Monday, July 21, 2014

Let's Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 22!

Home stretch, you guys.  And a tough stretch it is.  This chapter is almost entirely composed of emails.  Here's that bug-eyed guy graphic again.

It's originally meant to illustrate "how can I ever live up to this sexy, sexy book?"  I have to assume he'd opened it to a section that wasn't forty pages of grouchy emails.

Content warnings for this chapter: Do I have to say emotional abuse?  You know there's emotional abuse.  Jealousy.  Stalking, SO MUCH STALKING.  Homophobia.  Physical abuse.  Kidnapping.  Slut-shaming.  Child molestation.  Excessive drinking.  And other sexy romantic things.

Also, this chapter (and hence this entry) is loooong.  FYI.

I am manicured, massaged, and I’ve had two glasses of champagne. The First Class lounge has many redeeming features. [...] 
I open up my MacBook, hoping to test the theory that it works anywhere on the planet.
...I'm pretty sure it's going to work.

(Yeah, yeah, what she means is probably "it has a 3G modem that works on many networks," but since the lounge almost certainly has wifi, it's kind of pointless right now.)
From: Anastasia Steele 
Subject: Over-Extravagant Gestures 
Date: May 30 2011 21:53 
To: Christian Grey 
Dear Mr. Grey 
What really alarms me is how you knew which flight I was on. Your stalking knows no bounds. Let’s hope that Dr. Flynn is back from vacation. I have had a manicure, a back massage, and two glasses of champagne – a very nice start to my vacation. Thank you. 
I'm only doing this once because it would be incredibly ponderous to repeat it every time, but this is what every email in the book looks like.  For dozens of pages.  LITERATURE.

Anyway, Ana's right, it is very alarming.  Airlines don't give out "X is on Y flight" information, specifically because of how common stalking is.  But of course Buster SharkPants is Just That Powerful, and there's nothing sexier than a rich guy throwing his weight around until people let him get away with breaking important security rules.

As for Dr. Flynn (Saw ClampSpline's therapist), even in the unlikely event he's competent and not just being paid to say "you're wonderful, change nothing" over and over, he's only going to help with things his patient describes as problems.  Since I'm sure Axe BodySpray will characterize things as "I try so hard but my relationship is troubled" instead of "I stalk my girlfriend when I can't beat her," there's not much Dr. Flynn can do.
[email from Übel BöseKopf:] Who was massaging your back? [...]
Aha! Pay back time. Our flight has been called so I shall email him from the plane. It will be safer. I almost hug myself with mischievous glee.
This super powerful and confident dominant has turned into my mother circa 1999, yelling "were there boys at this party?!?"  And Ana's characterization is running right off the rails.  She's terrified of the guy, but once again she's all "tee hee I'm so naughty" about baiting him.  I don't get this.  Maybe it's an attempt to take back some power, to make her tormentor ridiculous?  Or does she want to set him off because it's better than not knowing what the next blow-up will be about?

I suppose the in-universe explanation is that she wants to set him off because she loves his punishments, but that would sell better if she wasn't always crying about how much she hates his punishments.
Dear Sir, A very pleasant young man massaged my back. Yes. Very pleasant indeed. I wouldn’t have encountered Jean-Paul in the ordinary departure lounge – so thank you again for that treat. [...][email ends][...] Oh, he’s going to flip out – and I shall be airborne and out of reach. Serves him right. If I’d been in the ordinary departure lounge then Jean-Paul wouldn’t have gotten his hands on me. He was a very nice young man, in a blonde, perma-tanned way – honestly, who has a tan in Seattle? It’s just so wrong. I think he was gay – but I’ll just keep that detail to myself.
Okay, "serves him right," so she... wants to make him angry as revenge for buying her an unwanted first-class upgrade, even though she knows he'll take it out on her later, she feels it's worth it to upset him. This sounds like the most superfantastical relationship ever.

I'm sure she knew Jean-Paul was gay because of the way he kept calling her "girrrllfriend" and flipping his wrist at her, because I've seen Chick Tracts with less lazily offensive characterization than this book.

It's also lazy of the author to make him gay, because hey, what if Jean-Paul was straight?  What if he was straight and gave her a purely professional massage and that was something Dowel BentRod just had to deal with?  News flash: sometimes your partner will encounter people who could be attracted to them.  I'll wait here while you recover your monocle.
“Miss Steele, you’ll need to stow your laptop for take-off,” the over-made-up flight attendant says politely. [...] She hands me a soft blanket and pillow, showing her perfect teeth.
Was that really necessary?  For chrissakes, Buff Wonderful isn't even here, and still every woman onscreen has to be a caricatured sexual threat?
The plane jolts as it pulls away from its stand, and I breathe a sigh of relief but feel a faint tingle of disappointment too… no Christian for four days. I take a sneak peek at my BlackBerry.  [email:] Dear Miss Steele, I know what you’re trying to do – and trust me – you’ve succeeded. Next time you’ll be in the cargo hold, bound and gagged in a crate.
ANA!  You're supposed to be in airplane mode!  You shut that off right now, young lady!

Anyway, ha ha, those threats of physical violence sure are hilarious from the guy who's repeatedly been physically violent to her!
Holy crap. That’s the problem with Christian’s humor – I can be never be sure if he’s joking or if he’s seriously angry. I suspect on this occasion he’s seriously angry. Surreptitiously, so the flight attendant can’t see, I type a reply under the blanket. [...] You see – I have no idea if you’re joking – and if you’re not – then I think I’ll stay in Georgia. Crates are a hard limit for me. Sorry I made you mad. Tell me you forgive me.
Once again, I don't know Ana's deal here.  Like, she set out to make him angry, and now she's really shocked that he's angry?  I don't want to criticize her too much, though.  She's a little inconsistent sometimes.  He's threatening to throw her in a box because she got a massage.  I think he's the problem here.
To: Christian Grey: [...] I like traveling first class, it’s so much more civilized than coach. So thank you. I mean it – and I did enjoy the massage from Jean Paul. He was very gay.
My sympathies are still with Ana, because she's the one suffering the abuse, but man, some days she is not an easy person to like.
You were right when you said I didn’t have a submissive bone in my body… and I agree with you now. Having said that, I want to be with you, and if that’s what I have to do, I would like to try, but I think I’ll suck at it and end up black and blue – and I don’t relish that idea at all.
This whole "you're not a submissive" thing is... it's entirely correct.  She's not.  That's fine.  Most people aren't.  This is a fact, not a problem.

The weird thing is that Dirk HardWood isn't even trying to make her into a submissive.  In another BDSM novel, this is where "I will train you in submission until you love it" would come in, but in this one, he sits on his ass and complains about her not being submissive.  His training method is to pout until she trains herself with zero guidance or support.

You know, for all his talk about being the Domliest Dominant Who Ever Dominated, he's kind of lacking in actual... domination.  I mean, that means different things in different relationships, but my general idea of a dom is someone who gives orders and enjoys receiving service.  Goofus BreakWhip here isn't really doing that.  He hardly ever gives Ana clear, achievable orders.  There's sort of the implicit orders of "put up with all the crap I do to you" and "never interact with another heterosexual man", but beyond that?  Even if Ana were a super enthusiastic submissive, he's not giving her much to work with.
My mother lounges beside me in a ridiculously large floppy sun hat and Jackie O shades, sipping a Coke of her own. We are on Tybee Island Beach, just three blocks from home. She holds my hand. My fatigue has waned, and as I soak up the sun, I feel comfortable, safe, and warm. For the first time in forever, I start to relax.
Every time Ana is in a safe place, we get another one of those "E.L. James, how could you not know what you were writing?" moments, because she seems very happy in Georgia.  Way, way happier than she ever is when she's around her supposed lover.  This is sort of the opposite of how romance works.

After some lying in the sun not being completely miserable, Ana checks her email again.  It's an enormous, multi-page, wall-to-wall "you don't understaaaaand me" whine from Smurf ChopSticks, so I'll try and spare you and only quote bits.
I am annoyed that as soon as you put some distance between us, you communicate openly and honestly with me. Why can’t you do that when we’re together?
Well, probably because every time she does, you threaten or outright beat her for it.  Just a guess.
I apologize for frightening you. I find the thought of instilling fear in you abhorrent.

Do you really think I’d let you travel in the hold? I offered you my private jet for heaven’s sake.
Ah, the old "swing your fist at them and then yell 'why are you flinching? you think I'd punch you? imagine how that makes me feel!'" game.  Always a favorite of... super sexy romantic heroes, yes, that's definitely how that sentence ends.
What I think you fail to realize is that in Dom/sub relationships it is the sub that has all the power. That’s you. I’ll repeat this – you are the one with all the power. Not I. In the boathouse you said no. I can’t touch you if you say no – that’s why we have an agreement – what you will and won’t do. If we try things and you don’t like them, we can revise the agreement. It’s up to you – not me.

Everything he's saying here is great, if we ignore the minor detail that it has absolutely nothing to do with his behavior in the entire book up to this point.

Yeah, she said no in the boathouse--and he said "since you don't want to be spanked you have to let me fuck you."  (Then threatened to spank her anyway.)  That's not "I can't touch you if you say no."  That's "I will slightly modify how I touch you if you say no.  If I feel like it."
I want to share my lifestyle with you. I have never wanted anything so much. Frankly I’m in awe of you, that one so innocent would be willing to try.
What does that mean?  Everyone who does BDSM is a newcomer when they start.  Are we all awe-inspiring?  I mean, I know I am, but...

...but the actual implication here is that he's in awe that a nice girl wants to do BDSM, instead of the dirty sluts who are usually into it.
I will endeavor to keep an open mind, and I shall try and give you the space you need and stay away from you while you are in Georgia. [Ana's reaction:] He’s going to try and stay away! Does this mean he might fail to stay away?
Well shit, she's getting pretty good at this game.
“Now that’s an impressive piece of technology.” [Ana's mom] points to my laptop. Oh crap. “Oh… this?” I strive for casual, surprised nonchalance. Will Mom notice? She seems to have grown more astute since I acquired a ‘boyfriend’. “Christian lent it to me. I think I could pilot the space shuttle with it, but I just use it for emails and Internet access.” 
Really it’s nothing. Eyeing me suspiciously, she sits down on the bed and tucks a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “Has he emailed you?” Oh double crap. “Yeah.” My nonchalance is wearing thin, and I flush. “Perhaps he’s missing you, huh?” “I hope so, Mom.” “What does he say?” Oh triple crap.
We're up to triple crap here.  This is serious business, this... um, telling your mom that your boyfriend lent you a laptop so you can email him.  Not quite sure why this is such a tense conversation.

Maybe because the next thing that happens is Ana and Methyl MerCaptan have incredibly drawn-out, hilariously bad email sex.  IN THEIR SUBJECT LINES.  THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENS.
From: Anastasia Steele Subject: Panting Date: May 31 2011 19:33 [...]
From: Christian Grey Subject: Groaning Date: May 31 2011 16:35
oh my sweet goodness

After dinner, they email again, and what with the email headers and their tendency to speak in frustrated questions and clipped answers, this means that an utterly inane "how was your dinner?" conversation stretches over four pages.

Jack SteelCrank mentions he had an old friend over for dinner, and Ana decides that this must mean his molester "Mrs. Robinson," which sounds like sort of an unreasonable jump until you realize he's never mentioned having any other friends.  As per usual, Ana has a jealousy freak-out, because that's obviously the reasonable way to respond to molestation.  ("Molestation" is a word Ana explicitly uses, by the way, so that's not just my interpretation.)
I struggle out of bed and fire the mean machine up again. I am on a mission. I drum my fingers impatiently waiting for the blue screen to appear. I hit Google images and enter ‘Christian Grey’ into the search engine. [...] Then, on the third page, there’s a picture of me, with him, at my graduation. His only picture with a woman, and it’s me. Holy cow! I’m on Google!
Holy cow!  Everyone is "on Google"!  Google is a Panopticon!

Anyway, after copious amounts of angst over anything and everything, Ana goes to the bar with her mom and starts tossing back Cosmopolitans to drown her "my boyfriend was molested, poor me" sorrows.

Man, there is a lot of drinking in this book.  Fuzz WhaleFeet first kidnaps Ana when she's staggering drunk, then feeds her tons of alcohol every time they talk, explicitly saying it's because when she's drunk she's more open to BDSM.  When she tries to order a soda, he insists she gets wine instead.  Then when she's away from him, she relaxes with a few more drinks.

She emails Brunt FussThud again from the bar, because of course she does, and after some snippy back-and-forths about "Mrs. Robinson" (wasn't the guy in The Graduate like 21, anyway?), he sends this:
To: Anastasia Steele 
This is not something I wish to discuss via email. How many Cosmopolitans are you going to drink? 
Christian Grey CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. 
Holy fuck, he’s here.
Oh Jesus Christ Ana RUN.



    1. That was going to be my exact reply. This is some genuine horror movie shit. Like, that whole "Holy fuck, he's here," that does not read as a woman who's overjoyed that her boyfriend has shown up unexpectedly (though even in a happy scenario, he should have called). That reads as a woman we realizes the man with the hook for an arm has found her.

    2. Of course, that he knows what she's drinking does not _necessarily_ mean that he's there. If he were at all competent, he could have sent some people to track her. Or he could be watching her through her laptop's webcam. (We're all assuming that he bugged her laptop, right?)

      But yeah, since he seems to have endless time for dallying around, he's probably there.

      You know, I don't think his job is even real. I think it's a sinecure arranged by his family. There are some people who are paid to take his calls and pretend to do what he says, and some other people paid to make up reports about how well his "enterprise" is doing. It keeps him happy and out of their way.

    3. Hey... in the last chapter, wasn't he making appointments for the next day and mentioning he had to meet with someone every day this week?

      I guess he canceled all that to free up his schedule for more stalking.

      I'm thinking Mr. Grey is not Grey Corp's most crucial contributor.

  2. It's like James has read some decent books on BDSM, and is parroting the parts about the sub being in control, but she has no idea how to actually *write* that.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. The e-mail up there where he says all the right things. It really does read like she cut and pasted it from a BDSM manual. 'And the sub can say no anytime. There, now the fact that she's never allowed to say no in my book won't be a problem!'

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4. Even if I were to grant that Cliff had been overly sensitive in removing your first comment -- which I am extremely doubtful of --, your reactions strike me as being very stalkerish. I do not yet have any sort of web presence where people can comment on my pages, but if I ever did set up one and a stranger acted the way you did to having a comment deleted, I would quite likely ban that person.

      Cliff is, in effect, the owner of this page in the same way that I am the owner of the apartment I rent.

      At the very best, you have a serious problem with respecting others' personal boundries; at worst, you are a stalker and potential abuser.

      -- fagricipni (published as Anonymous because never set up new OpenID after old provider shutdown)

  3. "It's originally meant to illustrate "how can I ever live up to this sexy, sexy book?""

    I have to say, that surprises me. All along that you've been posting that photo, I've interpreted his facial expression as unambiguously, "Goddamn, this shittio is fucken horrible in a genuinely bad and far-from-sexy way!"

    1. It was from some goofy Daily Mail article about how men feel inadequate when their wives read FSoG, because they know they can never live up to a dreamguy like Flatus BreakWind.

      ...Yeah, personally I think my boyfriend surpasses him every time he doesn't abuse me, and everything past that is just gravy, but clearly I'm the weird one here.

    2. I read his expression as "does this book have some secret magic mechanism that changes the text when someone other than [designated audience] looks at it?!"

      Like seriously, this is the only logical -if not particularly realistic - explanation.

    3. I always think it's Jon Bernthal from The Walking Dead. God, what if there was a zombie apocalypse and the only thing left to read was 50 Shades of Grey?

  4. I really admire you for slogging through this crap so the rest of us don't have to.

    BTW, here's a link to the original of the Biting Pear of Salamanca, by Ursula Vernon, because she is awesome (author/artist of the Hugo-Award-winning Digger!) and more people should check out her art.

    1. And on a happy note, THERE ARE PLUSHIE VERSIONS OF THE PEAR omg

    2. OMG I had no idea she was the one who made that. That's amazing.

    3. I especially love her Saddle Guinea:

    4. Great Scott, the Saddle Guinea is ADORABLE.

  5. "Maybe it's an attempt to take back some power, to make her tormentor ridiculous?"
    My ex isn't exactly abusive, but he isn't exactly respectful either. So when we have to be together (offspring in common) I often try to balance things out by being obnoxious in really petty ways. It's childish and pointless but it does make me feel better.
    ...of course, the difference between me and Ana is my ex never uses or threatens physical violence. I'd think that would change the dynamic just a bit.

    1. Yeah, Ana's behavior does read to me as "try to take back some power" or "delude herself into thinking that she is happier/more in control than she is". I mean...

      "I shall email him from the plane. It will be safer. I almost hug myself with mischievous glee."

      ...that doesn't exactly read as gleeful. That reads as scared, but not wanting to admit how scared she is. Hugging yourself isn't exactly a gesture associated with glee and mischievousness, it's something I associate with a person being terrified and trying to calm herself.

  6. 10/10 on the re-names on this one, Cliff.

  7. I drum my fingers impatiently waiting for the blue screen to appear.

    Wait... isn't her laptop supposed to be a mac? Mac's don't have a blue start-up screen, as far as I remember. So either this is E.L. James completely failing at basic research, or somehow trying to confusingly express that she's waiting for the desktop to show up, since the default wallpaper on most macs is blue?

    Petty? Yes. But focusing on the horrible writing distracts me from the horrible abuse.

    1. It's usually gray, but sometimes blue, and she could mean waiting for her blue desktop wallpaper.

      I know the feeling, though. I actually added up her flight times in this chapter and got really disappointed when they turned out plausible, because I so badly wanted to pick on something that wasn't abuse.

    2. "I so badly wanted to pick on something that wasn't abuse."

      On that topic, re. her laptop: it is meant to 'work anywhere in the world', which is clearly meaningless re. wifi. It would be meaningful were it a mobile phone (I suspect this was a garbled remembrance of multi-banding being necessary to use a mobile both in the States and Europe, given EL James' grasp on technology), but laptops don't use mobile phone frequencies.

      It could, as you pointed out, be a reference to 3G, except: MacBooks do not come with 3G built in, and while it is possible to buy 3G network cards, they don't have PCMIA slots either. So the only way for Ana's Macbook to have 3G would be via a USB dongle. Which is... not something which I would trust Ana not to lose.

      (There have been rumours that Apple are developing a laptop with built in 3G, and Ana's laptop *is* meant to be the next generation of device which hasn't yet hit the market, but this is EL James we're talking about, not Neal Stephenson -- she once again has failed to do the research...)

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. [Earlier comment was removed for editing because, quite possibly, I am a noob who can't figure out how to edit comments using this system]

      Well, Cliff, you can pick on the fact that Ana's been saying that her mom lives in Savannah, and then describes the house her mom lives in as being mere blocks away from the beach on Tybee Island... When Savannah is EIGHTEEN MILES away from Tybee Island.

      (Unless you've already picked at this somewhere else, in which case I have failed as a reader.)

    5. On the laptop note, though... didn't it mention that the laptop was a fall model? I know that the author didn't really have any way of knowing what exactly would come out in fall of 2011, but since it's 2014 and there still isn't a Mac with 3G, I'm going to assume it's bullshit.

  8. Thanks, Cliff, you're awesome. This is awesome.

    Also, am I the only one who finds it annoying as fuck that they are constantly advertising Apple or Blackberry or whatever? "My laptop is like superduperrocketscience", "My MacBook is the best thing and it is said to be able to connect to the internet everywhere", "A 2010s IT company CEO would totally use a Blackberry"...

    1. Thanks!

      I don't think you can actually get a MacBook with a 3G modem, anyway. You could hook it up to one of those portable hotspot boxes, but that would require Ana to press more than one button to get online, and that's no way to live in semi-unwanted luxury.

  9. "I can’t touch you if you say no – that’s why we have an agreement"

    I'm confused, because the agreement is that she can't say no. Which she didn't sign, so they don't have an agreement. Is Mr. Grey getting a bit ahead of the paperwork again?

    1. A better written book would have played up the weird, Kafka-esque bureaucratic legalism at play here, but it would also probably not be a book that you could skim through to the sex scenes. It would also be a book where "the rules" don't boil down to "I get whatever I want whenever I feel like it." for Block PoutyChunk, as Cliff has pointed out.

    2. Well, she hasn't said yes to the agreement that she can't say no but she has said no to always saying yes, therefore... the cheese stands alone.

    3. "You are the one with all the power. Not I. That's why you are the one really responsible for all the ways I hurt you. I can’t touch you if you say no. All I can do is make you feel that you owe it to me, and manipulate your fear of turning into a cat lady at 25 to let me do anything I want. Now pull up your knees so that I can close the crate."

    4. Somebody really needs to sit Ana down and help her understand that being a cat lady might not be so bad. I mean sure, cats can be aloof and unaffectionate, like Donk DumDom, but they're fluffy and they play with yarn and they go wacky if give 'em catnip! What's so bad about that? Girl needs to make that publishing career legit happen so she can settle down with a nice pair of sable Burmese.

  10. Please let Darth HunkSmash drink Chianti. Please.

  11. While the suck in this book is getting a bit tiresome, I do appreciate the venture into the unknown literary territory of email header erotica.

    Content-Type: application/my-dick
    Content-Length: a good ten inches
    X-Virus-Scan-Status: clean, thank god

    1. In a better, not-abusive book about nice people falling in love, I would actually find the attempts at email "sexting" kind of nerdily endearing. It's so gloriously offbeat and full of fail.

    2. There exists (actually excellently hilarious) fanfic of the printers in my college's computer lab (in which two B&W laser printers have rough sex to tease their friend, a voyeuristic color inkjet. Mmm, you like that Postscript raw, don't you.)

  12. I right in thinking that she hasn't signed the contract yet? We're on chapter 22 out of 25 in a book that's supposed to be about a D/s relationship, and by the book's own definition, the D/s relationship has yet to occur?

    And everything that's happened so far isn't a part of D/s? Apparently?

    1. You don't need a contract to be D/s. You don't need a contract to do anything BDSM, actually. I think the gist of the novels is that Ana rescues SpongeBob AssholePants so that he doesn't NEED BDSM in his life anymore, so the contract sort of becomes a moot point, anyway.

  13. This could be adapted into a pretty interesting horror movie/psychological thriller.

    1. To me, it's a mashup of American Psycho and Fear (the one where Mark Wahlberg eventually beheads a family's dog and storms their home). Apparently these roles must have made these actors seem extra dreamy to a large portion of the female demographic? *shiver*

  14. Who deleted my comment and why? All I did was ask a harmless question. Removing comments without even having the decency to respond to them first is considered rude. I would never do that to you. I was not being rude to anyone. I just asked a simple question. You complain that E.L. James has no decency and treats those who disagree with her poorly, yet you do the exact same thing to me for asking a simple question. Why? What did I ever do to you? You hurt my feelings and no, I did not deserve it, because I did nothing to intentionally hurt yours.

    1. Lucky Vine - I am removing your comments (and will continue to do so) because they are aggressive, negative, demanding, and frankly make me feel creeped right the hell out. Also because you left long screeds about how an older person having sex with a 15-year-old isn't molestation because he probably got erections during it. (CREEPED RIGHT THE HELL OUT.)

      Please do not comment here any more.

  15. By the way, Cliff, what do you think of 9 1/2 weeks? It has quite a different take on BDSM.

    If you haven't read it then I recommend taking a look, if only for the comparison :) And there's a movie with Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke.

  16. "Ana and Methyl MerCaptan"

    I see what you did there... and it's hilarious.

  17. Cliff, you are wonderful in all the ways a person can be wonderful. (At *least* three ways!)

    Please do not stop writing these recaps, and please don't stop highlighting all the bullshit in the book.

  18. "OMG I can't believed you stalked me and found out what flight I'm on!"

    Uhh, I'm guessing there was very little "stalking" required, unless there are 20 Seattle-Atlanta flights leaving daily. Go to an airline's website, go to "check flight status", select departure and destination cities. It takes moments, Ana, and requires no passenger details at all.

  19. Post the whole story of the book. LOL. This is great.