Sunday, 25 January 2015

50 Shades of Grey = Oh, dear!

When 50 Shades of Grey was selling like so many hotcakes that its author began earning zillions per second and women literally all over the world were left panting at the frisson the book's hero was wont to cause, I was probably gardening. Popular culture and I have a dislike for each other- mostly because I have a pathological hatred of being told what to do or to think. So if a book's on a bestseller list, it'll be another hundred years before I get round to buying it (and only because I found it going for a song in a charity shop). But I must confess....

Because I don't have a TV, I get all my news on the internet and every so often if I want to download the video of the furry dog speaking German or something, those darn movie trailers pop up and cannot be stopped. 29, 28, 27 secs and one is forced to watch the same drivel over and over. (By the way there are movie trailers that give the entire plot away and I cannot understand who thinks this is a good idea but that's a story for another day). So there I was attempting to eat a packet of crisps, with bits falling onto my old jumper full of moth holes, and "Mr. Bloody Grey Will See You Now" kept thrusting out at me from the computer. Eventually I succumbed to my cheap, despicable curiosity to know why I should read the said book and managed to retain a modicum of respect by not actually purchasing a copy but rather by finding a website that had pre-digested (i.e. condensed) the entire book into half a dozen pages. Every event/plot sequence, description/ interaction between characters along with explicit extracts of the sex scenes were kept intact. So my encounter with Mr. Grey lasted around 3 and a half minutes by the time we had both been satiated with what, well, let's not go there. I think I must have looked like Alice in Wonderland with mouth agape and glasses hanging off the tip of the nose and then suddenly the urge to rub one's eyes and go, "Good grief, that's it? That's what women the world over consider a good read?" At that precise moment I must have come very close to contemplating hari kiri.

Let's put 50 Shades into perspective. Everyone agrees it ain't a literary masterpiece. So no one's buying it because it wreaks of Jane Austen-esque quality. Secondly, the two main characters are in their twenties, an age where all manner of sexual shenanigans are par for the course given that one is entitled to live a little in one's youth. Two protagonists of the book are young and therefore beginning a journey of some sort. Perhaps the author considered this very carefully in order to make as much dosh as possible. Sequel after sequel can keep coming before those two make it to 50. But I would beg to argue: sequel after sequel of what exactly? The first book was about two people tortured and angst-ridden. There is only so much torture and angst one can consume in vast quantities in one's life before it becomes self obsessive and deranged and NARCISSISTIC. The plot is about as obvious as that fly floating around in my soup bowl- it is without doubt that he will fall for her as she teaches him to love. And they will no doubt replace the S&M with baby blankets in pink and blue because the prospect of a relationship surviving on one person abusing the other makes for a very sick story indeed and intolerable in the long term or for more than half a nanosecond in my case.

The irony of 50 Shades is that there aren't any, no character development per se. A thin plot about a damaged character and a young virgin discovering sex, mistaking it for love and wanting more, but somehow this is attractive enough to sell to a voraciously hungry and infinite market. Here's the thing: 50 Shades ignores all the tried and tested rules of writing a memorable story- clearly defined characters each with their own arc or personal journey, sub plots with equally memorable characters, an easily recognizable tone or theme running through the story (redemption, trial through adversity, doomed loved etc), a strong opening ("Aujourd'hui maman est morte.", "It was the best of times, the worst of times."). In 50 Shades, we have the following opening: “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.” And there you have everything you need to know about 50 Shades of Grey, the books and the movie: me, myself and I once again infatuated with myself. And quite possibly some of the lowest standards in writing ever on planet earth.

From a philosophical perspective, eons from now, wise men will be pondering the meaning of vacuous, pointless, forgettable prose sent merely to test minds that would otherwise be challenged unless immediately gratified sexually. A bit like furtive sex, trashy literature happens fast and the bang is supposedly worth the effort. A more tragic tinge on the popularity of this senseless book is that women have rejoiced in the bondage scenes which essentially demand a passive female participant. When she's not being told what to do, she's happy to be abused. So much for feminism, that filthy little word. Once again we don't get a strong but bruised female with half a brain, oh no, we get depth greater than entire oceans: “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.” Suppose we switched that first line to: "I would have wanted to cry but felt my heart more arid than a desert."
"J'aurais voulu pleurer mais je sentais mon coeur plus aride que le désert.", André Gide).

The film has been hotly anticipated and is due for release any day soon - hence my overdose of the trailer. Are packs of women expected in the cinemas who will masturbating in frustration in the back seats? Will there be an orgasmic chorus chimed to perfection with the simulated onscreen gymnastics? Truly the popularity of this tiny book is both comical and depraved- a perfect reflection of a shallow, clueless and brain dead populace. Frankly, the whole thing just makes one want to weep great, big tears of sadness, without a drop of sexual ecstasy in any of them.

Study in black and white, oil on canvas, copyright SvD.

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