Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey--Metaphor or a Lot Bang For The Buck?

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book because I was curious what all the hullabaloo was about.  Why is there a run on grey neckties in New York City department stores?  Why are women claiming that this book has put some pizzaz back in the bedroom?  Mommy porn?  I am still curious, but not so curious that I am going to read the remaining books in the series.

Personally I like how the first book ended. The only thing I would change is that it would have ended this way soon after chapter 1. Ana would have run away after the first peek into the playroom or that ridiculous contract. At this juncture, I am delighted with the ending of the first book, so why read books 2 and 3 and get angry again?  

“Oh this is not my normal read, I am just curious.”  Oh bullshit!  I have nothing against a good hot sex scene with details, and crude language doesn’t bother me...if it did I would be speechless.  Romance is not my genre, but I like a little romance in a normal read.   So let’s dispel the idea that I am some nice old man who fell into this book by accident.  I will say however that I did read this out of curiosity--what is it that has all the ladies at our book club chirping about the naughtiness?

So what is with this book?  Well it is a Cinderella story with a lot of good hot sex, then again it is perhaps Beauty and the Beast with a lot of good hot sex.  I am not sure.  There are plenty of books out there that turn an archetype fable into a modern romance with good hot sex.  So why is this one causing a shortage of grey neckties?  Why in a world of a zillion erotic romances does this one go viral?

My guess is that it is not just because it has good hot sex, but because it dips one’s toes into the taboo of BDSM without wallowing in it.

Prince Charming is very charming indeed, a billionaire, cultivated, handsome, young, educated, refined, sexy and for the most part he allows Ana to introduce him to normal vanilla sex. So most of the sex scenes are not employing spiked black leather collars and leg shackles in a sweaty dungeon with whips and chains. No, the BDSM occurs in a relatively civilized “playroom.” There are only three trips into the playroom and as far as BDSM goes, I imagine that it is fairly tame. Most of the sex is just the good old fun kind, free of pain, with a slightly veiled authoritarian threat in the background. On the other hand Prince Charming is a damaged beast. He becomes sexually aroused by humiliating and hurting women. So no matter how gorgeous and refined he may be, and no matter how many cars, clothes, and computers that he may shower on Ana, the fact remains that he gets off by causing Ana to suffer pain. He becomes highly excited and aroused by hitting and hurting women.

I don’t believe that this book is about BDSM, if it was I doubt that it would attain mainstream popularity. I think the book uses the taboo of BDSM as a metaphor. In trying to understand what the big whoop is about,  I have read several articles that compares Fifty Shades of Grey to the Twilight phenomenon.  I was a bit befuddled by popularity of Twilight also.  I read someplace that the drop dead gorgeous Edward’s potential bite in Twilight was an exaggerated metaphor for the old time tension of desire for sexual union off set by the fear and the cultural taboo of losing one’s virginity.  In our cool worldly modern times, the loss of one’s virginity is no big deal.  All the cool beautiful kids shed it with glee and talk about it on Facebook.  Yet somehow I suspect that to many young people, the not so cool kids like you and I, who still lead examined lives, and who question the role of love and sex and their place in it, the gift of one's virginity remains a very big deal, especially for girls for whom sex remains risky business.  Yet in the popular imagination, the loss of one's virginity has become commonplace--no big deal.   Hence the strange appeal of being bit by a vampire to teenage girls, and to be bit by one that looks like Robert Pattinson, oh my!  Alright, that makes sense in a pop psych sort of way.  

But what exactly is the metaphor that the BDSM represents in Fifty Shades of Grey?  Why does it appeal to mature and sexually experienced women?  Is it also simply an exaggerated metaphor for the loss of one's virginity?  Or is there a bigger issue?  Is the BDSM a kinky exaggerated metaphor for a fear of the subjugation of marriage and perhaps the angst of the marriage bed?

For 10,000 years women have been trapped in often loveless marriages, where they were nothing but chattel whom had no legal rights, had to obey their husbands, and were often raped, savagely beaten, and disciplined.  In the past two centuries, women’s rights within marriages have gradually improved.  In the past 50 years women’s rights both within marriage and within society have drastically improved.  Yet at this time, women still often get the poopey end of the stick in both marriage and the wider social milieu.  So is the metaphor of the BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey for the fear of a damaged marriage and sexual boredom?  Is Ana going to become a heroine by curing Christian of his sadism through a woman's strength, wisdom, tenderness, and love?  Will they ride off into the sunset, making love, and convert the playroom into a nursery?

To be quite honest, I have no idea what exactly the appeal of this book is.  While the BDSM is tame compared to how it could be, I still found the episodes of where Christian physically assaulted Ana to be revolting.

Book 1 ends with Ana leaving the sadistic bastard. Good. The book ended the way I wanted it to. Ana leaves him. There is no need for any additional books. Ana go find a nice man who loves you without hitting you and live happily ever after. Somehow I doubt that occurs in books 2 or 3.

When considering social effects, there is one way in which Twilight differs significantly from Fifty Shades of Grey.  After reading Twilight, no one has to worry about getting bit by a vampire.  But at the risk of being overly melodramatic, is there not a reasonable concern about the possible aftermath of a book that somewhat romanticizes and moves BDSM to the mainstream?  Being loosely tied up with a grey necktie and getting a playful slap on the butt may be deliciously kinky, may put some zing back in the bedroom, and is harmless.  However, as thrilling as that tender moment with the riding crop in the playroom may have been, in the hands of an inexperienced, too exuberant, or somewhat inebriated lover, a riding crop could wreak some real devastation, not to mention what some over excited dominant feeling his macho oats could do.  Some how I think BDSM is best left to a knowledgeable and skilled subculture.   I just hope that there is no run on the emergency rooms like there was on those grey neckties.

Aside from the BDSM, which I thoroughly despised, the book was fairly well written.  However, I was disappointed in Ana’s character.  She was a very intelligent and capable young woman whom I liked and could easily regard as a daughter. Yet she maintained an internal mental litany of a 13 year old.  “Holy crap! Her muscles clenched in her belly with desire, but her scalp prickled with apprehension, while her inner goddess did somersaults for joy” at the mere sight of Christian...over and over.  As a another reviewer mentioned I wanted  to punch her stupid internal goddess in the face.  A spanking in the stars for you Ms. James for displeasing me.

View all my reviews


Here are some interesting commentaries, I especially liked the 98 year old grand ma piece.

Open Salon, 50 shades of grandma: A 98-year-old’s take on ‘Grey’

Open Salon, Mommy Porn: Fifty Shades of Bad Writing

Open Salon, Fifty Shades of Say Wha?!

EDIT 4-19-2012:

Aha!  The last link Fifty Shades of Say Wha?! may have solved the riddle:

"Now, to its credit, there are moments when the book is kind of hot. It’s pretty hard to read a book with so much sex and not get turned on. I lost count but I think there’s at least 15 sex scenes, compared to 3 in other romance novels I’ve read. The downside is that it’s so completely unbelievable you're thrown right out of the story. How they hope to make a movie out of this, I don’t know.  Then again, people liked Twilight. "

Emphasis mine.  Me and my metaphors!  This is what happens when you read a review by a guy that lives under a rock regarding pop culture.  I have over analyzed this thing.  This is not great literature, there are no metaphors. The reason this is popular? Its a good buy, an erotic bodice ripper with a lots of erotic and not a whole lot of bodice.   It is a fairy tale with a lot of bang for the buck and just enough kinky to give it some pizazz without grossing one out.  The bad boy is a perhaps a bit farfetched...but billionaires and sadists exist...vampires, no matter how dashing, don't.  Indeed it is beauty and the beast in the buff and the beast brandishing a riding crop instead of fangs.  Don't look for metaphors, just suspend your normal sense of belief, and read how the beautiful young maiden turns  a frog into handsome prince with a lot of hot vanilla sex.  

EDIT 4-20-2012

Newsweek has an article this week on this whole phenomena:

Newsweek/2012/04/15/Spanking Goes Mainstream

The article implies that women are now in control of so much, their careers, their homes, the finances, the family, the children that they are using sexual submission fantasy as an escape mechanism. Apparently submissive fantasies are nothing new, they just seem to come to light every now and again in the popular culture.   Feminists are alarmed....don't fantasize that. But fantasies seem to have life of their own and defy logic or rules. I very much agree with the feminists. We men have a poor track record when it comes to battering women and we are not equipped with a numbered setting dial. When you start walking down the path of female submission, you are also walking up the path of male dominance and male aggression. Sorry but I do not trust that path. There is no on/off switch and when one is tied up to a four poster it makes one extremely vulnerable. I don't find that sexy, I find it frightening.

EDIT 2-16-2015

With the release of the movie, The Atlantic has an interesting article regarding the Fifty Shades phenomenom:


  1. Interesting analysis, Sextant. I read it, too, out of curiosity. So what did I think? Hmmm... It was very repetitive, yet I kept reading. I even bought No. 2, though I had absolutely no interest in seeing how the series ended and bypassed No. 3. I'm not worried at all about Shades of Grey making women more submissive, turning back the clock, or increasing emergency room visits. It's just a fantasy featuring a hero who would be just about perfect if he weren't a sadist. Poor Christian got that way because he was terribly hurt as a child. A scenario sure to tug at tender-hearted female heartstrings. It's Ana's job to make him whole. This is pretty standard romantic fiction fare.

    1. Donna,

      I think I let my inner 13 year old girl out of her closet too long. There are two things that confound me about this book, 1) why accept any of this submissive crap. 2). What in the world is the popularity of this series? It has to be addressing something for it to catch on. Maybe it is just the right combination of romance, erotica, the prince saving the girl (from a mundane asexual life) only to be saved from his own internal demons, with the BDSM thrown in instead of fangs.

      Any acceptance of BDSM just pisses me off. I would love for Lisbeth Salandar to ride in on her motor cycle and give this son of bitch a tattoo.

  2. I just read the Newsweek article, and I think it's right on target in explaining the phenomenon of Fifty Shades. Women are complicated creatures, Sextant, and for the most part, we don't need protecting from our imaginations. Fifty Shades is just harmless escapist fiction. I don't think it promotes BDSM any more than Game of Thrones promotes warlike behavior.

    1. Well I agree you do not need protecting from your imagination. There is no harm in reading books. I don't trust male aggression, I don't trust alcohol, put them together and what starts out to be a little kinky spice could get damaging--especially if one is tied up. But you are right I am descending into hysteria.

  3. So far I have heard nothing about this book that makes me want to read it. thanks for saving me the effort.

    1. Carol,

      Yeah, probably not for you. But think about this, the Fifty Shades of Grey craze could be a potential windfall for you. The Christian Grey autographed deluxe BDSM quilt, with built in black leather cuffs, a complimentary grey neck tie, convenient storage pockets for whips and riding crops, and embedded porcupine quills to induce a truly masochistic high! Machine Washable. Replacement porcupine quills sold separately. Available at Carol's Quilts Of Pain!

      They will be a hit at the church bazaar, perhaps a bizarre bazaar.

      Thanks for dropping on by and putting up with my crap.

    2. I have to say, I read a lot of mystery and legal thrillers and this was an exciting change. I want to be honest, this would have been an excellent book without all the sex. I love reading books about other people's drama, but one thing that did disappoint me was the violence so to speak that was in this book. Sorry, I don't think that is acceptable and for the point that, there is so much abuse in relationships, I hate to have that one person say, well it happened in the book so it is alright if it happens to me. I am not saying it is going to happen, but there is one person who might not have the mind strength to realize this is just a book. Otherwise HATS OFF, it was worth all the talk. I live in Utah and I was watching one of the talk shows and thought wow, I would really like to see what that book is all about and to me it was worth it.

    3. Kristine,

      I really should read at least the second book to get a feel for what happens beyond the first book, but I am just so put off with BDSM that I have no desire.

      One of the functions of literature is to allow us to experience vicariously that which we would not want to experience first hand. In that regard the book was a grand success for me at least in the second beating with the strap. I was almost wincing with each hit. I also felt gratified with Ana's anger at Christian.

      I read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series and the violence and the sexual abuse was much worse. Yet it did not infuriate me to the degree that this book did. Lisbeth struck back at her tormentors and fulfilled a lovely desire for sweet revenge usually conducted in a rather novel and ingenious manner.

      In this book, because Ana loves this abusive albeit genteel son of a bitch she agrees to allow this second assault. I wanted her to get up knee the bastard in the crotch and knock a few teeth out. This consensual line of reasoning infuriates me. No body in their right mind consents to have their ass beat to the point that they can't sit for a week. Indeed I don't know much about BDSM, and I can guarantee you I am not going to find out, but I just have a lot of trouble accepting that severe masochism has any element of normal consent to it. I also have a lot of problems with a man that finds inflicting pain and humiliation on a woman sexually arousing. That's just not the way the one should treat a woman.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. While I did not enjoy this book per se, I must admit that I have got more than my money's worth discussing it.

  4. Great comments, everyone. I think I will read the other two books.... Sextant, maybe you should too. Loved the "Dragon Tattoo" series. Brilliant.

    1. I don't know I don't think I could stomach any more of Anna's pandering to the rich arrogant son of bitch. "Oh Christian, I love you so much. If I let you spank me real hard, will you love me too?"

      What I liked about Lisbeth Salander, you step on my toes, I take out your kneecaps.
      She took no shit. Anna's submission just pissed me off.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.