Saturday, December 21, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 7

I read part of this chapter in a Carl Sagan voice. I realize that yesterday was the anniversary of his death. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

So: the playroom.

It's a straight-up torture chamber. That's all there is to it. Let's not soften things by calling it a playroom. Let's not obfuscate here. This is a torture chamber. EL James can describe all of the things she ever looked up online about BDSM, be they real or exaggerated--whips, chains, shackles, the Saint Andrew's Cross (though she doesn't call it by name), the ropes, the restraints, canes, paddles, riding crops, carabiners, canopy bed, and "funny-looking feathery thing"--but it's not a house of mystery and eroticism, because there's nothing mysterious or erotic about this book. It's a torture chamber. And because you're wondering, Ana, the couch in the room is probably for an audience.

It's not that he has a torture chamber that actually bothers me. It's that she describes the effect of the soft lighting and burgundy-and-wood decor as "womblike." Oh, and "soft and romantic."

This whole thing is turning out to be 50 shades of psychological sex problems.

I can't wait for the mechanical "I looked this up on Wikipedia because I was afraid to go to a BDSM chatroom" descriptions of their... well, let's not degrade sex by calling what they're going to do sex. It's not even going to be BDSM. This chapter makes it absolutely clear that EL James doesn't know anything about BDSM. Let's just call it torture. Or abuse. Abuse seems more accurate.

Ana says she's feeling fear (and in the same way she felt desire this morning by having to think really hard about what fascinating sensation she's experiencing this second; "I recognize it now.") but she's just so blase about everything. Her reaction seems less like fear and more like she's just saying "Bondage... huh." It shouldn't be surprising that James can't make fear any more tangible than any other emotion. She seems more fascinated by how ornate and well-crafted the bed is than any of this other stuff going on. Even Christian gets annoyed.

Here's a moment that actually really bothers me. She basically asks if he's the dom or the sub by asking "Do you do this to people or do they do it to you?" And he's actually taken aback and says "People? I do this to women who want me to." It just reads to me like... remember in the interview when he was truly, deeply angry at Ana's suggestion that he might be gay? It's like more of that. Like he's just offended at the idea that he's not in here torturing women. Which is just more of why I hate this character so much. Wait, I have a psychotic desire to own and hurt women that far exceeds what healthy BDSM play actually is and goes right off the deep end to abusing and torturing women because of what are clearly some deep-rooted mommy issues, but I'm not some kind of DEVIANT!

I hate this guy so much, and I hate Ana for thinking he's so fascinating.

"If you have willing volunteers, why am I here?" "Because I want to do this with you, very much." She thinks to herself "Why?" and I have to say, I have no fucking clue. She tells us she's depressed at the thought that he likes to hurt women, but after he explains the difference between being a sadist and a Dominant (which, in his case, seems mainly to be a level of arrogance), she "realizes" that she really wants to please him. Which is sort of obvious to everyone here, because so far she's done literally every single thing he's ordered her to do.

(Here's a tip, ladies: when a guy never asks you to do anything, but instead always says "I want you to...", you're being commanded, not asked. Being asked ends in a question mark and gives you the dignity of choice.)

"I want him to be damned delighted with me." More Elizabethan prose. She says she doesn't know how he wants to be pleased, which, honey, look at your immediate surroundings. I know you only read [classic British literature], but how naive am I supposed to believe you are? You never "borrowed" your mother's copy of Outlander or something? Lots of spanking in that book. Seriously, there's a level of naivete I find believable in a character who's basically a cat lady with no life experience, and then there's just fucking stupid.

"I have rules, and I want you to comply with them. They are for your benefit and my pleasure." Notice that he didn't say our pleasure, because he doesn't care about whether you enjoy it. That's not the point. "If you follow these rules to my satisfaction, I shall reward you. If you don't, I shall punish you, and you will learn." That sounds about as romantic as the Old Testament.

"So you'll get your kicks by exerting your will over me." She totally smacks of that person you know who had to take Psych 101 for a degree requirement and then thinks they have everyone's behavior figured out immediately. Like when she kept dismissively (yet triumphantly and even smugly) saying "control freak" over and over again. You haven't even scratched the surface of what's going on with this guy.

"It's about gaining your trust and your respect, so you'll let me exert my will over you. I will gain a great deal of pleasure, joy even, in your submission. The more you submit, the greater my joy--it's a very simple equation." No, it's a very simplistic explanation. And, again, all I'm hearing is what he gets out of it. What does Ana get out of it? And how are you planning to gain her trust and respect when you're basically just throwing her into this? Dude, you have to ease into this. Basically, you've just kissed once. Oh, and she used your toothbrush. That's pretty much all that's happened. You don't go right from tonguing in an elevator to tying her down and caning her.

(I feel like John Cleese as the master in Meaning of Life.)

All of this is actually making me wonder a couple of things about Christian Grey. First, is this the first time he's ever done this? I mean, his torture chamber is awfully clean and sterile for someone who likes to do this. Has he just been waiting for the one person to come along and finally do it? He doesn't seem experienced at all. (I know this is largely an authorial failure, because EL James clearly has no idea about the world of BDSM, and is now going to have to pretend--but probably not too hard--to be well-versed in it.)

And second, is this the only way he can get off? By hurting people? Because... look, I know some men think they're into sadomasochism and being dominant, but if you talk to some of those guys long enough, it becomes clear that what they're really about is just beating women and making them subservient and making them feel bad about themselves. It's not bondage, it's abuse--physical, psychological, and emotional. I can't stress enough that these are not the same thing. BDSM involves open communication, honesty, and consent. BDSM is a consensual power exchange that's built on trust. I know Christian told her that he wanted to gain her trust, but if he did, he wouldn't be hardselling her now on what is literally their first actual date.

Christian Grey is an abusive asshole hiding behind a legitimate kink and consent-based lifestyle to justify his desire to control and hurt people.

He just wants her to give him power over her.

"Okay, and what do I get out of this?"

"Me."

Ugggggghhhhh. This is when she should be barfing. Dude, no, that's just... NO. You arrogant shitstreak, no.

You know that you can't actually force someone to love BDSM, right? I know she's a people pleaser, but the fact that she's so self-righteous about it kind of says to me that she doesn't actually have a good sub personality. This is not going to be a good partnership. And yes, even if you're the dom, it's a partnership. The sub gives you her (or his) submission. It's not something you take. It's about someone having enough trust and faith in you to willingly relinquish their control. That's another key point James has no idea about at all. And you respect that, you asshole.

Then he shows her the room where she'll be living on the weekends, which Ana describes as white, cold and sterile, but at least it has a great view. And she kind of thinks it's okay, but she's also horrified and she thinks he's a monster because he's into torture, which is not what makes him a monster. What makes him a monster is his terrible approach to it. Then he reprimands her (author's word) again about getting so drunk last night, and leads her by the hand back to the living room so they can eat, like he's some kind of Dracula.

This is the worst thing I've ever read, and I've read Dianetics.

For some reason, Ana noting that Christian is cutting up a "French baguette" just made me laugh. You mean it's not Persian? Did he have the baguette flown in directly from France. Is it the morning's first loaf. Cheese, sausages, soup for breakfast? (If you recognize that line, I love you.) Oh, yes, there's cheese. The housekeeper left cheese for supper. Which, really, you might want to fire her if she thinks that's supper. Cheese is not a meal. Do you hear me? Cheese is not a meal.

(Sorry; need to get my laughs in where I can, because this thing will drive you to drink.)

Well, at least he's honest when he says he doesn't want a "real" relationship with her. I think he's being less honest when he says he's done this fifteen times before. Bullshit. At his age? Two, maybe. But I still don't buy it. I guess it's hard for me to see him as intimidating when I'm so much older than him, but come on, he seems so inexperienced when he talks about this. He's also too eager for it. It's like you can see him quivering with excitement that he's finally going to get to see real boobs. He's like a Jack in the Box with one note left, just waiting for the handle to turn that final time. Because, you know, there's just something amazing about her, and he's like a moth to the flame. No, he actually says that. That cliche actually comes out of his mouth. "I'm like a moth to a flame." Jesus, calm down, you're going to spill it all over your carpet. And then won't the housekeeper who thinks cheese is a meal like some kind of fucking lunatic have a real lousy day at work?

No, no, all fifteen of them totally exist. I met them at Niagara Falls. You don't know them.

Forget that moth to the flame bullshit. That's just manipulation and lies. Because as we're going to find out from his set of rules, she could literally be anybody, because nothing is going to be about what she wants. She's an instrument for Christian to pleasure himself. Don't fool yourselves. If he has an attachment to her specifically, it's because there's something about her--her innocence, whatever--that he's going to get off on making subservient, abusing, and destroying. That's the dark shit that the author isn't smart enough to recognize.

Ana, like any reasonable person, wants to know more about what's going on, and she's surprised when she asks if he's ever been beaten and he says yes, he has. Then he changes the subject before he can say "Yes, by my foster mommy, and now I think it's love and I am just so screwed up inside and need therapy."

She's still so blown away by all of this dark shit, but, I have to be honest, it really doesn't bother me on the surface. It's hard for me to get all worked up by just some bondage and S&M. I fully admit I'm a pervert, but I'm at least a well-adjusted one. I don't hide in the dark all ashamed for getting off on two consenting adults playing games. Who cares? Life is really, really short, guys. However roughly they want to do it, whatever people fantasize about, whatever they get off on, whatever pleasures they wonder about, as long as they're not hurting anyone, who am I to judge? Remember what Luis Bunuel said: fetishes have no meaning except that they are fetishes. This outlook of mine is why I don't get all caught up in these stories where we're meant to be shocked. James Franco wrote a whole thing about the Michael Fassbender movie Shame and how ridiculous it was that we were supposed to think Fassbender's hunger being so strong that it extended to getting his dick sucked by a man was all dark and psychological and shocking. He's right. It's the reason why, on one level, Eyes Wide Shut is hilarious: because Tom Cruise spends the movie trying to get laid simply because he feels like he lost his manhood simply because Nicole Kidman felt lust for another man that she never even acted on. Dude, if you're that insecure and amazed by perversion, you need to just stay inside with your doors locked all the time, because there are sites on the internet that will fuckstart your brain.

Anyway. That movie... I saw that again last weekend, and that's a whole other rant waiting to happen.

But for now, this shit.

Yeah, I don't have a problem with the idea of BDSM, I have a problem with the way he's framing it as basically being about him and not about what she wants at all. So Christian hands her a copy of the rules, which are insulting, but also really funny.

Now, these rules I'm not going to alter, because you have to see this shit. I'll bold them, because I'm going to be commenting all over this shit.

Obedience:

The Submissive will obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities which are outlined in hard limits (Appendix 2). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation.

Basically: do everything I say no matter what it is, have sex any way I want you to no matter what, and you have to like it. That's this whole thing. This whole rule of his. That's not consent. It isn't. It's basically saying "You give me permission to rape you and you have no decision in the process at all."

There's nothing about a safe word in there. Where's the safe word? Safety and trust, asshole. Safety and trust and consent. Boundaries must be respected at all times. There's nothing respectful here at all.

By the way, even if she signs something, I don't think there's any way this can hold up in court. It's cute that it's all official-sounding and in legalese, but this is not a legal document. He's basically asking her to sign over her free will. That's not a thing that legally you can do. It's not going to protect him from the law if he accidentally kills her. (His money probably will, though, because life is horrible.)

Sleep:

The Submissive will ensure she achieves a minimum of seven hours sleep a night when she is not with the Dominant.

A real dom doesn't need control over your sleep patterns. An abuser does. An abuser wants control over every aspect of your life. This is not BDSM. Stop acting like it is, people too stupid to know any better.

Food:

The Submissive will eat regularly to maintain her health and well-being from a prescribed list of foods (Appendix 4). The Submissive will not snack between meals, with the exception of fruit.

Okay, so he gets to control your appearance and when and what you can eat? Deal breaker. Walk out right now. This is abuse. This is not respectful. Why are you not getting that he has no respect for you? This isn't sex. This is slavery. This is asking you to sign a consent form to be his slave in all aspects of your life. This... this is not a legal document.

Clothes:

During the Term, the Submissive will wear clothing only approved by the Dominant. The Dominant will provide a clothing budget for the Submissive, which the Submissive shall utilize. The Dominant shall accompany the Submissive to purchase clothing on an ad hoc basis. If the Dominant so requires, the Submissive shall wear during the Term any adornments the Dominant shall require, in the presence of the Dominant and any other time the Dominant deems fit.

What the actual fuck? He gets to dress you, too? Don't you understand that it's not about you and how he just can't stay away from you? Because according to these rules, you could be literally anybody in the world. He doesn't require a personality, he just requires a body, because he's going to shape that person into what he wants them to be, no matter what. Again, this isn't about consent, this is about doing what he says and being okay with that.

I bet she doesn't get to keep the clothes, either. He just wants to dress her up when they go out. If she gets to keep them, they'll be gifts, and that's basically prostitution.

Exercise:

The Dominant shall provide the Submissive with a personal trainer four times a week in hour-long sessions at times to be mutually agreed between the personal trainer and the Submissive. The personal trainer will report to the Dominant on the Submissive’s progress.

Personal Hygiene/Beauty:

The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times. The Submissive will visit a beauty salon of the Dominant’s choosing at times to be decided by the Dominant, and undergo whatever treatments the Dominant sees fit.

Personal Safety:

The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs, or put herself in any unnecessary danger.

I'd just be repeating myself commenting on all of this. This is all so insulting. By the way, this last part isn't about safety. Safety would be serious discussion of boundaries, limits and safe words. But he won't have any of that. For him, safety is about smelling good, tasting nice, not puking, and not getting your legs broken (probably unless it's by him).

(Aside: I bet he's read American Psycho nine times and thinks it's a manual, like most business fucks in America today. I bet he owns memorabilia from the movie version. The raincoat, probably.)

Personal Qualities:

The Submissive will not enter into any sexual relations with anyone other than the Dominant. The Submissive will conduct herself in a respectful and modest manner at all times. She must recognize that her behavior is a direct reflection on the Dominant. She shall be held accountable for any misdeeds, wrongdoings, and misbehavior committed when not in the presence of the Dominant.

Okay, her behavior does not reflect on you directly, especially if she's just out with friends (if she's even allowed to do that by the terms of his contract). And she's not accountable to you unless you've agreed on that, too, especially for whatever she does on her own.

The thing is, actual BDSM, which this is not (this is actual slavery), is about trust. He even said it was about gaining her trust. And to facilitate trust, you need real communication about the parameters of your relationship. Writing down what you want and then forcing her to agree to all of it is not trust. Having to write it down is actually the thing you do because you don't have trust.

Failure to comply with any of the above will result in immediate punishment, the nature of which shall be determined by the Dominant.

Boy, you really need to talk about what forms punishment can take and she has to agree. You cannot leave it vague like that. That's not fair to her, and you're going to go too far if you don't know where the limits are.

Ladies, never enter a BDSM sexual relationship with a man who is this vague about punishments. Also, never enter into a BDSM sexual relationship with a man who thinks that his control over you extends to your dress, your hobbies, your exercise, your hygiene, your sleep patterns, your diet, or your private life. It can, but that shit has to be agreed on beforehand, not "as we go along." And if it's an "as we go along" situation, there needs to be actual discussion about whether it's a one-time thing, or whether you're experimenting, and other limits, because it can't all just be at his whim and you have to do it no matter what. Trust me on this, okay? You cannot just give someone all of this power and then decide it only counts part of the time, because that's confusing. It needs to go both ways. Open communication, not just agreements to things you haven't fully defined.

And do you know what Ana's biggest objections to these rules are? She wants to work out three days a week instead of four, she's annoyed at the idea of waxing "everything," and she thinks accepting money for clothes feels wrong.

Those are her biggest objections.

Those are the things she has a problem with.

He demands that she exercise four days a week under his indirect supervision because he wants to keep her strong and supple so he can torture her sexually, and what she hears is "Ugh, four?" (Christian's one and only concession is that she can take it down to three days, instead, after which he calls her "a good negotiator" in what I can only assume is meant to be sarcasm.)

It's important that we note that this is not a contract about what they get to do in the bedroom. This is an agreement to give up your free will and make yourself subject to a man that you are having second and third and fourth and fifth feelings about but whom you have a hard time saying no to because OMG SO HOT.

It's also important that we remember that he's already made her sign a nondisclosure agreement, which she did without even reading it. So when she signs this--and she tells us in the narration that she knows she will--not only does he get to control every aspect of her life, she can't even tell anyone about it. I'm amazed he doesn't require her to live there full time, because what if she's ever out in the world and suddenly realizes that maybe she's entitled to actual autonomy?

Christian then outlines his "hard limits," which are basically no fire, no piss, no shit, no cutting, no needles, no gynecological medical stuff, no children or animals (which isn't a limit so much as a law, you fucking bag of dicks), no electric currents (yikes), no breath control, and my personal favorite, nothing that leaves any permanent marks on the skin... or as I like to call it, "evidence."

Now, to her credit, at least she realizes there's probably something wrong if he has to write all this stuff down. (Seriously, ladies, if your guy has to write down "don't fuck children," that's probably a red flag, because who forgets that?) But then this chapter ends in stupidity and confusion even more stupid and confusing than the stupidity and confusion so far: he asks what her limits are. And of course she doesn't know, because she's never been in a relationship before. And Christian freaks the fuck out about it. He's actually angry that she never told him she was a virgin. Which, first of all, you've only known her for a couple of days, so it's no surprise it's never come up before. I know you have to be a stereotype and think she's been leading you on, but I'm not buying the outrage here. You targeted her specifically because she was inexperienced enough for you to push her around. You know why? Because a mature woman with actual experience wouldn't put up with your bullshit. So don't get all pissy with me about you not knowing something about her that you never even gave her the chance to tell you.

It's not like you care about who she is as a person in the first place, you fucking liar.

She doesn't know what she likes in a relationship because she's never been in one. The only way she's going to figure it out is if they do something and she doesn't like it. And if she doesn't? Well, that's too damn bad, because this contract makes it impossible for her to refuse anything.

Wow, yeah, this is certainly an erotic romance, you guys.

This was both the longest and shortest chapter so far. The longest because there was so much to unpack, and the shortest because it was only 10 pages long, ladies and gentlemen.

You made me read this, Carl.

I am going to have you shot into the sun for this.

4 comments:

Autumn said...

See we've hit the biggest problem I have with these books. Which is where she completely gets BDSM wrong, and then they do some mildly kinky stuff, but all the time they are trying to "Fix" him. I don't think there is anything wrong with BDSM, and they turn it into this....thing that you are supposed to find all hot and kinky but really you just want vanilla. And there must be something wrong with someone who does like it, he must have been abused or just never been in love or he wouldn't be into all that.

I'm sorry I'm so excited for you to give your opinion on the sexy stuff, because I also just want to tell you to give up now.

Roger Owen Green said...

Well, the good/bad news is that youve finally started to get to the crux of the book.

I actually thought of a non-fiction book for you to read, and I would buy it and send it to you, but then you'd have to actually read it, and you've already suffered cruel and unusual punishment.

Carl said...

I emailed Aaron privately yesterday after multiple attempts to post here. I'm attempting to again for the public record:

Should you wish to stop reading, I COMPLETELY understand.

As I interpreted the quality of the book from multiple third parties, I thought this would only be a step down in quality and integrity from the Twilight books. I did not think it would be an entire flight down into a dank basement where you would be dwelling in a pit where a deviant lowers lotion to you in a basket.

If this is worse than Diantetics, I can only assume that it holds a special place in Satan's library, and that a worse cult than Scientology will arise from it.

I do know one thing: I doubt you'll put this book down. It's already in you to finish this. I only ask that you keep afloat of it, and occasionally read an L. Frank Baum book to be your balm... (Pun intended).

I also know that Kate is curious about your impression of the fucking.

This book is VILE. Shower often, and with as many abrasive cleaners as you can get your hands on.

Kelly Sedinger said...

To those fearful for Our Stalwart Host's sanity: I did send him a GOOD book with which to cleanse his mind after this. If he can FIND his mind, that is, after it breaks free of his head and runs away shrieking.