Saturday, March 01, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 17

Honestly, I feel like I could just post the opening paragraphs and have done with this chapter:

The candle flame is too hot. It flickers and dances in the over-warm breeze, a breeze that brings no respite from the heat. Soft gossamer wings flutter to and fro in the dark, sprinkling dusty scales in the circle of light. I'm struggling to resist, but I'm drawn. And then it's so bright, and I'm flying too close to the sun, dazzled by the light, fried and melting from the heat, weary in my endeavors to stay airborne. I am so warm. The heat . . . it's stifling, overpowering. It wakes me.
I open my eyes, and I'm draped in Christian Grey. He's wrapped around me like a victory flag.
Holy shit. You fail creative writing. Unless, of course, this is all on purpose and you're doing some sort of postmodern comment on terrible fanfiction.

That was terrible enough. I was so tempted to just tell you that this is everything you need to know about this chapter, really. But then I remembered our traumatizing previous chapter, with its corrective rape scene and its drunken coercion, and, yeah, we've got shit to talk about.

But hey, hurrah, Christian slept overnight with you, so, you know, that's something, I suppose.

(It isn't.)

"Christian Grey spent the night with me, and I feel rested. There was no sex, only cuddling."

You mean after the sexual assault? Excuse me, sexual assaults.

:: Alright, so Christian has to run off to a meeting, which means, of course, an endless email exchange between the two. Now, this shit is another important example of why I hate this book so much.

Ana sends Christian an email with the actual subject line "Assault and Battery: The After-Effects." She opens with "You wanted to know why I felt confused after you--which euphemism should we apply--spanked, punished, beat, assaulted me. Well during the whole alarming process I felt demeaned, debased and abused [...] I was shocked to feel aroused." She also confesses that these conflicting feelings make her uncomfortable and even guilty.

Now, this is something she should really be discussing with some kind of mental health professional. This can be very confusing for someone. She feels conflicted. She felt violated after it happened. Violated and alone and embarrassed and uncomfortable in her own home and her own body. In other words, she didn't feel safe anymore. She didn't feel like herself. That's the kind of thing that can take a long, long time to process. Years.

Christian's reaction is predictable. He feels her subject heading is "slightly overstated" and says "I'll go with spanking--as that's what it was."

Nope, sorry. You were punishing her and you made absolutely sure that she knew that's what it was. That's why I used that term "corrective rape," because that's what he was doing: he was trying to correct her behavior by raping her as a punishment. Only, you know, without her real consent, so that's not a fun game, that's a terrifying violation.

He goes on to say "So you felt demeaned, debased, abused and assaulted--how very Tess Durbyfield of you." He's totally dismissive of her feelings and refuses to validate them, goes on to quibble over the meanings of words, and lamely (inhumanly) asks "If that is how you feel, do you think you could just try to embrace those feelings, deal with them for me? That's what a submissive would do." You know, because only his feelings matter.

He once again points out that she was aroused during it so... what? No harm, no foul, or something? Again, so we're clear: orgasm =/= consent. That's something people are traumatized by, sometimes for their whole lives: the guilt that comes with having a physical response to a sexual assault. Have you ever met anyone who you knew was sexually assaulted and also felt complicit in it because they responded in some small way? It's confusing and terrible. I have relatives with stories like that. So for Christian to keep reinforcing this point in order to make her feel partially responsible is monstrous.

"You need to free your mind and listen to your body." Go fuck yourself.

He keeps belaboring this point. "For the record, you stood beside me knowing what I was going to do." No, asshole, that's not how it works, especially when you're the one with the power. She had zero frame of reference. There's been no previous context for this in her life. She doesn't know how to be a sub because she's not a sub. She doesn't like it. And you getting defensive about it isn't as charming as EL James seems to think it is.

"You're an adult--you have choices." Except that you're not letting her make choices. Christian barely gives Ana any time to think because if there's a second of doubt she might wise up and break off contact. Oh, she might not sign the contract? Time to rush to her apartment! Oh, she wants to discuss the terms of the contract? Better feed her alcohol! Oh, she feels bad about how I raped her? Better spend the night with her and give her a taste of that real relationship she wants that I'm dangling the possibility of over her head like a carrot, that'll shut her up.

Ana says "If I listened to my body, I'd be in Alaska by now." Christian's response? "I would find you."

Yeah, he's really all about letting her make choices.

The worst part is that Ana's response to this is: "He's right, of course. It's my choice."

Fuck you, EL James. Fuck you. You are not a good person. You are normalizing, romanticizing, and idealing the worst behavior of an Aggressive Narcissist for a legion of readers. You are telling them that when a man controls every aspect of your life, takes your consent and your choice away, and smothers you so you never have an instant of freedom, it's because he wuvs you.

:: "The Audi is a joy to drive. It has power steering." Never stop shilling, right?

:: "The problem is, I just want Christian, not all his... baggage." Well, standing around and hoping it changes is not going to solve that problem.

:: Christian sends Ana a BlackBerry because "I need to be able to contact you at all times." She resents it, as she usually does, but expresses this by having more of that banter that's supposed to be cute, even though she's passively-aggressively teasing him about being a stalker. *sigh* His need to control her is fucking scary.

:: "Generous, over-the-top bastard, isn't he?" Shut the fuck up, Kate.

:: Ana regarding one of Christian's emails: "I roll my eyes at it defiantly." Unfortunately, that's all you ever do.

:: Okay, what is the purpose of Jose in this narrative? They're hanging out again, and Ana is all swept away by how "refreshingly uncomplicated" he is, but I don't understand what he's supposed to represent to her. James treats him like he's supposed to be some sort of example of what men can be like when they're not abusive douchelords, but he still tried to shove his tongue in her mouth and she treats him like a pet, anyway, so what's the point of this guy?

:: Now, the email exchange from earlier pissed me off, but what pisses me off more is this moment. See, Ana ignores an email from Christian and goes and hangs out with Jose. Then she gets a phone message from Christian: "I think you need to learn to manage my expectations. I am not a patient man. If you say you are going to contact me when you finish work, then you should have the decency to do so. Otherwise, I worry, and that's not an emotion I'm familiar with, and I don't tolerate it very well."

So much to unpack there, and so much of it is so, so, so familiar to me. I know I've done this to people, and seeing it written out here makes me feel ashamed and uncomfortable.

I actually have a similar problem sometimes when I go to therapy, just to pick one of a hundred examples. I talked about it with my therapist on Thursday, actually. See, my way of thinking is that when a therapy session is meant to start at 1:00, we start at 1:00. We actually started at 1:09. If she's ever late, I get anxious and nervous. Why isn't what's supposed to be happening right now happening? By 1:04, I'm shaking and tapping my foot on the floor wondering what could have happened. By 1:07, I'm a basket case of anger and self-loathing. Oh, well, if this isn't important, who cares? She obviously doesn't care, so why don't I just leave and give up on therapy altogether? It's only important to me, but since no one's going to help, it doesn't really matter. I can live with it. Then it's 1:08 and I'm just guilty. Calm down, asshole. She didn't forget and you're just assuming, again, that no one cares what happens to you. Maybe she's talking down a patient. Maybe a superior pulled her into the office. Maybe she had an emergency phone call. But see: I always go right to the one thing that reinforces my schema: I'm too worthless for anyone to show up on time for.

It's a roller coaster of shock, anxiety and guilt that takes several minutes to recover from, and during those minutes, I can take out my discomfort on others without meaning to. It's an offshoot of how neglected and lonely I felt as a child, and it happens a lot. But here's the important thing: that doesn't give me the right to take it out on other people.

Ana, apparently, thinks it does. When she hears his message, she feels "suffocated" and is scared as she dials him back, worried about what his reaction will be. "He'd probably like to beat seven shades of shit out of me. The thought is depressing." A few pages ago, she was thinking angrily about what a "patronizing son of a bitch" he can be, and then immediately thought about how he was neglected as a child and felt sorry for him.

But that sympathy is unearned. It's very easy to feel sympathy for a child who isn't happy. But that sympathy does not--should never--extend to the abhorrent things an adult does. I was neglected and unhappy much of the time. Does that excuse me snapping at my therapist or my wife when my expectations aren't met or, heaven forfend, I feel uncertainty for a few minutes? No. Being broken inside does not give you a license to be an unrepentant dick to other people.

It is not society's duty to make your day better.

"Manage my expectations?" That's your responsibility.

Christian is being very abusive here. He worried for a second, so he's mad at her. It's her fault. And she internalizes it, accepts it, and is fearful about the consequences of it it.

And the abuse continues: when she calls, he's "crisply polite." He sighs and seems detached. "He sounds so sad and resigned." I recognize this. This is on purpose. I know, because I've done it, too. It's what you do to make someone feel bad about not lavishing you with attention and reassurance the second you needed it. It's a babyish, manipulative thing to do, and seeing this behavior mirrored by this evil, evil character hits me pretty hard. Because the reaction you should be having to this is not "Aw, he's sad, he needs wuv to redeem him," it's "Christ, what an abusive douche-nozzle."

It's passive-aggressive. It's tailored to make the other person feel like they let you down. And you can do it without realizing it, sure. But it's not sad for the reasons Ana thinks it's sad. It's just another manipulation from an aggressive, narcissistic psychopath.

:: I know this entry is getting longer by the second, but what is it with our pop culture right now and lovable psychos?

I ask this because EL James is setting this up so we can see how Christian is just a broken boy who can be redeemed with love. But what's so redeemable about him? Where's the good in him? Don't give me his philanthropy; that doesn't register at all, plus he's high-handed about it in a White Man's Burden sort of way. He's a rapist. He's abusive. People are obstacles or possessions to him, but certainly not fellow human beings. He's arrogant and manipulative. He has no empathy. He hides his need for control and his desire to hurt women behind a legitimate kink that he seems to barely understand. He condescendingly treats Ana like property that thinks it's people. His only redeeming factor, as we're told repeatedly, is that he's so goddamn good-looking.

That's it. That's all there is. I said this weeks ago: if he looked like Zach Galifianakis, he'd just be a pervert. But he's so sexy, we just have to make some attempt to understand him and give him the benefit of the doubt that his traumatic past is responsible for all his weird issues, and he just hasn't been loved enough to save him yet.

In other words, beauty = good. You know, the same way orgasm = consent.

Lady, I mean this with all the caring I can muster: go to hell. Go directly to hell.

It's another way that reading this book is like being on Tumblr too long. Jeez, look up almost anything about Loki on Tumblr. I saw someone get into a huge argument because "Aw, poor Loki, he's so sad and handsome and he's sorry his mother died so he's worthy of redemption," and when someone said no, he doesn't get to be redeemed, that same person flipped out and did the Tumblr equivalent of screaming because fandom is unreasonable. This other person did a great job of saying, no, Loki unleashed a horde of alien invaders on Earth and was responsible for all of that death and destruction in New York and Asgard and elsewhere simply because adopted daddy didn't love him enough, and you don't get redemption when you're a fucking mass murderer just because you have floppy hair and pretty eyes, it doesn't work like that. The fact that so many people attacked him for saying that shows the weird power of beauty = good. If Loki were played by Crispin Glover, no one would be having that argument. He's complex because you can understand his motivations; that makes him tragic, but it doesn't make what he does any less evil.

(Incidentally, these are the same people who are weird about Hannibal. You know, the ones who are trying to make mental illness into a fetish and insist that Hannibal's a sociopath because he cares too deeply, or some such shit, which is not how sociopathy works.)

It's this whole Darcy thing, I think, because he was such a bastard at first and was then redeemed. But you're misunderstanding Darcy. Darcy came across as a bastard because of his social difficulties. But he was always a good person with great qualities, like loyalty and love for his family. He often does the right thing simply because it's the right thing. His problem isn't that he's all broken and dark; his problem is his behavior, which is brusque, unlikable, and insulting. Lizzie calls him on it, and he changes his demeanor. He softens. Not because Lizzie loved him, but because she called him out on his rudeness. He redeems himself. He makes himself worthy of being loved.

Christian Grey? Nothing. There's nothing there. He's not a good person in any way.

Stop falling in love with psychopaths. You deserve better.

:: Meanwhile, Kate and Elliot are being demonstrative and gooey all the time, something Ana rolls her eyes at and gets annoyed by. Right. Because their relationship is the problematic one, I guess.

:: Listen to how amazing their new apartment is: "It's all solid wood floors and red brick, and the kitchen tops are smooth concrete, very utilitarian, very now." A mere inch later, Kate is "all tight jeans, T-shirt, and hair piled high with escaping tendrils." Whoa, it's like reading Proust, all descriptive and typed words, very manuscript, very printed matter.

:: Ana and Kate get a housewarming bottle of Bollinger from Christian, and Kate angrily wonders how he even knows their address. You're fucking his brother, Kate. Constantly. His brother knows your address.

:: Anyway, Ana goes over to Christian's place for their first Sunday, still never having signed the contract, and then he invites her to a family dinner and has a private doctor over for her exam because he's not going to wear any more condoms. Ana privately marvels over how much it must cost to get a doctor over for a private sesh on a Sunday afternoon, but come on, Ana, you've seen his apartment and his cars and his office, he takes care of his things.

Christian's apartment, by the way... she wants to make it sound very elegant, but EL James is such a bad writer.

Here, you deserve some eye candy for sitting through all of this bullshit. That's Alain Delon in a movie I watched yesterday afternoon, La Piscine, which was marvelous. It's a beautiful-looking movie. So many French movies from the sixties have impeccable art direction. (Another great example: Purple Noon, also starring the beautiful Alain Delon.) Watch those movies and see what style and class really look like. And also complex characterization. And terrific acting. And... hell, just see those movies and fuck this book. Chuck it in the bin.

So, you know, a day after that movie, it's hard to care about James' vague descriptions.

Where was I? Oh, right: the doctor. The actual exam is in the next chapter, so there's your hook for next week, I guess. (By the way, that will be chapter 18 of 26, so we won't be done with this damned thing until the end of April. Because you demanded it, dear reader!)

Ana is nervous at having an exam in front of Christian. He says he won't be in the room but "I'd pay very good money to watch, believe me." Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Are you one of those people who gets turned on by medical procedures and wounds and stuff like that? Because ew.


And hey, if you need help recognizing the signs of abuse or any resources for help with domestic violence, go here. Living in fear is not true love.


Carl said...



Roger Owen Green said...

Seriously, our therapist ALWAYS starts at 4:09 for a 4:00. I think it's the 50-minute hour of therapists.

phoniexflames said...

Oh sweet fucking lord, this is so much the DEFINITION of domestic abuse that I couldn't even make it through your post. It's just... It's fucking unsettling to read, to KNOW what it is, and to KNOW that women that read this book thing its erotic or romantic.