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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: the trouble with 50 Shades of Grey

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, via Mikko Luntiala

We had a very lively and interesting debate over the 50 Shades cultural “phenomena” on Friday. I’m deeply grateful for all those commenters who posted such thoughtful opinions, even those who didn’t agree with me. I actually am not afraid of people disagreeing with me andhave zero interest in my blog simply being an ideological echo chamber.

Yet, there are a few things I’ve “heard” in the comments or even on Facebook which leave me flummoxed and I believe these assertions call for a closer examination.

It’s ONLY a Story. It is FICTION. JUST a FANTASY.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

One argument that baffled me was this idea that 50 Shades is just a book and only fantasy. I do not begrudge James her success nor am I lambasting anyone who likes the books. To each, his or her own. I never called for banning, burning or censoring.

Since I never read the book in totality, I never left a review. I also didn’t review the film because I am not a reviewer. I never commented on the quality of the prose, film, actors etc. etc. only the message.

And, as an abuse survivor and someone who has spent years working with battered women? I feel my opinion is more educated than, perhaps, many who finished the books. Grey exhibits all signs of a sociopath by Chapter Three (which is right about when I quit reading). More on sociopathy HERE.

I didn’t want to go there. Lived it. Don’t need to read it. I’ve also read many novels and watched many movies I would not recommend because I had to put down the book thirty pages in or walk out of the film in the first half hour.

In my opinion, that is as viable of an opinion as someone who gutted through all 90 minutes of Showgirls to know it was crap.

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***If I were a reviewer then it would be my professional duty to formulate an opinion based on the entire body of work…because that would be my JOB.

Yet, the reason I did feel a need to discuss this work is because it has gone beyond being a book and has become a cultural force. With over 100 million legitimate copies in circulation (not counting for borrowed copies from friends and libraries, pirated copies or used purchases) that many books will make a societal impact by sheer volume.

It’s the equivalent of a literary comet strike.

Add in a possible hit movie? Could be an extinction event.

THIS was when I felt it necessary to step in and state my analysis and at least posit the hard questions.

Fiction is NEVER JUST a Story

Hubby. Sigh.

To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?

To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.

It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).

During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.

Neil Postman, in his book “The Disappearance of Childhood” cites one of the first legal cases where an adult was censured for hurting a child. It was a woman who gathered orphans and fed them, but put out their eyes with knitting needles then planted them on the street to beg. Apparently, blind kids made more money.

When the woman was finally brought to court, she was not punished for cruelty, rather fined for “destruction of property.” In fact, animal rights organizations had been established a good ten years before anyone thought children might require similar protection.

A Christmas Carol was one of the many literary works that led to society establishing legal protection for children, which didn’t exist until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Oops, Did I Do THAT?

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Sometimes the author even misses the mark. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to highlight wage slavery and the horrific treatment of immigrants in the Chicago meat-packing industry. The story, however, had a very different impact than the author intended.

Readers were horrified about the conditions of the FOOD. Public outrage and political pressure led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; the latter established the Bureau of Chemistry, which was renamed the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.

Sinclair later bemoaned that his work had ended up helping the very institutions he’d rightly demonized and issued that famous quote in the October, 1906 Cosmopolitan Magazine—“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

Thus for us to say that fiction is only fantasy is to say that “Red Badge of Courage,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and others are equally fantastical and benign.

And before anyone says, “Well, E.L. James is certainly NOT a literary master and no one will hail this work as a classic” we are wise to appreciate a couple factors.

First, what we today view as a classic was often mass market pop fiction of its time. It’s often only in retrospect that we can witness how a novel, a play, a movie, a whatever, shifted the trajectory of a culture. Secondly, “literary classics” aren’t the only transformative works.

Pop Culture

WOMEN on the BRIDGE? An AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN on the BRIDGE?
WOMEN on the BRIDGE? An AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN on the BRIDGE?

Star Trek only ran three seasons before being canceled in 1969, and yet I feel it did more to impact race relations and redefine women’s roles than any piece of legislation. Though as Trekkie, I FEEL Star Trek a classic, I have yet to see it on any syllabus at a university.

Additionally, Horror was once an extremely popular genre, giving us such classic tales as Frankenstein (which greatly impacted science) and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau where Moreau crafts humanoid-animal chimeras via vivisection. Yet, The Island of Dr. Moreau also addressed deeper issues of pain, cruelty, moral responsibility and scientific tampering with nature. It was instrumental in forming our modern scientific standards of ethics.

But, one movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre redefined what the public viewed as “horror” and almost single-handedly laid waste to the genre.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Granted, there were probably slasher flicks like this before TSM, much like there were rape fantasy books before FSoG. But THIS one was the one that HIT and served to alter the genre.

Soon, there were no longer “Horror” sections in bookstores because the silver screen gore porn (and public demand for these movies) had tainted the genre.

Horror stories then had to be hidden under such categories as Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, etc. so that these works could distance from the stain left from the plethora of slasher films that became so popular after Vietnam. Horror, as a genre, has never fully recovered since “horror stories” are too often held up next to Saw Part 15 or Friday the 13th Part 26.

How did this happen?

Follow the Money

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If no one bothered with the early slasher flicks, Hollywood would have never bothered making more. They also wouldn’t have felt the need to keep upping the ante with every movie. More blood, guts, and shock. Soon we were anesthetized to suffering because it became all too common.

And, before anyone laughs, remember those early bad 50s horror movies scared the bejeezus out of people. Now? We laugh at giant spider puppets that, at one time, had people fleeing from the theater to calm down.

Tarzan was criticized because Tarzan and Jane were living in the jungle together without being married 😉 . Today, audiences would laugh at such a puritanical notion. Just watch HBO for an hour and tell me times haven’t changed.

But It’s So PRETTY, How Can it Be BAD?

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How could it be harmful? Often some of the most dangerous substances don’t show consequences until later. It reminds me of the Radium Girls who painted watch dials with radioactive paint during WWI. The glowing paint was pretty and harmless and “cool.” Their employer told them they could just lick the end of their brushes as they worked, so surely it was harmless.

Right?

The women, thinking radium was safe, painted their nails and faces so they could glow in dark for their men at home. And they all died slow horrible deaths years later.

Ideas (books) can act similarly. They can seem no big deal until they are. AGAIN, I am NOT for censorship, only critical thinking. Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care 😉 .

The Coming Generation

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

As I stated in the last post, my concern is less for the older reader and more for the youth who will go see the movie. I am a social media expert and we have an entirely new generation that is completely immersed in multimedia.

Young people have all the impulses, hormones and emotions of an adult, but lack maturity, experience and a fully developed frontal cortex that governs critical thinking and discernment. They have a far more difficult time separating fantasy and reality.

Young people do a LOT of dumb stuff. Hey, I did. And as a teen I argued with my mother that Me So Horny was “just a song” and now as an adult, I can see why she sat down and had a LONG talk with me.

Teens or even tweens don’t see that sexting can come back to bite or that pic in lingerie on Tumblr might affect them getting into college.

My bigger concern is that, when we package sociopathy as “romance”? Sadists as Alpha male heroes? That is a confusing message (and a dangerous one) for everyone, but most especially for those still forming opinions and identities. In fact, I probably would have had NO problem with FSoG had it been in the genre of psychological thriller or horror. But slap “ROMANCE” on it? Whole ‘notha’ ballgame.

The Bottom Line

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Read what you want to. Watch what you want to. I have an opinion, you have one. I’m never for censorship, EVER. But, I feel we have to at least own what we are doing as consumers, but most especially as writers. We cannot be Janus-faced over this. Either fiction is vital and transformative and matters…or it doesn’t.

History has proven we have almost no control over what will shape culture or even how it will shape it as The Jungle illustrates. We also have almost zero control over what will be considered a classic in fifty or a hundred years.

And if fiction is ONLY a story and has no power, then why should we care about literacy, libraries and freedom of speech? If fiction is only fantasy and doesn’t impact the world? Why bother? Why does it matter?

Food for thought 😉 .

What do you guys think? And again, I have no problem if anyone disagrees so long as we remain polite. Do you feel we can have our cake and eat it too? That as a culture we can contain the genie? Or do we have to choose? Either fiction is powerful or it isn’t? And if fiction doesn’t change the world, then why are we even doing this job?

Do you hope your characters and stories will create a better world? Challenge ideas? Reinforce what you think is good and noble? Topple what should be done away with? Do you think (as I do) that many people are unaware how powerful writers and artists actually are? That maybe even some writers fail to appreciate the influence they could one day wield?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image courtesy of Lisa Weidmeier WANA Commons.
Image courtesy of Lisa Weidmeier WANA Commons.

I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to go here, but alas, here we are. Today, 50 Shades of Grey the MOVIE will open for…*record screech* Valentine’s Day. Nothing says I love you like predatory emotional manipulation, sociopathy, abuse and non-consensual sex acts.

Find THAT on a Hallmark card.

And yes, I know there have been other kinky books like this, but 50 Shades sold over 100 million copies and the movie (despite ZERO plot) is expected to gross in excess of $60 million which means I just threw up a little in my mouth this “story” has tipped from fringe to mainstream and that scares me more than a little bit.

No, I didn’t read the book. I don’t need to. Nor do I need to watch gang-rape prison porn to know it probably is unhealthy for the future of women (or even men). Guess what? I didn’t have to eat the chicken I forgot in my fridge to know it would probably make me sick.

Some stuff just stinks and that should be enough to warn us away.

And I’ve debated even blogging about this because I try to make it a policy to never talk badly about any story or book. I also hate EVEN MORE attention given to this crap than it’s already garnered, but my conscience won’t let me remain silent. We are playing with fire.

Redefining the POWERFUL Man

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller
Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of JonoMeuller

I watched the trailer and instantly felt the bad juju *Spidey senses go NUTSO*.

Grey doesn’t choose Ana because she is a confident, assured woman who can emotionally handle this sort of contract, um relationship, um abus…ok, hell I got nothing. A confident woman would have told him where to put his private jet.

What gets me is he sees a woman girl who clearly already has a low opinion of herself and he pounces. Wow, sounds like the beginning stages of a relationship that is going to end with a body bag, jail or at least a restraining order. He smells blood in the water and goes for it, wanting to dominate a woman who, frankly, is just looking for “love.”

And this is my old curmudgeon self coming out. HOW is that a powerful man?

I know they give him all the accoutrement of “powerful.” The surface stuff like custom suits, a job where he never really works, fast cars, etc. But, to me, that isn’t power. That’s actually small man-part behavior (which is actually deep insecurity manifesting in a fancy watch).

Powerful men. REALLY powerful men? They empower women. They don’t prey on and victimize them. It reminds me of my formative years and the movie Dirty Dancing. Sexy? Yes. Push social boundaries? Sure.

But?

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In Dirty Dancing Johnny Castle pushes Baby (Jennifer Grey 😀 ) beyond her comfort zones, but it’s in a way that makes her more whole as a human being. He always makes sure she is truly on board and always makes her safety a priority. Remember the fancy lifts? Practicing the lifts in the lake so if she fell she’d be okay?

And all the older gals go, “Awwww, I LOVED that scene.”

Johnny pursues Baby because he likes her as a human being, and, instead of preying on her, he protects and nurtures her. THAT, in my book is a powerful man. Not some trust fund baby assclown with a closet full of leashes and too much free time.

Abuse is NOT Power

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There are so many things that scare me about this book and it would take more than one post to explore them. But women have faced thousands of years of not being able to defend themselves against victimization and rape and now we have a cultural phenomenon that is redefining sex and blurring the lines of consent (which are already pretty damn blurry, especially after a drunken frat party).

I kid you NOT. I am waiting for the 50 Shades Defense when some poor college girl is brutalized and the guy’s defense is, “Well, she did sign a contract.”

And not only is this a sticky wicket for women, it’s a train wreck for men. When millions of women are fanning themselves over this crap, men are left even more confused and more vulnerable. Pair this with super destructive pop hits like Blurred Lines?

I have a son and pop culture really should be handled with care. I recall being in the car with a family member who has two impressionable sons. Blurred Lines comes on and they are all humming to it. I gasp and turn it off then asked, “Have any of you paid attention to the WORDS to this song? It’s a date rape song and it is unacceptable.”

And now it is clear why Kristen wasn’t invited to the parties in high school and college.

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you….

Let me liberate you? How about I show you what a TRIANGLE CHOKE is?

Image via http://totaljujitsu.com
Image via http://totaljujitsu.com

Lowering the Standards of Expectations

It’s Grey’s lines like, “I don’t do romance” that kinda more than piss me off. Women used to be worthy of courtship and eventually a ring and a commitment. Then we decided to break glass ceilings and we’ve been fighting a battle of, “If a woman doesn’t want to be married she must be frigid or a lesbian versus any woman who wants a ring and a commitment is just out to trap a man.”

There is also the, “Women who want to be married are settling.” And was already seriously confusing without this tripe.

I remember living across from a young couple and the pretty blonde had been living with this jerk guy for EIGHT years. She wanted to be married and he wanted all the benefits of a marriage without any of the legal obligations (like having to part with HALF his stuff or having to pay alimony if they broke up).

And he’d been dangling a potential ring/proposal in front of her for EIGHT FREAKING years.

Well, I am just not ready yet, but I probably will be…

Later, Dude. Tempus fugit.

And trust me, back when I was dating, that crap was a nightmare to traverse. But, at least I could expect some romance. Now? A man who doesn’t DO romance is…sexy?

In my book he’s selfish and lazy and move on. Characters like Ana have opened a WHOLE ‘notha can of worms when she refuses to tell Grey NO or to stop or even that he’s crossing a line and hurting her because “then she’d lose him” *gags* and tolerates the intolerable.

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No one to HEAR you? How in 50 Shades of HELL is this remotely acceptable?

Ladies, when a man controls what you say, wear or who your friends are? That is BAD.

DANGER—Abuse NEVER has an HEA

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Thing is, in the book maybe it can end well. In life? A guy who won’t take no and wants total control, AND has unlimited funds when the woman does not? Watch Discovery ID and we can see the end to this story. Usually it involves an unidentified body found in a cooler in the desert.

Or, feel free to re-watch the sequel to 50 Shades, made back in 2002—“Enough.”

In fact, years ago I knew a woman who was in this sort of relationship. It began as sexy and exciting until he killed her dog (who was trying to defend her from his blows) and then he broke her jaw. She ended up working as a prostitute because every time she moved and tried to work legitimate employment? Her ex found her and hospitalized her for leaving.

The REAL Man

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My husband is a GIANT. At six foot six, he’s well over a foot taller than me. This is the man who was in Special Operations and on a military shooting team, but I’ve spent every summer helping him rescue mice, lizards and geckos out of glue traps. The man even rescues rattlesnakes who want to sun on our porch at the ranch.

And KITTENS. OMG, the KITTENS!!! Kittens are his kryptonite.

Meet, "Odin" my anniversary present and Cat Number FOUR
Meet, “Odin” my anniversary present and Cat Number FOUR

We are one cat short of Hubby being the Crazy Cat Lady. He also works extra hard so his wife can take Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and is almost always in the audience cheering me on. He isn’t afraid of a strong woman and even encourages me to be stronger.

I really hope this 50 Shades phase passes, but…

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I hope that you will spend your Valentines Day doing or watching something truly romantic. If you and your partner want to add some spice and roughness? I recommend taking a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu class together 😀 .

Additionally, I recommend checking out The Atlantic post by Emma Green, Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of 50 Shades.

So *cringes* what are your thoughts? Do you think 50 Shades grossly misrepresents BDSM? Do you see the same perils? Am I overreacting? Feel free to disagree just please be polite. Is this a dangerous trend? First with Twilight making stalking “sexy” and now this?

I know many who’ve read this book and love it are older, but should we be concerned about how this might mainstream for our youth and affect their perceptions of “relationships”? How it might even impact victims in courtrooms? Is this type of story confusing for men and women? Is this even more devolution of what we consider to be “romantic”? Or am I jumping at shadows?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).