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August 5, 2012 6:51 AM   Subscribe

Katrina Lumsden reads the Fifty Shades of Grey books so you don't have to:
Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades Darker
Fifty Shades Freed
(contains animated gifs)
posted by Artw (189 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
She didn't have to do that for me. I wasn't going to read them anyway.
posted by Decani at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2012 [25 favorites]


(contains animated gifs) +++ would read again.
posted by adamvasco at 7:00 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


Boy, am I ready for the frenzy over these books to go away. I don't ever remember something this terrible getting so much press. They're far worse than even The DaVinci Code.
posted by something something at 7:12 AM on August 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


I don't ever remember something this terrible getting so much press.

I was about to say something and then I read your next statement. You nailed it.
posted by Fizz at 7:15 AM on August 5, 2012


How about the time he gives her a handjob with a soapy washcloth?

And that's it. I'm done with the Internet today.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 7:15 AM on August 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


He controls her weight? While also trying to feed her all the time? I can understand having rough kinks, but . . . what the hell? If you grew up with a Southern mother you do not need any more of this in your life. It is profoundly unsexy.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:21 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I can honestly say that I had no idea this kind of feeling was even possible. I've never had a book so thoroughly turn off my desire to read before. Ever. I would read a page here and there, then turn my Kindle off and get online. There wouldn't be anything to do online, and I'd sit at my desk thinking, Oh, I should really finish that book. But then I'd just keep surfing the internet."

This has happened to me once, with a title from the much-loved Mefi's own [REDACTED].
posted by clvrmnky at 7:24 AM on August 5, 2012


They're far worse than even The DaVinci Code.

Whoa, that takes some doing. How awful is it compared with The Bridges of Madison County, my personal benchmark for abysmal fiction?
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:28 AM on August 5, 2012


The intriguing thing about 50 Shades is that not only did it originate at Twilight fanfiction, but that every horrified response to it is also fanfiction of the horrified responses to Twilight. It's like some strange meta loop.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:32 AM on August 5, 2012 [40 favorites]


I can see many here are far too young to recall the pop-cultural bukakke that was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:34 AM on August 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


Lesbiasparrow - you've got at point: previously
posted by Artw at 7:37 AM on August 5, 2012


oh dear god I had to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull in high school English class.

I though it was total crap.
posted by maryrussell at 7:38 AM on August 5, 2012


I though it was total crap.
Yup.
But it was spread thickly across the media landscape in a way that makes Fifty Shades a mere pretender.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:41 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nobody tried to spaff to it though. Well, I hope not.
posted by Artw at 7:41 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there an animated gif search engine?

And what is this one from? I KNOW I KNOW IT I just don't know how ...
posted by barnacles at 7:42 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can see many here are far too young to recall the pop-cultural bukakke that was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I just hope the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey isn't a musical.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:43 AM on August 5, 2012


It's the third or fourth Doctor Who, I forget which.
posted by elizardbits at 7:45 AM on August 5, 2012


What's the typical demographics of the 5SG reader.. genx dirty 30s or the 50-60s boomer cougar? Or both in a perfect storm of generational depravity.
posted by stbalbach at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2012


And what is this one from? I KNOW I KNOW IT I just don't know how ...

Italian Spiderman, about 40 seconds in.
posted by codacorolla at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


Say what you like about the Fifty Shades series (no, go ahead, say it; we'll all have a laugh), but you have to admit "cool vanilla spell" would be a good user name. Or dessert topping. Or both!

Heh. I said topping...
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:48 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can see many here are far too young to recall the pop-cultural bukakke that was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

I was forced to read it in sixth grade by a teacher who had evidently found the book transformative back in the day. Ugh.
posted by Forktine at 7:51 AM on August 5, 2012


There's a parody of 50 Shades called 50 Shames Of Earl Grey. it's quite funny, even if you haven't read the original.
posted by Solomon at 7:51 AM on August 5, 2012


codacorolla: "And what is this one from? I KNOW I KNOW IT I just don't know how ...

Italian Spiderman, about 40 seconds in.
"

I owe you a beer if I'm ever in your neck of the meetups. That was going to eat at me all completely until I figured it out.
posted by barnacles at 7:52 AM on August 5, 2012


No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

- H. L. Mencken
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:55 AM on August 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


As an older male, I have these questions bout the series:
1. why is it that a book is so widely red and yet also noted by its readers as often poorly written
2. why does this appeal to women and seldom to men, that is, what constitutes female porn
3 what does it tell us that the works (?) are often called "mommy porn," that is books red by older rather than younger women.
posted by Postroad at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You shouldn't judge individuals for their taste in fiction. But you know what? Sometimes it can be really useful to know if a new acquaintance's favorite book is something Fifty Shades of Grey. For reasons. ("Reasons" include deciding that there are plenty of other people you'd really prefer getting to know first.)

Because, seriously. 58 utterances of "Inner goddess", in a 500-something page book? That's... almost like it's trying really hard to be as hilariously bad as it can possibly be. Except it isn't. How is that even possible?
posted by harujion at 8:02 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really want to read these but keep getting distracted by the animated gifs. Isn't there a keyboard shortcut to pause gifs, or something? I need that.
posted by subbes at 8:08 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an older male, I have these questions bout the series:

To get all serious for a moment, I am slightly disturbed by the eagerness of pretty much everyone to go after the books that are popular with women. I am not defending the Fifty Shades series (nor Twilight) -- I haven't read them, but I have read various reviews and critiques and some excerpts, and I have to say that they don't sound very good, but I think there is something unpleasant at work here, like women's pleasures always have to be "guilty pleasures." Books, movies, music, television marketed towards women has to be passed off as "not all that good," even by the women who enjoy it. And that is... well, not great.

Many years ago, I did the usual thing of sneering at romance fiction. A friend of mine, who enjoys the genre quite a lot, said "yeah? have you read any?" and, when I admitted that I hadn't, gave me several books to read fro homework -- two she thought were quite good and one which she felt hilariously bad. And, you know? They good ones were OK. It's not really my genre, but they were fun to read, and the characters were well drawn, and the dialogue was witty, so there you have it.

Again, I am not suggesting that all romance novels are "worthy," nor that Fifty Shades of Grey isn't horrible, but, honestly, most SF and Fantasy (and mysteries and thrillers and) are pretty badly written, usually with a few good ideas or scenes or maybe an interesting plot hidden among the crap characters and wooden dialogue. And it seems like half the "literary novels" I pick up are tedious beyond belief. But, since many of these are written by men for men, no one goes around tearing them apart to prove how bad they are, nor do the readers/fans feel a strong need to distance themselves from their own pleasure.

So, by all means, let's rag on Fifty Shades, it seems kind of horrible, but when can we get around to celebrating "women's books?"

I guess I can always go and skim Smart Bitches, Trashy Books; they are usually good for some interesting discussion (and hilarious take-downs).
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:14 AM on August 5, 2012 [52 favorites]


He controls her weight? While also trying to feed her all the time?

I read the first book (and it is every bit as bad as you imagine), and one of the weirder things is that Ana's appetite, like her pre-Christian libido and most of the rest of her personality, is practically nonexistent. There are several scenes in which she hasn't eaten in a day or so. And Christian's like "when was the last time you ate?" and Ana's like "derp derp what's food?" and Christian's all "well fine I ordered you the Hungryman Super Breakfast Platter and you are gonna eat all of it" and Ana takes two bites of pancake and goes "ok that's my food for the next 72 hours" and Christian's all "I have ISSUES about wasting food and also DARFUR" and Ana's like "oh geez" and Christian's like "when you say 'oh geez' it makes me want to fuck you" and then they fuck, fuckingly.

It's odd. I think E.L. James has, very clumsily, tapped into something here: there's this trope that delicious food is somehow naughty and "good girls" don't eat to excess (e.g all the desserts marketed as either "sinful" or "guilt-free" or both), and wouldn't it be nice not to ever desire food? Ana's sort of this weird wish-fulfillment Mary Sue where she stumbles into getting things that most normal people want, but that women are often taught that it's bad to want (sex, beauty, pancakes).

As an aside, not many of the snarky reviews mention this but I think it's worth calling attention to: near the end of the book Ana flies cross-country to see her mother, and Christian throws an absolute shit fit because he didn't give her permission (at this point I'd be all like "hey I'm changing the safeword to 'fuck you,' because this is my mother, you dillhole") and then this ass FOLLOWS HER on her trip and stalkily texts her all "hey, enjoying that [drink you are currently having]?" And if that weren't bad enough, get this: Mom is all "gosh, Ana, that man really must care about you to fly all the way here, he sure is a catch yup yup yup." And I'm like, ANA'S MOM! Why are you not CALLING THE COPS? Holy crap and aw geez.

And then Ana's subconscious is like "you're a ho" and Ana's inner goddess is like "SEX IS GREAT" and then Christian is like "Ana I told you a million times that whenever you bite your lip I am compelled to take you into the nearest secluded area and do the sex to you, also I bought you an Audi," and then they go into the broom closet and aw geez down there holy crap, they argue about whether Ana should eat a meal today, Ana wins, and then Christian probably reveals another preposterous Child-Called-It horror of his distant past. Go back over the scene and select all, copy, paste, repeat until you hit novel length, PROFIT. I may be getting some of the details wrong, like she might have gotten a BMW instead of an Audi, but you probably get the point.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:20 AM on August 5, 2012 [156 favorites]


Please, let's not start to defend books like these in the name of feminism. Twilight and its kinky fanfic derivative are targets right now because they're incredibly popular and hence inescapable. A few years ago it was Dan Brown.

Shit books are shit, nothing to do with going after books that women like.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:21 AM on August 5, 2012 [22 favorites]


How about the time he gives her a handjob with a soapy washcloth?

And that's it. I'm done with the Internet today.


The author is a woman who's been married for 20 years and two teenaged children. Surely she knows better than to write such an activity--almost guaranteed to cause the woman to get a UTI--as being "romantic". Oh, wait, apparently she doesn't.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:26 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Feminists should be mocking these books. Sorry, women who like them: Tough Love time. Delicious, delicious, irony. Or something.
posted by angrycat at 8:29 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


50 Shades of Grey: As ridiculous as 9 1/2 Weeks but badly written too.
posted by localroger at 8:31 AM on August 5, 2012


Fifty Shades of Louisa May

"Where the Transcendentalists shed their pretensions. And their clothes."

It also includes erotic woodcuts.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:32 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know how I've been organizing this list of things to do once I get this time machine operational? Well, priorities changed. Killing Hitler is now second.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:33 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Clvrmnky:

"This has happened to me once, with a title from the much-loved Mefi's own [REDACTED]."

DON'T THINK I DON'T KNOW.

When I was on tour I was on a plane, sitting next to a woman who was reading 50 Shades. I asked what she thought of it. She said "It's absolutely terrible, and I can't stop reading it."
posted by jscalzi at 8:34 AM on August 5, 2012 [49 favorites]


Please, let's not start to defend books like these in the name of feminism. Twilight and its kinky fanfic derivative are targets right now because they're incredibly popular and hence inescapable. A few years ago it was Dan Brown.

Shit books are shit, nothing to do with going after books that women


True, but there is, shall we say, a level of hysteria about bad fiction for women/girls that there isn't for other fiction. Women and girls are not such trembling flowers that reading 50 Shades or Twilight is going to render them passive victims for the rest of their lives. No more than reading Harry Potter is going to turn you to the dark arts, or whatever the religious right's attack was. Nor are women stupider for reading these books.

Personally, I find far more interesting to think about what it is that these books have that made them into such juggernauts, because it's clearly something of interest beyond OMG HOW CAN YOU READ THESE, U ARE SO STUPID LOLZ. I read Twilight for that reason (I had a friend who was very much into them); I can't see myself reading 50 Shades, though.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:35 AM on August 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


After hearing so many "no fisting" jokes, I'm curious was there eventually fisting?
posted by humanfont at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2012


You shouldn't judge individuals for their taste in fiction.
posted by harujion at 4:02 PM on August 5


Why on earth not? Do you not think it reflects something about their nature and personality?

To get all serious for a moment, I am slightly disturbed by the eagerness of pretty much everyone to go after the books that are popular with women.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:14 PM on August 5


I don't think that's why they're going after these books. I think they're going after these books because they are quite plainly horribly bad books. I'll always go after a bad book irrespective of who writes it and who reads it. Now, let's take "Infinite Jest", for example; a book much loved by a certain sort of male, and I think we all know...

*is suddenly rendered unconscious by flying mallet of uncertain origin*
posted by Decani at 8:47 AM on August 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


*whistles nonchalantly*
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:50 AM on August 5, 2012 [44 favorites]


Please, let's not start to defend books like these in the name of feminism.

Weird. You seem to have read some other comment than the one I wrote. Well, not exactly, since I guess I was, broadly, defending "books like these" even as I specifically said that I wasn't defending Fifty Shades and Twilight (having, you know, not read them).

But I do think that it's interesting that books by women for women are pretty much relegated to "junk" status, like being "Oprah books." Are the vast majority of them somewhere between forgettable and awful? I don't doubt it. To paraphrase Ortega y Gassett: "the vast majority of books are stupid and useless; their production and maintenance are a weight upon the back of humanity already bent low under other, more pressing burdens." Pretty much everything by volume in every bookstore and library is forgettable junk in the long run. We, as a society, seem to take especial interest in judging women's books for their failings (and we have been doing it for the last two centuries or so -- librarians in the US used to not let people check out more than a couple of fiction books (meaning popular, rather than "improving" fiction or "literature") at a time, to stave off corruption).

I think lesbiassparrow hits the mark -- the really interesting question is what makes Fifty Shades so popular? If we don't start from the assumption that women are stupid, how can we understand the popularity of a series that everyone seems to regard as stupid? Mass hysteria? Faddism? Temporary insanity? A deep-seated love of the awful? Or is there something else?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:52 AM on August 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Fantastic use of Denholm Reynholm's autodefenestration.
posted by Madamina at 8:54 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think that's why they're going after these books.

When you go after these books because they are terrible (which, based on the first one only, which was as much as I could read, they hoo-boy-bee-bop-a-loony surely are), then I agree. But when you go after them based on "har har, dirty books for sad pitiful used-up ladies" nonsense, then it's absolutely true that this is part of a broader hostility that doesn't always have the first thing to do with whether the books are bad or not.

People were able to process the badness and popularity of Dan Brown's stuff without coming up with quite as harsh a narrative about the people who were reading it as I've seen here. So while I agree that it's not antifeminist or anything to point out that the writing here is awful and the themes are disturbing and on and on and ON, it's a little unfortunate to spend a lot of time -- as a lot of people, though not necessarily in this particular thread, have done with this book -- making up stories about how pitiful and undersexed and pervy you'd have to be to read it. Because that argument is indeed made about all romance fiction, despite plenty of evidence that it's not true.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:01 AM on August 5, 2012 [20 favorites]


I do tend to think (bad) women's books are attacked more than (bad) general or male-interest ones. People are mentioning Dan Brown, but his audience isn't exclusively male. And (notwithstanding Decani) I haven't seen too many people attack DFW's audience (which again, isn't all male anyway).[On preview, what Linda_Holmes said, as well as others]
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:03 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Women and girls are not such trembling flowers that reading 50 Shades or Twilight is going to render them passive victims for the rest of their lives.

This is not the problem. The problem is that books like 9 1/2 Weeks and 50 Shades simultaneously massaging common fantasies about power and control, while comfortably validating any reluctance to realize those fantasies and smug feelings of superiority over others who might be realizing those fantasies and therefore having more fun than the reader is.
posted by localroger at 9:06 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Loved these. I read the 50 Shades trilogy out of self defense, because after hearing the words "butt plug" and "spreader bar" come out of my mother's mouth, I wanted to be forewarned.

Mom has now downloaded the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy onto her Kindle. I told her she missed out on getting them for free when she cleaned out my storage space for me years ago.

I'm pretty sure our family herald would have the motto "TMI" inscribed upon it...
posted by romakimmy at 9:08 AM on August 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm losing the thread of this conversation already - are people arguing that criticism of 50 shades is somehow misogynistic? Because it seemed like Katrina Lumsden's argument was that the books themselves were misogynistic...
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there an example of a publishing phenomena that isn't primarily female led? The Grishams and Clancys perhaps? Clancy also qualifies as being legitimately awful.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


When you go after these books because they are terrible (which, based on the first one only, which was as much as I could read, they hoo-boy-bee-bop-a-loony surely are), then I agree. But when you go after them based on "har har, dirty books for sad pitiful used-up ladies" nonsense, then it's absolutely true that this is part of a broader hostility that doesn't always have the first thing to do with whether the books are bad or not.

It's only occurred to me recently, after a lifetime of considering myself an ass-kicking, name-taking feminist, how much contempt there is for female desire in popular culture, and how much I personally have internalized. Porn marketed to men doesn't even pretend to be anything other than it is, and everybody agrees it's stupid -- but they all agree it's inevitable. They don't bother making fun of men who watch things with names like Teenage Tit Dancer or Anal Gangbangs XVI, only for getting caught doing it. Yet women get dumped on for reading sexy books where a woman ends up meaning something to a man.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:13 AM on August 5, 2012 [22 favorites]


Linda_Holmes makes a good point. After all, we don't wonder what's wrong with the people who like mens books by say, John Updike or Orson Scott Card. Maybe we should? OSC fans, what the hell is wrong with you?
posted by happyroach at 9:18 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


OSC fans, what the hell is wrong with you?

On Metafilter? Yeah, we discuss that quite a lot.
posted by Artw at 9:20 AM on August 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Is there an example of a publishing phenomena that isn't primarily female led? The Grishams and Clancys perhaps? Clancy also qualifies as being legitimately awful.

Bravo Two Zero was pretty bloody huge in the UK, and launched a genre of its own.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:22 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do people attack authors like Jodi Picoult, Lisa See, or Anne Tyler much?
posted by drezdn at 9:22 AM on August 5, 2012


Is there an example of a publishing phenomena that isn't primarily female led?

The majority of book purchases are made by women. This says 64% though I've seen higher before.
posted by drezdn at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2012


Top 4 searches on Google for "Orson Scott Card is..." end in:

an asshat
a bigot
a douche
crazy

So yeah, seems like tearing him apart is a popular pastime.
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:24 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


an asshat

*Takes bow*
posted by localroger at 9:27 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


And (notwithstanding Decani) I haven't seen too many people attack DFW's audience (which again, isn't all male anyway).
posted by Infinite Jest


You would say that....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2012


MetaFilter: Was there eventually fisting?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was with her until this part: "Since this is considered nothing more than "mommy porn", I will attempt to pander to that particular demographic for a moment."

Because mothers looking for a bit of softcore to pass the time need to talked down to? Fuck that noise.
posted by asnider at 9:29 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


What's the typical demographics of the 5SG reader.. genx dirty 30s or the 50-60s boomer cougar? Or both in a perfect storm of generational depravity.

Judging from the bookstore where I work, it's a combination of both with maybe a few more of the 30s crowd. Throw in a lot of rather young 20 somethings, often with their boyfriends, who then stand a little back looking awkward but pleased while the woman buys the book. When they first started getting big, we also had the dubious schadenfreude of watching women of all ages, primarily older, who just always read buy all the bestsellers (until I worked in a bookstore I had no idea that these people existed, but they do in droves) get them without having the slightest clue what they were about. Those that actually thumbed through them before coming up to the register sometimes turned kind of ashen and put them back quickly. And then there's the fun of playing bookstore police, when I get to quietly inform clueless Mom that she should maybe not buy them for her snickering 13 year old daughter without doing a little research.

A lot of it is the herd instinct, though, and it weirds me out. It weirded me out when it was the Hunger Games, which sold in the same frenzied way last spring and to a slightly lesser degree when it was A Song of Ice and Fire (although that one is kind of self selecting: nobody goes past Game of Thrones unless they are actually into it.) I don't understand people who feel they have to buy the same books everyone else is buying or everything on the best seller list - I've always gotten my books at Goodwill or used bookstores or wherever I could find anything to feed the addiction; I'm poor, a book junkie and not proud - but yet there they are and once a book gets on that sacred list it becomes an ouroboros, feeding on itself until just as suddenly as it started, it's over.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:35 AM on August 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


So I haven't heard the Tampon scene, but I imagine it is what i think it is...

But really I'm waiting for the Jolly Rancher scene.
posted by symbioid at 9:36 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


sexy books where a woman ends up meaning something to a man.

That's an extremely charitable interpretation of the Fifty Shades books, don't you think? The most savage reviews I've read of the series have all come from women. *All* of them.
posted by mediareport at 9:37 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I find far more interesting to think about what it is that these books have that made them into such juggernauts, because it's clearly something of interest beyond OMG HOW CAN YOU READ THESE, U ARE SO STUPID LOLZ. I read Twilight for that reason (I had a friend who was very much into them); I can't see myself reading 50 Shades, though.

Yes yes yes yes!

I am finding it increasingly boring to read "LOL these books people love are so stupid and unrealistic and the characters don't behave properly LOL!" and more interesting to read "Why are these weird and not very good books tapping into something that appeals deeply to a whole lotta people?"
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:44 AM on August 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


And it seems like half the "literary novels" I pick up are tedious beyond belief. But, since many of these are written by men for men, no one goes around tearing them apart to prove how bad they are

Well, almost no one. B.R. Myers' A Reader's Manifesto from 2001 does just that and made a huge splash when it first hit, Might be right up your alley.
posted by mediareport at 9:44 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Why are these weird and not very good books tapping into something that appeals deeply to a whole lotta people?"

Because people like quick, easy, smutty reads?

I'm not sure there's a whole lot of amazingly deeper analysis we're going to need here.
posted by mediareport at 9:46 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The 50 shades demographics from the bookstore I work at are pretty much the same as mygothlaundry's.

What is this gif from?
posted by drezdn at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2012


"Why are these weird and not very good books tapping into something that appeals deeply to a whole lotta people?"

Thought experiment: How would the woman on the plane have responded to jscalzi had she been reading The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty?
posted by localroger at 9:52 AM on August 5, 2012


Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
posted by audacity at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've only read selections of 50 Shades, but both the writing and the popularity remind me of Clan of the Cavebear. CotCb is less overtly kinky, but it has the oddly repetitive writing, frequent sex scenes, and problematic gender politics (albeit happily without the eating issues, as I recall). Dismissing this kind of popular woman-centric porn just for the bad writing is too easy and misses the ways it is connecting with its audience.
posted by Forktine at 9:55 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's just that people get discouraged about the state of the country/world/culture/western civilization when something so bad becomes so popular.
posted by freakazoid at 9:58 AM on August 5, 2012


This is not a book about BDSM, this is a book about one sick, abusive man and his obsession with a young, naive invertebrate.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:00 AM on August 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


"This has happened to me once, with a title from the much-loved Mefi's own [REDACTED]."

DON'T THINK I DON'T KNOW.


I try not to read the books of people I know, even vaguely through the internet, because I can never regard them in the same light afterward if the book is bad, or bad in a not-fun way, or offensive. It's like suddenly the author is not just some internetian or the checkout dude at the grocery store, or a former boyfriend, but a person who thinks that 'languish' is a fancy word for 'anguish' or something. And forever after I can't un-see them in that light.

But the other day I picked up Redshirts on whim and it was quite fun and did not make me flinch from the kindle in horror! I can recommend it as entertainment and have in fact done so, although I didn't do that 'Mefi's own' thing that makes us sound like a distant acquaintance with boundary issues.

So it's not all people obsessively buying deeply creepy books that are made out of creepy fanfic about creepy crypto-fundamentalist vampire novels.
posted by winna at 10:02 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


librarians in the US used to not let people check out more than a couple of fiction books (meaning popular, rather than "improving" fiction or "literature") at a time, to stave off corruption).

I once read a Victorian novel the argument of which was that if women read unimproving fiction they would die of brain fevers. As they deserved, of course, because they were clearly not like the heroine who only read worthy books and thus didn't get propositioned for an adulterous affair and had a brain that was not about to explode. It was awesome in a deeply hilarious way, especially as it was reissued as forgotten classic that was all about women's education.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:25 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not buying the line that the current orgy of 5SG hatred is misogynistic.

I take it that Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty books were written primarily for women--at least that's the distinct impression I got when I read them (for one thing, lots of guy-guy scenes, and, I think, exactly one girl-girl scene, and that one a threesome, and seemingly written grudgingly and late in the series, as if the editor had made her do it... As you can see, I'm still bitter...) And those are generally well regarded...well, well-regarded for pr0n, that is... Right?

I honestly don't know of any well-known, male-oriented porn books, so that comparison is hard to come by.* If guy porn is basically ordinary internet porn videos...well, it's mostly so embarrassingly awful--and just plain embarrassing--that nobody even talks about it seriously, nor can even name one single, er, work. Can anyone even name a porn director? Or a writer?* (Andrew Blake doesn't count...)

And (and speaking of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, also), probably the book I most relish bashing is Ishmael, a book about a talking environmentalist gorilla that was popular a few years ago. A worse piece of crap there never was. But I digress...

And Ender's Game? Crap, crap, crap. Crappity crap crap. Why doesn't it get ragged on as much as 5SG? Well, not at Metafilter, anyway...apparently because there's no firm consensus that it's bad. And even though it sucks, it doesn't 5SG suck... That's suckage on a whole nuther level...

* (snicker)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 10:28 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis Read '50 Shades of Grey'
posted by homunculus at 10:37 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will just say again that pornography for men does not result in me having conversations with coworkers, acquaintances, and random strangers that suddenly veer into five-alarm Embarrassment Crises without a bit of warning.

I read a lot. I almost never go anywhere without at least my Kindle, if not a big ol' honking hardcover from the library. (We get our books for free from the library, where we then pay about fifty dollars a week because we forget to take them back.) So I have a lot of conversations that revolve around what I'm reading (as I walk down the hall) and so on. And it feels like every time I talk to a woman about this lately, they bring up That Damned Book. I don't care, really, if you want to read trashy porn. Do whatever floats your boat, have a ball, my blessings upon you for it, but please, leave my poor easily-embarrassed self out of it.

For pity's sake, the other day I lent my copy of "The Drunkard's Walk" to a coworker because she had recently completed a degree involving a statistics course and that book is a friendly tour of statistics and probability that I found helpful myself. She enjoyed it, and we were chatting about how making that stuff more accessible would probably help a lot of people who struggle with it when they take statistics, and then OUT OF NOWHERE she hauls out "Fifty Shades" and I just... goddammit, no one DOES that with "Teenage Tit Dancer or Anal Gangbangs XVI", okay? THAT is why I get upset about this.

I don't want to hear about your pornography habits. I don't want to talk about MY pornography habits. These are things that should only form the basis of a conversation when you both know one another well enough to talk about sexual preferences casually. Yet somehow the fact that "Fifty Shades" is a book instead of dirty pictures means that it's something to discuss with strangers?

At least Twilight and DaVinci Code were just awful writing. I didn't have to turn bright red when people starting talking them up.
posted by Scattercat at 10:37 AM on August 5, 2012 [21 favorites]


Well, I give up. I can't read these. The gifs have won.
posted by Trochanter at 10:45 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


they were clearly not like the heroine who only read worthy books and thus didn't get propositioned for an adulterous affair and had a brain that was not about to explode.

Huh. I ready many non-worthy books, and my brain has sort of exploded, and I was propositioned for an adulterous affair not that long ago, so maybe there is some truth in this....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:45 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


CotCb is less overtly kinky, but it has the oddly repetitive writing, frequent sex scenes, and problematic gender politics

The gender politics of the Earth's Children series are clearly intentional and central to the story, though. CotCB is basically about Ayla's struggle with the gender politics of Clan society, and the series then goes on to contrast that society with others in which gender status is constructed differently, and comment upon those constructions, right up to its (admittedly awful) conclusion. I'm not sure it's comparable to the insidious sort of misogyny people are concerned about in Fifty Shades, Twilight and their ilk, though having not read them, I couldn't say that for certain.
posted by lwb at 10:46 AM on August 5, 2012


As a metal fan, I would like to say that it's okay to love things that are critically panned or even straight up objectively bad (I speak of things such as Cryptopsy's latest, or Fear Factory, or any of the millions of Nightwish clones). It's also okay for people to rip on those works for their flaws. I don't think there's any truth to the concern that impressionable young women will end up in abusive relationships due to a book, any more than a Cannibal Corpse fan will be inspired to start smashing faces with hammers. It's important to discuss the issues inherent in glorifying misogyny and abusive relationships, but to dismiss things as inherently unworthy because of the demographic that enjoys them (i.e. mommy porn) is wrong.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:46 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


She enjoyed it, and we were chatting about how making that stuff more accessible would probably help a lot of people who struggle with it when they take statistics, and then OUT OF NOWHERE she hauls out "Fifty Shades" and I just...

To be fair, Fifty Shades seems like a pretty standard deviation....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:47 AM on August 5, 2012 [15 favorites]


I haven't seen too many people attack DFW's audience
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:03 PM on August 5


*groggily raises self from floor*

And that... that right there is what is WRONG WITH THIS SORRY GODDAMNED...

*is felled by falling brick, whose origin is pretty damned certain this time*
posted by Decani at 10:57 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


A librarian friend of mine has observed that when patrons - especially middle-aged women - take out Fifty Shades, it's never taken out by itself, but is instead hidden in a stack of other, less "scandalous" material. When returned, it's placed face-down on the returns counter, often with another book on top of it.
posted by Graygorey at 11:02 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I take it that Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty books were written primarily for women--at least that's the distinct impression I got when I read them (for one thing, lots of guy-guy scenes, and, I think, exactly one girl-girl scene, and that one a threesome, and seemingly written grudgingly and late in the series, as if the editor had made her do it... As you can see, I'm still bitter...) And those are generally well regarded...well, well-regarded for pr0n, that is... Right?

If amount guy-guy action is a factor I am yet again suprised that Poppy Z Brite isn't bigger than Anne Rice.
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ya know, I get that 50 Shades of Grey is bad. That a lot of people hate it. But on the other hand this is someone who has obviously lurked a lot of image boards collecting animated GIFs so that she can, at some point, present an exhaustive categorization of how much she doesn't like something, either all at once or over the years in preparation. And then she wrote three lengthy screeds attacking it on every front.

What I'm saying is, when you hate something hard enough, when you don't just express it but dwell on it, it starts to look like love.
posted by JHarris at 11:05 AM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


(And I say that as a diehard MSTie.)
posted by JHarris at 11:06 AM on August 5, 2012


I have not met anyone who has read the thing that has not expressed similar feelings to the reviewer. And yet they all voluntarily read the bloody thing.
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on August 5, 2012


. . . I'm not sure it's comparable to the insidious sort of misogyny people are concerned about in Fifty Shades, Twilight and their ilk, though having not read them, I couldn't say that for certain.

No, there are lots of adorably super nice men in Jean Auel's books, which is part of the problem. It's not a travesty of gender roles, it's a travesty of Paleolithic archaeology, using gender roles and oh so much more. I have a whole drunken rant about that, and I won't go into it. To be fair, Auel could not have known at the time that it was the Neanderthals who were big and blond, whereas the Cro-Magnons were the short dark-skinned ones. She had this switched the wrong way around, allowing her to basically have Fabio star as the romantic lead.

If amount guy-guy action is a factor I am yet again suprised that Poppy Z Brite isn't bigger than Anne Rice.

The publishing world awaits its slash-fiction crossover hit, AFAIK.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:08 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can see many here are far too young to recall the pop-cultural bukakke that was Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

So my graduating-year high school yearbook was edited by this somewhat dorky misunderstood genius type, and he filled all the incidental text and photo captions with in-jokes that were a laff riot I'm sure for him and his co-editor but essentially no one else. He used his editor's page to blort out a long list of acknowledgements like he'd won the Nobel Prize and we were all wondering.

Anyway, there's one line in there that's just so marvelous I'll never forget it. I can recite it from memory: "Thanks to Jonathan Livingston Seagull for teaching me all I know - and care to know - about religion."

It was a Catholic high school. It warped us all in different ways, I guess.
posted by gompa at 11:18 AM on August 5, 2012


The complaints about "OMG Christian is so stalkery you guys!" are another example of how smart people can be embarrassingly dumb when talking about popular culture. I know quite a few people (women people, mostly) who love Twilight and Fifty Shades. And I am happy to inform you that they are all WELL AWARE that the behavior displayed in the book would result in an immediate call to the cops. That is no small part of why they like it. It is fantasy! Fan! Ta! Sy! Not real!

It may surprise some people to hear that women, even women who do not read a lot of literature and use poor grammer, can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and can enjoy the former precisely because it is unlike the latter. People who gas on about how terrible the character's behavior really is are like some snooty professor watching Richard Donner's SUPERMAN and growling "The American public is made of morons! You cannot turn back time by rotating the earth!" We know that, d00d, that's kind of the point.

A good friend of mine teaches junior high and early high school lit classes in the city, so she's had a lot of chances to talk to real, live Twi-hards (and not a few Fifty Shades fans). Her take is that these girls are exposed to a constant diet of girl-power from the school, a building covered in posters of girls doing science, pushing messages of self-reliance, filled with counselors eager to talk them through better life choices. They don't have a lot of room for the fiery intensity that is self-abnegating desire, and largely acknowledge that there's a good reason they can't actually go out and experience it. So they enjoy fantasizing about the thing they don't intend to actually do. When you critique that fantasy by yelping "In real life, that wouldn't be nearly so cool," you only demonstrate that you are a terribly poor reader with an atrocious understanding of how writing works.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:21 AM on August 5, 2012 [16 favorites]


I guess if you want your hippy pop-metaphysics with spaffable bits Tom Robbins would be the one to go to.
posted by Artw at 11:22 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


> what does it tell us that the works (?) are often called "mommy porn," that is books red by older rather than younger women

Women in their thirties and forties -- somehow older women escape this, maybe through invisibility -- are single-minded creatures that do nothing but look after small children. That's why we wear mom jeans and read mommy porn and write mom blogs, but our husbands wear jeans and read porn and write blogs.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:22 AM on August 5, 2012 [32 favorites]


It's this kind of ignorant trash that sets feminism back decades. Women who defend this book are, however unwittingly, participating in some of the most blatant misogyny I've ever witnessed, giving the impression that some women enjoy being debased, abused, and controlled (outside of a consensual dom/sub relationship).

Oh really? Defending a book is the most misogynistic thing you've ever seen someone do? Tell me more about how women are to blame for sexism and how we are among the worst perpetrators of misogyny. Please, I am waiting for any kind of explanation that is more sensible than internalized misogyny.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:23 AM on August 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is the thread where I want to mention that, since everybody in here obvsly loves 'em some good writing, another good way to get books off your page and in your head? Audible books via your local library. Free audible goodness. For those days when your local public radio is nothing but Garrison Keillor and other shite.
posted by angrycat at 11:27 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


(they're audible ebooks. the latter being the newish thing. download them, you see)
posted by angrycat at 11:32 AM on August 5, 2012


A librarian friend of mine has observed that when patrons - especially middle-aged women - take out Fifty Shades, it's never taken out by itself, but is instead hidden in a stack of other, less "scandalous" material. When returned, it's placed face-down on the returns counter, often with another book on top of it.

After reading this and other 50 Shades threads, I can't imagine why women would feel scrutinized and judged for reading these books. This is the same pileon by Serious Readers that I saw for Eat, Pray, Love except this series has omgSEX which makes it extra funny in a middle-school way, I guess.
posted by ladygypsy at 11:40 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Back in the 70s and 80s I remember horror and thriller novels often having a sex scene or two (or three) in them. Then they got taken out (and the horror got taken out of horror and put in crime fiction, but that's another story)

Anyway... Eric Van Lustbader is self-publishing his back-list as ebooks starting with the Ninja series of thrillers. Which I bought way back in the day for all their cool martial arts fighting scenes. Totally for the fighting scenes. The fighting.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:46 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


whoops, forgot to link to this...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:47 AM on August 5, 2012


And I am happy to inform you that they are all WELL AWARE that the behavior displayed in the book would result in an immediate call to the cops. That is no small part of why they like it. It is fantasy! Fan! Ta! Sy! Not real!

I mostly agree. There are definitely people who lack a certain critical awareness with fictional portrayals -- I have met guys who think that porn is 100 percent real in every way, or the stories one hears of soap opera villains being glared at on the street. But mostly people know that it is fiction and they enjoy the unreality. That's why erotica virtually always ignores contraception, STIs, and all the minor indignities of real sex, for example. It's why gazillions of people watch Batman and Lord of the Rings movies.

The unreality is the fun, and enjoying it is not at all the same as wanting to reenact it in your own life. That's just as true at the literary high-end -- I can enjoy Nadine Gordimer's books without in the slightest wanting to live through those events myself, for example.
posted by Forktine at 11:48 AM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I take it that Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty books were written primarily for women

Actually it's pretty clear at this point that Anne Rice wrote them for herself. Which is, interestingly enough, apparently how 5SG came about, though with a lot less self-awareness and talent. And that can be a pretty awesome way to approach the creative process, since so few professionals do it; you just say fuck it I'm going to make this work for me, and if it works for someone else well lagniappe. I suspect that is why 5SG works for so many people; it is not afraid to go to places that a lot of people would like to go, but mostly we don't because it's embarrassing and we really want to be dragged there so we can claim innocence when it's all done.

My biggest problem with books like 9 1/2 Weeks and 5SG is that they use BDSM imagery to create an impression of self-accepting BDSM life that makes it look tragic and self-destructive, and allows people who are too timid to realize their own fantasies to congratulate themselves on their wisdom in not letting those horrible base emotions enslave them and destroy their lives.
posted by localroger at 11:50 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


The complaints about "OMG Christian is so stalkery you guys!" are another example of how smart people can be embarrassingly dumb when talking about popular culture. I know quite a few people (women people, mostly) who love Twilight and Fifty Shades. And I am happy to inform you that they are all WELL AWARE that the behavior displayed in the book would result in an immediate call to the cops. That is no small part of why they like it. It is fantasy! Fan! Ta! Sy! Not real!

Also sort of interesting that these criticisms don't seem to be aimed at high culture*. Think of Heathcliff, he's just as bad as Christian from what I can tell. Or Taming of the Shrew (saw it a few nights ago, it was pretty damn uncomfortable being in a theatre where people were cheering Petruchio). But you know, no-one thinks I'm going to start gaslighting my girlfriend because I watched the play.

*As far as I know, with the examples I gave. There certainly isn't a moral panic about Wuthering Heights, we teach that in schools....
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:52 AM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


A librarian friend of mine has observed that when patrons - especially middle-aged women - take out Fifty Shades, it's never taken out by itself, but is instead hidden in a stack of other, less "scandalous" material. When returned, it's placed face-down on the returns counter, often with another book on top of it.

This is not AT ALL what I'm seeing at the bookstore where I always say "Would you like a bag for that?" (Granted, I say that even if they're buying, oh, Hemingway and Goodnight, Moon to draw two examples of utterly impeccably tasteful literature out of a hat.) Most of the women who are buying it aren't buying anything else; say: "oh, no, that's okay" and march on out the door with it tucked under their arm, usually after complaining about how expensive it is and why don't we have any used copies, anyway. I'm the prudish one who is mildly shocked by this but then I also feel you should take a bag if you're buying eleventy hundred Star Wars and Forgotten Realms books.

I did have one gleeful probably late 50s early 60s customer who was buying the second and third books regale me about how totally awful they were. "Honey!" she said, "I can't believe I'm reading this TRASH! But I tell you, once you finish the first one, you just GOT to find out what these two idiots are going to get up to next!"
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:53 AM on August 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


Audible books via your local library. Free audible goodness. For those days when your local public radio is nothing but Garrison Keillor and other shite.

1. Audible has their own problems, and not all libraries carry those anyway.
2. Might I suggest that you try some ketchup? I hear it contains natural mellowing agents.
posted by JHarris at 11:54 AM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having read Twilight and now 50 Shades, I think the creepy stalker characteristics of the men in these books are appealing as "mom porn" because it's escapism, in a culture where you're not hot after 30 or after having a kid (unless you still look 20), to read about a guy who wants a girl so much that he will be a gross stalker. Do these women actually want a guy who will follow them across the country and forbid them from doing xyz and so on? Probably not, but it's thrilling to read something where a guy is so obsessively into you alone that he would.

I suspect this also comes from some of the "he's just not that into you" culture: when men are specifically told that they're pussies if they call a woman the next day, or act too into her, it kind of makes sense that the extreme "fantasy man" would be one into you SO MUCH that he scrutinizes every detail of your life. Again, I don't think women reading this actually want controlling, abusive men in their own lives, but as a fantasy, one could definitely equate "he wants to control/dominate me = he wants to spend all his time/focus on only me".

I am also an avid reader of terrible thriller/adventure/treasure hunt books, where The Hero is always a bitter ex-Marine or hard-bodied scholar with a Tragic Past that has left him Unable to Love, and inevitably falls for the hot curator/professor/archeologist/whatever, and they are Meant To Be after going through such a crazy adventure, even though they've only known each other for a week. The plot is just as predictable and tawdry as any "lady book", but no one seems to pick them out for castigation the way books like Twilight are. I have read these books and they are terrible, but there is more going on here than that.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:06 PM on August 5, 2012 [14 favorites]


Being angry keeps me dewy fresh. Also, fisting.
posted by angrycat at 12:07 PM on August 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


> even though they've only known each other for a week

Hey, you leave Vicky Bliss alone. She and John have known each other for decades. (Or possibly it's been two or three years.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:23 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have read neither these books nor Twilight, but mass-produced pornographic drivel has been popular pretty much always, and I don't think it has much to do with feminism, BDSM, or the larger state of the world. I mean, from the age of 11-14, I and all my friends were obsessed with incest porn, via the works of V.C. Andrews, and yet we all made it to adulthood without marrying our male relatives. Terrible books can be terribly entertaining.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:40 PM on August 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


I take it that Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty books were written primarily for women

That's not the impression I got.

Audible books via your local library. Free audible goodness.

Yes, I did the Sleeping Beauty books that way as well as the first 50 Shades book (even the audiobooks have long waiting lists). I doubt I would have been able to get through them if I'd tried to read them. The narrator of the 50 Shades book was quite annoying though. Her take on Ana was rather valley-girlish.

A librarian friend of mine has observed that when patrons - especially middle-aged women - take out Fifty Shades, it's never taken out by itself, but is instead hidden in a stack of other, less "scandalous" material. When returned, it's placed face-down on the returns counter, often with another book on top of it.

There are libraries which haven't gone to those self-checkout machines? (Sigh, first world problems...)

On a related note, there's a writer named Sylvia Day who seems to be doing to E. L. James' work what James did to the Twilight books. She's begun a series which practically mirrors 50 Shades. Instead of Christian Grey there's psychologically damaged billionaire Gideon Cross, and instead of Ana Steele there's Eva Trammell. It was sort of fun to try to find all the obvious "homages" to 50 Shades while reading it. I can only recommend it because it's much better written than 50 Shades and appears to have actually been edited before it was published.
posted by fuse theorem at 1:43 PM on August 5, 2012


I read all three of the sleeping beauty books on bet. (As in someone bet me that couldn't make it through all three. I won, but I lost. It takes some doing to make an orgy boring.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:57 PM on August 5, 2012


There are libraries which haven't gone to those self-checkout machines?

The librarians in my local library are confused on the concept of self-checkout. Every time I go up to the desk, all excited about playing with the neato toy, one of them materializes out of nowhere to do it for me. I am deprived!
posted by winna at 2:00 PM on August 5, 2012


I dunno, these books don't sound very different at all from the standard romance/gothic novel fare that was popular when I was young: Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, Daphne du Maurier, etc. Five Shades, 9 1/2 Weeks, the Beauty series -- they're basically sexually frank versions of Jane Eyre or Rebecca.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:11 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


And then there's the fun of playing bookstore police, when I get to quietly inform clueless Mom that she should maybe not buy them for her snickering 13 year old daughter without doing a little research.

This is a joke, right? Would you refuse to sell the books to the 13-year-old if she came in by herself?
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:21 PM on August 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Again, I am not suggesting that all romance novels are "worthy," nor that Fifty Shades of Grey isn't horrible, but, honestly, most SF and Fantasy (and mysteries and thrillers and) are pretty badly written, usually with a few good ideas or scenes or maybe an interesting plot hidden among the crap characters and wooden dialogue. And it seems like half the "literary novels" I pick up are tedious beyond belief. But, since many of these are written by men for men, no one goes around tearing them apart to prove how bad they are

Seriously? No one dismisses works primarily made by men for a male audience? It would be pretty easy to disprove that simply within the confines of Metafilter, where summer blockbusters and superhero comics are routinely subject to sneering dismissal. In fact, anything popular at all is likely to subject to sneering dismissal, but if it's popular largely among men its no less likely (and perhaps a little more) to be a target. I really don't see that your premise holds up.

Sci Fi--always a heavily male-skewed genre-has also had decade upon decade of being dismissed as meaningless, tedious junk. It is true that more recently some corners of the genre have managed to earn a little out-of-subculture respect, but any Sci-Fi writer will still happily talk about the inherent defensiveness of those who work in the medium, and their sense of being shut out form consideration for the kind of critical respect afforded to "serious literature"--a genre, I might add, that is almost certainly heavily skewed towards a female readership.
posted by yoink at 2:47 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a male-targeted analogue to 50 Shades is John Ringo's Ghost novels.
posted by theclaw at 3:05 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to admit, when I read the "forgets to eat and it makes her gorgeous" line, I could see the momentary draw of reading something you know isn't true.

One thing I've become aware of very recently is the amount of pressure white women my age, especially cisgendered femme ones, are under to both conform to the dominant socialization of women and also to not conform. I would love it if I could simply not eat for a few months and suddenly become gorgeous and skinny instead of how I am. I know it's unrealistic, I know the impulse to not eat is actually a mental illness (yay anorexia nervosa, now making forays into the male population!), but that doesn't change the sudden feeling of weightlessness when I read about that admittedly disturbing theme in the books.

There is a lot of pressure women are putting on themselves and each other to be perfect - to be strong, capable, nurturing, beautiful, independent, keep a perfectly clean house, work a demanding job, etc... etc... while also reacting to the "BE HOT AND SEXY ALL THE TIME" messages from popular media, where "hot and sexy" has been photoshopped. It feels like being put into a vice; a world where you automatically are all those things... increasingly attractive the older I get.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:24 PM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is it bad that I see more ripping off of Secretary than I do Twilight with these books? Haven't read them, but, you know.

Secretary was damn great, I must say.
posted by JLovebomb at 3:45 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've had some mind-bending insomnia lately, and the other morning around 5:30 I decided to take a longish walk downtown and try to enjoy my 36 or so hours of wakefulness as a kind of natural hallucinogen. I stopped at a Starbucks to get some coffee (because at this point, why the fuck not?), and the only other person there was a 60+ male security guard working his way through 50 Shades. I must have been staring pretty openly because he looked up, gave me a "Yeah, what of it?" look, and went back to the book. I'm pretty sure my mind wasn't making him up (although it was making him wavy).

I also have a theory that Stephanie Meyer is behind these books as a way of making the Twilight saga look like high art in comparison.
posted by Lectrolamb at 3:57 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


To clarify, is it the case that everyone is basically agreeing that the appeal of these books in NO WAY POSSIBLY falls into the "so bad it's good" (approaching them with a MST3K kind of attitude) category?
posted by juv3nal at 4:23 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


> "When you critique that fantasy by yelping 'In real life, that wouldn't be nearly so cool,' you only demonstrate that you are a terribly poor reader with an atrocious understanding of how writing works."

This is a very good point.

I will try to cease having the howling fantods about the Bad Messages these books are perceived as reinforcing from here on out.
posted by kyrademon at 4:27 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a male-targeted analogue to 50 Shades is John Ringo's Ghost novels.

HEY NOW... you're right. And I've pointed people at that review before, prior to giving them the first "Ghost" / "Paladin of Shadows" book to read.

(looks over at Kindle app window with Ringo's 'Eye of the Storm' open, re-reading it for the 20th time - the Aldenata books are my "I'm depressed, need comfort reading" go-to)

As a kid in junior high, I loved Don Pendleton's "Mack Bolan / The Executioner" books, and only found out fifteen years later that "Gold Eagle Books" was an imprint of .. Harlequin, the romance novel publisher. I consider the Ghost series to be the same type of thing - schlocky silly macho adventure escapism fun.

Anything by Ringo, Larry Correia (the "Monster Hunter" series, etc), or Mefi's Own (tm) cstross results in immediate pre-order when I find out about it. For Ringo or Correia I'll pay Baen the $15 to get e-ARCs when available. (Sorry jscalzi, I sort of burned out on your stuff, but my coworker gave an absolutely GLOWING review of Redshirts...)

12-year-old me would find it amazing that 37-year-old me has exchanged emails with his three favorite authors and politely expressed appreciation for their work, and gotten replies back. And 37-year-old me went all SQUEEEE inwardly.
posted by mrbill at 4:54 PM on August 5, 2012


exhales...deeply.

*I'm gonna have myself a smoke after reading those reviews.
posted by vozworth at 5:02 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


To clarify, is it the case that everyone is basically agreeing that the appeal of these books in NO WAY POSSIBLY falls into the "so bad it's good" (approaching them with a MST3K kind of attitude) category?

Oh, if only. If only. I began 50 Shades the other day, with the intention of blogging about it as a pop cultural phenomenon... but it was so incredibly uninteresting that I found myself distracted by even, say, balancing my checkbook. At least Twilight had a little bit of charm, such as it was; 50 Shades is just relentlessly, repetitively dull. There's no sense of camp, and it feels leaden and pretentious. Also, the constant refrains "oh my!" and "holy crap!" really don't help matters.

I'm going to try again, but ehhhhhh... it will take an act of will to finish the damn thing.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 5:26 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what book "50 Shades of Grey" reminds me of? "Pamela" by Sam Richardson. The difference is that virginity was the big sexy idea in "Pamela", and kink was the big sexy idea in 50 Shades, and the result is that the same scene occurs over and over and over...

A long time ago I took a course based on "The Voyage of the Hero" and the basic premis of the class was that there was only one story, that of the heroic adventurer who goes out into the world and wins the girl and the glory and the kingdom, and that all stories are part of this big one, which is a wired in Jungian thing. Somewhere along the line it occured to me that I could come up with a whole genre of stories which are definitely not just variations on that theme. Basically fairy tales about girls - Cinderella who does as she is told and marries a prince and Red Riding Hood who doesn't do as she is told and gets eaten by a wolf. When I mentioned this to the instructor he just sneered that Those Aren't Real Stories, and I nodded tractably, thinking to myself what a gormless twit he was and landed an A in the course, taking the Cinderella route to good grades and a winning transcript.

Anyway, frequently the difference between women's fiction and men's fiction is that women's fiction is about relationships and men's fiction is about a goal. In men's fiction frequently the guy gets the girl in the end but she has so little character development she's obviously just a prize and he could as easily have won some other McGuffin instead of the Princess's hand in marriage. This is not to say that women don't read men's fiction and men don't read women's fiction. However this difference leads to people putting down women's fiction because they really don't care about this relationship crap. A lot of romance books are just one long Relationship Discussion of the kind that in real life is apt to give many guys a nervous twitch and start them backing towards the door as if they had disturbed an unfriendly pit bull.

I haven't read "50 Shades". I skimmed it while standing at the mall display in the doorway of Coles and came rapidly to the conclusion that it didn't work for me. Okay, the writing is simple and cliched (awful), but that just makes it an easy read. I could have handled that. But the particular relationship dynamic was one that made me wrinkle my nose in repugnance - and for me the problem was that Ana fell in love with her guy way too hard and fast, and that she was impressed and shocked by everything. In two minutes of random flipping and reading random paragraphs I found three different scenes where she was shocked that the guy was doing something to her panties... And lacking a panty fetish I found the idea as beguiling as if he were doing something to her rain boots or to her hair scrunchie. Durh? So what? But I also understand that's just me, and I suppose there are women to whom the word "panties" carries all kinds of sexy, feminine connotations, instead of reminding them of laundry.

I think it's unfair to criticise "50 Shades of Grey" too cruelly because it wasn't trying to appeal to everybody, and isn't trying to pass itself off as great lit. The publisher is basically trying to pass it off as... a scandalous story about panties, which is as truthful as any other bit of advertising.

What I find interesting is that the book publishing industry is evolving. We now have a huge amount of fiction being swapped and published and traded around for free on line and the publishers have woken up to the fact that there is a huge population of readers out there who would far rather read 120 amateur versions of Twilight fic than any of the 120 books they are publishing, so they are now trying to figure out how to tap into that market. I'm going to guess that someone over at the publishing house was sitting there all hunched up brooding over how to get money out of the fanfic community when "50 Shades" bounced across their desk... or more likely came up in their story group. Is Twilight fanfic one of the biggest, or the biggest fanfic genre at the moment? I'm thinking very likely it's no coincidence that they decided to try to Twilight fanfic - however, since vampires and zombies have apparently peaked in popularity they chose to go with a version of Twilight which is supernatural free.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:42 PM on August 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think a male-targeted analogue to 50 Shades is John Ringo's Ghost novels.

Except for the part where the "hero" engages in pedophilia?
posted by fuse theorem at 5:58 PM on August 5, 2012


Almost 130 comments down and I'm still no wiser on the fisting front (or fisting behind, it's never specified), but it seems as if it would have been rammed in there.

I am also hoping someone might know which movie the skeleton gif is from. It's quite eye-catching.
posted by Mezentian at 6:05 PM on August 5, 2012


I think a male-targeted analogue to 50 Shades is John Ringo's Ghost novels.

Except for the part where the "hero" engages in pedophilia?


I bought one of John Ringo's books once and it was so vile I burned it rather than return it and risk someone else reading that trash, even though it meant I gave that man four cents or however much a person gets for a paperback.

It's like someone sat down and thought about every single one of my principles and beliefs and wrote a book that methodically inverted them all. Reading it made me feel unclean.
posted by winna at 6:48 PM on August 5, 2012


I have not heard of John Ringo before, but it seems as if he's broken through what I call the "Piers Anthony Barrier".

I can't stand behind book burning (I have a few L Ron Hubbard books that I have no use for other than fuel and, I just can't), but I've found hurling books across the room deeply cathartic.
posted by Mezentian at 6:54 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


i heard these books are pretty dumb. did you know they are based off of 'fan fiction'?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:57 PM on August 5, 2012


Mezentian: "I am also hoping someone might know which movie the skeleton gif is from. It's quite eye-catching."

The 1959 House on Haunted Hill
posted by the_artificer at 7:09 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Awesome. I was wondering if William Castle's prints were on that, but it looked too old.
Thanks!
posted by Mezentian at 7:10 PM on August 5, 2012


I think I'd probably read Fifty Shades before any Ringo book, if a gun were to my head or something.
posted by Artw at 7:13 PM on August 5, 2012


I can't stand behind book burning (I have a few L Ron Hubbard books that I have no use for other than fuel and, I just can't), but I've found hurling books across the room deeply cathartic.

Normally I was right there with you but it was a case of I didn't want it in the house forever and yet didn't want to put it in a position where other people could read it. While I support the man's right to sell his extraordinarily creepy fiction and would be opposed to mass burnings of his books or censoring them however much I wanted to scrub my brain with bleach after reading it, as a private individual burning one copy is meaningless in terms of censorship.
posted by winna at 7:13 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


any Sci-Fi writer will still happily talk about the inherent defensiveness of those who work in the medium, and their sense of being shut out form consideration for the kind of critical respect afforded to "serious literature"--a genre, I might add, that is almost certainly heavily skewed towards a female readership.

Yes, serious literature is a very female kind of literature. That's why all the big prize winners are women.
posted by jeather at 7:25 PM on August 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's why all the big prize winners are women.

Females seem to support a lot of the popular chart music which is created by males they love (Beiber, One Direction, Chris Brown).

I take your point, but I don't think it really matters.
posted by Mezentian at 7:37 PM on August 5, 2012


any Sci-Fi writer will still happily talk about the inherent defensiveness of those who work in the medium, and their sense of being shut out form consideration for the kind of critical respect afforded to "serious literature"--a genre, I might add, that is almost certainly heavily skewed towards a female readership.

Yes, serious literature is a very female kind of literature. That's why all the big prize winners are women.


It's actually kind of a weird fact of the industry. The stuff that gets mad respect but little money is stuff written by men and some women and read by women and a few men (Franzen, Atwood, Amis, Morrison). The stuff that makes mad money and gets slight, grudging respect is written by women and read by women (S. Meyers, N. Roberts). The stuff that's written by men for men gets a little money and no respect (T. Clancey, Ringo). Go figure!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:54 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


> To clarify, is it the case that everyone is basically agreeing that the appeal of these books in NO WAY POSSIBLY falls into the "so bad it's good" (approaching them with a MST3K kind of attitude) category?

I've discussed them with only one person face-to-face whose read them. She's a woman in her 70s, very well-read, doesn't read things to be ironic, and is a good writer herself. She said yes, they're not written all that well but points out there are lots of not-all-that-great books out there, says they're not porn but instead are romance (in a "forbidden love" way, I presume), and that they're enjoyable page turners.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:55 PM on August 5, 2012


Fifty Shades Generator
Fifty Sheds of Grey on twitter
The Petals Fall Twice, a parody by Chip Zdarsky (part of his one-page series)
posted by Ritchie at 8:01 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think a male-targeted analogue to 50 Shades is John Ringo's Ghost novels.

OH JOHN RINGO NO.
posted by 168 at 9:26 PM on August 5, 2012 [8 favorites]


Would you refuse to sell the books to the 13-year-old if she came in by herself?
Yes. I wouldn't sell them to a 13 year old. First off, I work in North Carolina. We have had parents come into the store screaming hysterical bloody murder because a Spiderman comic contained profanity. I could lose my job for selling a copy of 50SG to a minor whose parents decided to freak out and I like my job. And this is surely not the hill I want to die on because I am REALLY not a big fan of books that promote abusive relationships as romantic.

I don't think there's anything much to be gained by young girls reading books where the boyfriend beats the girlfriend so black and blue that she can't leave the house and this is explained away as a) oh, truuuuuuue looooove and b) he couldn't help himself; he was an abused child; it's your job to saaaave him. Over 18 and you want to read it? OK, good luck. 13? Not so much. Read some other stuff first, learn a little about the world and then, if you still want to read it, great. If they really want to read it, they'll find it and sneak it. Cool. I had to sneak like hell to read Fear of Flying at age 13 and I went away confused and bit messed up. It doesn't hurt to have to do a bit of work and sneaking around to find your porn at 13. Maybe they'll find something that doesn't involve beatings first.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:03 PM on August 5, 2012 [4 favorites]


To be fair, the same librarian friend who has observed patron behavior around her 50 Shades customers has also complained about the number of co-workers wanting to discuss the material covered in the series.

She also points out that the book is on a waiting list, and that it sits on a hold shelf boldly emblazoned with the name of its requestor. Basically, anyone who wants to read the series must get in line, and being in line means being named.
posted by Graygorey at 10:44 PM on August 5, 2012


From the OH JOHN RINGO NO link:
He knew that at heart, he was a rapist. And that meant he hated rapists more than any "normal" human being. They purely pissed him off. He'd spent his entire sexually adult life fighting the urge to not use his inconsiderable strength to possess and take instead of woo and cajole. He'd fought his demons to a standstill again and again when it would have been so easy to give in. He'd had one truly screwed up bitch get completely naked, with him naked and erect between her legs, and she still couldn't say "yes." And he'd just said: "that's okay" and walked away with an amazing case of blue balls. When men gave in to that dark side, it made him even more angry then listening to leftist bitches scream about "western civilization" and how it was so fucked up.

Wow.
That is 50 Shades of Awful.
posted by Mezentian at 11:14 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I'd had John Ringo labelled as "So bad it's awful" after reading about half of one of his books about the republican supermodel astrophysicist weight lifter who travelled the galaxy in a submarine. I hadn't actually realised he could get worse than that.

In terms of the outrage against books women like... isn't that honestly just because they tend to get more popular? I mean, John Ringo is a perfect example. If he'd achieved even half the readership that 50 shades or twilight did, I'd perfectly happy rail against him just as much as I do about twilight (which is actually not that much, but that's more because I can't be bothered than that I don't want to), but as it is he's just one amongst many bad authors of trashy action novels.

You need that combination of popular and terrible to get a really violent reaction. If it's unpopular then the answer to "Why do people read this?!?" is "Well, they don't" and all the wind is taken out of your sails of outrage.
posted by DRMacIver at 11:43 PM on August 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sorry. Correction. Physicist, not astrophysicist. He wanted to do another PhD but couldn't do it in astrophysics because that would require him to go study at harvard in the peoples' republic of Massachusetts. Yes this is actually what it says in the book.
posted by DRMacIver at 11:51 PM on August 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently read a hilarious review of "50 Shades", by a male journalist. First of all, he lists all the ridiculously expensive presents Grey makes to the female protagonist and then, when he comes to the line when she wonders how Grey managed to seduce her, he answers: "Damn, with all those presents, he could have me if he wanted!"
Then, after determining that Grey is fabulously wealthy, the reviewer comes to the conclusion that he must be a banker. Why?
"He gets Anna to sign a detailed contract in which she compromises herself to endure all sorts of pain and suffering. Why does that sound familiar? Heck, it's my mortgage!"
posted by Skeptic at 5:22 AM on August 6, 2012


I think a male-targeted analogue to 50 Shades is John Ringo's Ghost novels.

When I was a wee lad, there was a more visible "men's fiction" section in most bookstores. It consisted of slim volumes, on the more respectable side Westerns (with Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour as the premier names) and thrillers by people like Alistair MacLean and, on the less respectable side, series novels like Nick Carter, the Executioner, Lone Star (I might have that name wrong) and so on. They generally had pulpy plotting, lots of action, and mildly risque sex. I haven't read Ringo, but those books sound like they are very much in the same vein, only creepier.

Seriously? No one dismisses works primarily made by men for a male audience? It would be pretty easy to disprove that simply within the confines of Metafilter, where summer blockbusters and superhero comics are routinely subject to sneering dismissal. In fact, anything popular at all is likely to subject to sneering dismissal, but if it's popular largely among men its no less likely (and perhaps a little more) to be a target. I really don't see that your premise holds up.

Well, there's a couple of things you are missing. First of all, science fiction and comics have become much more respectable in the last 20-30 years, partly due to the success of media franchises. The Avengers wasn't much beyond a well-constructed pleasant escape, but it got responses from the mild to the enthusiastic in the press. People generally don't go out of their way to attack science fiction and comics -- it's not like every journalist on the block is writing an article about how much 52 sucked (ignore the fact that every comics journalist did). These days, the worst that comics and science fiction can expect to suffer is to be ignored, not hunted down an attacked. Compare this to romance novels. "Everyone knows" romance novels are trash. It's so accepted that it can just be thrown in to an article as needed.

Furthermore, for all the abuse that nerdy guys feel they suffer at the hands of mainstream culture, it mostly expresses itself as a sort of defensiveness. They have the comfort that they are misunderstood, and they feel free to defend their genres. Fans of romance novels, for the most part, seem to feel a need to distance themselves from their own pleasure, to dismiss their own genre as "trash" or "guilty pleasures." This, I think, has been changing over the past decade or so, but romance is dismissed much more harshly than science fiction.

And, of course, within, say science fiction fandom, people (mostly male) have no trouble sneering at the women-centric activities of fan fiction, slash fiction, etc.

Again, I think what might be more interesting about Fifty Shadesand its ilk is a closer examination of why the books are popular -- what do they do that makes them sell? How do the problematic messages get processed? Are the BDSM elements indicative of actual interest in BDSM or is it just coded as "naughty?" Do they have any significant impact on their readers and their future lives? Some of the commenters in this thread have grappled with these questions (yay, you!), and I hope we get more of it, because that's more interesting than just making fun of an easy target.

On the other other other hand, I get that it is fun to make fun of bad writing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:07 AM on August 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


When I was a wee lad, there was a more visible "men's fiction" section in most bookstores. It consisted of slim volumes, on the more respectable side Westerns (with Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour as the premier names) and thrillers by people like Alistair MacLean and, on the less respectable side, series novels like Nick Carter, the Executioner, Lone Star (I might have that name wrong) and so on. They generally had pulpy plotting, lots of action, and mildly risque sex. I haven't read Ringo, but those books sound like they are very much in the same vein, only creepier.

There was (and sort of still is, though I don't think sales are what they once were) a more upmarket side of that genre. Think of the earlier Tom Clancy novels, for example, books with huge mainstream sales. A lot of those sorts of books have not much graphic sex (as compared to some ones you are mentioning, some of which were frankly pornographic), interestingly. But for all that westerns and spy thrillers and other genre books have tended to get critical disparagement, you are correct that they are not talked about in terms of "guilty pleasures" and the other titillating-yet-slightly-shameful language that books popular with women sometimes get.
posted by Forktine at 6:15 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently, Lone Star was not a fever dream. In fact, looking at Amazon, the series seems to have gotten to #130, which is par for the course with the men's adventure series, as I recall. My impression is that this genre has pretty much died out -- I am not sure if the audience is no longer reading (there is a load of TV and other media mining the same territory) or if they are reading other things.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:17 AM on August 6, 2012


When I was a wee lad, and most bookstores were in malls and they had maybe four shelving units total for science fiction, it was usual for one entire shelf to be given over to John Norman's Gor series. Somewhere along the way he got frozen out of legitimate distribution. So does this means it's OK to write overwrought softcore BDSM porn with extra violence and a side of crappy philosophy only if you're a woman?
posted by localroger at 6:31 AM on August 6, 2012


Yeah, it is sort of striking how "men's fiction" has declined as a commercial prospect. Does anyone know what happened to them all? Television and a poor education system wiped them out, or what?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:47 AM on August 6, 2012


Terrible male-oriented fiction? Tom Clancy and Jeffrey Archer immediately come to mind...
posted by Skeptic at 6:54 AM on August 6, 2012


Personally, I have a lot of trouble writing off Edward Cullin and Christian Grey as escapist fantasy and "no woman would truthfully date such a cad" because I know real, live women who have survived abusive relationships and they look exactly like the relationships laid out in these fantasies. I've also spent a lot of worry on a friend this week who has been depressed and keeps "forgetting to eat..."

I find these books interesting because in a lot of ways they tap into the virgin/whore dichotomy and other socially constructed insecurities and use them to manipulate the readers' feelings and create a more emotional experience that specifically is tuned to women. Of couse guys don't understand, because they don't have the buttons that are being pushed. It's black magic done without caution or a critical eye, which is disappointing but a book that actually examined those buttons (Think: Atwood) doesn't gain super popular acceptance because there are a lot more people who enjoy being manipulated more than they enjoy feminist deconstruction and critical examination. You can't it both ways, because examination destroys the magic. And destroying that black magic is kind of the point of feminist deconstruction, so I would also say that these fantasies are at odds with feminism because in a more feminist world, these books' manipulative hooks would ring true to no one.
posted by Skwirl at 7:04 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


/contemplates Gor themed post. Downsides: After googling that much Gor someone is probably notified and comes round to pick you up.
posted by Artw at 7:09 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Downsides: After googling that much Gor someone is probably notified and comes round to pick you up.

And they are generally wearing a fur loincloth and riding a bird or something....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:26 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think they have a van and a big butterfly net.

On the other hand: Gor!

...actually these guys sound VERY 50 Shades of Grey, but with loincloths.
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on August 6, 2012


/contemplates Gor themed post.

If you do this, it has to include Houseplants of Gor!
posted by 168 at 7:35 AM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ahem.

Metafilter: Sex, beauty, pancakes.

No that's fine, I can find the door on my own...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:37 AM on August 6, 2012


You can't it both ways, because examination destroys the magic. And destroying that black magic is kind of the point of feminist deconstruction, so I would also say that these fantasies are at odds with feminism because in a more feminist world, these books' manipulative hooks would ring true to no one.

I am not entirely sure that is true. There are books that deal with BDSM themes in a critical and engaged sense, although they are unlikely to be didactically about that. Patrick Califia's SM novels, while mostly about getting the reader excited, looked at various issues -- characters mulling on why a scene was hot when the same events in real life would be horrible, etc. Jacqueline Carey's fantasy BDSM series starting with Kushiel's Dart makes some very careful distinctions between consensual and non-consensual sexual activity amidst the exuberantly silly ancient and medieval set pieces.

I think a novel which was trying to unpack and defuse these various urges would probably fail because it's basically a bad idea -- you don't try to lure people in with a scenario that appeals to their libido, and then try to convince them that a) it's wrong, b) what's really going on is..., and c) they need to get with the program. Well, obviously people do, but no one thanks them for it in the long run.

But, yeah, I think someone could write something like Fifty Shades or Twilight that would push people's buttons, be well-written, and deal with some of the thorny aspects of it in a constructive way. Just because it hasn't been written doesn't mean it can't. You just can't put your deconstruction front and center.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:46 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are books that deal with BDSM themes in a critical and engaged sense, although they are unlikely to be didactically about that.

Stories which depict allegedly real (9 1/2 Weeks) or realistic (5SG) relationships bear a bit more responsibility about fetishizing nonconsensual violence than obvious works of fiction that are clearly fantasy. Nobody is going to come away from The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty thinking that it is a relationship guide.
posted by localroger at 8:18 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The stuff that makes mad money and gets slight, grudging respect is written by women and read by women (S. Meyers, N. Roberts). The stuff that's written by men for men gets a little money and no respect (T. Clancey, Ringo). Go figure!

Do you mean Tom Clancy? Did he really get less money or respect than either of the women writers you mentioned? Ringo I had never heard of until this thread (thanks a lot, guys).

For the most part I loved the hell out of these reviews, but she had a couple of kinda prudish moments - like, the tampon thing, is that really a big deal? It's not a turn-on for me, but I don't really think it OMG SO GROSS EW EW EW either.
posted by naoko at 8:26 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do wonder about claims like "Nobody is going to come away from The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty thinking that it is a relationship guide" (not meaning to pick on localroger specifically, he just happened to be the latest person saying this).

I don't think anyone is too worried that people are going to think Twilight or 50 Shades are the literal way things should be and are totally ok. The question is about what attitudes people internalize as normal as a result of repeated exposure to them in fiction.

One book, or a series of books, is unlikely to do it, but when there's a persistent theme running through a lot of your fiction, I do wonder how much one can escape having their thinking affected by it.

It's not just romance and the creepy stalkers in a lot of it. It's something to bear in mind across all genres. e.g. I seem to recall people come away from war movies with a much more pro-war attitude (Don't take this on faith. I can't find a cite at the moment, which means I'm probably misremembering it).

I'm not sure this is a real problem, and worrying about it excessively is in danger of straying into "Video games cause violence!" level hysteria, but it's at least plausible that there'd be an effect and I'd be interested to see studies about it.
posted by DRMacIver at 8:31 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know, women have been reading trashy escapist fluff for a good long while and most of them seem to understand that it's not intended to model ideal behavior. A woman who says she wishes Edward Cullen were real is not looking for some dude to be emotionally withholding and then abandon her any more than a woman who says she's looking for her Romeo is hoping to find a guy who'll abandon rational thought and kill one of her suitors and then, when he thinks she's died, takes about ten seconds to think about it and then decides to kill himself. The language of melodramatic romance is loud and dumb and sensational. Do some people take it seriously? Sure. Do most of them? Probably not, but I don't know, you'd have to ask them.

I think what bugs me about the gleeful savaging of these particular books is the way it always seems to loop around to being about the audience; those dizzy dames who are reading it without the patient assistance of a knowledgeable man (or another, smarter woman), thus might miss that the featherweight story with a bunch of lurid sex is escapist and not aspirational. I mean, we wouldn't want a repeat of the social upheaval that happened after Hollywood Wives came out.

Maybe I'm just tired of the smug attitudes about it because people in my Fetlife feed keep going on about it trying to score points, as if it's a given that those poor fools who dare to read these books are deserving of withering contempt. Maybe I'm tired of the assumption that we have any idea what some woman's getting out of it when we see her reading it on the bus.

It's like how only other people can ever be hipsters - never oneself or one's friends. I know a lot of people who've managed to read all three 50SG books, "just to see how bad they are," or because they're so bad that they're good or whatever - but basically, always for good reasons - and then go on at length about the imagined motivations (bad reasons, in other words) about a near-total stranger who's reading them.

If the books are bad - and everything I've read about them seems to indicate that holy shit, are they ever awful - then sure, okay. But I could live without the weird concern trolling. I'd be more worried about the message women were receiving from these books if I had any reason to think a statistically significant percentage of them were reading it for anything other than a pleasantly cheap sense of titillation.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:06 AM on August 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


DRMacIver: "I do wonder about claims like "Nobody is going to come away from The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty thinking that it is a relationship guide""

In High School the one girl I knew who read those books and encouraged me to do the same also propositioned me to join a three way with her and her boyfriend. I didn't make the connection at the time but now I'm curious. Probably not the best books for a 16 year old.
posted by the_artificer at 9:12 AM on August 6, 2012


Stories which depict allegedly real (9 1/2 Weeks) or realistic (5SG) relationships bear a bit more responsibility about fetishizing nonconsensual violence than obvious works of fiction that are clearly fantasy.

Well, sure. Which is why people should be writing those stories. I mean, there seems to be a market, something well-written that was actually sane about the topic should be possible.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:24 AM on August 6, 2012


Famous monster: I wonder whether it's actually normal that bad books with uncomfortable messages have the message raised as an issue with them when they come up in discussion.

Generally speaking when an author has a message I find objectionable I rank this much more highly than them being merely bad, and it comes up proportionately more in conversation about the book. I've no idea if that's typical.

e.g. to consider some other popularish authors it comes up routinely as an objection to Orson Scott Card as mentioned previously in this thread. It's one of my problems with Piers Anthony (some of his books are really quite bigoted). Terry Goodkind is politically ham-fisted in a very unpleasant way. Ayn Rand is an obvious example but possibly too politicized in the first place to be a relevant one.

Anyway, my entirely anecdotal impression is that it tends to come up quite a lot, not just when the target of the message is women. Even if it seems it comes up especially often with regards to books targeted at women that could again be the fact that they're more likely to get extremely popular.
posted by DRMacIver at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2012


But I could live without the weird concern trolling.

Concern trolling is a good description of it, I think. Suddenly everyone becomes vocal culture critiquing feminists. It's also victim blaming in a way--the idea that women will read these books and then be attracted to abusive men is portrayed as OMG SETTING FEMINISM BACK FOREVER!!!! Fine, so, where is the feminist critique of male-directed pornography? It's a huge industry, it's all over the internet--where are the funny snarky little articles ripping it apart with funny gifs and calling it misogynistic? The "I'm criticizing this for feminism!" angle is profoundly unconvincing and a cover for misogyny.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


There should be a hyphen in "culture-critiquing"!

I'll also note that this same phenomenon is rampant in criticism of things that little girls enjoy. Lots of criticism of princesses and pink and girls wearing makeup too early. Boys doing, learning, reading things that teach them shitty gender norms is ignored. You would think that females doin' it rong is completely to blame for oppressive and abusive gender interactions.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:53 AM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


> In High School the one girl I knew who read those books and encouraged me to do the same also propositioned me to join a three way with her and her boyfriend. I didn't make the connection at the time but now I'm curious. Probably not the best books for a 16 year old.

Eh, I read the books (Anne Rice's Beauty series) when I was 16 and I have yet to proposition anyone for a three-way. I don't know the girl, obviously, but it could be that she was interested in sex and that's why she read the books, not necessarily that the books inspired her.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:09 AM on August 6, 2012


Lots of criticism of princesses and pink and girls wearing makeup too early. Boys doing, learning, reading things that teach them shitty gender norms is ignored.

That's because everyone is concerned with girls' welfare, but everyone assumes that boys will take care of themselves, or maybe the patriarchy will take care of them, or somethin'. Which is why boys are killing and dying and not going to school or reading anything at all, and no one regards this as nearly so big a problem as girls reading trashy books.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:10 AM on August 6, 2012


To get all serious for a moment, I am slightly disturbed by the eagerness of pretty much everyone to go after the books that are popular with women.

I think a lot of the ire is coming FROM women, though, and is fueled by more frustration than anything else -- instead of "haha let's point and laugh and mock books for women," it's instead coming from a place of "FOR THE LOVE OF EVERLOVING FUCK WHY DO PUBLISHERS EXPECT ME TO READ THIS SHIT BECAUSE I'M A CHICK?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Nobody is going to come away from The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty thinking that it is a relationship guide"

Don't be so sure about that. Well, the Sleeping Beauty books, maybe, because they have a medieval fantasy setting, but... In the early 1980s a gay BDSM porn book called Mr. Benson came out (I believe it was first serialized in a magazine, "Drummer" maybe) and was a bit hit in the gay community. Gay men took to buying T-shirts reading "Looking for Mr. Benson." For many readers it was probably their first exposure to the idea of a "BDSM Master/slave" relationship, and it did become their model for "how to" do that. (I know one guy for sure, writer Jack Rinella, has written about how his first kinky relationship was basically he and his boyfriend reading Mr. Benson and trying to copy it.)

I'm quite certain if I trolled some online personals site somewhere I could easily find ads along the lines of "I'm just an Anastasia looking for her Christian." The popularity of these books means people who'd never considered doing anything kinky are now actually interested - and the problem is, while I haven't read it (and don't plan to), it sounds like the kink in these books isn't even good kink. I mean, the stuff I've read about sounds more like kinky sex as imagined by a totally vanilla writer who's never actually done it and never met anyone who actually does. If people want to read kinky mommy porn, by all means read it - just please, can it be good too?
posted by dnash at 2:32 PM on August 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


You will see some of the most white-hot rage over 5SG on blogs maintained by actual submissive women, who complain that they are now inundated with comments from morons who think they understand BDSM because they've read 5SG and they think that's what BDSM relationships are like. For reals.

A problem with doing the "good" version is that fantasies are most effective when they are overdone, and a story which depicts the realistic fumblings of a young couple who are figuring out how far it is a good idea to go, who are making and recovering from mistakes, and so on is never going to be as sex-fantasy appealing as the story of a truly powerful person who is genuinely strong, confident, and justified in his (or, to be fair, possibly her) actions.

This is why I favor stories set in obvious fantasy situations where there is a clear element of nonreality to avoid confusing the plebes. I did once write a plot and character outline for a "good RL seduction" story, but I quickly came to the conclusion that it wouldn't pay back the cost of its offensiveness (the main couple were to be teenagers) in softcore porn value.

Fantasies are not politically correct. But these books end up convincing a whole bunch of people that this is what BDSM is like. It's a real problem.

Twilight, which 5SG was ripping off, isn't a problem because the dominant partner is a vampire and vampires don't exist. I don't worry about anyone genuinely confusing me with a vampire. But put 9 1/2 Weeks or 50 Shades in the hands of a n00b who doesn't know any better, and suddenly as an admitted sadist I'm a fully realized monster. The truth is that my paraphilia has made me much more careful about how I treat both my lover and women in general than most men ever feel the need to be, and I have never struck a woman in anger in my life. But to these idiots I"m a monster because they read 50 Shades and now they're experts on BDSM.
posted by localroger at 3:30 PM on August 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


it's instead coming from a place of "FOR THE LOVE OF EVERLOVING FUCK WHY DO PUBLISHERS EXPECT ME TO READ THIS SHIT BECAUSE I'M A CHICK?"

But Empress, isn't the success of 50 Shades just the opposite of that? The publishers didn't expect anyone to read this shit, but chicks did, in such vast numbers that they couldn't be ignored?

This is why I favor stories set in obvious fantasy situations where there is a clear element of nonreality to avoid confusing the plebes.

Localroger, that's a really interesting point. IRONWOOD is one of the better sex comics out there for exactly that reason (well, that and the so-dumb-it's-brilliant "cheap djinn" joke).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:21 PM on August 6, 2012


The story of "OMG," seriously.
posted by homunculus at 5:38 PM on August 6, 2012


I wrote The Story of O
posted by Artw at 6:00 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't read 50 Shades, though I have read Jennifer Armintrout's hilarious recaps, which are more nuanced that the ones in the post above. I think a lot of the rage at these books does come from women, and I'm going to take a shot at explaining why I think this may be.

As a liberal feminist woman, I've been increasingly enraged and frightened by the cultural/political climate over the past few years. Specifically, I'm talking about the Tea Party-led assault on women's rights and the campaign against birth control, but also about sexual assault in the military, the sexist entitlement of many video games and comics, the fact that Chris Brown continues to be famous. (And a bunch of teenage girls will put "He can beat me anytime!" on Facebook.) The rise of geek culture seems to have brought out a lot of the sexism within that culture, and having thought of geeks as allies for a long time, that's kind of heartbreaking. (For example.) It all feels like it's getting worse and worse, and it's demoralizing. I think a lot of women (and men) feel the way I do.

In that context the popularity of 50 Shades is really unsettling. Not because it's porn or has BDSM, but because it glorifies abuse as romantic. Because the heroine is anti-woman--Anastasia disparages other ladies constantly and appears unable to feel empathy. She's a passive, shallow, horrible person being held up as an ideal of feminine perfection. Because Christian is an abuser, and you can buy a fucking "Property of Christian Grey" shirt on Etsy. If this was all happening in a society where sexual freedoms weren't under siege, where domestic violence was rare, where every lady in comics didn't have tits the size of basketballs, I don't think anyone would give a rat's ass about the popularity about some badly written porn. But we live in this society, and that's why 50 Shades of Grey bums me the fuck out. Results may vary.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 7:36 PM on August 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


> "Property of Christian Grey" shirt on Etsy

Which lead to this rather disturbing onesie.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:11 PM on August 6, 2012


The publishers didn't expect anyone to read this shit, but chicks did, in such vast numbers that they couldn't be ignored?

50 Shades is the 'Friday' of literature.
posted by lwb at 8:46 PM on August 6, 2012


"Property of Christian Grey" shirt on Etsy

Which lead to this rather disturbing onesie.

Dear god.

I wrote The Story of O

So kicking myself for not labeling that link The Story of The Story of O.
posted by Artw at 8:50 PM on August 6, 2012


the sexist entitlement of many video games

Which is getting more attention lately, at least. NYTimes: In Virtual Play, Sex Harassment Is All Too Real
posted by homunculus at 8:52 PM on August 6, 2012


*Spoiler*

There was no fisting.

Also these books are so awful I regret learning to read.
posted by humanfont at 9:51 PM on August 6, 2012


No fisting?

Is there any chance for a fourth book.

I feel incomplete.
posted by Mezentian at 9:56 PM on August 6, 2012


But Empress, isn't the success of 50 Shades just the opposite of that? The publishers didn't expect anyone to read this shit, but chicks did, in such vast numbers that they couldn't be ignored?

The problem is, though, that publishers do see women as a monolithic demographic. A whole lot of women did happen to like this, but commonality does not mean causality - just because those women liked it, that doesn't mean ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE are going to like it, or other books like it. Dan Brown was pretty damn popular, but there still was a sizeable group of people who knew, and spoke up about, the fact that it was shit.

The difference between the Dan Brown backlash and this backlash is that the people who didn't like Dan Brown weren't afraid that their entire demographic group, whatever it may be, would be therefore pigeonholed and they would be forced to suffer marketing efforts for book after book about Sekrit Vatican Conspiracies and nothing else as a result. But I am facing being subjected to a parade of badly-written Twilight Parody Porn because a marketer is going to look at me and think "hey! She's a woman! Other women liked this, maybe she will! ....I mean, never mind that she may have an independent thought process, that doesn't matter - she's got boobs, therefore she will like this. QED!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:05 AM on August 7, 2012


....Although, I also think some of the other bitterness may come from other writers who've been working on trying to sell their own better written and more original work, and are frothing in jealousy and frustration right now because "my own manuscript is TWENTY TIMES better and THIS is the shit they publish????" But that's true of just about every popular book.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on August 7, 2012


my own manuscript is TWENTY TIMES better and THIS is the shit they publish????

Fortunately I got past that with Orson Scott Card.
posted by localroger at 4:31 AM on August 7, 2012


'Fifty Shades of Grey' is UK's best-selling book of all time
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:07 AM on August 7, 2012


'Fifty Shades of Grey' is UK's best-selling book of all time.

That's a pretty dubious claim. I mean how many Christians are there in the UK? How many have there been in "all time"? I'm guessing more than 5.3 million.
posted by juv3nal at 12:00 PM on August 7, 2012


Olympic Swimming fanfiction
posted by angrycat at 9:56 AM on August 10, 2012


Oh, honey, there is fanfiction about EVERYTHING. That fact alone isn't surprising.

Rule 34, after all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on August 10, 2012


I will never forget going on LiveJournal for the first time back in 2003 or so. I was poking around trying to find people or communities connected to my interests, and in the course of finding some stuff about Badger hockey, I found what I thought was the LJ of Chris Chelios.

"No way!" I thought. "Chris Chelios -- of all people -- has an LJ? And I can READ it? Wacky!"

So I'm reading about how he's on the injured list and is watching the game from the luxury box with some other player, and there are lost of bro-specific terms thrown around... and then I see that there's another player with an LJ who comments.

And then I see that there aren't a lot of real fans commenting.

And then I start realizing that this is not the blog of the real Chris Chelios, and that ALL of these "players" are fake, and OH MY GOD WHY WOULD SOMEONE ROLEPLAY NHL PLAYERS WHAT IS THIS INTERNET COMING TO

And then sometime in the next couple years I started writing what could be construed as fanfic involving the mods of my adorable pirate-based MMORPG. Whom I knew in real life.

Oh, God, Internet. What is WRONG with you?
posted by Madamina at 12:49 PM on August 10, 2012


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