50 shades of shameful, mindless escapism
There was an interesting editorial in The New York Times‘ regular Room for Debate feature last week. In particular, I was drawn to YA author Matt de la Pena’s part of the debate, where he quoted author Franz Kafka’s assertion that a book should wake us up with a blow to the head. He concluded that folks – due in no small part to their gerbil-sized technology-addicted attention spans – are mostly reading crappy, non-literary fiction in lieu of books that force them to think about and face their inner melancholy. And why? Because readers prefer a mindless escape, and ultimately, a way to reach a deeper sleep. No blow to the head needed, thankyouverymuch.
I doubt Kafka has read – unless he’s been reincarnated as a middle-age New Jersey housewife – the bestselling, taking-the-world-by-storm-oh-my-god-they’re-going-to-turn-it-into-a-movie Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I do, however, wonder what part of his body would be struck should he miraculously be able to read it. His head? Maybe not.
Anyway, Pena’s editorial was timely, as I had just put down the first installment of the trilogy – 200 smutty pages into it – to let my English major, William Faulkner and Edith Wharton-loving mind breathe for a moment and read something smart, like the paper version of the Times…my Sunday guilty pleasure.
Little did my innocent mind (almost as innocent as the 22-year-old narrator Anastasia Steele’s virginal world-view before meeting Christian Grey – sadist extraordinaire, billionaire mogul at the age of 28, and apparently the most gorgeous man in the world) know at the time is that it would get shamefully sucked into the 50 Shades trilogy, much like Anastasia gets sucked into Christian’s orgasmic world of exotic sports cars, helicopters and spankings. This series became my guilty pleasure for six painfully insufferable yet pleasurable days. I stand here (relieved? embarrassed? assessing my woefully inadequate sex life and bank account?) done with all 1,500 delicious, horribly written pages, replete (yes, that word is used like 6,000 times in the last installment of the trilogy) with insipid dialogue and a wildly implausible plot line. Yes, Kafka, this trilogy lodged a much-needed escapist blow to my head (and perhaps libido) – a blow that I must confess left me awake and alive, yet stupid (I feel like I just smoked 42 joints back to back to back and had part of my frontal lobe removed).
Speaking of libido, I can’t not talk about The Sex – which sometimes is “vanilla” (Christian Grey’s word, not mine), while other times borders on law-breaking S&M fantasies played out in the “Red Room of Pain” – that has every Christian group and stodgy librarian’s puritan panties in a wad. (And let’s NOT get started on the feminist outrage over this book; it takes two to tango – Anastasia knew what she was getting herself into.)
I say, get over it. Maybe, just maybe, you uptight prudes need to drop your judgy panties and go commando out in public during, say, a black-tie fundraiser or while racing down I-5 in your Audi A8 to evade a would-be kidnapper (Anastasia seemed to like it. A lot). All that said, the book is not nearly as seedy or misogynistic as the media has made it out to be, at least in my humble, I’ve-been-a-single-gal-for-most-of-my-adult-life-and-have-seen-a-few-things opinion. And you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. I don’t think it will turn society into a bunch of whip-wielding spankers (or spankees). And if it does, as the books state, it will be done by consenting adults.
Physics-defying sex aside, what kept my hopeless romantic self reading until the bitter end was Anastasia and Christian’s love story. It appears that they have little in common throughout books one and two of the trilogy, other than terrible – and I mean TERRIBLE – communication skills and the ability to have hot sex. They fight. then they have sex. Helicopter crash, then sex. Fight, sex. High-speed car chase, followed by mind-blowing car sex. Botched kidnapping, then a good lay in the hay. Fight, then sex. Lather, rinse, repeat. I have to admit I started skimming at parts – there were only so many ridiculous plot lines followed by blow jobs that I could stomach. BUT… I had to see how the love story turned out. I mean, they really seemed to love each other in their own bizarre, money-lubricated, master-and-servant way. And they end up married and happy and with children. Who would’ve thunk the Red Room of Pain couple would instead end up in the White Picket Fence Room?
Last but not least, I think I’ve figured out why these books are so seductively appealing to women. The media and perhaps men think it’s the sex scenes, but I disagree. The draw is this: Anastasia changes a man. Impossible, eh? Not for super-Anastasia. She takes a damaged man who thinks he’s incapable of giving and receiving love and molds him into a doting, loving husband and father who ditches his S&M lifestyle for her, and her alone. Some have called this a fairy tale, a Cinderella story. Indeed it is, but not because Anastasia went from rags to riches with her little glass slipper clutched firmly in hand. It is because a woman tamed the stallion who no one else could break. Yeah, another implausible plot line, but a dreamy one nonetheless.
Okay, I’m off to read War and Peace as penance. Almost as long as the Grey trilogy, but, sigh, no bondage and exploding helicopters.