linked this on my facebook, as I have the last few chapters. Then I kept reading. Now I feel sick. WTF how is this book so popular???

    1. I think a lot of the popularity of it comes from the fact that people don't know about the alternatives.

      When I first discovered masturbation, the only thoughts I had to get off to were my own, extremely limited fantasy, biology textbooks and trashy, weird romance novels with titles like 'Das Herz des Highlanders' or 'Wild & Wicked', and... yeah, biology textbooks are probably sort of strange for people who don't like textbooks as much as I do, and if you've never been exposed to any sort of sex ed, your fantasies will probably be pretty limited and weird.

      So the thing you'll be left with are trashy romance novels with strange sex scenes in them. So unless you are lucky enough to discover the internet and some decent story archive, you'll be left with that as a best option. I guess the only way around this would be to actually explain to people, and especially teens and young adults, how to find decent erotica, but that would be weird, I think...

      One last thing, though.
      I've read three trashy romance novels in my entire life. They were called 'Wild', 'Wicked' and 'Wonderful'. They were a series. And the thing was, while they had that whole medieval arranged marriage thing going on, they were very, very, very clear that nothing, no marriage, no sex, no sharing a bed, nothing at all, whatsoever would happen if the female lead character did not want it. Which was sort of awesome, even though I didn't realise how rare and awesome it was at the time I read those books.

    2. It's basically a sexed-up version of Twilight (popular) combined with the Harlequin Presents stock scenario of the rich, handsome, controlling billionaire plus the innocent, helpless virgin who melts his frozen heart (also popular). With BDSM to make people even more curious.

    3. Why is rapist erotica o.k., if it is said to be just fantasy? Every rape was fantasy until it turned into real action. Won't every rape fantasy make your mind more tolerant to rape culture?

    4. Only insofar as reading superhero comics makes you more likely to jump off tall buildings and try to fly.

      More seriously - suppressing and denying fantasies in the hopes they'll go away has a long, storied track record of NOT working. Whereas in my experience, indulging some "edgy" fantasies can eventually cause them to lose their power and charge (not saying this is true for everyone.)

      Society can't control what people fantasize about but we can clearly articulate and reinforce real-life norms that make it much harder to rationalize bad behavior. It's the rationalizing and the belief that "everyone else is doing it" that's so dangerous. You don't see people who love Westerns going out and shooting bad guys, because there is such a strong taboo against vigilante justice in mainstream culture and it's VERY clear that making that fantasy a reality is not ok.

    5. Get your point. Maybe it's not the fantasy itself that is dangerous but how you deal with it, how you articulate it and how you mark it as fantasy.
      Pretending like some funny people use to do with rape jokes "i know this won't be ok with some over sensitive women here, but let me tell you a real funny one" won't do.
      Though I know that is not what you are talking about.

    6. You mean, it will only encourage rape culture/jumping off tall buildings to the extent that the people considering it believe they can act on their fantasies without harm to themselves? That's reassuring.

    7. Well, that's exactly what rape culture *is*, isn't it? The degree to which people can get away with sexual assault without any harm (consequences) from their peer group, their workplace, the criminal justice system, etc.

  13. I hate to mention this, but there are now actually professors *in my sexology program* discussing 50SOG and BDSM in the same breath, as though the one was a straightforward depiction of the others.

    To review, these are people with _Ph.D.s in sexology._

    I knew my department has Issues, but jeeeeeeeeeeeez.

  14. Man, I almost forgot this is supposed to be a "romance" novel and not "psychological horror".

  15. First off, I have to thank you for doing this recap. I've had the book for about one and a half years now, and I haven't even gotten this far in it. (It didn't help that I flipped through it before I started it, saw "cable ties" and was just like NOPE. Nobody is going to put those things on me, thank you very much.) On a side note, I was trying to read this some time last year, and Christian still reminds me of Mitt Romney. Granted, I read the asshole-y interview portion during campaign season, but... Romney is NEVER going to be sexy to me. (Though I've never been particularly attracted to corporate types anyway, so there you go?)
    Second, this is hilarious. It's amazing how funny this can get simply by switching out his name. I'm eagerly awaiting the use of "Big McLargeHuge" as it's the name my boyfriend took for himself. Simply for humor's sake.
    Third, I'm really, really thankful that you didn't shame those of us who didn't do certain things before a set age, either. I've seen far too many criticisms of Ana about how she didn't masturbate until age 20 omg she's asexual. (I didn't know about the "no attraction to real men" bit until later, but the criticisms I was reading didn't mention that.) I tend to get rather offended at that, as I didn't like...masturbate, have sex, kiss someone on the lips, hold hands, or do any of that dating shit until 18, and had I not met my boyfriend when I did? I could have very well not done any of that until later in life. But, you're correct, as I've only recently begun to notice red flags, and I could have easily fallen prey to someone who wanted to hurt me.

    1. I think the problem isn't that she's never masturbated or anything. The problem is that she's first completely devoid of sexual feelings and thoughts, then suddenly become super horny on meeting Big McLargeHuge, and has a big-ass orgasm as soon as he tickles her nipples. This combination makes it seem as if she's not just a slightly unusual woman but an extra good woman, who has zero sexuality without her true love but is the most super sexual and orgasmic woman ever when she's with her true love (she's sort of better than Kate who only had clit orgasms for years until she experienced magic Penis In Vagina Orgasm for the first time, but Ana can come in all kinds of ways as soon as she meets her One True Love).
      To some extent that is a female ideal today - asexual without true love and super sexual with true love - and it's a REAAAAALLY problematic one.

    2. (Note on the Magic Penis In Vagina Orgasm: I didn't mean to imply that these kinds of orgasms don't exist, I meant that it's treated as if such an orgasm is superior to clit orgasm, has some kind of "magic" that the latter lacks, just like Freud thought.)

    3. Yes, the "no sexual feelings" before bit really changes everything for me, the point I was trying to make however was that a bunch of the criticism I saw focused on how she'd never masturbated before and therefore she's asexual, and not on the lack of sexual *feelings* that she had, so what I'm saying is that I'm really happy that more good reviewers who realize that not all people are like them are like said reviewer. Also, that more reviewers/criticisms I'm seeing now are actually mentioning actual criticisms, or what I consider to be such. Anyway, it seems like we agree, I just probably worded something wrong somewhere. Sorry.
      And, yeah, I'm not particularly fond of what I've heard of how easily she orgasms and stuff, but I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to express that.

    4. I agree with Dvärghundspossen. This is a really common theme in romance novels, where the heroine's sexuality often seems to happen to her from the outside, as if the hero were something happening to her instead of being another person. (See also men "awakening" women's sexuality.) I tend to think of it as the hero being a manifestation of her sexuality instead of a real person, so her "submitting" to him is essentially her relaxing into her own sexuality and allowing herself to feel that way. But when ELJ turned that romance dynamic into literal BDSM, she made the trope not work any longer, because you can't have informed consent if your sexuality is wandering around outside you instead of being home where it belongs.

  16. Did you catch this? " his harsh epithet. “Fuck!”" .... an epithet? he's calling her a Fuck ? not a curse, an ejaculation (yeah lets not go there either) or an imprecatiion, but an epithet? did all the book editors die and go to heaven or something?

    1. I think the editors may have given up in despair on page 3.

  17. I love that you're doing this read-through, Cliff. There have been a few kinksters' reviews ripping this crap apart, but I think there can always stand to be more informed analyses, because it bothers me a) how abusive and non-illustrative of actual kink - or in fact just normal human behaviour - 50 Shades is and b) how it was (and continues to be) marketed as somehow "new" in terms of the romance genre. It isn't new. It isn't exciting. And, emphatically, it's not well written.

    I write erotica (and also sometimes books without genitals in) for a living, and there is so much out there that is basically word-porn under the "romance" banner, excepting the more traditional ends of Harlequin (or what gets labelled "sweet" romance by publishers now). It amazes me how people can continue to think that romance is either bodice-rippers or 50 Shades - it's a huge genre. There is romance, erotica, erotic/sensual romance, and all of these things are combined with mysteries, thrillers, contemporary drama, slice of life, fantasy, sci-fi.... The ereader market has absolutely exploded for smut, because it's taken away the perceived stigma over purchasing it. Moreoever, there is a myriad of kink out there, often written by kinky people. Yes, there is a lot of Bad Writing still prevalent, though frankly I think 50 Shades itself illustrates how that's present in the trad publishing industry too, but - as with everything - there are also gems. There are wonderful dirty books being written and wonderful small publishers doing their best to bring readers the kind of smut they actually want to read.

    I'd love to think that - if anything at positive comes out of the 50 Shades craze - it will be readers actively seeking out published work that reflects their lifestyles and interests, and knowing that it *is* out there to find. And I think (hope) they will look, because goodness knows they're not going to find it in here.

    Keep up the brave plod through the book!

  18. You sir are a bigger masochist than I am. I didn't get past the third chapter.

  19. Buh? You have to have had sex to be a complex human being?

    1. No. But you have to have some kind of history to your life, which it seems like Ana is being carefully constructed to not. And if you had never had sex or sexual urges before, you have to have some sort of reaction to suddenly feeling very sexual besides "the right man came along, suddenly my carefully-preserved ladyhood is ripe for the harvesting!"

      I would be totally open to "she's never had sex before"; my problem is with "she's never anythinged before and now suddenly she everythings." It makes all of her responses and urges be about Mr. Wonderful instead of things that plausibly originate within herself.

    2. ... what about asexuals? Your wording sounds like you're not complex or interesting if you haven't sexual-anythinged before.

    3. I'm sorry, I don't mean it to come off that way.

      I mean more like... Ana wasn't written as asexual. She was written as pure. E.L. James didn't write this story as "asexual finds an exception"; she wrote it as "unspoiled girl, with no previous lovers or sexual desires to contaminate her."

      Like I said, it's not a standard I would hold real people to, because real people aren't written. Real people might lack sexual experience because they didn't want any or they didn't happen to have an opportunities. When an author goes out of her way to state that a character lacks sexual experience, she's trying to define something about that character--and in a better story, it might be "asexual" or "decided to wait" or "believed it was immoral" or many other things--but in this story, I'm pretty sure it's some purity bullshit.

  20. I think many people are defending it because they think that pretend-realist and pretend-allright abuse is teh same as obviouslty just-for-fantasy stuff (like you have described the complicated dream of yours once, with the multistorey brothel with the artificial reality room on the top). Is there any sistem in use for demarcating strictly-for-fantasy porn, where aliens can abduct and so, and too-real and thus too dangerous shit? the situation being more complicated by the fact that some texts, like of De Sade, got extra legitimacy of historicalness and even traces of being Real Literature (written by an important powerful dude centuries ago in highly-cultured Europe oh yay, printed in actual books instead of having to find it on the internet)... so again, my question is, is there anywhere a working system of clearly signalling where you have suspense that disbelief and where it assumes teh responsability of talking about real life?

    1. Is there any sistem in use for demarcating strictly-for-fantasy porn, where aliens can abduct and so, and too-real and thus too dangerous shit?

      There are two different systems at play here, one specific to erotica and the second working for literature in general.

      The first, erotica-specific element is of course story codes. A reader will interpret a story tagged as (mf, rom, slow) extremely differently than (mdom/fsub, bdsm, nc, bondage, spank, rough, humil), and having those labels manages reader expectations going in.

      The second, more general element is simply good writing. Realism is not a substitute for verisimilitude. The latter is more about having believable characters. Fiction has license in developing those characters, but believable differences are ones of degree, not kind. It's plausible to compress six months' worth of relationship development into two dates and a bedroom romp, but it's implausible to smother (as here) a character's fear and instincts for self-preservation under a blanket of plot-mandated lust.

      Even the infamous "lemon stealing whores" porn video -- hardly Oscar-worthy cinematography -- takes the trouble to apply a thin veneer of plot over top of the sex. (If you haven't seen it, look it up sometime, the setup is pretty funny in a self-aware way.)

      50SoG lies at the intersection of poor writing and poor signalling, and that's what can make it dangerous. It bills itself as an erotic romance, rather than an extreme-bondage fantasy, but its writing is implausible and unrealistic in unintended ways. The danger is that if readers believe what it says on the tin, they'll take this farcical, scary relationship as a model for desired romance when it fails at even being a depiction of consensual BDSM practice.

      This isn't reason to start lighting the torches for a good old-fashioned book burning, but we have ample room to be disappointed in 50SoG, both as literature and as erotica.

  21. Thank you for writing this, it is saving me so much headdesk. One of my co-workers was reading this ... selection of printed pages bound together with glue (book is giving it too much credit)... on a work trip and it was THE CREEPIEST F-ING THING EVER to be sat next to a normal-ish middle aged mother of 4 whilst she read this rubbish.

    The temptation to shake her and shout about how we're not like that and stalking etc isn't ok and consent is super important was very very strong but then I would have lost my job and y'know, that would have been awkward.

    1. It seems to me that openly reading porn in the workplace creates a "hostile environment" and could be considered sexual harassment. I'm sorry she put you through that.

  22. I think I've figured out what this book is good for. Next time I play Vampire: The Masquerade and want some hints for roleplaying a blood bound ghoul or victim of Presence, I'm going to refer to this book, because it seems to be a really good narrative description of thralldom.

  23. This post has sparked a 20-minute chat-conversation with my friends after I quoted a few of your comments. None of us can understand wtf is going on with this book. It's not just "erotica", it's constantly being touted as THE best current book about bdsm, and that pisses me the freak off because ABUSE DOES NOT EQUAL BDSM. Every single person who reads this book has a possibility of being abused *because* of the way this book is written. And that's just freaking creepy.

  24. Although this one was not as enjoyable as the previous three chapters, I will fully acknowledge that it is the book and not you. Here's to hoping that as it progresses it will give you more ins for good riffing, even if the content doesn't become less disturbing...

  25. was at imperial the other week, and there weren't many guys there. There was one guy there who looked like a gymnast or dancer from one of the shows on the strip - totally ripped, really hot body. He spent most of the time in the cold plunge, soaking a sore muscle? He didn't mess around, but I got hard watching him soak naked on the edge of the pool.
    dirty panties sex lines

  26. Looks like you've got a couple of spammers here, Cliff. Too bad Blogger doesn't seem to have any "flag comment as spam" button.

  27. If this weren't such a massively popular book, I'd just kind of be like you know, whatever. Maybe some people have a fantasy of being stalked by a creepy, domineering stalker and they can live that through reading this, in a safe way without the real danger of a real creepy stalker.

    But then it is massively popular, and I know people have bought this book for their *teenagers*, and so many people have read it that way too many might start to think this is cool, or normal, or that since it's so popular maybe they *should* be into this kind of BS.


  28. As a person who read book this laughing the whole way through (wait for the sex scene descriptions!) this is quite a sobering analysis.

    Thanks for the insightful updates as always Cliff :)

  29. I read that Charlie Hunnam was supposed to be Creepy GlareFace in the movie adaptation. Then soon after, I read that he dropped out. I wonder if he actually read the book after accepting the role and just yelled "NOPE!"

    I like to think that playing a sexist, controlling, ultra-violent, racist motorcycle thug was fine, but this role was too disturbing for him.

  30. I like your name substitutions for whatsisname, but I think of this whenever I read it:

  31. It's a pity Alan Rickman isn't young enough for Christian Grey. He could really make evil hot. Course, Christian's assholery isn't actually supposed to be evil, but oh well.

  32. Oh god oh god oh god. I have dug too greedily, and too deep. Who knows what I awoke in the darkness of this book. Shadow and flame. For fuck's sake, we're only on chapter 4.

    I WARNED YOU. Seriously, I had to stop at Chapter 15 because even with the addition of mind-controlling Neptunians and bears, I couldn't make it funny.

  33. "this one time I opened my friend's deep freezer and it was full of dead iguanas."

    Where did your friend get all the iguanas???