Fifty Shades of What the Fracking Bull?

What with the upcoming release, I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials lately for  Fifty Shades of Grey.  My question is simple: What the fracking bull?

I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey, or Fifty Shades Darker, or Fifty Shades of Pissed Off Writers Everywhere, or whatever the sequels are called.  “Mommy Porn” that originated as fan fiction of an already terrible series does not interest me.  Learning the notoriously naughty BDSM the story boasts is vanilla at best, and, at worst, secondhand, drove my interest even lower.  I have no issue with YA fiction, romance novels, or erotica, but something about E.L. James’s skyrocket into the “literary world” bothers the shit out of me.  How these books were published is beyond my understanding.

Even worse: they’ve made a movie out of it…

What the fish….

And here’s where American Capitalistic Opportunism wins out over Moral and Creative Integrity.  Not only has a publishing house republished a terrible story with a slight twist, now Hollywood has produced a movie they’ve already made.  Because we should, none of us, forget the fact that Fifty Shades of Grey is Twilight fan fiction.

When Hollywood made the Twilight movies they cast actors who actually, sort of, mostly resembled the images of the characters I had in my head while reading the insipid novels.  Cedric Diggory made a great Sparkly Vampire, and Never-Learned-to-Smile made for an exquisitely boring heroine.  A pretty English boy and a symmetrical American girl made us believe in vampires, if only for the one hundred twenty minutes each movie runs.

Now with Fifty Shades, a story that appears to be primarily porn about kinky sex, the casting director, who had her fucking job cut out for her, failed to deliver.  Or, if it wasn’t that person who dropped the ball, it was the makeup/costuming department that failed.

They took a pretty girl:

Dakota Johnson

and made her incredibly homely:

Anastasia Steele

Which, perhaps, is more true to the character (again: I have not read the books).  But if you’re going to put a book reported to be one big sexy, handcuffed romp on the big screen why not make her attractive?  (Especially when you’ve cast an already attractive woman?)

And the dude (because straight men are not this movie’s target audience):

Jamie Dornan

They cast one of Calvin Klein’s interchangeable parts (who looks way sexy with facial hair), shaved him down to his baby-face and made him look like he’s trying on daddy’s suit for the first time:

Christian Grey

Not attractive.  Not alluring.  Mostly creepy.  If a real, live dude looked and dressed and behaved how they portray Christian Grey in the clips and trailers any curious, sane, crazy, intelligent, or insecure woman would, hopefully, have a voice in her head telling her to run… run fast.  Dude is creepily aggressive half the time, and eerily emotionless the rest.  If he were a vampire his behavior might be acceptable.  As it stands, he’s got “sociopath” written all over him.  No one is going to let their friend date a person like this without either saying something, or at least watching them very, very carefully.

But, as far as I know, no one stops Anastasia from letting this jackwad bind her and assume control over her person in the name of Love.  And the audience is supposed to believe he cares for her more than he wants to control her.  We are supposed to buy into this illusion of romance so much that the fact it’s being released on Valentine’s Day (not February 14th, Valentine’s Day) shouldn’t creep out the American public.

It’s fucking twisted.  The trailer features an amazingly creepy clip of him feeling her up under the table at a dinner party with his voice over telling us that he “doesn’t do romance” leading this American, heterosexual woman to believe the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is not intended to be Romantic in any regard despite the movie’s release date.

I believe there are romantic, loving couples who enjoy a healthy, consensual bondage-based sex life.  And that they should celebrate!  To each, his own, I say!  I’m not about to get in your way or pass judgement.  None of my qualms about this work come from my puritanical beliefs about sex and love, but from my standpoint as a woman and a writer.  The story is about an insecure young woman being entirely enveloped by an aggressive alpha male.  She subsequently disappears entirely into his way of life, rather than growing and developing as her own person.  As a woman that makes me sad.  So many real life women are lost to other, stronger willed people as it is; sometimes it’s a partner, sometimes it’s family or friends.  No matter the situation, it’s unfortunate that women so easily disappear into someone else’s idea of who they should be.

As a writer, I’m pissed Twilight fan fiction is being hailed as anything other than what it is: poorly written porn.  These books, and subsequent movie, are a travesty of American literature.

It has, however, inspired some great sarcastic Internet memes*:

This query from Claire Standish:

As well as this brilliant advice from Ellen:

Ellen Ellen1 Ellen2

And a comic of what the actual story should have been:

*I got most of these from typing “Fifty Shades of Bullshit” into a Google Image search.  Which, it turns out, is a pretty funny anti-Fifty Shades Tumblr: FiftyShadesofBullshit.

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“Sentimentality” in Literature

What’s Wrong With Sentimentality? | Katy Waldman | Slate Magazine

A very interesting, and solid, article by Katy Waldman about reader/viewer response to “sentimentality” from Slate Magazine on 16 July 2014.

I started to get really in depth into responding to what I read here, when suddenly it felt too overwhelming.  Instead I’m going to share my overall impressions of this article and the subject at hand.

1. It’s a really well developed and written article.

2. “Sentimentality” is a key factor in novels/popular fiction since the time of Jane Austen and earlier.  Hawthorne got real fed up with the women who wrote (and sold) sentimental fiction, but that didn’t stop people like Louisa May Alcott from writing them.

3. Teens and Young Adults like black-and-white stories because their emotions and hormones are such a mess and they don’t know how to handle it.  According to neuroscientists a person’s limbic system doesn’t finish forming until the mid-twenties, meaning people under the age of 25 are more guided by their emotions than by rational thought.  Because their an emotional mess, a simple story is going to be appealing.  It’s easy, it’s straightforward (unlike the world).  Adults, starting in the their late-twenties, are more rational and can see the murkiness, messiness, complexity of real life and, as implied by Waldman, want their literature to be as murky and complex, too.

4. Enjoying YA Fiction is shameful for Adults because of point #3.  Adults shouldn’t be thinking like a teen anymore, is the implication, you should be thinking like an adult.  “When I was a child I thought like a child…”, etc.  She seems to be implying (not necessarily Waldman, but those who condemn sentimentality in literature) that to enjoy YA Fiction shows a lack of maturity.

5. “Why,” she asks, “in this age of irony and antiheroes, do we assume the “truer” choice is always the more ambiguous one?”  Why, indeed?  Adults are obsessed with not offending anyone (some, anyhow).  There are multiple rights and wrongs, goods and bads.   Morality is sometimes immoral, and you should “do what’s right for you”.  Life is ambiguous.  A book, being a representation of life, ought to follow suit.

Maybe it’s my interpretation, but a lot of that sounds like someone being afraid to take a stand, made a declarative statement.  A book can be about something.  It can make a moral judgement.  I’m also not sure I understand this point entirely, because I can’t think of a single book that doesn’t make a declarative statement whether it’s this guy is the murderer, or those cops are corrupt, or love conquers all, or Harry is the Chosen One, or Alice was dreaming.

6. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “sentimentality” in literature.  Most readers want to connect with the characters in the books they’re reading.  Otherwise, who cares?  If we can’t empathize with the plight of the hostages AND the rebels in Bel Canto by Ann Patchett we’re not going to get anything out of it.  If we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of Neil Gaiman’s protagonist in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, we won’t understand why he visits with Lettie’s grandmother*.  Having an emotional response to literature cannot be a bad thing, can it?  People love the emotional roller coaster of movies and TV shows.  Our heartbeats quicken as the music swells; tears fall from our eyes when the universally beloved character kicks it, or the guy finally gets the girl; we shout out when we see an injustice played out on the screen (ask me sometime about when I saw He’s Just Not That Into You).  If this is the case, why can’t we have sentimentality in our novels?

7. Waldman speaks to many psychologists studying how people respond to sentimentality in books and programs.  Which sorts of people react more viscerally than others and why.  The one thing I think we can draw from all their research and, based on what they told Waldman and what she shared with her readers, is that each readers brings their own, unique life experience to each work.  No one is going to have exactly the same reaction as another reader, but you can probably hypothesize that an individual will have the same reaction to the same type of work, for the most part.

This entire conversation is silly.  It’s silly, because everyone has their own interests and experiences that affect their reading.  I have a sister who will never read Harry Potter (unless her kid reads them one day), but she’ll devour a book on the history of cod.  I have another sister who would find the fish book supremely boring, and has seen Harry and the Potters perform the weekend of an HP book release.  I love Jane Austen; a friend of mine, who has a lot in common with myself, once described Austen novels as “a really long walk”; she has no interest in these novels, because they always seem to be taking long walks and nothing happens.

I like Waldman’s article.  I like her presentation of the material.  I like that she talked to literature and psychology professors from across the country.  I like the subtle snarkiness that leads me to believe she doesn’t disapprove of sentimentality in literature.  I like that she, instead of approaching the conversation with outrage, tried to explain why people enjoy this sort of literature.  It is very informative and interesting.

.

*I chose both the Patchett and the Gaiman novels because I cried when I read them… as an adult.

The Books I Considered While Making the Previous List of YA Fiction

“Contemporary” (1950-present)

  • Holes
  • Harry Potter Series
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • The Giver
  • His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • An Abundance of Katherines
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • The House on Mango Street
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Coraline
  • The Westing Game
  • The Graveyard Book
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Freaky Friday
  • The Fault in our Stars
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy
  • Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series
  • Stargirl

“Classics” (Time Immemorial-1950)

  • Little Women
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Treasure Island
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Peter Pan
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Through the Looking-Glass