Thursday, March 6, 2014

Let's Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 16!

I'm back!  Unfortunately, I've been going through some bad depression once again, so... yeah.  That's why.  I'm getting treatment and hopefully will be on the up-slope soon.

(No, I'm not depressed from reading Fifty Shades of Grey.  I'm depressed from the stuff that made me so good at spotting abusive behaviors in Fifty Shades of Grey.)


In our last installment, our Brave Hero threatened to rape the heroine, and then they went off and had consensual sex, or as consensual as it can be immediately after a rape threat.  Making jokes about this book has become increasingly difficult.  It's like, I want to write about things besides abuse, but literally nothing else happens!



Content warnings for this chapter: Kidnapping, extremely graphic physical abuse, sexual assault for the umpteenth time, homophobia, even more emotional abuse than usual.

“Why don’t you like to be touched?” I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes. “Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia.”
Damn skippy.

Hang on... how does he know the title of the book???
“Do you have something to tell me?” his voice is suddenly stern. I frown . Crap. “I had a dream this morning.” “Oh?” He glares at me. Double crap. Am I in trouble?
Your eyes do not deceive you.  Stone PunchBeef is having an abusive episode over the possibility that she dreamed something he wouldn't approve of.
“You need to sort out some contraception.” He is so bossy. I stare at him blankly. He sits back on the bed as he puts on his shoes and socks.“Do you have a doctor?” I shake my head. We are back to mergers and acquisitions – another 180-degree mood swing. He frowns. “I can have mine come and see you at your apartment – Sunday morning before you come and see me. Or he can see you at my place. Which would you prefer?”
Ewww.  ("Mergers and acquisitions" is how Ana refers to the contract-y, weirdly formal aspects of their relationship.  It's also an American Psycho reference but I'm not sure if E.L. James knows that.)  If the issue is money, just give her cash to cover the appointment and prescription.  Having his doctor see her is just incredibly inappropriate and suggests that he's planning to make the doctor violate her confidentiality bigtime.
“I’d like to do a scene with you. But I won’t until you’ve signed, so I know you’re ready.”
He sure does a lot of rapid back-and-forth between "nothing until we sign a contract!" and "except for repeated sexual assault, hitting you, domination, bondage..."
“You’d kidnap me?” “Oh yes,” he grins. “Hold me against my will?” Jeez this is hot. “Oh yes,” he nods. “And then we’re talking TPE 24/7.” “You’ve lost me,” I breathe, my heart is pounding… is he serious? “Total Power Exchange – round the clock.” His eyes are shining, and I can feel his excitement from where I sit. Holy shit.
God dammit, whoever's teaching E.L. James kink-related words and then leaving her to imagine the definitions on her own, could you knock that off?  Or at least teach her some fake ones so we can have some fun when her characters start saying things like "I'm going to give you the Ostrich Valentine tonight, my little Weasel."

Total power exchange is, like the name implies, an exchange.  It's where a person says "I have power, but I am giving control of that power over to another person."  (I need to do an entire post elaborating on this, but "power over someone" doesn't just mean "hurt them all you like."  You can use power to care for them as well.)  You can't do total power exchange with someone you're holding as a hostage, because they have nothing to exchange.  They can't give you anything if you've forcibly taken it all already.

...And that was far more gentle and reasonable than I needed to be when explaining why it's wrong to kidnap and torture people, holy shit indeed.

Anyway, the context for this conversation was Ana asking what would happen if she didn't sign the contact.  Y'know, it's one thing to have a flawed romance between characters who still have a lot of issues to work out.  It's another to make the reader want to call in a SWAT team.
"What did I say I’d do to you if you rolled your eyes at me again?” Shit. He sits down on the edge of the bed. “Come here,” he says softly. I blanch. Jeez… he’s serious. I sit staring at him completely immobile. “I haven’t signed,” I whisper. “I told you what I’d do. I’m a man of my word. I’m going to spank you, and then I’m going to fuck you very quick and very hard.”
Okay, buddy, she didn't fucking sign.  If you're not going to do a scene until she signs, don't fucking do a scene.  "Oh, but it's different, because she was bad." Bite me.
My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire. [...] Should I run? [...]  Do I let him do this or do I say no, and then that’s it? Because I know it will be over if I say no.
This is "Fifty Shades of Grey," summed up, here in this quote.  She claims she's turned on by BDSM... then goes on to talk at much greater length about how she's terrified and doesn't want this and is only putting up with it so she won't be a lonely cat lady forever.
He places his hand on my naked behind, softly fondling me, stroking round and round with his flat palm. And then his hand is no longer there… and he hits me – hard. Ow! My eyes spring open in response to the pain, and I try to rise, but his hand moves between my shoulder blades keeping me down. He caresses me again where he’s hit me, and his breathing’s changed – it’s louder, harsher. He hits me again and again, quickly in succession. Holy fuck it hurts. I make no sound, my face screwed up against the pain. I try and wriggle away from the blows – spurred on by adrenaline spiking and coursing through my body. 
She is not a bottom.  She does not like pain.  She is not a sub.  She does not like punishment.  The book is stunningly clear about these facts.  Which means we're just reading a description of a woman being beaten. Which makes it really hard for me to consider wanking to this.
He hits me again… this is getting harder to take. My face hurts, it’s screwed up so tight. He strokes me gently and then the blow comes. I cry out again. “No one to hear you, baby, just me.” And he hits me again and again. From somewhere deep inside, I want to beg him to stop. But I don’t. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction. He continues the unrelenting rhythm. I cry out six more times. Eighteen slaps in total.
Different people have different styles of BDSM, so your mileage may vary on this part, but even if this were consensual it would be an absolutely wretched spanking scene for me.  The top's not doing any warm-up and he's not checking in with the bottom.  His technique is probably terrible because he's never had any education or solicited any feedback.  The bottom is getting nothing positive out of this and the only reason she's not safewording is because she knows her top would be a shit about it.
“Enough,” he breathes hoarsely. “Well done, Anastasia. Now I’m going to fuck you.”
Do we have to even discuss whether she consents to this?  She doesn't run away, is about all I can say.  Except that if she did run away, it's pretty clear (he already did it when she struggled during the beating) that Three WolfMoon would just physically restrain her and then he'd be angrier.  So our definition of "consent" is basically down to "doesn't teleport away" at this point.

So he fucks her, and:
He gently strokes my hair. I’m on his chest again. But this time, I don’t have the strength to lift my hand and feel him. Boy… I survived. That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought.
Survived.  Wasn't so bad. Stoic.  This is not how you spell enjoyment, E.L. James.  This is not how kinky people feel after good scenes.
I rise stiffly and put my sweatpants back on. They chafe a little against my still-smarting behind. I’m so confused by my reaction. I remember him saying – I can’t remember when – that I would feel so much better after a good hiding. How can that be so? I really don’t get it. But strangely, I do. I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience, in fact, I would still go a long way to avoid it, but now… I have this safe, weird, bathed in afterglow, sated feeling. I put my head in my hands. I just don’t understand.
I guess this is supposed to be our "realizes she was kinky all along" moment, but honestly, it still sounds like she hated it and is basically just glad it's over.
“I found some baby oil. Let me rub it into your behind.” What? “No. I’ll be fine.” “Anastasia,” he warns, and I want to roll my eyes but quickly stop myself. I stand facing the bed. 
You have to remember, this book was written.  Like, E.L. James decided what to put in it.  She could've decided to put in Ana wanting and welcoming the baby oil, or Slab BulkHead going "okay then, suit yourself" when she said no.  But she did not make these decisions.
I close the door and stand helpless in the living room of an apartment that I shall only spend another two nights in. A place I have lived happily for almost four years… yet today, for the first time ever, I feel lonely and uncomfortable here, unhappy with my own company. Have I strayed so far from who I am? I know that lurking, not very far under my rather numb exterior, is a well of tears. What am I doing? The irony is I can’t even sit down and enjoy a good cry. I’ll have to stand. I know it’s late, but I decide to call my mom. [...]“Ana? What’s wrong?” She’s all seriousness now. “Nothing, Mom, I just wanted to hear your voice.” She’s silent for a moment. “Ana, what is it? Please tell me.” Her voice is soft and comforting, and I know that she cares. Uninvited, my tears begin to flow. I have cried so often in the last few days.
So I didn't realize this needed saying, but... constantly crying and hating yourself is not a sign of a good relationship or a good BDSM dynamic.  This isn't one of those "the more you suffer, the more you're earning your true love" dealies.  It's just suffering.  It's not okay, it's not romantic, and it's not much fun to read about, for that matter.
[Ana's mom:] “Honey, you sound so unhappy. Come home – visit with us. I miss you, darling. Bob would love to see you too. You can get some distance and maybe some perspective. You need a break. You’ve been working so hard.” 
[Kate:] “Just tell him to take a hike, Ana. You’ve been so up and down since you met him. I’ve never seen you like this.”
It's things like this that occasionally make me pause and wonder about E. L. James' personal life.  Because she's hardly what I'd call an astute observer of natural human behavior, but her details about an abusive relationship are always pitch-perfect.  Friends and family voicing their concern, telling her she isn't herself, that they can see how he's making her miserable?  Something about this is harrowingly realistic.

I don't want to make assumptions, but it worries me that E.L. James thinks Portland is north of Vancouver and people in the US say "pram" a lot, but she knows exactly how abusive relationships develop.  It worries me a lot.
[Kate:]“Are you okay?” “I fell over and landed on my behind.”
"I walked into a door."  ROMANCE!

...Okay, I've lied about where I got bruises, but the difference is that I actually enjoyed getting those bruises.

So she chats with Kate for a while and has one of those rare moments of actually seeming comfortable (GO TEAM KATE), then trades some inanely pissy emails with Prick ManMeat, she breaks down crying and hating herself again, then goes to sleep.  And then Splint ChestHair breaks into her house, again, but this time Kate is there.
“Do you want me to throw this asshole out?” she asks, radiating thermo-nuclear hostility. Christian raises his eyebrows at her, no doubt surprised by her flattering epithet and her feral antagonism.
Oh the writing.  E.L. James certainly can turn a phrase... into complete hash.

Still - GO TEAM KATE!
“Talk to me,” he whispers. “You told me you were okay. I’d never have left you if I thought you were like this.” I stare down at my hands. What can I say that I haven’t said already? I want more. I want him to stay because he wants to stay with me, not because I’m a blubbering mess, and I don’t want him to beat me, is that so unreasonable? 
“I take it that when you said you were okay, you weren’t.” I flush. “I thought I was fine.” “Anastasia, you can’t tell me what you think I want to hear. That’s not very honest,” he admonishes me. “How can I trust anything you’ve said to me?”
Ana having an emotional breakdown because she was beaten against her will--yet another thing Buck BurpSteak can make all about himself and his needs!

Have I mentioned yet that I have never hated a fictional character this much in my life?  I mean, I feel downright cozy with Sauron and Cruella De Ville, compared to this fucker.  And he's supposed to be some kind of too-good-to-be-true swoon-object.  I can't believe it.

The "you have to be honest with me" thing really sets me off, because I got a lot of that.  A lot of "how can I trust you, you have to tell the truth" silently accompanied by "but it better be a very specific truth or you're in big trouble."
“How did you feel while I was hitting you and after?” “I didn’t like it. I’d rather you didn’t do it again.” “You weren’t meant to like it.”
Well, there you go.  I mean, there's nothing that can really follow that in the discussion.  What's she supposed to say now, "I don't want you to do stuff I don't want"?  We've established he doesn't care.  There's basically nothing left now except the decision of whether to try to physically escape.
"I’ve wanted to spank you since you asked me if I was gay.”
There's a really weird undercurrent of homophobia in this book, on top of everything else.  Ana repeatedly asks if Brick HardMeat is gay (and at one point tells some women that he's gay so they'll stop swooning over him, then titters over her cleverness), and both of them agree that this is the worst thing you could possibly say to a man.  It's really unpleasant.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he murmurs. I frown. Jeez what have I done now? “I don’t have any condoms, Anastasia, and you know, you’re upset. Contrary to what your roommate believes, I’m not a priapic monster."
Oh, the "I'm not a monster" line.  I remember that one too.  The way it works is, they hit you a bunch and make you afraid of them, and then they raise their hand, and when you flinch, they yell at you about "Did you think I was going to hit you? What kind of monster do you think I am?"  I've been there.
“You beguile me, Christian. Completely overwhelm me. I feel like Icarus flying too close to the Sun,” I whisper. He gasps. “Well, I think you’ve got that the wrong way around,” he whispers. “What?” “Oh, Anastasia, you’ve bewitched me. Isn’t it obvious?”
What a lovely romantic exchange, if we can sort of forget somehow that this whole discussion started with "how dare you be upset that I beat you."
Holy cow. Christian Grey is sleeping with me, and in the comfort and solace of his arms, I drift into a peaceful sleep.
By holding such petty things as "being able to sleep with him" hostage and treating them like unreasonable requests, he's able to make the most basic gestures seem extravagant.  Wow, he didn't beat her again and he didn't make her sleep alone, that's basically winning the lottery as far as that relationship goes.

153 comments:

  1. I feel like all of these entries are going to start sounding the same, Cliff. Unfortunately, there's only so many different ways to phrase "wow, this Christian Gray guy seems like a real abusive piece of shit".

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    1. I know. But:

      1) I'm more than halfway now!

      2) These are easier to write when I'm depressed and can't get it together enough for an original essay.

      I don't know, maybe I'll start doubling up chapters where not much happens.

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    2. For what it's worth, I enjoy the repetition. It's validating for me. I mean, I would love to see more content and more original essays, of course, but part of the reason why I'm following this series of posts is because it's still kinda helpful to see "yes, this is abuse and abuse is wrong" written and repeated in a bunch of different ways, especially after reading the whole FSoG trilogy (because I guess I don't know what's good for me) and feeling really upset and watching the whole world disagree with me.

      It's like the exact opposite of how while being abused you see and hear "no, this is just how life is and why can't you shut up and accept it, you awful person?" repeated in a bunch of different ways.

      (Side note: hope things start looking better for you really soon, Cliff. <3)

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    3. Dani--if you haven't yet, you should check out Jenny Trout's recaps for the series. She's done all three books and she's really funny. She's got the same "what the actual fuck is wrong with this book" attitude.

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    4. I know that there are actually a bunch of people who agree that it's abuse, but we don't really hear about it for a few reasons. First off, everything immediately went to shit when Dr. Drew apparently said something like "it's abusive because BDSM is abuse" which just...really doesn't help matters, so now if I say that it's abusive, people will think that I'm saying that it's for what's essentially the window dressing, instead of the actual abusive stuff.
      Second, I remember reading an interesting thing (that may or may not have been linked from a previous chapter's comments, I don't remember how I found this) about how the E.L. was effectively silencing people on Twitter who said that the relationship in the book is abusive. Also, the fans will defend it to the death, as my boyfriend can attest. (He tried arguing the case against the books to his mother and grandmother after I told him about what happens, things didn't go so well.)
      I hope in a decade or so, this will be nigh-unreadable dreck just like what happened with old romance novels from the '70s. And then maybe can we just move on from shit like this as a culture? Please?

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    5. The impression I get -- from, uh the book titles -- is that the narrative arc of the trilogy is Gray is horribly broken and has weird horrible BDSM sex, and sweet innocent Ana fixes him and then he can have normal sex again. This works as alleged advertising for BDSM if you treat the last book as the equivalent of the clean-up reel from '50s exploitation films, though if this is the case, the fact that James feels she has to do this is significant. But that also makes it possible to reconcile "this is a romance"with "BDSM is abusive."

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    6. Obviously you should do whatever works for you.

      But I did want to say here - these may not be very funny, but for those of us without the detailed knowledge of how abusive relationships like this work, it is incredibly valuable.

      In workshops, they can tell you things like 'emotional manipulation', but that often doesn't make it clear what that *is*. This really does.

      And it's unique in what it's able to do, because we have all the abusive stuff and the way society enables it being called out, but at the same time, Ana isn't a real person we are horrified for the way we would be in a real account with this amount of detail.

      So thank you for doing this.

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  2. IDK, as a kid I always loved Cruella De Ville's style. I mean, dogs are great but a really good winter coat will last you years.

    In contrast, Slab McHardBrick makes me feel nauseas, even just reading about him by second hand like this.

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  3. Yeesh, I'd rather hang out with Hannibal Lecter, at least he pretends to be your friend.

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    1. have you read Hannible? he's downright sexy compared with Christian Grey! :p

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    2. Hannibal has many fine qualities, his charm, intelligence, and not raping people being just three of them. Okay, he has a tendency to kill people because they are rude, but aside from that...

      Christian Grey, meanwhile, has no such redeeming qualities.

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    3. and who hasn't wanted to kill the occasional rude person? i'm sure Hannibal would enjoy eating Christian Grey's liver.

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    4. Except that Christian's liver is soaked in booze from how often he and Ana throw back the wine, when he isn't beating her or putting his dick where it doesn't belong. Wine's good in food but not as a goddamn marinade.

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    5. I feel bad about laughing at this comment. XD It's funny because CG really is THAT awful?

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  4. Correct me if I'm wrong- I've never been in a d/s relationship- but the concept of sexually punishing someone for something you're *actually mad about* seems... pretty bad? I mean, even in the context of a scene where the person *wants* to be hit, which this isn't, I feel like you shouldn't do it because you're *actually* angry at them.

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    1. You're completely right. Some people do see "punishment" beatings and "fun" beatings as separate things (and I have very complicated and unsettled opinions about that, honestly), but even punishment REALLY shouldn't be about taking out your rage on a person.

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    2. Can't speak for anyone else, but 1. I don't do BDSM with my submissive partner when I'm mad at him because I usually don't want to have sex with someone I'm pissed at and 2. if my dominant partner wanted to hit me when he was angry with me, I would run for the hills. Ever been hit by a legitimately angry person? It hurts, and not in a good way.

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    3. My kink is to sub in good old-fashioned 'punishments' of a master/student, Upstairs-Downstairsy style (throw in a top with a cane & academic robes and I'm anyone's!). This is a totally separate thing for me to 'fun' spankings (say floggings with a gentle warm up): from a technical point of view, it *is* that zero-to-full-on-painful-in-one-slap thing you mentioned here, plus psychologically I guess it's role-playing situations where, in the past, children or people in a subordinate position really would have had no power or ability to consent. Therein (probably) lies the kink, but if a top mentions anything I might be perceived to have done wrong in 'real life', I caution immediately and if they don't get the hint straight away then I safeword. It is an instant change from feeling 'good vulnerable' to 'bad vulnerable': I don't want someone to hit me while they're smouldering over something I did to annoy them last week when I wasn't bending over. Ewww. That's why 50 'Ooh, Isn't It Sexy & Fun' Shades is such a pit of vipers: I mean, I get (a little shamefully) turned on by seeing non-con punishment in a period drama or something like that, but then IT'S NOT TRYING TO BE SEX! OR KINK! OR EVEN FUN!

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    4. My sub and I like to differentiate between "sexy", "punishment" and "cathartic / therapeutic" spankings. There's room for overlap, but the punishment kind is generally ones where we've set up parameters for what constitutes an infraction or grounds for a beating, generally on a whim. The cathartic or therapeutic ones are when he's feeling guilty or ashamed and/or he's bottling it all up and needs a good cry that only a good beating can wring out.

      Never .... NEVER have scenes been anything like this fuckery with Ana and Dick McCockmunch. Neither of us can even think about this book without cringing at how fucking triggery it is, though I'm kind of looking forward to the FSoG movie because holy shit, they're really going to try and make it with a PG-13 rating and it's going to be a hot mess.

      ... Something I would like to point out that's kinda off-topic, but: As awful as Grey himself is, I notice haven't really been noting how much of a dick Ana herself is. True, she can't ever top Grey in dickishness, and her being quite unlikeable herself would never justify this kind of abuse even in fiction, but ... really, she's quite an asshole, in her own way. Especially to Kate.

      --- The Countess

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  5. I don't know how you do this. It was painful to read this, I can only imagine how painful it must have been to read the actual book.

    E.L. James is describing a textbook abusive relationship. What is Ana getting out of it? The occasional cuddle and not ending up alone with a bunch of cats. No enjoyment, no satisfaction, no "Oh I kind of like this". Just being controlled and beaten and accepting it instead of loneliness.

    That last bit really made my skin crawl. I heard all those stories in my head when women say "He's really a good guy! Gentle and sweet". And she stays for those moments - even if those moments are so incredible rare, between beatings, rage and abuse. That is NOT a healthy relationship.

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  6. I always figured this book was terrible, but reading your posts is flabbergasting. I keep thinking that it can't get any worse, and then...

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  7. Fifty Shades of Grey is horrible. Full stop.

    On another note, I'd be super interested in learning more about TPE. My SO and I are pretty much BDSM beginners, and it's cool getting more ideas. I always love reading your posts, I hope you feel better soon.

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  8. I wonder if E.L. James is a domestic abuse survivor. She's so good at describing it, it seems like she's had firsthand experience. For her sake, I hope not.

    -E

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    1. I'm not sure about this. I totally see the things that suggest she might be - she definitely does have a very in-depth understanding of abuse. But I also wonder if an abuse survivor would be willing to take this level of abuse and pretend it's sexy? I dunno.

      I definitely get the impression that she's fascinated by bottom kink but not bottom kinky herself; she doesn't get how pain can be sexy, so she writes pain as horrible and then tacks on "but it was sooo sexy" at the end. I can see how she could end up doing that: I would really struggle to write a character enjoying being beaten myself, because I just don't get it. But, you know... if you just don't get it, maybe you should ask someone who does, or write something else, or at least have second thoughts when you start writing domestic violence into your romance scenes.

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    2. (different anon)
      I think you make a very interesting point here. Somewhere along the lines, though, I started connecting it to some thoughts that I've been having for a while, so I'll just throw this out there as a possibility.
      I'm wondering if she's also throwing in the hurty sex because that makes Ana automatically more submissive? Like, I've noticed a tendency in media where it seems like people only seem to be submissive if they're also masochists, which is obviously not the case in real life. In media land, it seems like all kinky people are sadistic dominants or masochistic submissives (or sadomasochists, but they're all evil) and perhaps she felt like the only way to have it really qualify as kinky sex was to bring in pain, because apparently only pain is real. Or perhaps kinkland has been trying to market themselves as dark and scary and it's worked all too well. Or, you know, maybe your point is the correct one. I don't really know, just wanted to throw this out there.

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    3. Like, I've noticed a tendency in media where it seems like people only seem to be submissive if they're also masochists, which is obviously not the case in real life.

      Yeah. All these things are separate axes. And plenty of people are masochists and not submissive, so they want to be spanked (or whatever) simply and solely because it feels good, just like you'd want any other kind of sex-play. So this kind of scene is particularly WTF for them.

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    4. March 7th 4:00 anon here. You're both right about dom/sub versus sado/maso - I realise that I sort of conflated the two in my comment, I was just typing too fast for my brain 'cause it was very late and I needed to sleep.

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    5. You guys have some really good points here.

      ~someone who is submissive but very much not a masochist

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  9. I truly missed you last couple of weeks. I hope you feel better soon, and that you get all the understanding and hugs you need.

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  10. Techniques my sister has used against me:

    - Abusive behavior, then "Talk to me. I'm concerned about you. I'd never have left you if I knew you were like this."

    - Discouraging me from appealing to others about her behavior

    - The "I'm not a monster" line. In fact, she breaks down completely and acts like a wounded animal if I even insinuate that she ever treated me badly. And then of course I feel bad and capitulate. She says she doesn't want to be thought of as a monster, after she acts like a monster. It's emotional manipulation.

    - Holding petty things hostage and treating them like unreasonable requests.

    I am so tired of being told I should be grateful to my sister for treating me like shit. Every time I read about abusive relationships I see my younger self. But, I mean, it wasn't all the time at all, and she has helped me a lot, and I can't demonize her... I just hate this. I hate my life. I hate having to deal with her every day. I hate her getting really offended unless I call her every day. I hate her refusing to let me distance myself. I just want to get away.

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    1. I just wanted to reply to point out that you do not owe it to toxic people to keep them in your life just because they are family. You may or may not be in a position where you can just stop seeing your sister and block her calls - if you live with other family or are dependent on them, that may be difficult - but hopefully someday you will be. And if you are, you should consider options like not calling her, hanging up on her, not going to see her, etc. I don't know you or the details of your situation, so I can't say what is right for you, but if you hate your life then you should see if you can change something about it, and contact with your sister seems like the obvious thing. Some people get told you have to keep trying if it's family, but you don't. Many people cut family members out of their lives, and then have much better lives for it. I hope yours improves.

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    2. i completely agree, your real family are people who love and care for you. not people who abuse you. my sister was really emotionally and physically abusive to me when i was young, and it was awful, everyone kept on treating it like 'sibling rivalry' and my parents ignored it...i really hope you find some peace and space from her.

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    3. I agree with the other Anymous. You have a right to your boundaries. If you can, try not calling her every day. She'll have a tantrum about it. Let her. Obviously don't do this if it would be dangerous to you physically or emotionally, but it doesn't sound like things are great emotionally as it is. Cut back to once a week, perhaps? You don't need to be drawn into a discusion of why. "Why don't you want to talk to me every day, why, don't you love me any more?" "I just don't want to call you every day. I value our relationship and do want to keep talking to you, just not every day". Keep repeating yourself. If she uses the weekly phone call to give you grief about not calling, you can hang up. She'll learn not to do that. If she wants to talk to you she'll get over it. If she complains to other relatives about how 'mean' you're being and those relatives talk to you, you don't need to give them an explanation either.

      I really really hope things improve for you.

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    4. What Kat said. Your real family are the people who love and support you; everything else is just an accident of birth.

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    5. People in our lives who do these kinds of things, that I call abusive, they are real people too. They can be quite capable of helping us out in good ways, giving us good advice, having their own struggles. They can also simultaneously be abusive and toxic. We have every right to make our own decisions about who we want in our lives, even if they're family. I left my father and stepmother behind ten years ago to the day, and I haven't seen or talked to them since. They weren't all bad, evil, mythical monsters - they were doing the best they could with what they knew, and also very very ill (I say this as someone who also has serious mental illnesses - but I'm in treatment.) However for me, in my situation, my life is infinitely better without them in it.

      I'm not saying you have to or should draw the line where I do, but I hope for your sake that your situation improves. I really do. To wherever you need it to be.

      I miss my dad still, sometimes, even now. But I still don't contact them, because it would entail being entangled with everything they're about. They're abusive and they have zero respect for boundaries - if they even see the boundaries at all. My life has steadily improved, even with the rough patches, ever since.

      -J.M.M.

      Delete
  11. Hey Cliff,

    it's excruciating for all of us - this is bad sex, bad writing....

    Cosmock!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't tell Cliff what to do, man!

      Delete
    2. You don't like bad sex and bad writing... but you want to see Cosmocking? :p

      It's on my to-do list, though.

      Delete
    3. Cosmocking tends to be less "horrific crimes presented as love" and more "you know what's sexy? penile flossing!"

      Delete
    4. I fucking lost it at penile flossing, ohmygod.

      YOU'VE JINXED IT. I'm fully awaiting the day Cosmo asks their readers to bust out the floss in bed now!

      ... If they haven't already???

      Delete
    5. It was with a lubed-up shoelace, but yes they have.

      Delete
    6. I've seen 'tie your lover up with silk stockings or dental floss' in Cosmo.

      Delete
  12. Oh shit, this just keeps getting worse. The phone call from her mom (I just wrote "my mom", oops)--I've had that exact conversation. "Honey, would you like to come down for a weekend or something, just to take a little time to relax and get away from things?" That and "That's not very honest. How can I trust anything you say?" have left me a little shaky, tbh, because I know those patterns! It makes me worry about the author too.

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  13. Emotional whiplash. Yay, Cliff is back and so is this tearing apart of 50shades! Oh noes, she has been having a terrible time and now I feel sad because I don't want Cliff to be sad.

    I know the bruise thing though! I wear a uniform for work, so it is easy enough to remember not to get bruises where the uniform doesn't cover. But, every now and then there is either a misjudge, or I accidently reveal something. I remember being paid out for the bruise on my elbow, if only they knew I had about 100 (consented) bruises hiding underneath the uniform!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can empathize. Thankfully, my work uniform allows us to wear shirts underneath if it's too cold outside (which it was for the past few months) so I got to wear a turtleneck for a few months. Alas, it's getting warmer and my hair is too short to hide anything, so it's time to get paranoid about my neck again and not do anything with it...

      Delete
  14. To me, the book is always just "The Horrible Book," because at this point I can't even make myself say the title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find it helps if you pronounce it "Effsogg".

      Delete
    2. Oh my goodness, you are wonderful.

      Delete
  15. For the record, I do actually enjoy reading these--it makes me feel less alone and you manage to sum up all the problems much more eloquently than I can.

    Keep on keepin' on there, Cliff.

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  16. Ok, I was still on the fence about his actions being abusive (Disclosure- I randomly found this blog and this is the first part I've read of this "book" - So I am in no way defending his previous actions or the horrible writing.) But the spanking and then the "no one can hear you , baby..." really crossed the line for me---ick. Now I feel gross.

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  17. "If the issue is money, just give her cash to cover the appointment and prescription. Having his doctor see her is just incredibly inappropriate and suggests that he's planning to make the doctor violate her confidentiality bigtime."

    He's a good man. And thorough.

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    Replies
    1. I think the doctor comes to Christian's apartment and does the whole thing there.

      If that doesn't scream back-ally gynecologist I don't know what does.

      Delete
    2. In the next chapter he goes on about how she's (yeah, the doctor's pronoun changes over the course of ten pages, lol what's an editor) "the best ob/gyn in Seattle," because obviously that's necessary for a simple birth control prescription.

      Delete
    3. More fun editing fails: there are numerous spelling and grammatical mistakes, and the quantities of objects change. I don't remember what it was exactly (I think apples in a bowl?) but there's four of them one minute, then three, then "fourthree." She doesn't keep track of her pronouns, either, so one minute she's talking to Christian's father and the next she's giving "him" a handy under the table. The last male character she mentioned was the dad, so...?

      Delete
  18. I love you and I'm so glad you're back. I've been checking every day! Thank you for reading and recapping so that the rest of us are spared the agony. <3

    ReplyDelete
  19. Eugh. The conversations in this book keep sounding way too familiar.

    ReplyDelete
  20. So ive been obsessively following your blog for some time (think 2 maybe 3 years.) I came for the cosmocking, wound up staying for awesome wit and writing skills. I just want to say that you've honestly been a HUGE role model for me in figuring out how I felt about gender roles, feminism, consent, bdsm, basically everything that I know about these things has stemmed from you. Whenever anyone starts to question our generally fucked up societal values your blog is the first place I reccomend they go to. Anyways I realize this may not be exactly relevant this post but I just felt it was finally time to work up the courage and let you know how awesome you are. I saw that you said you've been slipping back into depression recently, and believe me I have been there and done that. I just want you to know that your words and what you do have spread sooo far, and have literally changed lives. Also I love your work regardless of whether you post once a day or once a year, I hope you never feel obligated to write on a bad day. So there it is, thank you for making me into the person I am. You have my everlasting gratitude and respect. -Julia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julia has just summed up a lot of what I was planning to tell you Cliff, so I second her post so you don't have to read it twice!
      I introduced your blog to my SO with whom I have long involved discussions about gender roles and you explain things in such a way that makes it easy for us to talk out complicated things. So thanks for all your help reinforcing good relationship habits with your advice and insight.
      I hope that we the fans can bring a little light and peace to your life they way you do to ours.
      -K

      Delete
    2. Long time reader, first time commenter here.

      I second too. I have been reading your blog for ages and it has completely changed how I think about things. You are amazing! I know you probably don't feel like that now but I just wanted you to hear it.

      I hope you feel better soon.

      Delete
    3. You and your blog have been and continue to be a breathe of fresh air in a suffocating world! I want to echo the above messages of thanks. All the way down here in New Zealand your combination of clear thinking and courageous honesty has profoundly affected my life and my friends. It is an ongoing grief to me that I don't live in the US and probably will never have a chance to meet you!

      I suspect you can't hear positive stuff right now but I hope you'll come back to this later when hope is a bit more possible.

      You make a difference!
      The world is more beautiful because of your presence in it.

      Thank you for being you.

      Delete
  21. I'm terribly sorry you're going through such a rough time. It seems cliche but you're not alone. And some of us really, truly look forward to your posts!

    That said, I just finished reading Jenny Trout's (Abigail Barnette) The Boss and The Girlfriend. This is BDSM done right. You can definitely wank to this and not feel remotely guilty... It's definitely a good escape. It might give you a welcome reprieve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's funny, I only know Jenny Trout because she's also done a 50 shades recap! She got through all three of the books, somehow. It was great.

      Delete
    2. She actually started writing the Boss series specifically because, having seen what an enormous shitshow 50 Shades was, she wanted to write the book it SHOULD have been. So it's still about a young woman exploring kink with and eventually falling for a more experienced, dominant billionaire, but unlike Ana and Christian, her couple are reasonable human beings who actually like and respect each other and who have kinky sex because they both enjoy it.

      - different anon who also thinks Jenny Trout is awesome

      Delete
    3. You know, that might be the most positive aspect of the horribleness that is FSoG: it is so frustrating that people have to go and write good BDSM fiction, just to get over the horror. I'll have to go and check out those books...

      Delete
  22. It's really disturbing that people find this romantic in any way.

    There was a girl who came on Fetlife recently and started making up stories about her "Dom". It was all "He spanked me because I needed to be punished and then he yelled at me and told me I was stupid and I've known him for a week and I just love him so much," and the general response was, "What are you being punished for and how can he be your Dom after a week?" and she responded with "Well, he's my Dom and he spanked me so I signed a contract."

    50 Shades of Grey, much? I hate that these books are taking what is a sacred and special part of me and part of my life and twisting it into something that is dark and disturbing and abusive and trying to frame it as every woman's fantasy.

    Your definition/description of TPE should be required reading for anyone contemplating a journey into BDSM. And I've missed your posts and hope you'll have a peaceful and happy day tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Wait, you're more than halfway through the book and that contract-or-not-shit is still going on? I thought that only germans get off on contracts... (i'm from germany, so i feel like i'm allowed to gossip ;) )

    ReplyDelete
  24. Some posts ago someone raised the question of why women all over the world like this book. In a way it is interesting that a book devouted to female "erotica" (lots of quotations marks here) was a best seller, specialy in my country which is very concervative cocerning women desires (Brazil..so, sorry the grammar and spelling mistakes). On the other hand the whole text seems to be" do this or this very rich guy won´t want you,..abuse is justificable it you´ll end up with a guy like this" which is disturbing,,,The pop culture narrattive is full of "stand by your man"...and this book peaks this trope to the most terrible extremes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely - the stuff about him being rich and handsome clearly are to tell us that this man is worth all the pain! Although he appears to have no redeeming features at all, having a tedious personality and an overweening sense of his entitlement (which is at least realistic!)

      Delete
  25. this dude is like Aaron Echolls in Veronica Mars only hasn't killed anyone as far as we know?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that show!!! Though at least Christian has the very very dubious upside of not going for underage girls.

      Delete
    2. Well wouldn't be surprised if he did - he does seem to enjoy a girl with about the same life experience as a 14 year old. Not even talking sexually now, more the not having a computer, doctor, or seemingly knowing how anything in the world works.

      Delete
    3. Also when she'd put on pigtails he remarked on how hot it was because it made her look so young. I guess 21 is too old for him? Note that she'd specifically done the pigtails because she didn't want more sex and she figured looking too young would turn him off of it. Then they had sex.

      I'm not knocking age play, but I don't think Christian is capable of 'play'.

      Delete
  26. "Have I mentioned yet that I have never hated a fictional character this much in my life? I mean, I feel downright cozy with Sauron and Cruella De Ville, compared to this fucker"

    Ditto

    ReplyDelete
  27. Are we entirely sure James intended this to be sexy? It still wouldn't explain the reaction of fans, but I could maybe chalk that up to disasterously poor reading comprehension.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's worse. She intended it to be ROMANTIC.

      Delete
    2. I'm afraid she's actually done interviews where she said that she considers the books "Romance" novels, and that she just doesn't shy away from sex because sex is a part of life.

      Delete
    3. Naturally, her books all contain the exact amount of shame and revulsion towards the acts within as society deems necessary. Because uncomfortable sex with partners you can't and shouldn't trust is a part of life.

      Delete
  28. 'I'm not a monster' reminds me far too much of the zombie in 'Re: Your Brains' trying to assure his victim he isn't a monster before realising that he is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjMiDZIY1bM
    Jon

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    Replies
    1. I gotta say this comment is spot on. This song reminds me of my own experiences with abusive people, and Christian Grey is a TEXTBOOK abuser.

      Delete
    2. While I want to be able to see it as just a silly song you have a point. The 'monster boss' does have far to many aspects in common with abusers for it to be otherwise although I suspect (my experiences prevent me being certain) that there are many differences of degree and some key ones of kind.
      Jon

      Delete
  29. Sorry - I was inconsiderate. i jsut want to wish you a speedy recovery, Cliff.
    Jon

    ReplyDelete
  30. I can't even with some of this. I can't touch the abuse. Though I'm glad to read what you write, Cliff.

    BUT, when I read this: "My insides practically contort with potent, needy, liquid, desire."
    Uhhh. Sounds like somebody is having tummy trouble!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who read that and thought "Insides contorted and liquidy? SO not a good time for sexy things."

      Delete
  31. You mention American Psycho, and people have mentioned his similarities to Patrick Bateman before on your posts. I cannot seriously believe that such a poor writer as James would really have the wherewithal to insert such sly references, but sometimes it all seems like too much of a coincidence (like the Ana and Mia thing). AP was a savage satire - if this were better written would it be a savage satire? Has James fooled us all?!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Also... he's already had PIV sex with her. Isn't it a bit after-the-fact to be worrying about contraception?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They used a condom. I think that may be the book's one redeeming feature, that at least for a while the condom use is consistent. (Then it all goes to hell in book 3, where babies make everything better.)

      Delete
    2. Like the Anon above said, they used a condom. But he doesn't like using condoms so he make's personal decisions regarding Ana's sexual health for her. Because romance.

      Delete
    3. Birth control ends up playing a big role in the series...so of course ELJ gets it all wrong.

      Delete
  33. I don't know why I look forward to reading these, but I do, so thanks for keeping on going. Even writing about "effsogg" - as someone in the comments put it - you're a a good writer and enjoyable to read.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Okay so I don't know if this is a good place to post, but I just heard saw this interview of Rita Ora on metro where she said that the movie is going to have some huge change from the book. Specifically, "Rita Ora has hinted that fans will be left ‘shocked’ after a surprise twist in the upcoming 50 Shades Of Grey movie."

    ...Are they going to portray it as the abusive relationship it is? Can I hope for that much? I highly doubt it, but I have to wonder what's going to be the shocking change. I mean, is there any way they could make it worse? It has to be a positive change, right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Apparently, when Wanker O'Cocknugget turns up in the hardware store, Ana's in the process of demonstrating a chainsaw to a customer. She is so startled by his manly presence that she spins round without turning off the machine...

      After that, it's pretty much Fifty Shades of Entrail

      Delete
    2. A morally ambiguous overlord drops a large iron pole right on top of Christian's head from their space station lair.

      Delete
    3. Dying laughing...I wish it weren't so late so I could come up with a clever twist, too!

      Delete
  35. Just wanted to add to the list of people who look forward to your posts and wish you well during this tough time. Your posts have given me so much clarity. Please don't let statements like this make you feel guilty and like you OWE us your posts - they are amazing gifts, and the internet is lucky to have you. Just know that it loves you back, and hopes that all these good tidings will wash over you and help you heal.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I guess the 2nd to last quote is supposed to be the big climax where the man admits his love for our heroine! However it can't ever excuse everything else that he does. In the context of this relationship, them sleeping together, or even cuddling seems special; especially that he's breaking his own rules; however as Cliff pointed out it doesn't really deserve to be considered a magical romantic moment. This chapter, along with chapter 12, firmly establishes that the relationship as a whole is non-consensual, it is to a committed relationship as a one-night-stand is to date rape. He isn't giving her a choice.

    I feel a strange urge to play Devil's Advocate, but the only thing I can think of is to point out that in previous decades, like the 1980s and earlier, romance novels with clearly abusive relationships were relatively common. I've heard of books with contorted plots designed to justify how your 19th century fiancee might rape you while mistaking you for a anonymous prostitute. Women gets kidnapped and raped by pirates, vikings, the Taliban, etc. were pretty common. Such books still get written, (I googled "rape in romance novels" and the first result was a recommendation list) but they're less common. I have to wonder if maybe the writers of romance have moved on to romance between equals, but some of the readers of romance might still have the same whatever-it-is that made romantic rape so popular in the 1980s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been reading blogs by romance readers lately, and I've noticed that they do seem to give a show that things have gotten better on the rape aspect. Having not gotten around to read some recent romance novels yet, I'm going to just assume that things have gotten better, but I know culture well enough to know that it's not exactly going to be perfect. But then, things like this hit it big... Still, I was very recently reading a review of a rather rapey/DV-heavy romance novel from ~'70s-'80s (Moonlight Madness, I think it was called) that was apparently a very popular book way back when. Now, it's rather hard to read, because our culture has gotten better with some things in the meantime. This is what I'm hoping for with this book series.
      (I'm really hoping that that list is a rec list for books that handle rape in a realistic manner, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that.)

      Delete
    2. Wow... you're probably right. That didn't even occur to me. I was more getting the vibe from Tangled during the "I love you", "I love you more", "I love you most". Of course the abuser tries to make the abused think that they really care about them. And why not do it in a way that is also a rejection of Ana's statement. I mean, if you can try to get them to think you care about them while actively telling them they got something wrong, that's like bonus points for an abuser, right?

      The whole, I care about you, I know what's best for you, you should trust my judgement because yours is terrible (although admittedly, Ana's judgement is terrible, but that doesn't make Christian a good person to trust) just all seemed like more stuff consistent with an abusive relationship. Mind, not that the dialogue there would necessarily be abusive. I could imagine that being sweet in the right context. But it turns out you can say nice things really easily, and it's useful to do that if you want people to focus on that instead of how you consistently act in ways they don't want you to and try to control them.

      Delete
    3. You've summed up why I've never been into "romance novels". My mom shared a few of hers with me when I was a teen and low on books to read, and yuck. Rapey sex, straight up rape, very weird or awkward sex, not to mention really tropey, racist depictions of Native American culture. I didn't even have the conceptual understanding of gender, race, or sexual relations to articulate why these books made me feel so icky -- not even that turned-on-but-morally-conflicted feeling that I get sometimes when a prisoner is tied up and tortured in a novel. Just plain old disturbed. So it continues to baffle me that fully grown, experienced, educated women (kinky or not) get off on such tripe.

      To give an example, the scene that I remember best was of a rather pregnant Native woman, the main character, being held down and raped by this villainous, blond John Smith type, and he laughs about tickling the baby with the head of his cock -- seriously, what the everloving fuck?

      When I asked my mom why she had loaned 14-year-old-me these particular books, she claimed forgetfulness as to the exact content of the books -- and I believe her. She isn't the kind of person to punk someone like that, particularly her own late-blooming, naive kid. But compared to 50 Shades, those books were silly and fairly harmless.

      That's what is surprising me most about Cliff's humor-tinged synopsis here. I expected 50 Shades to be in the same vein. Icky, awkward, and poorly written, but silly and fairly harmless. But 50 Shades doesn't seem harmless to me, because (oh God, am I saying this about EL James' work?) it's realistic. Ana is actually having a horrible time in a very abusive relationship, yet the audience is being told that such a horrible, abusive relationship is somehow desirable, cause Inner Goddess and shit. For those few who do genuinely get off on 50 Shades while not deluding themselves that it is soooo romantic! -- I don't get it, but it's your kink and I respect that. But I honestly fear that some women (or men) are going to get the wrong idea from reading this, and use its twisted memetics to justify (consciously, or more likely subconsciously) staying in a real-life abusive relationship.

      Delete
    4. ...or even worse, people take this to justify to exert abuse on others.

      Delete
    5. That's a good point RitaFantastic. Feminists warned that the Twilight series might promote abusive relationships, depicting it as desirable, or at least make the abuse seem okay, but at least the fans can point out the obvious supernatural elements draws a thick line between fiction and the real world. However 50 Shades both manages to depict a vastly more abusive relationship while simultaneously bringing it into the real world.

      Delete
    6. Although... I don't buy the "it's supernatural, everyone understands it's not like this in real life" defense of Twilight.
      FIRSTLY: Cliff has pointed out previously that you generally expect a lot of things in that kind of book to be realistic. You realize that there are no vampires or werewolves, but, for instance, might very well believe that people really do take blood samples in biology class. Or to take an example I think I read on a Cracked list - lots of people (including me!) believe there are skyscrapers in Washington since there were in "True Lies". You obviously realize that all the ACTION in True Lies is completely unrealistic, but you might still expect the pictured city to at least sort of look in the movie as it looks in real life. Just because SOME aspects of a book or a movie is clearly unrealistic/fantasy, doesn't mean you cease to expect that the general background will be at least somewhat true to life.
      SECONDLY: I think there's an important difference between empirical facts and normativity. It's easy to get immersed in a story where the empirical facts are completely different from real life - it's way harder to suspend belief regarding norms, since good/bad is what makes stories tick. Sure, you can care deeply about a character who's, say, an assassin, despite believing murder to be wrong. But in that case, the assassin will have a personality which will be possible to sympathize with, and will have come to that profession through some cultural background and/or series of events that make you at least see zir reasons for being an assassin. What I'm getting at is that, for instance, you'd have to be a racist yourself to become completely immersed in and love a book that was about racist oppression and violence against POC:s and portrayed it as RIGHT and the racists as HEROES. There's no such thing as merely suspending your normative views while you're reading, the way you suspend your scientific beliefs while reading Tolkien.

      Likewise, I don't think people can become completely immersed in Twilight and find it romantic because they suspend their ordinary romantic beliefs while reading - finding abuse romantic in fiction but recoil in horror at it in real life. Normativity just doesn't work like that.

      Delete
    7. Actually it does seem that people drop the moral truths along with the physical truths when reading fantasy. I've read plenty of fantasy books where it's okay to kill orcs because they're just orcs. "A book that was about racist oppression and violence against POC:s and portrayed it as RIGHT and the racists as HEROES" -- Tolkien himself doesn't quite go that far, but he misses it by inches. He does portray a world of extreme racial segregation and racial hatred, where there's a "natural" ranking where some races are just better than others. The white ones are the heroes and they have a competition about who can kill more of the black ones. But of course it's justified because the black ones are a teeming horde that can't be reasoned with and threatens to overwhelm civilization.

      In fantasy, monarchy is usually portrayed as just and right as long as the rightful king (by birth) is on the throne -- and if he's not, then any amount of violence is justified in getting him there. (Also in Tolkien: we're supposed to root for Aragorn because his bloodline is pure and includes a bit of elf from 3000 years ago.)

      I'm not blaming you, but I think you've been taken in by Tolkien :)

      Delete
    8. Amtep: I do recognize that there's a lot of racism leaking through in Tolkien's books, and I still enjoy them. So I guess I wasn't particularly clear at first, and have to write a long-ass post to explain more precisely what I mean. :-)

      Yeah, I can, and lots of people can, to some extent choose to ignore racism, sexism etc that shines through in the culture we consume (although lots of people, including me, have a threshold when it becomes too much to put up with). It's still not the same as suspension of disbelief regarding empirical facts though. The fact that they can teleport and warp faster than light in Star Trek isn't bothersome at all; it's just a bit of fun escapism from the normal world. Racism and sexism, even if I can choose to ignore it to some extent, does not provide me fun escapism from my normal morality.
      Also, there's a difference between the prejudices of the author showing in the work, and the work really portraying racism, sexism an so on as being RIGHT.
      I seriously doubt whether LOTR would have become as popular as it did if the heroes' in-universe justification for entering a war with Mordor were that they wanted to cleanse the Earth of different-looking creatures. Their justification, in-universe, is that Mordor is a terrible dictatorship that enslaves people and destroy the environment. That's a decent justification by our actual moral standards.
      The monarchy thing - well, the chosen king is always portrayed as a good ruler; it's almost as if him being chosen guarantees that he will rule well. Aristotle said that in theory, the best political system is being ruled by a GOOD monarch, only it's not plausible to find such a ruler in the real world. Considering the widespread dislike for politicians we have, I bet loads of people agree with Aristotle that a great monarch would be preferable in theory. Personally, the monarchy thing does rub me the wrong way a bit... But I bet loads of people really wish that some wise ruler would come and just straighten everything out, politics-wise, even if they also believe that this is completely unrealistic in the real world; that in the real world, it's either democracy with all its flaws or evil dictatorship.

      Regarding the way the orchs are totally dehumanized, despite being sentient beings like ourselves - yeah, I think it's wrong, but still comprehensible given how the heroes never interact with the orchs at all except when they fight them. To the heroes, they're pure enemy and nothing else. To many people, though, this dehumanizing of orchs will not be problematic at all but rather perfectly normal given their ordinary day-to-day normative beliefs; loads of people have a fairly black-and-white view on morality where there are Good Guys and Bad Guys, and Bad Guys can be treated any which way. (To take an example which relates to the feminist theme of this blog - lots of people think rapists are Bad Guys who ought to be horribly punished. Simultaneously, they'll dismiss any rape charges against someone they know as evil lies. Rapists are Bad Guys; but of course everyone they know is a Good Guy).

      So no, I don't think there's any good evidence that people just suspend their normal normative beliefs while reading Tolkien or some other work of fantasy. Fantasy still builds on everyday morality, for better and worse - like this black/white thing with Good Guys and Bad Guys.

      Delete
    9. Although come to think of it, the Tolkien excursion was fairly superfluous. Just look at how people actually defend Twilight against abuse charges. Sure, they might mention some fantasy fact about vampires in the justification; like how Edward being so much stronger and more powerful than Bella justifies him trying to control her, spying on her and so on in order to protect her. Still, that implies that superior strength/power justifies treating another person that way, which is still fucked-up. No one ever says (at least as far as I've seen/read) that sure, in real life it's terrible to stalk and control someone like that, but in THIS made-up universe it's romantic. Instead people go out of their way to explain why all that behaviour just shows that he loooooves her.

      Delete
    10. I see what you mean now, though it's a bit depressing :)

      Delete
  37. Cliff, I'm glad you're back. Remember: depression is a lying son of a bitch, and you shouldn't believe anything it tells you.

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    1. Now now -- no need to insult female dogs. :)

      Delete
  38. If this thing ever makes it to a movie, I really want the writer/director/etc. to just present it action for action, exactly like it's in the book. I think on film the abuse will become even more apparent and undeniable because there's no "internal goddess" or whatever the hell Ana calls it.

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    1. I feel like the movie is going to be pretty different from the book, because this shit is unfilmable. Or rather it's extremely filmable, but it would be excruciating. The entire book so far has been nothing but bickering and hissyfits interspersed with actual assault.

      I can believe (sadly) that audiences would accept abuse in their romance. What I can't believe is that they'd accept no romance in their romance! I'm not sure if the filmmakers will cut or tone down the abuse, but I feel like they're going to have to shoehorn in some cute scenes where the characters express actual affection and intimacy. Otherwise the movie will feel like a complete slog through rage and misery, with maybe one happy scene at the end, and that's just not a date night, you know?

      So, they'll have to change it, but not necessarily in a good way.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure how much it'll change. I think I heard that EL James made it so that she had to have a lot of control over the movie? I'm not sure. If that is the case, I feel she'll try to keep it pretty similar, considering she apparently doesn't see anything wrong with it as is.

      Delete
    3. Am I the only one holding out a little hope that if EL James does this she has a shocking realization about how terrible it is while watching it acted out by real people?

      Delete
  39. Every chapter I think we must have hit rock bottom, but nope, every next chapter manages to be even worse.

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  40. It never stops amazing me how much Christian Grey is like my abusive high school boyfriend. Like, some of the conversations are almost word-for-word the same, right down to the abusive episodes over dreaming something he disapproved of.

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    Replies
    1. Same - sounds identical to several childhood abusers I've had too. I sometimes get mild flashbacks reading these recaps but they're still funny so I keep doing it anyway :T

      Delete
  41. I wanted to ask Cliff or anyone else about this Vice (I know, I know) article - the direct quotes from the couple, who seem to be pretty established as they're doing a public demi, really surprised me. e.g.
    '“So the edgeplay we do is called consensual non-consent, aka rape play, aka no safewords,’” says Madeline to her audience.'
    (I had thought that non-consent was the only time you really needed safewords, since otherwise "stop" will be understood in it's usual meaning?)
    and
    'A day later, I call up Madeline and ask if licking the was squid a turn-on. “No!” she shrieks. She says the whole ordeal was disgusting
    “I think that is what consensual non-consent is about, you don’t like it in the moment but three weeks from now... it might be hot.”

    the whole thing is obviously way more consensual than 50 shades, but I thought people who did humiliation scenes *enjoyed being humiliated* - but she doesn't seem to have?

    whole article: http://www.vice.com/read/edgeplay-isnt-your-grandmothers-bdsm-scene

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    Replies
    1. Ugh, those people sound fucking unbearable, with their "consent is for soft casual players but we're COOLER than that" attitudes. (And VICE buying into it, which is sad but pretty predictable.)

      If you don't have a safeword and you completely can't predict or influence what your partner is going to do to you and when, that's not consensual nonconsent. That's regular nonconsent.

      Delete
    2. Okay, cool! Thanks. I guess I wondered because they're obviously part of the community, unlike EL James. Thanks thanks.

      Delete
    3. I don't know about you guys, but was anybody else squicked out by that whole bit about maybe something being hot three weeks from when it happened? That's...not how consensual non-consent works to me, at least.
      I just keep thinking that there's a chance that they're never going to have a sexual encounter that's hot for both of them in the moment, and, just...what's the point?

      Delete
    4. was anybody else squicked out by that whole bit about maybe something being hot three weeks from when it happened?

      I'll admit that the statement sounds gross. But I've talked to subs who kink on being made to do things they don't want to do (things they FOR REALZ don't wanna do, not "Oh noes, don't force feed me chocolate!1!!!" play-acting), and some of them have described it kinda like that. In the moment, they don't like what's going on, but afterward they jerk off to it because it's hot that the dominant was totally "using" them with no regard for their feelings.

      So I guess for some people it does kinda work like that. But I could also see that idea being used as coercion "Nah, you're fine, don't be a baby, in three weeks you'll think this was totally hot."

      Delete
    5. SOME folks use "consensual non-consent" as a different way to describe what others might call "rape play." Consensual roleplay revolving around supposed non-consent. I actually prefer using the term consensual non-consent in this sense, rather than the other.

      Doings stuff as a bottom, submissive, whatever, that you don't actually want to do, that can be a sort of kink for some. I like to push at limits and boundaries with a partner that I trust, when I'm subbing or bottoming or whatever, but this is with someone who has earned my trust, who reads me very well, and it's a boundary that I've consented to pushing at. I can kink a little on doing stuff the top/dom enjoys a lot more than I do, as part of a service-oriented thing. But even within that I have a very specific set of things I'd be willing to do for them, and a whole lot that I still wouldn't do.

      Some folks who are into that kind of stuff can be all "this is the ultimate in TWUE SUBMISSION" and bullshit like that. It's bullshit. I do what I described above because I'm still enjoying it, getting hot from it, whatever. And folks who do this sort of thing but to an extent that I flat-out never would, I mean, I don't get it. Because it's not my thing. I do believe there's a line where it gets unhealthy, but I'm not going to necessarily draw that arbitrarily - shit like what's being laid out in this book series though is just so obviously toxic like woah.

      No safewords - some folks don't use safewords and not in a "kinker than thou" sort of way. Some folks safeword is NO. Or stop. Or moving away. Also, while former top/dom partners I've been with have kept up safewords with me, and respected them, after a very long time of being and playing together they often get very good at reading me - checking in is standard yes, but they usually develop a knack for knowing when to check in or stop something right as I'd be about to say the word anyway.

      Some folks kink pretty hard on the "no limits! no safeword!" thing. That could be something hella toxic, or at least presented in a way that makes it look hella toxic. A fair amount of folks I see doing that, at least experienced ones, they're in relationships similar to what I just described. They know and trust each other, the top/dom isn't about to make the sub/bottom do a bunch of stuff they honestly really would never ever want to do. That kind of thing. Like roleplaying a non-consent scene, it can be more of playing with the dynamic but it's not REAL just a sort of dress-up 'cause they kink on that particular "costume." Again, it could be hella toxic though.

      The no safeword thing though, again, folks can get very TWUE SUB/BOTTOM/SLAVE or whatever about it. Again, bullshit. Folks can get manipulative about this stuff too, trying to claim "oh if you're a true slave/if you want to be my sub/etc. you don't get a safe word." That sounds like some scary-ass shit right there to me and I'd whole-heartedly advise running in the other direction.

      For me, the whole "I only do this/if I were ever to do this" thing, happening only with someone who has built up a lot of trust with me, that's a huge part of trying to ensure it's NOT coercion or abuse. I realize this is not necessarily a guarantee. I believe in keeping communication open, and part of that earned trust (and continuing-to-be-held trust) is how they communicate with me.

      -J.M.M.

      Delete
    6. I am perfectly capable of eagerly anticipating and looking back with glee on experiences I loathe while they're actually happening. It's a thing. But I am not sure the people in that article were really doing that thing.

      (This is a totally new Anon, btw.)

      Delete
  42. “Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia.”

    Terrible line. Personally, I think he should have turned to look at the audience & said "I think this must be some sort of...HOT TUB TIME MACHINE," or possibly "I want these motherfucking shades off my motherfucking plane!"

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  43. Cliff, the more I read sporkings/deconstructions of this book and its sequels, the more I wonder if James isn't pulling the biggest con on us ever. Because these really are TOO ACCURATE depictions of domestic abuse for her not to notice, right? Right?

    (Okay, I realize that she probably isn't pulling a con on us. But I'd rather believe that James is the best troll ever than that she honestly has mistaken abuse for love. Because if she isn't a troll, like you've said, it's really worrying that she knows SO MUCH about abusive relationships.)

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    Replies
    1. I'm really hoping it's true, too. It doesn't seem likely, what with...everything, but there's so many things that would make it seem like it has to be trolling. There's obvious and accurate depiction of abuse, the whole Ana and Mia thing, the American Psycho references, and then on the sporkings I think they said Christian had a whole lot in common with one specific serial killer? If it was just one of these things, maybe it wouldn't bug me so much, but it just seems so unlikely EL James could accidentally include all of that.

      Personally, I'm hoping that her request to be really involved in the film means she's going to do some sort of big reveal that it was meant to be an abusive relationship the entire time. The likelihood of that is small, but I can dream.

      Delete
  44. Can I offer some brain bleach?

    It's kitties being cute.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X1c0-MSBRI

    ReplyDelete
  45. http://ideas.time.com/2014/03/04/dave-barry-learns-everything-you-need-to-know-about-being-a-husband-from-50-shades-of-grey/?xid=rss-topstories. Check it out!

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    1. That was very funny, but the comments defending the book were interesting too. They (mostly) denied being interested in the sex, the word romantic go thrown around, and I had a really hard time understanding. But one comment clarified thus: "He cares when she's cold, hungry, not safe or in need if ANY. He thinks of her first almost without exception. If you read the TRILOGY that is what makes Christian Grey so "swoon worthy" He loves Ana with a devotion most of us will never come close to, probably because it's unrealistic, but we girls do dream."

      I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt on the issue of getting better in book 2 or 3, it's possible. But it almost looks like some people just don't see an important distinction between devotion and stalkerish obsession. I mean, you have to admit he "cares" about her... In the sense that he wants to control her every action, not in a wholesome wanting her to be happy kind of way. But still he does "care" a WHOLE LOT (in that creepy way). So is that it? Only the strength of the emotion matters to some readers?

      Delete
    2. This kind of makes me wonder if some people are having... fantasy displacement or something. Like, they're focusing on actions and not on how Ana is responding to them. Because, the main problem with what Christian is doing is that Ana clearly doesn't like or want it. But maybe, if the things Christian is doing appeal to *them*, people are thinking about that instead.
      Like, we see Christian buy Ana a car, and he's doing it abusively and horribly.
      But maybe some people are thinking 'I'd love it if someone bought me a car', instead of noticing how Ana *doesn't* love it.

      Given how strong of a thing we have in our culture for focusing on actions instead of the victim's actual feelings when it comes to consent violations (like telling people they shouldn't be upset because what happened to them wasn't 'that bad') I can really see how that could happen.

      Delete
    3. I think it might have to do with how women are always taught that they're "prizes" rather than subjects. Like, in fairy-tale stories the prince has to overcome all this obstacles to get the prettiest princess and marry her - she's his prize. And it goes on and on in various books and movies, and we learn to sort of objectify ourselves, to see ourselves as prizes. In that mind-set, the best you can be as a woman is a super-prize that a man wants to have so desperately that he won't stop at anything in order to get it. He won't even stop striving for the super-prize even if the prize herself says "no" and objects. (And obviously, he wants to "take care" of this cherished prize the way you take care of any object - make sure it doesn't break or get lost, for instance.) So I think that's it... It's supposed to be romantic to be such a deeply desired prize.

      Delete
    4. I think I'm going to combine two comments in one, so bear with me.
      The whole trilogy bit just bugs me. Like, I keep hearing that everything is justified by the other books. Two thoughts here: first off, it's rather telling that they're not trying to justify his behavior in the first book. Second, the author has an obligation to make the first book in a series good enough to justify the time and money that would be spent not only on that book, but all subsequent books. (Also, you do not get to shame anyone into continuing a series they don't like because "it gets better later". No, I don't care. Besides, what if they feel it doesn't?)
      Oddly, the more I think about things, the less this book reminds me of Twilight and the more it reminds me of another YA paranormal romance called Hush Hush, which is a book where I literally got sick while reading a review of it. Main character meets a dude that scares the shit out of her, and she has to be aware of escape routes and whatnot. And somehow he's her true love. Yeah.
      I'm not sure which is better: having the heroine be okay with abusive creepy behaviors, or have her not be okay with any of it at all and have it still portrayed as romantic. Good thing is that at least everything looks terrible if you remove the parts about how Adonis-esque/rich the main dude is.

      Delete
    5. I think "fantasy displacement" anon is on to something. In response to the kind of love triangles in fiction where, say, guys A and B are both in love with a women, and the women falls in love with guy A and dates/marries/has a happy relationship with him, I've often seen people say things like "She should have gone with guy B!" even though she was in love with guy A and obviously didn't have romantic feelings for guy B...

      It's like they think that because they like guy B better or because they think he was nicer to her (because these are usually the types of stories where guy A is pretty cold at first because of emotional issues) that trumps the women's actual feelings and personal preferences. So in a way, it kind of is similar to the "women are just prizes for men, so the man's actions are more important than the women's feelings" model.

      Delete
  46. *I have this safe, weird, bathed in afterglow, sated feeling*
    I don't think this has anything to do with her being kinky. It's just brain chemicals. She's coming down from fight-or-flight/pain, so this happens. Like how you'll feel if you run for a while and stop, even if you hated the running.

    Unfortunately, it's brain chemicals that someone like Christian is totally going to take advantage of. Also I'm pretty sure we're continuing to see basis for stockholm syndrome.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get those brain chemicals after a (consensual, fun) beating, and I don't know how much of it is being kinky versus just a pure physical response.

      I've never noticed the headrush after a not-fun painful experience, but I might've just been too distracted/distressed to appreciate it.

      Mostly, it just sounds like she's relieved that it's over.

      Delete
    2. I get some of that happy, relaxed feeling after a (small) panic attack. It's definitely not *the same* as I feel after being spanked, but I'd say it's in the same general category? So yeah, "relief that it's over" can feel similar.

      Delete
    3. Ana runs, doesn't she? She should know that feeling. And she has a much less painful way to get it.

      Delete
  47. I am so glad that you are back. I was genuinely worried when I didn't see any updates from you. I figured you were likely just busy, but not hearing about your public speaking went just seemed a little strange. So, I am sad to hear you have been unwell, but I am happy to see you are well enough to keep reading and reviewing this dreck. Your commentary has provided me with so much fuel. Over the last several years, so many of my co-workers have just loved these books and talked ceaselessly about them. Initially, I just hated it because I thought it was poorly-written, plotless drivel, but thanks to your analysis I can now argue that it is purely disgusting and unromantic abuse-porn about a giant asshole. Seriously, thank you.

    Anon Planned Parenthood Employee

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  48. Yuuuuup. This was the chapter that made me stop MSTing. I just ran out of the ability to make jokes.

    Also, I read up to this point, so I can tell you something oddly piddling that BUGGED THE HELL OUT OF ME: Ana and Neptunian Mind-Control Guy NEVER HUG.

    Seriously. Read through it. By chapter sixteen, there's been sex, beatings, and kissing, but not one single hug between the two of them.

    IT IS REALLY CREEPY. I get it, some people aren't huggers, but it kinda shows just how little affection and cuddling there is in this book.

    --Rogan

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    Replies
    1. Ewww. I never thought of the not-hugging thing. That's just disgusting. Can we talk about scat or blood play or something else that doesn't gross me out in the least for awhile? Not hugging in an ostensibly affection-based relationship makes me want to barf. That's a hard limit for me. I'm not even joking.

      Delete
  49. For some bizarre reason, I can't help but read that "Total Power Exchange" line in Andy Bernard from The Office's voice. Grey sounds like such a monied dudebro loser in that paragraph that it fits perfectly.

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  50. So sorry to hear that you have a depression right now! Been there so many times, just remember that it will always get better. We'll be waiting for your next FSOG post here in Stockholm.

    //love from your fans in Sweden

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  51. “Well, I think you’ve got that the wrong way around,” he whispers. “What?” “Oh, Anastasia, you’ve bewitched me. Isn’t it obvious?”

    Shades of Judge Frollo, here??? Do not want!

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  52. I started reading the Anita Blake series of books, and Jean Claude the vampire makes me think of Gag StankButt. I hope I'm not spoiling too much for people, but Anita meets a nice werewolf and wants to settle down with him, and the vampire guy says "If you don't date me and give me a chance, I'll kill your werewolf lover". He stalks her, he manipulates her, he forces vampire powers on her she doesn't want, and the whole time I'm thinking "just stake the bastard!" I take it from all the things I've heard about the later books she never does that, it's a shame. Reading these recaps has given me even less tolerance for romance novel manipulative abusive jerks, and I had very little to begin with.

    Gah I remember the thing where I'd flinch back from a raised hand and have to deal with the whole "I'm not a monster!" So not only are you not allowed to be afraid, you have to worry that being afraid will set off more rage. You have to shut down emotionally just to get through the day and even then you're not safe. If you're lucky enough to have friends left, they don't understand statements like "I'm not allowed to cry." If you have to break down in tears, you do it where you can't be seen because if he sees you, he uses your tears as a reason to make everything all about him and his anger. I can't imagine E. L. James hasn't seen this dynamic in action up close if not lived it herself, I think it's hard for non-survivors to even conceptualize let alone describe in intimate detail.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I once had the pleasure of reading an otherwise somewhat cheesy paranormal romance where the lead finds her 'destined soulmate' and wants nothing to do with him.
      He keeps stalking her and sexually assaulting her, though. She finds this annoying at first and enraging in the end, and throws him off a high walkway onto the concrete.
      I cheered.

      Delete
    2. (Responding to second paragraph) One of the things I love about these posts and the replies is that I understand my own childhood and relationships better because of it. Because the most routine parts of the abuse were "just" emotional, I still have trouble feeling like it was real or that I have any real right to complain. Then I read things like the "not a monster" bit that make me feel more rueful over the familiarity than anything else and I hear comments like "I think it's hard for non-survivors to even conceptualize let alone describe in intimate detail" and I have a moment of quiet shock where I think, "Oh, right--I guess that means the abuse was real after all. All these people are saying I wouldn't 'get' this otherwise." Talk about having internalized the abuse, I guess. :-/

      Delete
    3. Anita Blake would kill the hell out of Mr Douche StalkerPsychopath- preemptive self-defense, and all that. And while Jean-Claude has the obligatory impossibly hot but dub-con stalker-y vampire thing going (y'know, like Angel in Buffy... of course then Joss goes and makes it pointedly actually creepy by giving us Angelus) in the beginning- I might not have read the books in a few years, but he's light-years from Mr Douche. Now, the nice werewolf... let's just say I think he's got more issues than Anita, and that's saying something. But, really, at least these guys are actual characters with good and bad sides and back stories and all... (Sorry, something of a Jean-Claude fan, and if asked for the literary character I hate second-most to Mr Douche? It might just be Richard. Or maybe Cersei.) Then again, I was much younger when I read the books- I might have far less tolerance for JC's behaviour if I re-read them now.
      Also, I have to say it makes me sad to read in so many comments that people have first-hand experience with abuse- what the hell is wrong with our world? I wish you all that you may live wonderful, full-filling lives with caring people, doing whatever it is you love and want to do. It is true, I would say for me as a non-survivor that I can't even conceptualize this sort of crap. I don't think I could write a relationship, a character, that true to these dynamics no matter how much research I put in- I just don't have the framework. Which makes me wonder about EL James, like so many others, since that is the one apparently unfailingly realistically-portrayed part of the whole thing. Her metaphors and similes are at best awkward, at worst just terrible, her characters are flatter than three-day old road kill, her grammar is bad, the settings inconsistent etc. etc., all the signs of bad writing- but this one thing, this ONE thing is spot-on, says everyone who can judge that matter. How?

      Delete
  53. Replies
    1. ...Christian Grey, is that you damning this blog with faint praise? Shoo!

      Delete
  54. I love your writing!

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  55. Sorry to hear about the depression. I've got bipolar disorder and a handful of anxiety issues, and other crap. So, in a sense, I hear you, even if my depressions stem from something different. I hope you start to feel better soon (like, I know how this kind of thing can go, better for a while, then less so again, so... even though I truly do hope for the "get better and stay that way forever" result let me just say I'm used to the up-and-down. And I have trauma issues as well. Anyway.)

    You know I never realized just HOW BAD this series really is. This is fucking awful. This is absolutely terrifying. The book series, I mean. Your fisking is very good, and spot-on. The portrayal of abuse is just scary in its accuracy, and yeah she really doesn't seem to be enjoying it. Just getting groomed.

    It makes me ever so glad that at least, when I worked in that adult store, all those folks who came in to pick up their first kinky toys 'cause they "got inspired" by the books, if they were my customers they got a good solid grounding in convo from me. I hope they listened, I really really do.

    I know so many people who've read and loved these books. They're flat-out awful in the writing style, but the rest of it makes it even less understandable to me. I'm really... seriously I'm hoping there's fantasy displacement or something similar going on with the folks I know because I honestly did not know it was this bad until reading your fisks.

    -J.M.M.

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  56. This book makes all those jokes about Twilight being a bad romance novel look petty, at least it was ACTUAL, consensual love and sex. Sorry to hear you're going through a period of depression right now, I guess knowing what you have to write about when you get back to your blog isn't a great help since it's not an exactly upbeat and mood lifting subject.

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  57. So, there's so much wrong with this that I can't stand it, so I'm going to comment on the one thing that isn't mind-numbingly stupid.

    I'm from Georgia, and I've never heard any parent refer to their child as "darling" in my life. That is not a thing that Southerns say where I'm from. You're more likely to hear a kid referred to as "honey," "kiddo," stuff like that.

    Yet again, I'm not comfortable with the fact that James gets something like this wrong yet the depictions of abuse are completely accurate.

    ReplyDelete