50 shades of…where do I start?

I went looking for an image to use for this post. Most of them were too upsetting. Here's something harmless. Image: www.thefilmguy.net, Creative Commons

The most harmless image I could come up with for this topic. Image: www.thefilmguy.net, Creative Commons

You’d have to live under a rock to miss the movie release of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Some might rather crawl under a rock than go see it. (The day I wrote this the movie’s IMDB score was a dismal 3.3.) But I digress.

To be fair, I have not read the book, by E. L. James (Erika Mitchell).

I couldn’t. Partially because the subject matter  leaves me baffled: BDSM: Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism. (People do that? By choice? Why?) But mostly because it’s so badly written.

How would I know? Well, someone I respect said I had no business slagging it without at least giving it a once-over. So, back when the book first came out, I found a weblink that shared chapter one and had a go at that. You can still try that yourself, here. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.)

People, it’s bad. I don’t mean naughty, though I suppose that shows up too, eventually. I mean gag-me-with-a-spoon (ha-ha!)… please! make it stop!…bad writing.

The first chapter was more than enough. NCPR hosts many call-in shows on books. One one, co-host Ellen Rocco said something liberating: there’s just too much to try read in one mortal life. So she refuses to waste time on bad writing anymore. (Amen to that wisdom.)

I will say the franchise is spawning wonderful, satirical send-ups. If you have not done so already, do please swing by “50 Sheds of Grey“. The Tweets only sound dirty, before twisting off into garden shed antics:

Her body tensed and quivered as she felt wave after wave flow through it. I probably should’ve told her about the new electric fence.

Really, it’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel. Only choose your own angle. Here’s a new one with a Canadian slant: “50 Shades of Eh” in which Scott Feschuk delivers forbidden passion served with unspeakable politeness:

My intrepid eyes cast around Christian’s Rec Room of Pain and across his many instruments of torture: the ball gag, the whip, the black gadget that with the press of a single button turns on the cruelest device of all: the television. Sportsnet, TSN . . . Oh Christian, stop teasing and turn it to CBC for the Leafs game! The chronic incompetence . . . the annual ritual of false hope . . . such delicious pain!

Some are saying the movie is better than the book, for whatever that is worth. (There are actually three books in the series. Sigh!)

The whole 50 shades thing seems inescapable right now. It’s gone so far as to show up in a toy from Vermont Teddy Bear, with a mask and handcuffs. The company even bought underwriting on NPR (!) causing some real and feigned outrage. As with this tweet from RussianNavyBlog:

I heard about the 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear on NPR. I nearly drove into oncoming traffic in despair for the nation

The Takeway’s John Hockenberry heard from Cindy Gallop, the creator of the website “Make Love Not Porn” and the author of  “Make Love, Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior.”

Gallop has read Fifty shades (the book) and seen the movie. Both left her feeling “conflicted”. In Friday’s interview she listed her own hate/love responses.

Things to hate: 1) it’s a badly written book (me: Yes! Thank you!) and a not very riveting movie; 2) it’s your standard sexist Cinderella story – of a woman getting rescued by a man and 3) it had all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship.

Things she loves: 1) it de-kinkifies sex, something she thinks our culture badly needs; 2) it could galvanize (as in improve) any number of relationships and marriages and 3) it socializes sex, bringing a too-secretive subject out in the open.

But I must say, the reviews have been fun. As in this, from The Onion.

New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott weighed in on the movie’s debatable merits, including one of many, many reasons 50 Shades is hard to take:

The problem is that as a character, Anastasia makes no sense. Her behavior has no logic, no pattern, no coherent set of causes or boundaries.

Scott noted the audience at his preview burst into laughter at the movie’s end. Why? And why will any one go see it? Here’s Scott’s conclusion:

I’m no expert, but I can venture a guess: for fun. They seem to be the kind of books you can simultaneously have fun with, make fun of, trash and cherish and adapt to the pursuit of your own pleasures. Which brings me back to the laughter at the end of the sneak preview. “Fifty Shades of Grey” might not be a good movie — O.K., it’s a terrible movie — but it might nonetheless be a movie that feels good to see, whether you squirm or giggle or roll your eyes or just sit still and take your punishment.

Myself, I’m happier with 50 Sheds of Grey and stuff of that ilk.

Because lithe bodies are one thing. But I lean toward the opposite end of that spectrum, where nothing says sexy like a normal brain that ripples with brawny wit. (Oh, yeah, baby! Show me your intellect!)

And let’s read more good books, or watch engaging movies, while we are at it.

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5 Comments on “50 shades of…where do I start?”

  1. Hank says:

    “The whole 50 shades thing seems inescapable right now.” It’s kind of like our culture’s current fascination with Zombies. Sorry, I just don’t get it – and don’t want to.

  2. shovel says:

    Funny thing is, if you feel like you can’t avoid 50SOG watching the movie might be the better choice. At least it only lasts 2 hours at the most, and you can catch a few winks in the dark if you want to.

  3. Brian Mann says:

    One wrinkle here that I think is worth putting on the map is that potboilers and popular fiction — much of it incredibly bad — has often been the catalyst for interesting ideas and interesting social progressions.

    There’s a reason that Ayn Rand packaged so much of her philosophy in bodice rippers and nearly unreadable adventure yarns. She wanted an audience. Same is true for the DaVinci Code.

    There’s a lot of social commentary buried in Stephen King’s novels, despite the fact that sentence-for-sentence King can be one of the worst writers in the English language. (He can also be really good sometimes.)

    50 Shades specifically is a novel about sexuality that is aimed almost entirely at a female readership. It is a novel that refuses to accept puritanical religious or puritanical feminist ideals about women’s sexuality. That’s interesting.

    Even more interesting is that American culture has insisted on treating the book with something bordering on the casual. This is not a collection of Anais Nin stories marketed to intellectuals, or a book of porn wrapped in brown paper.

    It is essentially a statement that kink is okay (if that’s what you’re into) and that it’s even okay if you happen to be a woman (and if that’s what you choose).

    I knew that the book was a game changer when I saw a professional woman, late 30s or early 40s, briefcase beside her, reading 50 Shades on a commuter train out of NYC.

    According to the London Telegraph, this book is now the best-selling book in England of all time since they began keeping records, with 5.3 million copies sold.

    None of this is to suggest that the writing is anything other than execrable, but there’s something interesting going on here.

    –Brian, NCPR

  4. Peter Klein says:

    Fantasy is what it is and what people want. Fantasy is in not just in the books we read and the movies we watch. It is even in the Bible and the Koran. Fantasy is how we live our lives and maintain a degree of hope.

  5. bill shaver says:

    sounds more like the 50’s exploitation movies, like hot rod girl, girsl in prision, etc, nudes on the moon, etc, etc….all it needs is a noir touch….to cap it off, right up there with 50’s zombie & space creature movies , actually they were more entertaining…..better lines too.,

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