Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fifty Shades Wicked Impressions

Fifty Shades Impressed

When I came across this article about the blockbuster novel Fifty Shades of Grey I was very impressed with Romkey's interpretation and had to repost this. I agree with her comments especially about the story being about an unhealthy relationship, not a true BDSM relationship. In E.L. James defense though, as far as I know, she never said this story was about a typical BDSM relationship. She wrote a story and struck a nerve, a huge nerve, to the tune of $30 Million so far. And as an author, however, I have to congratulate James for her awesome success. Authors know how difficult it is to write, get our work published and build a career. I think authors, readers and editors should look at her series and, after congratulating her success, see what it was that she did right instead of being so quick to pick apart what she did wrong. Was it the characters that readers fell in love with? Their flaws? Curiousity of what might (but never does) happen? A compelling story? If you read the books, what kept you turning the pages? I recently attended a BDSM workshop and I know those in the BDSM lifestyle aren't happy with the book because they feel the general public will believe their lifestyle is similiar to the abusive/controlling one James portrayed in her books. But the story is fiction, not real. Read it for enjoyment, entertainment, escape, not as a How-to manual.

This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Lovelights, the newsletter of Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. Permission to forward with proper credit given.

First of all let me preface this by saying I’m extremely jealous of the success and the buckets of money E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey has brought in, so anything I say could be based on that alone. I’m amazed at the success of this book. The last I heard it was outselling all other books 300,000 to 1. That’s an insane statistic. So with all of the hype surrounding this book, I figured as a writer it was my job to try to see what the fuss was all about, and I bought my copies.

I’ve read a few articles about the books, talked with a sex therapist, and watched some fan reviews on YouTube. From what I’ve read, clearly I’m going to be in the minority here, but I have to comment on at least two things: the quality of the writing and the message of the book. Warning: this article contains spoiler alerts.

 I won’t go on too much about the quality of the writing as I don’t think many people who have read it said they have done so because of the beautiful or stellar writing. I’m halfway through the third book and am thinking of finishing it as a drinking game, drinking any time I see: Holy shit, holy crap, oh my, he touched me there, his mouth formed a hard line, holy hell, and all of the annoying multiple personality talk she has with her inner goddess and inner subconscious. Of course I’d never finish the book because I’d be unconscious or die of alcohol poisoning.

I think people are drawn into the books because of the promise of naughty BDSM and a darkness that makes them almost have to dare to read the books. The promise of the premise is delivered in the first one, but the second book, though titled Fifty Shades Darker, well, isn’t at all. With the mask on the front and the title, I had all sorts of ideas about where we were going with that and how that masquerade party would turn out. But that wasn’t delivered on, and the tone of the second books is actually much lighter and pulls back almost entirely on the BDSM.

The books started out as Twilight fan fic, which I think, is the initial draw to them. The Twilight series is over and those avid readers need some place to go. Ana is very much weak, annoying and clutzy like Bella. Christian is very much haunted with tussled bronze hair as Edward was. And like Edward to Bella, Christian’s drawn to Ana for reasons he can’t quite explain nor can the reader. There’s just something about her.

I saw on Pinterest today a graphic of the cover of Fifty Shades of Grey that had been captioned, “For men who are saying women don’t come with an instruction manual, I’ve found one!” And to that I say, “No, no, no, God no!”

Fifty Shades of Grey is a nice, fun read if you aren’t expecting great literature. There’s a lot of good sex scenes, but frankly by the third book I skim over most of them just to get done with the books which, still a month later I’m forcing myself to finish. Really, there are hundreds of thousands of other erotica books out there. But please for the love of all things holy, if the teenage girls who read Twilight are now reading this and are taking both of those books as a how-to-guide to find romance, just stop. And if any man or woman thinks that this book is a manual on how to treat a woman, they need to see Dr. Flynn.

I think most romances have a core premise that the woman has a need to be saved and the man has a need to be the protector. We could argue the validity of that, but let’s accept that and move on. Yes, Fifty Shades has that element.

But if you’re saying that this book is an instruction manual, you’re saying women desire filthy rich bazillionaire men who make $100,000/day and that the men have to be smoking hot. Doesn’t that make us a bit shallow? It also means that women should come to a relationship pure and virginal only to be played with and corrupted by a man. While this makes for great mommy porn and fantasy, I hope the creator and re-pinners of the graphic don’t believe this to be true.

I even go far as to argue, as do some other articles I’ve read, that this relationship is abusive. I’m not talking about the spankings as those are part of a drawn out agreed upon contractual relationship. I’m talking about the emotional abuse. He tells her when to eat, how much to eat, what to eat, when to pee, if she can drink, if she can drive her own car, how to wear her hair, what to wear and even states that in the BDSM relationship, she will experience a freedom in not having to think about any of those things. So women secretly don’t want to have to think?

He also wants her and pressures her to give up her entire life for him. This is something I have a major problem with in romance fiction. Bella? To be with Edward, you have to give up your mortal life. Ok, let me at it, chomping at the bit to give everything up. In this one, Christian discourages her relationships with her friends, discourages her working for anyone other than him, discourages her living on her own. His control over her life is almost cult-like in it’s totality. Almost like one of his hostile takeovers.

Any time she actually chooses to think for herself, he doesn’t approve and sulks and pouts and stomps his feet to make her regret doing so. She has to defend any of her choices to go out with friends and then is twisted to feel guilty about it after she acquiesces to his demands, regretting she ever asked. She doesn’t choose her own clothes as he has a buyer purchase everything, but when she does buy and wear something, he gets upset that it’s too skimpy. He basically trains her not to ask in the first place. After their first fight which occurred when the spanking got out of hand, he even turns it around on her, blaming her for not using the safe word even though not only is she new to the BDSM lifestyle, but to sex in general, again so that she feels guilty. Isn’t that what domestic abusers do? Make it the victim’s fault?

Not only that, but (spoiler alert) when she gets her first job out of university, he buys the friggin’ company, so that he can control who she works with, whether she gets promoted or not, and can throw a hissy when she decides she wants to keep her maiden name. He’s very concerned about her male boss, so that she has to get his permission to go to work for him. Her decision. Eventually the boss turns out to be a scum bag so she can crawl to him, almost literally, and apologize because Christian was right, and he knows what’s best for her.

There are some other definite deal breakers that I’d kick him to the curb for. He invites his ex to charity parties at his parents’ house because they are on good terms now, and he pays to take care of other ex-submissives, not to mention giving one a bath after she has a breakdown. Ana is forced to endure things like this on a regular basis, but is given grief if she wants to go for a drink with her friends.

The most damning of the abuse evidence I’ve come across so far is when Christian gets mad at her for saying she won’t go out for a drink with her friends, but then she changes her mind and doesn’t tell him.

His response to her is, “I want to punish you. Really beat the shit out of you.” If anyone I was with ever said that, we’d be fifty shades of finished.

Throughout the book she’s wondering which personality, which shade of him is going to appear. He’s moody and goes back and forth in a bi-polar fashion so often, she doesn’t know what to expect. She’s often anxious about how angry he is going to be and continually walks on eggshells. That’s not a healthy, loving relationship.

Some people partake in BDSM relationships and have a healthy sex life. Christian’s need for this comes from an abusive past (more spoiler alerts) where he chooses to do this to punish women and act out some sort of sadistic revenge on those who resemble his crack whore mother. So his sex play is coming from a psychologically messed up place and whether consensual or not comes off as abusive to me. Not to mention, that two past women he’s had relationships with who appear in the books (spoiler) are bat crap crazy. He either draws cray cray to him or he turns women cray cray. Neither of which showcases functional healthy, loving relationships.

 Yes, it’s a fantasy, and yes some of the fan reviews I’ve seen say that people should get over the controversy because “It’s just a book!” And while I’m nearly 100% certain E.L. James had no idea that this book would be this insanely successful, I think there is a responsibility in writing books. The Bible is also just a book. The Quran. Huckleberry Finn. Catcher in the Rye. Other books have been controversial, banned and burned before. Not to put this one in the same category, but to say, “It’s just a book. If you don’t like it, don’t read it,” isn’t a valid argument, because millions of others are reading it and are having their ideas shaped by it. Young impressionable girls are reading it and coming to the conclusion that this is a life they’d want for themselves. That thinking for themselves is problematic. That concerns me, for their sakes.

There are some truly romantic parts in the books that all women would swoon over and some great sex scenes, but they get to be tedious in the end. And it’s not enough for me to counter the abuse this man hurls on women. I think there is a dangerous commentary throughout that says women want to be controlled, don’t want to think for themselves, and can’t handle living on their own.

There is a power in the written word that some people take to heart. And the Pinterest graphic intimating that this is a healthy relationship that all women strive to have is not only dangerous, but insulting to women. Sure it’d be great to find a super hot, super rich guy who takes you on romantic fights over Seattle. But if you have to change who you are, what you think and what you want in life to be with him, is it worth it? If you want to read this for a mindless erotica romp, then fine, but please don’t take this as what a perfect romance should really be like and start biting your lip in public hoping some hot billionaire will want to drag you into his playroom and show you what true love is.

Shawna Romkey is the author of Speak of the Devil, coming this fall from Crescent Moon Press. You can find her at


Michelle Browne said...

Excellent. I did a tweet along about these books as I powered through the trilogy in a week. They are so badly written they could be a tutorial on poor descriptions. I would go on at length, but suffice to say I think your review nailed it insightfully.

Kathy Kulig said...

Thanks for your thoughts Michelle. I've reposted an article by Shawna Romkey that I thought did a great job.

Cris Anson said...

Wow. I'm glad I tossed the first book without finishing it. Thanks for reposting this.

Lynn said...

Sweaty hot sex or not the writing is bad, how people concentrate on anything else has me baffled. There are some pretty great sexy, smutty hot books out there with a hell of a lot better writing. These people need to find THOSE books instead.

LisaLee said...

Hi Kathy! Your opinion and insight are "right on", my dear. I am an avid reader of Elloras Cave. The authors and editors of EC are having a hard time reading these books, in my opinion. Why? The writing is bad and defficult to follow the plot. You are an AWESOME author!

I had a hard tiime reading the series....why? Because I LIVED that relationship with my ex-husbznd of 2 years. I had no opinion and I lost my self-confidence and self-esteem. I still sometimes struggle because I left with a 1/2 month old son. Sstill single bringing up my son. When he leaves to find and achive his goals maybe I will try to find "the right one" then. I am behind you 100% if young women (or men) are reading it, to remember it is FICTION. I was looking for Mr. Right and he said all the "right things" I wanted to hear! Please look at Elloras Cave for some great reading!!

Great job on your part to repost and give us your insightful opinion!! I hope my writing can inspire just as you inspire...THANK YOU!!