The fault in our shades

I have this idea for a non-fiction book that I may write sometime, tentatively called Everything I know about God I learned from Comic Books. It would be a look at how the history of superhero comics so often parallels that of the major world religions, like how issues of canonicity are decided (The First Council of Nicaea/Crisis on Infinite Earths), how older belief systems get incorporated into newer ones (Celtic deities becoming saints in Gaelic Christianity/ Captain Marvel becoming part of DC continuity), the violent schisms that can erupt between adherents of different sects (the Crusades/Cassandra Cain versus Stephanie Browne) and how they deal with the Problem of Evil/Frank Millar. I bring this up because, oddly, one of the best and simplest pieces of moral advice I ever received was from a comic book. It was an issue of X-Men where Bishop, a mutant cop from the future, almost kills the man who murdered his sister before realising that he can’t cross that line and simply arrests him. Bishop is tormented by guilt over what he almost did and Charles Xavier gives him this line (as near as I can remember it, it’s been years): “It is not our thoughts that mark us, but our deeds.”
This, I think, is a very important moral. We cannot control our thoughts, our desires, our prejudices or our emotions. And, take it from the guy with the Catholic upbringing, trying to is a real good way to go nuts. In fact, if you ever find yourself in the trenches and want to be invalided back to Blighty, don’t bother sticking underpants over your head, just try to not think about something for ten minutes and that should do the trick.  Having bad thoughts does not make you a bad person. Acting on them does.
Speaking of bad people, I hardly ever read other people’s blogs, which I feel incredibly guilty about because I always want people to read mine and that makes me a rather massive hypocrite. Honestly, it’s just a question of time. Between work, family, blogging, watching movies to review and trying to keep on top of other writing projects (not to mention a rather serious gaming habit) I normally just don’t have the hours. Recently however, I made an exception and plowed through all of author Jenny Armintrout’s extensive re-cap of Fifty Shades of Grey over on Trout Nation. It’s hilarious, excellently written and I heartily endorse it.
"I am Unshaved Mouse, and I approve this blog. All my readers should check it out!"

“I am Unshaved Mouse, and I approve this blog. All my readers should check it out!”

"Huh. My stats just went up by a barely perceptible ammount. As if theyd been kicked by a tiny, tiny ant."

“Huh. My stats just went up by a barely perceptible amount. As if theyd been kicked by a tiny, tiny ant.”

Now, even though I know damn well that every last one of you knows what Fifty Shades of Grey is, blogging law stipulates that I give some background on what I’m talking about on the off chance that one of you has awoken from a coma so here we go. Fifty Shades of Grey is E.L. James’ re-purposed  Twilight fanfiction where mousey milquetoast Anastasia Steele (Yes. Yes, really.) becomes involved with chiselled blonde billionaire Christian Grey and they have lots of badly punctuated sex. It was famously described by Salman Rushdie as the worst-written novel to ever be released by a major publishing house and so naturally became a huge commercial success.
"Welp, I guess they proved ME wrong."

“Welp, I guess they proved ME wrong.”

It is also porn.
And that’s not a criticism. It’s simply a statement of fact. It’s a piece of fiction written to get the reader off. Simple as. Now, during the course of the book Christian Grey does a lot of incredibly awful things. He emotionally manipulates Ana, plies her with alcohol, coerces her into sexual acts that she really does not want, beats her, threatens her, demeans her, isolates her from her friends and family and literally checks every item on the list for being an abusive partner (not hyperbole, Jenny actually did that very thing).

And…I actually don’t have a problem with that. Because, as I said, it’s porn. Not to get into name-calling but Christian Grey is a dildo. He’s an artificial construct designed to get people off.
I dont want to brag, but I am getting scary good with Microsoft Paint. Like, I should Microsoft Paint professionaly.

I don’t want to brag, but I am getting scary good with Microsoft Paint. Like, I should Microsoft Paint professionally.

And if the idea of being in a relationship with an Edward Cullen rip-off with zero respect for personal boundaries works for you as a consequence free fuck fantasy, have fun. Whatever floats your boat. You can’t control what turns you on, as the telepath said to the Bishop. So what’s the problem?
Alright, I hope I’m not oversharing when I tell you that I watch porn. But when I do, it’s with the very clear understanding that what I’m watching is fantasy and that if I ever used the actions of these characters as a model for my own behaviour I would very quickly end up in prison and also Domino’s wouldn’t deliver to my house anymore.
"Hey. Id like a "large pizza". With "extra sausage". And also an actual large pizza. With no sausage. I dont actually like sausage.

Hey. I’d like a “large pizza”. With “extra sausage”. And also an actual large pizza. With no sausage. I don’t really like sausage.

It’s porn created solely for sexual gratification, you know what you’re getting and everyone should be on the same page. The problem is, in our society, women don’t get that page. We apparently are unable to say to women “Ladies, here’s some porn go! Flick! Flick like the wind!” And so this book is re-packaged and justified and sold as something else and it’s at this point that things get really, really sick. Look up Wikipedia’s entry on this book and see how it’s described.
CITATION. FUCKING. NEEDED.

CITATION. FUCKING. NEEDED.

Alright. Let’s be very, very, very clear. This book is not a romance. It does not depict anything that could be considered a romance (or a believable human being, but that’s another issue). Selling it as a romance novel, holding up Anastasia (I know, I know) and Christian as a great love for the ages is utterly awful.
Now, Jenny’s recaps start out light-hearted enough, mocking the terrible prose, horrible characters, ludicrous premise, basic errors in logic and research, ridiculous choice of font and the fact that the paper smells kinda funny but as she goes on she becomes more and upset by the fact that this book, which has been so hugely successful, is clearly depicting a relationship that is awful and abusive. She tells an anecdote about meeting a woman who admits to reading the book, but in secret because her husband would “be furious”. Now, full disclosure, if my wife ever read that book she’d probably keep it secret from me too, but only because the mocking that would follow would exceed medically safe levels. Also, she’s my editor, and that would just blow her credibility straight to hell.
"Okay, so Act 2 ends really abruptly, I think you may need to flesh it out a bit."

“Okay, so Act 2 feels really rushed, I think you may need to flesh it out a bit.”

“Okay. How about I add a scene where he clit-slaps her with a riding crop in a helicopter..”

“Okay. How about I add a scene where he clit-slaps her with a riding crop in a helicopter?”

This story really sums up everything that is wrong and fucked up with this whole situation and where I perhaps differ with Jenny Trout because I actually don’t blame the book. The book’s not the problem. The fault is in ourselves.
Because women should just be able to enjoy some guilt-free porn without hiding it from their husbands, or having to justify it either to themselves or to society. The fact is that the only way we allow women to enjoy this book is if we disguise it as something it has absolutely no business being. This should not be treated as a romance novel. It should not be read, marketed, consumed or interpreted as any kind of reflection on love or how men and women should treat each other.
The fact that so many women get off on this book is neither sick nor twisted.
The fact that the only way they feel they can do it is to pretend that Deep Throat is Pride and Prejudice is what’s truly perverse.
***
Neil Sharpson aka the Unshaved Mouse is a playwright, comic-book writer and blogger based in Dublin. The blog updates with a new movie review every second Thursday and a new chapter of his book, The Hangman’s Daughter, every Saturday when he remembers. All through February 2015 we’re running the Unshaved Mouse Charity Movie Deathmatch. Vote for your favourite movie to be reviewed and help raise money for a wonderful charity, Love Without Boundaries.

35 comments

  1. Is there no good written porn out there? Honestly, who says that porn has to be written by gramatically challenged people who couldn’t write a compelling plot or create at least interesting characters to safe their life?
    But you know, that doesn’t even bothers me (much). People have bad taste. What bothers me if they then try to tell me that crap like this is somehow empowering. It really, really isn’t.

      1. I don’t know about textual porn, but there sure are lots of good porn comics. Here are just two, which their authors let people read online for free: Chester 5000 XYV (“an erotic, robotic, Victorian romance”) and Oglaf (an awesome, clever parody of fantasy tropes). The links point to the start of the archives. Enjoy.

      2. Stuff which is straight-up porn but is genuinely good, deep writing? Apart from what’s already been mentioned, in comics, Sunstone (by Stjepan Sejic). Also Xxxenophile (Phil Foglio) and Omaha the Cat Dancer (Kate Worley & Reed Waller) which are classics.

        In filmed pornography, I can recommend the artistic value of _The Opening of Misty Beethoven_. Gotta get the uncut version though (weirdly for an XXX movie, it was censored for a long time — due to, of all things, homophobia).

        In text… frankly, I’ve had quite a lot of trouble finding textual porn which doesn’t completely squick me out. Hard to say why, something about common kinks being really creepy cultural assumptions, basically the same thing which happens with EL James. I’ve read a few really good short stories, but they’re often not easy to find copies of.

        Of course, I can’t criticize people for liking stuff which has no long-term artistic merit, which is just for masturbating to; I do that too. So I agree with unshavedmouse — it should be possible to just say “yeah, this is a stroke book, period.”

    1. I’d highly recommend the “Boss” series that Jenny writes under her Abigail Barnette pseudonym. I don’t think I’d quite qualify it as written porn (there’s an actual plot to follow that isn’t just there to fill in space between sex scenes), but there is plenty of well written sex. Also, you won’t find any “down there”s or “inner goddess”es.

      Oh, and the first book’s free. Win win!

    2. “Is there no good written porn out there?”

      Swedish writer Simona Ahrnstedt seems to try, bless her. She would technically fall into the Romance cathegory, of course. But man, she has the most detailed sex scenes I have ever come across (and a really brutal rape scene as well)! But it seems like she hasn’t been translated into English…

      1. Oh, doesn’t matter…thinkfully German publishers are way more open than english are.
        Hey, do you know a good writer who sets their stories in current Sweden? I am planning a trip to Stockholm this year (hopefully the Viking museum is done with the renevation, still disappoineted that I couldn’t visit it last time), and I always like to have good reading material set in the places I travel to with me.

      2. Swanpride: Simona is translated into German, Italian and many other smaller languages. But not English, as far as I can tell. Her latest novel is set in modern times, but I haven’t read that one yet.

    3. Welp…. I was going to link you to a brilliant series of about 4 stories I’ve read online.

      But the authors had them taken down.

      Gonna go cry in a corner now

    4. By and far the greatest work of pornographic literature that I have ever come across is “The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty” trilogy by Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelaure. And, yes, the quality of the writing is so high that I can honestly call the work “literature.” In fact, I wrote my senior paper before earning my Bachelor’s degree on the first novel.

      Even if you don’t normally favor Rice’s writing, you’ll find she takes enough steps away from her typical style to make it much more palatable for the non-fan. Also – as a general warning – the series is respectful, greatly knowledgeable, and highly descriptive of the acts of BDSM featured within.

      As a minutely sadistic experiment, I sat a wide assortment of my friends and fellow co-eds in front of this book and said, “Go until you’re uncomfortable reading in public.” Most got red or wide-eyed on page four; almost all had gently closed and returned the book before page fifteen.

      And the series only gets more intense as you progress. You have been warned. Enjoy!

      1. Thanks, but no. I read excepts of it, and the only thing the sleeping beauty series has over fifty shades is that at least Anne Rice knows how to use Grammar properly.

  2. You know, as a veteran of writing and reading fanfiction, I can honestly say that most fanfictions should NOT be made into books, let alone movies. Many of the writers on there have taken the repeated murder and torture of the written English language into an art-form that outdoes any bad accent or grammar in the SPOKEN English language. Some of these kids/teens/poorly educated adults don’t even make the F grade in bad writing, let along B grade. Once in a very long while, you’ll find an okay story to read, or one that is fun, but those are like Aladdin, they’re almost literally a “diamond in the rough” on fanfiction.net.

    Do you know what the original title was for “50 Shades of Grey?” “Master of the Universe!” Can you believe that?! Talk about unoriginal and stupid-sounding. More like “Bastard of the Twilight Universe” if you ask me.

    The “Twilight” series alone was very iffy, and the only reason anybody liked it was for the same reason my mom watches “Bones;” fans loved the SUPPORTING characters because the protagonist(s) were about as likeable as a common scab. In fact, a number of actors turned down the roles of Ana and Christian because they couldn’t connect with the characters. I don’t blame them, considering they’re about as interesting as a pair of common bricks.

    You’re right Mouse. Christian’s a douche. I could tell just from LOOKING at him in the commercials that he was one. He has that look about him. I also thought the actress they chose for Ana was like an ugly little mouse.

    I think I’m one of the only adult females who went out of her way to NOT read that piece of trash story, though I did read what the Wikipedia had to say about the story, so I wouldn’t be completely left in the dark about it. It was a big turn-off.

    Now, there used to be a name for erotic literature women still read, and nobody treats us like crap for reading it because it’s hiding in plain sight. We called them “trashy romance novels.” I usually read the ones that don’t have the trash in them, like Roberta Gellis’s work, or Jude Deveraux, or Jean M. Auel. There are many romance novels out there with love scenes and good stories. The fact that a pile of crap like “50 Shades” became so popular is probably only due to one thing: the LMCD crowd.

    You’ve met them Mouse. They’re everywhere, and they make up the majority of all societies on earth. It’s because of them that shitty reality shows became so popular, or why sci-fi channel became the “wrestling and horror” channel, or why TLC doesn’t actually teach you anything anymore. The acronym stands for “Lowest Mental Common Denominator.” The people of the land, the common clay…you know…morons.

    I heard “50 Shades” was popular with the inmates at Gitmo, and you know what THEY were like. A bunch of psychos who think women are stupid objects to be owned and all non-Muslims are just cannon-fodder. No mystery there.

    So all in all, I don’t like that sorry excuse of a book either, don’t plan on EVER reading it, and I plan on avoiding the movie theaters this Valentine’s Day so that I don’t have to watch all those poor boyfriends being dragged in by their girlfriends for the mental torture they’re about to endure.

      1. Mouse, you know there are many mice in this world. Don’t take it personally. There are cute mice & ugly mice; stupid mice and smart mice; strong-willed (you wouldn’t know anybody like that, would you?) and weak-willed mice, and mice that have an imagination. Ana Steele falls into the category of a weak-minded mouse with almost no personality, has a lousy haircut, and looks like she needs to gain 20 lbs. or she’s gonna die of anorexia. You get what I’m trying to say here?

    1. “I think I’m one of the only adult females who went out of her way to NOT read that piece of trash story”

      Aren’t you special.

      “The people of the land, the common clay…you know…morons.”

      Wow.

  3. I blame Twilight. 50 shades is simply Twilight with less supernatural beings and a LOT more kinky sex time. Funnily enough I actually find 50SoG less inappropriate than Twilight mainly because at least E. L. was honest and said that it was for adults. Stephanie sold a tonne of tweens books that told them it was completely acceptable and normal for your boyfriend to break your car so you can’t see friends, or lock you in his house for the weekend so you can’t go and see people he doesn’t approve of. This is not a healthy thing for tweens to be forming their teenage love map on.
    Of course it is porn. There is a 65 year old lady at my work who has been jabbering on about this movie since it was first announced that it was to be made – she was disappointed (loudly so) when she found out it wasn’t being made in 3D. I really doubt that she is interested in the storyline. 🙂

      1. Haha really? How funny and bad/sad at the same time. I am kind of torn because on one hand I am excited that in this technology age kids are reading anything, but on the other hand it is not a good example of literature.

    1. Twilight is severely horrifying. It seems to be a Mormon woman’s attempt to say to how great abusive patriachal religious relationships are, but honestly, it seems like she knows at some level how abusive and awful it is, because it gets creepier and more abusive with every book. It’s also so poorly written that I didn’t even try to get through it.

      It was distressing how popular it was.

      50 Shades of Grey is Twilight fan fiction, and it’s no surprise that it’s amped up all the bad aspects. It is more distressing how popular it is.

      Both series deserve serious feminist fiskings, but to do that I’d have to READ them all the way through, for which my life is too short, so I’m glad that Trout has done it.

      I mean, geez, people argue a lot about _Secretary_, but the relationship in that is a million times healthier. As well as being really hot, if you’re into BDSM. And it wasn’t nearly as successful.

      1. Ha that’s so true. I had forgotten about that movie.
        Don’t bother reading it all the way through, you’ll just get angry.
        I disliked Twilight more only because it was pushed at teens. At least adults have a chance and hopefully half a brain and can recognise that the relationship in 50SoG is not indicative of a healthy adult relationship.
        It’s a fine line though, they are both terrible examples of literature, but what can you do?

  4. I read 50 shade of shite a couple of years after it came out. Not worth the couple of hours I spent on it. The shittiest writing I have ever read (and I’ve never used this word twice in a sentence before which tells you how much I loathe it) and the worst characters and abusive rapey relationship ever in recent books that I’ve had the misfortune to read. Wouldn’t touch the film with a bargepole. It is utter shite and I really have no idea what anyone sees in it. The pervocracy blog does a very good analysis of every situation in every chapter that points out what crap every single sentence is which is very entertaining in a very wrong way. This rubbish that masquerades as literature isn’t worth paper to wipe your bum with

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