Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James; Making a case for vicarious learning

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

I did not plan to read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ I heard the initial hype when the book first came out and even watched an interview with E L. James on 60 minutes.  I was intrigued as to why so many people were picking it up.  In the interview she discussed the books appeal.   The book is about, Anastasia Steele, an unworldly soon to be college graduate who interviews and enters into a relationship with a powerful businessman by the name of Christian Grey.   Grey wants Anastasia to engage in a dominant/submissive BDSM relationship. E. L. James started writing the book as a hobby because she found a desire for escape from responsibilities and decisions in her own life.  She is a working mother of children with varying interests that required ferrying them from one activity to the next.  With that and juggling her work, husband, and household duties she was overwhelmed.   James believes the appeal of the book comes from a common need to escape among women having to be super mom and the associated pressures.  The new fantasy is someone taking care of your needs – not having to worry about having to wash your clothes, having to cook, find and purchase the right car, make the payment, etc.  She didn’t expect to publish the book let alone it’s success.  Her lack of an expectation to publish explains the truly horrible writing.  As a result, I cut her a little slack on that.  At the time I decided it wasn’t for me and dismissed it

With the movie coming out I saw and read a few of the critiques on the book.  Some stated the book condones and encourages domestic violence.  A good and balanced example is Love Hurts: What we learn from Beauty and the Beast, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Grey  .  Others stated it was a misrepresentation of  BDSM relationships/community.  An interesting piece is A Submissive Reviews- Fifty Shades of Grey. Others railed against it being so poorly written.  Anything wildly successful receives backlash – some merited and some not.  I found myself getting angry.  Why were women reading this book and supporting it? What did it say about women and our current mental state? Was it really just pornography? I saw facebook posts encouraging people not to watch the movie and call it out for what it was.  I found myself getting vocal and trashing the book.  Yes.  I did.  Then I questioned how a book, a book I had never read, was making me so angry.  This had positive and negative results.

I decided to read it.  I needed know more about it if I was to pass judgment.  My husband says I manipulated myself and I agree.  More on that later.

Anastasia Steele, as a favor to her room mate, interviews  the powerful Christian Grey.  Her roommate is sick, and while the interview is exceptionally important to her, she can’t go.   Ana meets the fantastically successful and rich Christian Grey.  Despite Christian’s clear interest in her, it takes a while for her to believe he could like her.  She is insecure.  On the first real date Christian proposes a relationship with Ana.  He provides a non- disclosure agreement before he will discuss anything, but once signed he provides her a contract requesting a BDSM relationship.  He would be the dominant and she the submissive for a period of three months.  Ana does not understand what half the language in the contract is referring to.  Overwhelmed, she shyly explains she is a virgin and doesn’t get it.  She and Christian rapidly proceed into a sexual  relationship.  He works to convince her to enter into a BDSM relationship while she tries to convince him into having a more traditional relationship of boyfriend/girlfriend.  While they both want one another they want intrinsically different things.  She wants love and he wants sex.

This is not a new story.    It is one of a powerful, damaged, and dangerous man pursuing an innocent and insecure younger woman.  Christian, despite saying he is bad for her, pursues her.   Ana states she is afraid of Christian.  He stalks her.  She doesn’t want him to hurt her and is afraid of the punishments listed in the contract.  When he asks her to attempt the behaviors of a submissive role before she dismisses it she agrees to please him.  She wants to understand him but ultimately wants to fix him so he can love her. Due to the NDA she is not able to discuss the sexual requests and relationship with her friends or family.  They comment on how unhappy he makes her and how much she cries since meeting him. Her very first sexual experiences include spanking and whipping with a riding crop and/or belt. There is also a scene in which Ana says no to sex but Christian continues.   While Ana is afraid she also enjoys it.  This does not mean there isn’t a problem with behavior.  Children have been found to enjoy sexual activity when they have been molested.  This does not mean that it makes the behavior of the adult more acceptable.  The adult knows they are taking advantage of the child and their innocence.  Likewise, Christian is taking advantage of Ana’s innocence.  She is not a child but he is older, clearly more experienced, and guiding her first sexual experiences. BDSM does not encourage people to engage in behaviors they aren’t comfortable with and/or ready for.  Christian’s behavior of introducing a virgin to BDSM is not reflective of, and has been questioned by, that community.  Both of their behaviors are indicative of domestic abuse.

Erotica is more focused on sex than the relationship while romance is the opposite .   It is graphic and in some ways pornographic because it is not focused on being artistic.  It’s purpose is to be titillating with a little bit of story.  There is nothing wrong with that but I would categorize ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ as erotica since the relationship is secondary.  It also isn’t unique.  It is a recycled story of a young virginal lady being kidnapped by a dangerous pirate.  He has his sordid way with her…but they fall in love.  There are many books like it.

It is poorly written.  It was painful to read.  I couldn’t read another, “Oh my,” “Holy Crap,” “Geez,” or reference Christian with the honorific “Christian Grey.” At some point I wanted E. L. James to refer to him as ‘the king’ or ‘the captain’ so I didn’t have to read, “Holy Crap! Christian Grey is in my room!”  “Holy Shit! Christian Grey wants to go on a date with me!”  I get it.  They both think he is better than her.  Also, neither Christian or Ana are all that likable.  Truly, the only attractive thing about Christian was his money and that is not enough.

So, what did I learn from this book.  I spent to much time and energy on it.   The book did present an abusive relationship in a provocative and desirable light.  It ends with her leaving him, which helps, but I understand she returns to him in the next books.  I will not be reading them.  It was hard enough to get through this one.  I listened to the narration by Becca Battoe, which was quite funny at points.  I’m sure she had difficulty reading it without laughing.  It, however, was also boring.  It wasn’t extreme enough to be exciting and it wasn’t written well enough to be enjoyable.  It is truly grey.  While erotica is not my genre of choice I am sure it is not supposed to put you to sleep.  To get through it I would listen to ‘Contact’ by Carl Sagan at the points I found myself not paying attention.  Ultimately what I learned was I didn’t need to read it.  I knew I didn’t want to read it before I ever started it and everything written here has been said by someone else.  Periodically, in my life I question my strong opinions/judgments.  Am I really being fair?  Have I done enough research? When I was 18 all the mothers I knew told me and my friends not to date frat guys.  My first party a frat guy asked me out.  I said I wasn’t interested.  We’d been discussing my job and the life skills class I taught to teenagers about stereotyping.  He stated I wasn’t being fair and stereotyping him based off his belonging to a fraternity.  Needless to say I did go out with him and he was the frat guy that proved the rule.  I know I was young and gullible.  Funny enough, Ana also engaged in the punishment activities Christian wanted to her to do because she had never experienced them first hand.  I don’t think you need to be beaten to know you don’t want to be.  Likewise, I don’t think I needed to read this book to know it would be something I didn’t like.  Sometimes its okay to learn vicariously.  I don’t need to get burned to know not to play with fire.  On the other side of the coin it is not nearly as upsetting as I thought it would be.  I allowed myself to be more angry than I needed to be.

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About Steph

As C. S. Lewis said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I am an indiscriminate reader. I can find a way to enjoy almost all books. I find they are like people – you can find something endearing in almost every one of them. I love to write reviews. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful. View all posts by Steph

41 responses to “Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James; Making a case for vicarious learning

  • mblaylock4

    Oh Steph, you poor soul. I haven’t ventured into the world of El James and not because I don’t like erotica, because I most certainly do, BDSM fascinates me, but Ms. James writing, just from the teeny-tiny quotes I’ve read, leaves something to be desired. Or simply evokes laughter. I read something about how Christian “mewled” to Ana and thought to myself, if my guy EVER “mewled” to me, that would be the end of us. God bless ya, honey. You should read Book III in The Sanctum Trilogy instead! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steph

      It was a bad decision on my part. I’m so silly. I should definitely continued The Sanctum Trilogy instead! There were so many problems with the writing. One of the most annoying was Anastasia referring to everything as hot. I started to wonder if it was written at the time Paris Hilton was saying “That’s hot” every two seconds. The whole book just didn’t work.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Rabindranauth

    Oh man, I’m so with you. If she had only typed one more “Oh my” anywhere in these books, I would have gone and bought myself a nail gun just to shoot myself in the face with it and end it all. The BDSM was the most hilarious part for me, considering it’s the book’s most vaunted component went, it was seriously bland. I’ve read kinkier shit in comments by 10 year olds insulting each other on Facebook.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steph

      It was painful. Did you read the other books in the series? I can’t do it…I can’t… I tried. I wrote the review out of order because I have to purge it from my brain. I almost feel bad for E L James – this is what she is going to be known for. Wouldn’t that be terrible? …I’m sure the money makes her feel better at night.

      Liked by 1 person

  • 1stavenue

    At least you got to satisfy a curiosity. I might have finished reading too if I had the audio, but I didn’t and it was just too painful to go on.

    While I understand the fantasy/idea of being taken care of, I don’t understand how so many people are willing to overlook the abusive nature of this relationship. That’s worrying. And to think, young girls are reading these books and subscribing to these ideas. Makes me sad.

    Like

  • fromcouchtomoon

    “To get through it I would listen to ‘Contact’ by Carl Sagan at the points I found myself not paying attention.”

    HAHAHAHAHA Love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    So much I could say about this book. First, a confession: I actually didn’t think it was that bad, writing-wise. Some of these 1-star reviews on the web make this book sound like the worst written piece of junk you could ever pick up, and honestly, I’ve read worse. Way worse. For a book that started as fan fiction, I actually thought it was pretty well done (I mean, I’ve read my share of dreadful, just plain terrible fan fiction, and 50 Shades was miles ahead of the worst I’ve ever seen.)

    Second, obviously this book is not my genre or even my type of book. So I feel just as out of my depth reviewing it as I would feel reviewing, say, political fiction, which is also not my thing at all. I agree with Rab above though, the sexual content that was supposedly so “racy” was actually disappointingly tame and meh. I even made a snarky comment in my review about what that might say about the average housewife’s taste in porn?

    But third – and this isn’t a rant directed in anyone in particular, it’s just something I’ve noted and it really bothers me – I do think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the reader community when they lambaste this book for abusive relationships and yet give a pass or even shower praise on or support so many other mainstream titles. I agree totally agree with you that Fifty Shades glorifies an abusing relationship. Like you said, it’s not the BDSM aspect (because in BDSM both parties consent and know what they’re getting into) that’s abusive, it’s the power divide between Christian and Anna, him being the one who holds all the cards and takes advantage of naive and innocent Anna. But you also asked then why are women still reading this book and supporting it? Well, it’s not even just this book. Look at the Young Adult genre. In the past year, probably 2/3s of the YA I’ve read revolves around a romance between the heroine and a guy who is a complete jerk that treats her like crap. And it even happens in a lot of very popular adult PNR novels. I have to say the “bad boy” archetype is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves in romance fiction because it’s feeding a whole generation of women the wrong message.

    Fourth – I also listened to the audiobook so I know exactly what you’re talking about, about how it was funny at times! I got a good story for you: I picked up the audio really early though, and that version actually had to be “remastered” because Battoe’s voice young and annoying. It was quite disturbing, as she sounded about 12 in it! I think what they actually ended up doing was just slowing down her voice, but it just ended up soundiing mannish and even more creepy.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Steph

    We love soap boxes around here! You are always welcome with them. I also don’t have a problem with anyone who enjoyed it. I haven’t read fan fiction but I can imagine this would rank much higher. I agree there are a ton of books with the same problem of a controlling bad guy. It’s not new and incredibly pervasive in YA currently – a much worse place for it to exist. In erotica, with adults, most understand it is a fantasy that in fiction or role play is ok but not something you want in a real relationship.

    Like

    • Steph

      What I meant to say is – people DON’T want in a relationship

      Like

    • Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

      I know what you meant 🙂

      Yeah, when I see that trope in YA, it really turns me off. I cringe whenever I see a review where someone writes “so-and-so character is so sexy because he’s such as asshole”. Umm like, WHAT!? It definitely is so much worse in YA. Not speaking for everyone, of course, but some readers are more impressionable. I myself went through this “I * heart * bad boys” phase in high school…but luckily I grew out of it. Some people never do, and I know some of them. Relationship after relationship, they always seem to end in shambles.

      Liked by 1 person

  • By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff

    I’m not even going to get started. I still find myself grinding my teeth every time they show the trailer for the movie. Excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Lisa

    Great post! I did read 50 Shades (all three!) and, well, there’s something gripping enough to keep people reading, even if you think the writing is awful (ugh, inner goddess) and the storyline mostly ridiculous. And I’ll probably see the movie because I want to see how it translates (and because I’ve been hearing that the more terrible bits of Ana’s inner dialogue are all gone). I’ve read plenty of books with unhealthy relationships and just didn’t take 50 Shades too seriously as social commentary. I understand why it generates so much hate, but if anything, I just found it amusing how something so poorly written could take off the way it has.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steph

      I think you are right. There is something very intriguing about something that wasn’t meant to be published and is poorly written has become such a sensation – good and bad. The extreme negative commentary I didn’t find fair. It certainly isn’t the worst erotica I have ever read, and while it does engage in questionable behavior that is a problem it isn’t the worst and isn’t sitting on a shelf by itself. There are a lot of books in that category. To paint it as something to protest is unfair It’s fantasy It wasn’t meant as social commentary.

      Like

  • FictionFan

    Great post! While I managed to resist this one, I do have a tendency to get sucked in by hype around a book, even when I know the chances are I’ll hate it. And I do have a guilty feeling that if I’m going to criticise something, I should probably read it. But actually sometimes the blurb and other people’s comments are enough to let me know as much as I need to, without putting myself through the pain. I’m glad to hear your views though – I was beginning to wonder if everyone in the world had been mindwarped by this one… queues at the cinema!! Those whom the gods wish to destroy…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steph

      it’s crazy I heard it made 100 million the first weekend! I’m sorry to hear you feel guilty, like I do, that you have to read it to criticize it. I think it’s ok to not read it. I don’t think I was justified demonizing it. Maybe there is something in between for us. I hope so!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Shea McIntosh Ford

    Thank you so much for this post! In the back of my mind, I was feeling guilty about speaking out against FSoG though I didn’t read it. And I probably wouldn’t have spoken out at all if they hadn’t made it into a movie, billed it as a Romance and released it on Valentine’s Day. The story line is more suited for Halloween in my opinion.

    Anyway, I felt guilty because I had done the same thing to the Harry Potter series around the year 2000. I hadn’t read the books yet and believed that they were teaching children “evil witchcraft.” I’ve since read the books and understand how ludicrous my previous beliefs were. I’m now a huge Harry Potter fan, because I feel the series teaches children the evils of bigotry and that we shouldn’t pass judgment on someone based on who their parents are. Oh, the irony! 😉

    With FSoG, however, there are enough summaries and excerpts out there for me to understand that this plot line is too much like the abusive relationships I’ve witnessed among members of my own family. I don’t find it at all appealing or romantic. Like you say, “Sometimes its okay to learn vicariously. I don’t need to get burned to know not to play with fire.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steph

      Thank you! In fairness I think it was a pretty smart marketing campaign. They got me to read it and pay for it on both audible and amazon by marketing it as romance and putting it on Valentines day. I think they were clever. I had escape the hype but by making me angry they got me to spend money on it and read. Pretty smart:) You really don’t need to fall for the same trick I did:)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shea McIntosh Ford

        Not going to fall for it. 😉 I agree that it was pretty smart marketing. But smart doesn’t always equal right or even ethical. I use to teach high school English and I just think of the younger generations who have little to no guidance. They end up seeking guidance from books and movies. They have much less discernment. They see something flashy and packaged well, and they go for it. It’s a lousy message to say that this story is romantic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Steph

        I agree that the marketing strategy is far from moral. This is certainly no something for high school students.

        Liked by 1 person

  • karaebenhack

    Kudos to you for getting all the way through it. I had borrowed a copy from a friend and had to refrain from physically correcting the grammar and structuring with a pen, right off the bat. At the end of chapter one I couldn’t deal anymore it was too painful (pardon the pun) and wound up throwing it across the room never to pick it up again (only to return it to its owner). For me, what bothers me most about this novel and its success is that it started out as Twilight fan fiction that she simply changed the names. And now she’s a bazillionaire. I have an entire filing cabinet full of various fan fiction, if I had know I could be a best selling billionaire author by just changing the names to my fan fiction and passing it off as original then I too would be a famous author. Alas, I have pride for my writing and morals against plagiarism…

    Like

    • Steph

      Well I respect you for your morals…that probably isn’t great comfort. I’m sure you would prefer a billion dollars:) I didn’t know it started as fan fiction until Mogsy, up above, mentioned it. I get your frustration.

      Like

  • 1stavenue

    OK, giving this another try.

    So many varied and interesting comments here, and it’s great to hear other people’s reactions to this book and the hype around it, and now the movie and the hype around that. I don’t know what to make of the whole thing myself, but I’m always interested in discussions about it.

    I find it astounding that so many people, who should know better, are willing to ignore the abusive nature of the relationship or brush off its influence on young readers, young girls especially, as nothing. It’s amazing how ignorant and myopic these people can be. The statistics of a woman surviving a relationship like the one presented in these books are scarily low. And what’s worse is the romanticizing of abuse and presenting it as “BDSM.” It’s one thing to enjoy problematic fiction, it’s another thing entirely to enjoy it while looking the other way and/or making excuses for its problematic nature.

    You work with teens, right? How are they responding to these books (and that movie)?

    Like

  • legalreader

    I’m so sorry you had to go through reading it! If you want more trainwreck to “entertain yourself” similar to 50 SoG, check out After by Anna Todd (also used to be a fanfic, a 1D one). But you should definitely check out “50 shames of earl grey” and “50 sheds of grey” – parodies of the book that will make you laugh harder than you have in years, I guarantee you!

    Like

  • ponderedmusings

    Interesting read! I read the first book out of curiosity. The whole vulnerable young girl mesmerized by a rich man is a plot which has been explored one too many times. But I figured there must be something to the book if not just women in the US but my friends across the globe were also reading it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get past the first 50 or so pages of the second book. The romance as you note was really lost or barely present. The flow was too predictable and somewhat repetitive. I found myself skipping large sections and constantly thinking, “Let’s get on with it already!”

    Like

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