Feb 122015

As of this writing, Fifty Shades of Grey holds a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 47 on MetaCritic, and a 3.1 on IMDB. Suffice to say, it won’t sweep the Oscars next year. I do predict it will do well at the Golden Raspberries. Its loyal fanbase will probably guarantee a commercially successful opening weekend and a lot of DVD sales, but I suspect it will do poorly in the long run.

I am a little disappointed we won’t see little CGI chibi versions of Dakota Johnson’s subconscious and inner goddess hopping around.

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Apr 032013

Perkins, Lori, ed. Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey. Benbella Smartpop, 2012 Amazon

Much like Christian Grey himself, the Fifty Shades trilogy is everywhere, overwhelming and relentless, dominating bestseller lists, metastatizing into countless imitators, and spawning an entire industry of gifts, CDs, boardgames and other branded merchandise, plus a feature film. Through sheer repetition and ubiquity, we find ourselves trying to accommodate it, even to make excuses for its flaws and offences. Some of the authors in this essay collection try too hard to put a positive spin on Fifty Shades. Even the collection’s  editor, Lori Perkins, says:

Some have wondered how a “classic” can be so “poorly written.” But I contend that it is not poorly written, but rather written in an everywoman’s voice, a necessary part of its success I once worked with an author who used plebian language…. When she returned my edits, she told me that she did indeed know the word “simultaneously,” but when she was fantasizing, she always used the phrase “at the same time as,” and she knew that her readers did as well. [Pg.3]

EL James’ prose is not “plebian” or “in an everywoman’s voice”, it’s just plain bad. You don’t need an MFA to read or write good prose or hot prose.

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Feb 052013

After writing more than 87,000 words on this trilogy (some of it excerpts), what can be said?

Someone once asked me if Fifty Shades had any good points. I thought a moment and said, “It’s very good at making money.”

That’s ultimately what is most baffling about Fifty Shades: its phenomenal commercial success, particularly in light of its inferiority to so many other romance or erotica books on the market. You’d think people had never read a sex scene before. Why it is so popular is a mystery, even after reading the entire thing.

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Dec 192012

Just when I think this book has hit the nadir, that I can’t hate these characters any more, E.L. James exceeds my expectations.

Probably drunk at this point (and it’s early evening), Ana tarts herself up for a meeting with the architect of their new home, Gia Matteo. Ana is convinced that Gia is after Christian, based on the facts that Gia touches Christian’s shoulder once and licks her upper lip before drinking wine. (She’s blond, so she’s obviously a minion of Satan.) Rather than deal with Christian’s abusive ways, Ana doubles-down on her jealousy of every heterosexual woman on Earth who isn’t related to Christian.

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Jun 092012

Despite the cliffhanger, Christian’s mother visiting is rather anticlimactic. Even though she’s perfectly pleasant, Ana feels self-conscious.

Christian switches into steel-hard business mode, and gives her a copy of the contract.

“This is the contract. Read it, and we’ll discuss it next weekend. May I suggest you do some research, so you know what’s involved.” He pauses. “That’s if you agree, and I really hope you do.” He adds, his tone softer, anxious.


“You’ll be amazed what you can find on the Internet,” he murmurs.

For a change, Christian is doing the right thing. He should let her read the contract, and give her time to process all of this new stuff, before going any further.

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Jun 042012

Salon.com has a post on what the role of Fetlife should be in preventing or controlling abuse in the Scene.

Earlier this year, I reported on recent attempts to raise awareness about what some say is widespread abuse within the BDSM community and a tendency to either ignore it or cover it up. As I said at the time, “We’re talking about real abuse here, not the ‘consensual non-consent’ that the scene is built around.” That means safe words being maligned or ignored, and boundaries being crossed. In the months since, the conversation has only gotten louder; and following the social networking site’s removal of posts that identify alleged abusers — most often by their Fetlife moniker only — a petition was started to remove a clause from the site’s Terms of Use requiring users to pledge to not “make criminal accusations against another member in a public forum.” Currently, the proposal has 864 “spanks” (the site’s equivalent of “yes” votes).

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Aug 112006

I’ve been rethinking some of my ideas about Arthur Munby since I got a copy of Barry Reay’s Watching Hannah. For one thing, I found out that Munby did in fact write about switching in his scenes with Hannah Cullwick in his journals.

I have an urge to defend Munby against the criticisms of writers like Reay and Anne McClintock. He wasn’t that bad a guy, I think, and compared to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch or “Walter” from My Secret Life, he was a mensch.

On the other hand, reading this disturbing profile on Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis made me think about Munby. As Susie Bright put it:

Many parent-types have asked, “Why are we at a place where the only way a young woman thinks she can be important or meaningful is to take her top off for a creep’s camcorder?”

Good point.

But many feminist daughter-types have countered, “It’s not the topless part that’s the problem, it’s the exploitation by this prick. If the women took their tops off for their own movie, their own orgasm, and their own point of view, it would be a completely other story.”

I identify with both sentiments. I made a lot of DIY “feminist porn” with my friends when we were young, and never had a single regret, nor would I ever say that “it was all a blur.” On the contrary, we had wildly ambitious goals about what we wanted to say about our bodies and desires. I still do.

Francis’ dirtiest secret is that he traffics in porno-puritanism, in sexual shame. His profit lies in young women snookered into doing something “shameful” that they will want to hide the rest of their lives— once they sober up. They have been ruined— the ultimate GGW turn-on. It’s the frisson of humiliation that makes him, and his audience, hard.

And why, pray tell, is ruination the hottest American Fantasy du Jour?

Francis manhandles the female reporter, then turns on a dime into a sweet talker. Francis’ involvement goes well beyond getting twentysomething girls to flash their boobs on camera. His fantasy narrative seems to be something like: Good girl goes to party, has a little too much to drink, starts acting like a bad girl, gets captured on camera flashing her tits or making out with the girlfriend, and (this is the important part) regrets it later. Without the regret, without the idea that the girl has fallen/jumped/been pushed out of her comfort zome, there’s no appeal for him. Professional models and career party girls who approach Francis leave him cold; there’s no potential for shame or guilt. He’s reminiscent of Sade, writing that there could be no volunteers at the castle in 120 Days of Sodom.

Francis still believes in good girls and bad girls, but he wants to see good girls acting like bad girls, and tearfully lamenting it the next day. That’s his fantasy script, and I don’t think it could be reconciled with consensuality. If she knows what she’s doing, it’s no good.

Munby was fascinated by the idea that no matter how rough and dirty and masculinized a working woman was on the outside, she retained ideal feminine characteristics on the inside. He convinced himself that Cullwick, because of her facial features, had noble ancestry, but was forced by circumstances to do the lowest forms of physical labor. That’s Munby’s fantasy script. Women who were too sexually knowing or aggressive turned him off, as did women who were ladies in appearance and attitude.

I don’t think either of these guys could conceivably settle into the negotiation and consent culture of BDSM. They need the real world power differential, which Munby has by dint of social class and Francis by dint of wealth and fame, and both have because of gender.

I like Munby enough to say that he might be able to step back a little, but I realize that’s wishful thinking. His desires were so specific in their object, and their social/historical context, that it’s unlikely he could be brought into the fold of modern BDSM.