Shock & Confusion: Fifty Shades of Grey
“Snow is a magical blanket, it hides what’s ugly and makes everything beautiful.”
Wilhelmina Slater, Ugly Betty
Tonight I used Anastasia Steele’s safe word: stop. I said the word twice but it continued on. The Fifty Shades of Grey discussion that I tried to avoid. I read Fifty Shades of Grey, well, I read roughly six pages of Fifty Shades of Grey and could not go on. It’s impossible to describe my feelings after reading those six pages, but I’ll try. Horror. Shock. Confusion. Shock. Yes, I was shocked twice. Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over 100 million copies, just writing that has left me shocked all over again. It’s like seeing a traffic accident, you ask how and why? You search the area for victims; there are victims, all of those poor people injured while attempting to act out scenes. We can’t really see the victims, they are often handcuffed to bedposts and awaiting firefighters to free them. I’m not sure who to feel sorry for…
I don’t know what Fifty Shades of Grey is: erotic fiction, a romance novel, fan fiction transformed, a peculiar adult fairytale (with an unrealistic ending). My friend likened it to Lolita. That’s a no-no. I can imagine the ghost of Vladimir Nabokov haunting her forever more, whispering sentences from Lolita and forcing her to continuously read his novel as penance. It’s a just punishment for such a terrible comparison.
There are articles criticising E L James for creating the misconception that sadomasochism involves abuse. They point to examples of Anastasia as a vulnerable young woman and the reasons are ostensibly sound; but it’s difficult to characterize Anastasia as an abused woman because there is no depth. These aren’t developed characters, there isn’t complexity or any real insight. I’m under the assumption erotic fiction isn’t really meant to be insightful. In the end it is fiction, James can’t be to blame for the abusive culture that existed long before her novels were published. Have her novels contributed to it? I don’t know. Domestic violence is a pervasive problem and it exists in every culture. Blaming James seems a bit too convenient; it excuses truly disturbing shows like “Stalker” that actually exploit violence against women. I couldn’t glean very much from what I read, but I doubt James channels American Psycho and creates a scene where Christian dismembers Anastasia. Okay, I know she doesn’t because there are two sequels. These characters live on in the Red Room (I guess).
What truly shocked me was James’s description of Christian Grey as a “fixer upper.” It must be said aloud to realise just how ridiculous that sounds. I don’t think women can change men. This misconception is likely responsible for the 50% divorce rate; men and women go into marriages under the assumption that they’ll change the qualities they dislike the most. Innate characteristics aren’t exactly changeable so to imply that a man is malleable is simply a myth. Some people have a predisposition towards certain behaviors and nothing can change that.
Let’s look at Sally Bowles of Cabaret. We know her affair with Cliff is doomed, it’s obvious the promiscuous cabaret girl with big dreams and minimal talent just can’t change; he meets her at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and we find out she is dating the club’s owner. It can’t end well, we think to ourselves. Yet most of us only accept that Sally is doomed the moment she starts singing “Maybe This Time.” Even if Cliff had tried, he couldn’t change Sally. At her core, she was a free-spirit using artifice to conceal a wounded soul.
Maybe EL James caters to the lost souls… to all of the Sally Bowles who gave up their dreams and settled down with a Cliff.