Fifty Shades of Absurd (and annoying)

When the Fifty Shades of Grey books came out, the thought of reading them never even crossed my mind. Firstly because, while I passionately defend everyone's right to do whatever makes them happy, in and out of the bedroom, the BDSM thing isn't quite my cup of tea. And secondly because, after reading an excerpt online, I found it - sorry EL - extremely badly written. The language was clich├ęd, the characters stereotyped and the writing was pretty much the worst I have ever had the dubious pleasure to encounter.

To whoever might label me as jealous - of course I am! Here's this woman who has done absolutely nothing to become a good writer - no research, no trial and error, no creative process, no sweating hours writing through the night - and she's living the high life as one of the richest bestseller stars on the planet! Any writer that has lived through the life-enriching experience of having to survive on 39p cans of beans (pretty much a rite of passage into writerdom) would be slightly miffed.  Unfortunately for us, the Fifty-Shady cult was EVERYWHERE. When the movie rights were sold, the mere act of logging into Twitter meant I had to endure an ever-present storm of "who who WHO will play the ubiquitous dreamboat Mr Grey?" (for a while there, I was worried Ryan Gosling might get dragged into this mess), until gorgeous Jamie Dornan was finally revealed as The One. Cue drool and swooning from women everywhere (especially in my office).

And now, the trailer for this masterpiece is out. Which means no one with YouTube will ever get any work done or look at lifts the same ever again. But while most women I know are oohing and aahing and making other noises I can't really spell, my reaction to this fine cinematic marvel can best be summarised as "yuck".

We meet this young, innocent, sweet and bla bla bla woman who enters the Big Shot's office ("Mr Grey will see you now"...) and quickly realises he is a total Dreamy Hunk (well, it is Jamie Dornan!) who should be drooled over and worshipped tirelessly. Yet, when this rare breed of man asks her about herself, she goes, "there's really not much to know about me...look at me!" 

And here is where they lose me. Not that they had me before.

The idea that this bland and ordinary girl is beyond lucky (she can't believe her luck!) to be seen, touched and something else-d by this strong, powerful man makes my blood boil. "I am", Jamie (sorry, Christian) responds to her stupidly self-demeaning "look at me" comment. And wow, he's looking at her. He sees her. The amazing and powerful superhero is actually finding time and interest for me, the mousy and insignificant regular girl. Wow, am I worthy of such an honour? Anastasia's evidently not used to men actually treating her like a fellow human being, so she's a bit lost here. Should I ooh and aah? Is it time to swoon again? Oh my! 

The trailer goes on to see Christian and Ana jet off into the sunset (literally) on his private jet and/or in his helicopter, swanning around exclusive restaurants and waking up in lavish hotel rooms. It's every girl's dream. Until Chris takes his fists to some guy's face for (apparently) just having talked to Anastasia. And here we start seeing his true colours: he's an obsessive, jealous weirdo who claims to owe his business success to "exercising control over all things." THAT MEANS YOU ANA. But obviously, when fancy hotels and private jets are involved, being a violent, manipulative stalker is totally okay. This makes me angry beyond words.

Next up: Grey and Ana are dining out with other people when he ever-so-seductively slides his hand up her thigh, his Dreamboat Hunk voice on the voiceover: " I don't do romance. My tastes are very singular. You wouldn't understand.". So let's get this clear, you're feeling her up in public but "romance" isn't your thing? Classy, Mr. Grey. What got cut out: "I just want to use you". But Ana's game: "enlighten me, then".  And ta-daaa - cue the whips and blindfolds. I'm at a loss for words. What about her tastes? What about what she likes? It seems like Mr Grey is the only one wearing the pants holding the reins in this relationship (the pants come off quite quickly on both parts, really), with Ana doubling as his sex toy, lending her virginal "oh my!" appeal to support his leading role as the spanking sex god who provokes a "sexual awakening" in her. This might be the aspect that nauseates me more than any other: why is the woman always the one who needs a "sexual awakening"? Why can't she just be sexually? Just be herself, enjoy herself in bed, without being portrayed as some frigid freak who needs to be "awakened"? I find myself longing for one of Lena Dunham's cringe-worthy scenes rolling around in the hay with Adam Driver in Girls.

Part of me wonders, if Christian Grey were a balding supermarket warehouse manager with a kinky fetish, would Ana go for him? Is she really BDSM-curious - or are those dollar signs in her eyes? It seems like this fetish-lite cult is just a way to put a glossy Hollywood spin on something that women don't feel they can freely explore without permission in the form of a "girl like us" (God, I hope not) and a gorgeous Dream Hunk man. This book and movie are telling us that women need a man's permission to feel good about ourselves, to be curious about sex, to find romantic freedom and expression. Furthermore, they sugar-coat the figure of the controlling, abusive man, glamourising what could potentially be a damaging relationship. Explaining that Christian had a "rough childhood" just sets women up for thinking that any man who wrongs them is excused by something that happened to him. And this is alarming.

The sad truth is that yes, many women loved these books and will love the movie. But just because something's a hit, doesn't mean it actually is of value and/or quality. The multiple demeaning, superficial messages the trailer alone sent are enough to reinforce my determination to only ever see it if someone actually pays me. 

If I would have written the books/movie: Christian Grey meets a cool, stylish, whip-smart and witty new female partner executive at his company (played by someone fab, like Emma Stone). Her confident ways attract him and they get tangled into a steamy office romance. When he whips out his whips, it turns out she's even more savvy on the subject than he is - and ends up teaching him a thing or two! Then, he opens up to her about his childhood traumas, she tells him about dark things from her past (because everyone has them) and they cuddle in bed together in her multimillion-dollar penthouse. 
And you know the writing would be smashing.

Or, he could just meet Samantha Jones.


  1. Mmmh... I've never read the book and I didn't know anything about the story before reading your post/watching the trailer. Well, I knew it was about sex and that there was some BDSM in it, but that was about it. I think I'll never read it after reading your post (not that I was going to anytime soon, but you totally made me lose any 0,0001 % of interest I could have.) I agree with you about almost everything, but I think that the reason why we dislike the story so much is that the woman is almost always presented as the one who needs sexual awakening just as you pointed out. If that wasn't the case in our society, I could have kind of liked the story. I'd need to read it to understand if it's actually a story that makes a violent man look like a charming person. From the trailer it just looks to me as a poor mix of The Secretary and The Devil Wears Prada. ;P
    Elisa - styleBizarre

  2. Uh! I almost forgot: I've put you on my blogroll xxx And I apologize for not telling you this before: congrats for your wedding I'm really happy for you! :D <3 You both did look amazing on your wedding day!

  3. I've never read the book and will never read it. It seems so boring!

  4. Brilliantly written, and you captured so many of my own thoughts. Thanks for this, Sascha!

  5. Oh, also, two things:

    1. It just amplifies my frustration that this girl we're supposed to believe as bland and ordinary is essentially the fashion-magazine ideal (thin, long legs, great complexion) wrapped in a granny cardigan with an ounce of self-esteem nowhere in sight. (So basically, the definition of "plain" here means to have no confidence, wear "geeky" clothes, but still be movie-star perfect.)

    2. "Or, he could just meet Samantha Jones." A+!

  6. Love your article! I gave me to the hype and read the first book, and the writing (and storyline) was so terrible I returned the book (it's a good thing I borrowed it and not bought it) after reading 5 chapters.


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