A Very Short Review of this Weekend’s Big Cinematic Release

Alice’s Review:

Fuck this book.

And fuck this movie.

###


Now, some brief contextualizing…

I ran across a meme recently, defending fans of FSoG with a very Wil Wheaton-esque message of “don’t let anyone make you feel bad for loving what you read.” My intent is not to shame anyone for the content of either their bookshelves or their fantasies. I just want to be sure we’re all starting from a common point of understanding.

Simply put: If you find yourself all hot-and-bothered at the thought of “Mr. Grey will see you now,” you are indulging in a fantasy about rape and abuse.

And not a fantasy about BDSM.

As long as you acknowledge that, then you and me? We’re good.

CaaBP = Shame-Free Zone

Plenty of people — both with and without sexual damage in their backgrounds — fantasize about rape and/or abuse. Just like plenty of people who engage exclusively in non-stigmatized sexual behaviors and relationship patterns may (or may not) do so for reasons relating to their own histories of trauma or eff’ed-up family dynamics.

I do strongly recommend, should you and your sexXy funtime partner(s) decide to role-play from this novel, that you follow actual BDSM best practices, including:

  • negotiate the sh!t out of every detail in advance, so that both Dom and sub get their needs met safely and and with fully-informed consent;
  • have a clear safeword explicitly in place before beginning; and finally,
  • provide aftercare like everybody’s life depends on it.

Scenes based on rape or abuse are a pretty extreme form of BDSM play and — like any extreme play — can run the risk of harm to participants if not practiced responsibly. [/public service announcement]

Not that you would know any of this from reading EL James’ book. 

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it." Tatsuya Ishida, sinfest.net
“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Tatsuya Ishida.

Y’know what really grates my cheese about this novel? (Other than the romanticizing of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, I mean.) The author’s clear disdain for — and occasional disgust towards — the diverse practices and people of the real BDSM community.

I don’t know any other way to describe the specific “hard limits” outlined in Christian Grey’s it-would-be-laughable-if-it-weren’t-being-taken-as-serious “contract” that masquerades as the book’s idea of informed consent, and which Christian insists Anastasia must sign. (SPOILERS: She never actually signs it. He never actually waits for her signature.)

By the by, that Chapter 11 link above? Is to Mark Oshiro, of Mark Reads fame, reading his way through the entire FSoG oeuvre on YouTube, as a Thank You! to fans for crowd-source funding a critical surgery for his sister.

Or possibly Mark was terribly, terribly naughty in a past life and this is his penance.

The face you want accompanying you through this book! (via)
The face you want accompanying you through FSoG! (via)

(What? You didn’t really think I kept a copy of this book on an e-Reader stashed beneath my bed, did you??)

If you’re wondering — as some of my friends have expressed — why I would read this book at all, given some of my own history (and subsequent ability to sniff out abuse-disguised-as-kink from over 100 yards away), my motivation’s quite simple: KNOW YOUR ENEMY. Mark’s read-aloud is a lovely way to do just that.

Another great source is Cliff Pervocracy’s blog-along. While entertaining, Cliff’s notes have the added benefit of being written from an experienced kinkster’s perspective. (Jenny Trout did something similar. Haven’t read hers, but — given her other work — I suspect it’s snarky, informative-but-entertaining, and heavily focused on the book’s limitations specifically as a piece of writing.)

Just want a taste of the issues and not the full 50 flavors? At Feministe, Caperton has a concise-but-thorough rundown of examples taken from the book, and Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon can fill you in on why the movie is even worse than the book.

In conclusion: Do something lovely for yourself, and those you care about, this weekend. Like not seeing this movie.

Try donating to a good cause instead.

14 thoughts on “A Very Short Review of this Weekend’s Big Cinematic Release

  1. I could not agree with you more. What bothers me, too, is that I have run across women who advocate that Anastasia’s treatment in this book is WHAT ALL WOMEN WANT! Which part do I want, exactly? Someone who uses me for his own pleasure without regard to me as a human? I am unclear. As a survivor, this way of thinking makes me want to hit things with hammers.

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    1. I’m fairly unclear on that as well — though I think some of the wanting seems to focus less on “a man who does X to me, whether I will or nil” and more on “a man I can heal through the strength of my love.” Which seems an even more dangerous fantasy to me. Beauty & the Beast updated with a wikipedia-level (mis)understanding of BDSM…

      I am quite glad the hullabaloo that preceded the film’s opening has finally died down. There were not enough hammers in the world, that week.

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  2. I refused to buy these books and couldn’t find anyone to lend them to me (our local library chose not to carry them), so I resorted to YouTube as well. I found a very funny young English girl doing a mock-along reading and was very much enjoying her take when James and her publisher threatened legal action for copyright infringement and she had to take all her videos down. 😦

    I ended up listening to what I guess were the sanctioned audiobooks on YouTube. They weren’t intentionally funny, but I laughed a lot at them, anyway. I could not possibly have actually read them. The writing and the (non)plot were just too awful and kind of dull.

    Great post and I agree with it all. Know your enemy, for sure!

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    1. There is something about the absurdity of this particular rendition that makes it my very favorite, particularly when Cookie Monster breaks character, because the book is even more absurd than a guy reading 50 Shades as Cookie Monster:

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  3. With all the controversy surrounding the book I almost want to read it to understand what everyone is talking about. It’s very potent that a lot of people are saying domestic violence is really what’s going on yet a lot of others are seeing something entirely different when they read.. or perhaps receiving it differently or just not seeing what’s really there beneath the sexiness.

    Just read this by Kristine Sidney. I think she too brings up some good points. http://kosheradobo.com/2015/02/16/in-partial-defense-of-50-shades-of-grey/

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    1. Ha! I get that. Let me see if I can spare you the trouble: minus a few of the more particular bells-and-whistles, FSoG is fairly standard Harlequin romance stuff, in the sense of “virgin ingenue meets handsome & wealthy asshole, sticks around and loves him despite the assholery (I did mention he’s hot hot HOT, yes?), and triumphs in the end, when Mr. Dreamy realizes the error of his ways and marries her, forswearing being as asshole forever more.” Women have been reading this kind of stuff — both with and against the grain — since the advent of the novel. And people have been arguing about the meaning of women’s sexuality-qua-readership just as long!

      Two points about those bells-and-whistles that are particularly resonant for me:
      1) The way the character of Christian Grey imposes sexually violent acts on Anastasia Steele (“you’ll do this or else”) and the way she is described as feeling frightened, trapped, and often weeping…it often comes so close to what happened between my ex and me that I almost can’t breathe. I accept the concept that some women find enough fantasy in this to get their rocks off. At the same time, I will never not turn a critical eye to this kind of fantasy.

      2) I am truly repulsed by the way this book, its author, and many of its defenders are defending this novel’s incredibly sketchy and inaccurate portrayal of the practices engaged in by ethical BDSM’ers as if it fairly represents the kink community. Who are real people, who — out in the real world — can be lose their jobs, their homes, even their children, if their private sexual behaviors become known. Precisely because of the kinds of misinformation and misrepresentation included in this book. To draw a really loose analogy: US popular culture abounds with stereotypes of Indians, critiques of which are often dismissed as if no real native people’s lives are affected by broad cultural misunderstanding and misrepresentations of their lives.

      Gah! Sorry I went on so long. Thanks for your comment! And for tolerating this response all the way to the end!

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      1. Some really great points here. Thanks for all the analysis. All this affirms to me that the world is craving something real and authentic when it comes to eroticism and sensuality even if that isn’t what the book or the movie portray or transmit. Strikes me that the author struck a nerve for sure…. Now what remains untapped yet longed for that is a book and movie I would like to see.

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  4. Alice, I wanted to applaud this post as well – I’ve never read the book. I had heard enough about it from my sweet posse of literate, sex-positive friends to know that it would leave me laughing and cringing. And after reading a few commentaries/plot summaries/quotes I’m really glad I chose not to dive into that particular bit of torment and will avoid the movie. See? Informed and consensual is how the kinky people do it. It wasn’t a “hell yes!” so I didn’t do it. Sometimes, I dive in and realize it’s a “hell, no!” or even just a “meh” or a “huh, we didn’t communicate that well” and take the appropriate steps. And as someone who plays in many sex-positive arenas, learning to listen for and ask about your own and others’ areas of enthusiastic consent is critical.

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  5. Well congratulations on being the 1st blog that I follow to comment on FSOG. I’m rather surprised that no one has said very much, maybe they’re waiting until they see the movie to begin their rants, or applause…depending. Anyway, besides the obvious issues with the book, which is all that I can speak to as I don’t plan to see the movie, I didn’t even like the writing in general very much, although I suppose not too many were reading the book for the overall benefit of reading some outstanding piece of literature. I spent most of my short reading time being angry with Anastasia, because yes, I will say it honestly here – I wanted to tell her to stop being stupid, open her eyes and GET OUT. But then I remembered that she was *only* a character in a book and that no one in real life would ever tolerate what she was buying into…ahem, and then I thought, well that’s quite judgey on my part, and indeed yes, quite a few would actually tolerate the goings on in the book, for many and varied reasons, some that make a bit of sense in the BDSM world, and then some who cannot see a way out of abuse. And then I just went to the last chapter of the last book, read the ending and was even more disgusted.

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    1. Honored to be first! 😉

      Nobody abuses Anastasia Steele like EL James abuses Anastasia Steele. And nobody is quite as pissed off about this book as members of the BDSM community are pissed off. Because no responsible kinkster would engage in the behavior depicted here.

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