Landing : Athabascau University

Fifty Shades of Meh?

I've seen Heather C. complaining on Twitter that Kobo keeps pushing Fifty Shades of Grey at her. And seriously, this book has some pushy fans. Every time I buy (properly literary) porn from my Local Book Monopoly, which is within walking distance and air conditioned, so they're seeing a lot of me right now, another cashier wants to know if I've read it yet. 

So I read the Wikipedia summary... Barf. It's not the BDSM. It's not even the heteronormativity, though that is also repulsive. It's a class thing. What do you need to know about Christian Grey before you buy the book? He's FABULOUSLY WEALTHY. And he does all kinds of FABULOUSLY WEALTHY things, like buying whatsherface presents. I guess he'd have to be FABULOUSLY WEALTHY since kink isn't exactly cheap. (It can be cheap, as demonstrated by the elf at the Dyke March who tried to sell me a strap-on harness made from her friend's old pants... but for a lot of people, it's a contest to buy the best, rarest, most intricate, most expensive stuff.)

I do not want to read books about fabulously wealthy men who get off on hurting women. I want this story to stop being told. I don't care if it's consensual, or if she has mindblowing orgasms, or all the middle-class housewives discover their kinky sides and move on to better smut. I want to read dirty books, and I want them to be properly filthy, not Harlequin romances, but I want to read stories that are not about rich men abusing women. 

Speaking of the flow of capital, or of middle class housewives, it's not just Book Monopoly clerks hawking this book, and it's not just the book they're selling. Let's call it "Fifty Shades of Up-sell."

I was in a toy store downtown about a week ago, and Fifty Shades of Grey came up -- the middle-aged woman in front of me in line was buying the store out of business and asked the youngish woman clerk if she'd read it. (They also asked me, and I gave what is swiftly becoming my standard answer: "no, I'm a dyke." That actually has nothing to do with it, but "no, it sounds awful" just encourages people to argue with me.) Anyway, these women were fans. They chatted, the cashier rang stuff up. 

"These balls are good, but the ones in the novel are better," she said, oh-so-casually, as she bagged them. 

"I thought these were the ones!"

Oh no, the ones from the novel -- a very "right now" brand of sex toys -- cost twice as much. Switch 'em out, says Housewife. Commission! says Clerk. And so it goes. Apparently sales at sex shops are surging, and women are behind it -- maybe a lesson for the flailing porn industry?

So, on one hand the book sounds gross and awful. I have not heard anything at all good about the writing. In fact, I have heard lots and lots of bad. Like that the author thinks "ARGH" is a sex noise. I have heard lots of bad from BDSM practitioners, who say the relationship in the trilogy is not BDSM, it's just abusive. (And here. I think we can make a big deal out of narratives of abuse masquerading as sexual empowerment.)

But on the other hand, I approve of married straight women having orgasms. I am, in fact, very willing to help with any and all projects that end in married straight women having orgasms. (Call it a public service.) 

But I'm not willing to pay for straight porn. And the Book Monopoly seems to think everybody and their mother is trying to steal the book, it's so tightly locked down, so I can't actually steal it from them. (I could steal as many $2 mysteries as I wanted with nary a security tag, but for $2 I can just buy them.) So I downloaded a pirated copy from the internet instead. I'm trying to get myself out of the mindset that it's going to be an awful waste of time before I crack it... 

But one of these days good porn will be a sensational best-seller.. right? Please?


  • sarah beth July 31, 2012 - 11:42pm

    “You’ve had to sacrifice a family life for your work.”
    “That’s not a question.” He’s terse.
    “Sorry.” I squirm, and he’s made me feel like an errant child. I try again. “Have you
    had to sacrifice a family life for your work?”
    “I have a family. I have a brother and a sister and two loving parents. I’m not interested in extending my family beyond that.”
    “Are you gay, Mr. Grey?”
    He inhales sharply, and I cringe, mortified. Crap. Why didn’t I employ some kind
    of filter before I read this straight out? How can I tell him I’m just reading the questions?
    Damn Kate and her curiosity!
    “No Anastasia, I’m not.” He raises his eyebrows, a cool gleam in his eyes. He does
    not look pleased. (14)

    Maybe she thought homophobic characters would be easier to relate to? 

    Anyway, it's page 14, nobody is getting it on, and I'm bored of listening to them talk about how much Grey likes to control things, like his workers and stuff. For real. He's like the CEO of the Aryan Nation or something -- we hear at length about how all his workers are blonde -- and goes on about how he deserves to possess them all. Bleagh. 

    Right after this they were both hit by a train and the book ended right there on page 14. Funny way to end it, but I'm not a best-selling smut peddler, so who am I to judge. 

  • sarah beth August 1, 2012 - 8:29am

    Did you post a video? All I see is a blank space. :( 


    I gave it a shot past page 14 (gotta at least get to the dirty part before giving up on it), and it's just awful. Aggressively marketed, with bad writing, bad porn, bad politics all the way through. Bleagh.

  • Heather Clitheroe August 1, 2012 - 8:37am

    Yes - a youtube clip. It's worth googling and watching if you can't see it. Apparently it's now a trilogy? I wish Kobo would stop flogging it.



  • sarah beth August 1, 2012 - 9:26am

    Ha! I googled it. That was great. 

    On with the review? [Oops -- I was just going to mock the dirty talk, but then I got ranty. God, I hate this book.]

    Imagining Gottfried reading it will help me deal with the insipid dirty talk ("You. Are. So. Sweet. Baby." actually gets repeated in more than one scene) and the author's strange idea of how women's bodies work. I kid you not, they start the baby-making and the protagonist, a virgin who has never masturbated, immediately has multiple orgasms, on command. From things like nipple play and vaginal penetration, which are both fine things to do, but on their own generally do not end in orgasm.

    And her orgasms are immediate. A sentence or two of nipple-poking and she comes half a dozen times. This is important: the point of erotic fiction is to describe, in detail, the events leading up to orgasm, not to write "she came" as many times as possible on one page. It's not titillating; it's not even interesting. If porn is supposed to provide fuel for fantasy, then it's barely even porn. (Unless you like to fantasize about men who buy you cars and clothes, despite your repeated, modest, totally-not-a-whore objections. Then it's perfect.)

    So on top of reading about some weird white supremacist fantasy-world, where the only people of colour are date rapists and starving Africans and queers exist only in the deepest fears of heterosexual men, I'm trapped in an equally weird Porno-land, where women's pleasure is immediate, visible, simple, and entirely dependent on male action. I'm glad women are buying more sex toys and taking pleasure into their own hands in response -- but the narrative itself suggests there is something really wrong with women who struggle to experience pleasure, or who have complex -- or worse, queer -- desires. 

    Book Monopoly, sex stores, Kobo -- they're going to push bad fiction on us. They're not our friends; they're not interested in anything but taking our money. So it's gross, but it's not surprising. But the book they're marketing so aggressively as women's sexual liberation is really just an atrocious, anti-feminist parody of women's sexuality, and of kinky sexuality. I can't help but see Fifty Shades of Grey as just one more piece of the larger backlash against feminism that makes up so much of current pop culture. 


    One last thing: the narrative goes on and on about how even though the protagonist accepts expensive gifts as a part of a contracted sexual transaction with her lover, she is definitely, really, truly different from sex workers. Sex workers, on the whole, are nicer and more interesting, know more about their sexualities, and they have much better business sense. So I'll have to give EL James that one. Anastasia Steele: not a whore. 

  • sarah beth August 3, 2012 - 10:33pm

    I got about 2/3 of the way through the second book before I just gave up and started reading tentacle porn (awesome, bizarre, consensual tentacle porn, might I add, though kinda weird with the pregnancy fetish... but I guess that comes with the territory). The blog in question was a recommendation from someone else's negative review of Fifty ShadesI spent most of the book skimming through the increasingly boring sex scenes. The last note I took was: "THIS MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE."

    And really. Tentacle porn was the logical, realistic alternative.

    Should have just stopped when they got hit by that train. 


    In other news, as pointed out in the BizzyBiz review (which is quite funny) The Oatmeal did a very funny blog post about why Twilight is so appealing, and so easily marketable. His thesis is that the female character is just an empty shell that women can "wear" while they fantasize about a perfect man, who is described in intricate detail. Does this pan out for Fifty Shades? Check out the fan-created character profile wikis for Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Ana is looking a bit slim!


    One last super-weird thing? "Fifty Shades" is a nickname the protagonist gives to her lover, based on something he says early in the first book about being "fifty shades of fucked up." It gets picked up until it becomes one of their catchphrases, reflecting what everyone keeps saying about the dialogue being the creation of a total moron. So throughout the second novel, the protagonist keeps saying things like "I love Fifty Shades... Fifty Shades makes my panties combust with molten desire... Oh, Fifty Shades, you cream my broccoli soup like no other..." The narrator's voice, in the book, says the same thing all its pushy fans are supposed to. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's just not an intelligent enough masterpiece to actually be reflecting on its own marketing. So it's just obnoxious.