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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.