50 Shades of Here We Go Again

Warnings: The Fifty Shades series is extremely sexually explicit and involves BDSM. Because of that, and because they are not exactly well-researched or high-quality literature, I will mention things such as abuse, rape, rape culture, male dominance, sexism, relationship violence, and consensual BDSM. Also, the books began as Twilight fanfic, so I will be mentioning Twilight (which is a major squick for a lot of people just by itself).

I don’t know how your weekend was, but mine was a whirlwind of dress rehearsals and performances.  My son’s jazz band competed on Friday, followed by a full day getting ready for the first of my kids’ two dance recitals, which was yesterday.  My head is still spinning.  I’ll blog about the weekend tomorrow, but I didn’t want to deprive you all of my weekly Fifty Shades commentary.  You’re welcome.

I’m still stuck on this chapter in which Ana drinks too much with her mother, Christian shows up because he’s a stalker, and he and Ana have sex in the only scene that passes for something with a positive message.  Now we’ve arrived at the (literally) bloody aftermath of their coupling, and instead of enjoying the moment, Ana gets distracted by her curiosity.

It’s not the fact that Ana’s curious that bothers me–it’s her timing in asking Christian about it.  She notices the scars on his chest and realizes–gasp!–that those are not, in fact, chicken pox scars (duh).  They’re cigarette burns.  Amazingly, Ana leaps to the conclusion that Mrs. Robinson might have put them there.  Because it’s not enough, of course, that Mrs. Robinson is an abuser who turned a fifteen-year-old kid into her submissive.  Now she must also be prone to stubbing out her cigs on his chest.  That makes complete sense.

I’m not one to defend Mrs. Robinson here.  Clearly an adult in her thirties or forties who thinks BDSM sex with a teenager is a good idea is not a woman I want anything to do with.  I have zero sympathy, and I think Christian is pretty warped for thinking that relationship was anything resembling acceptable.  I do not, however, think that automatically makes her the sort who would inflict burns on her partners.  What she actually did is plenty bad enough without making further assumptions.

That said, the rest of this conversation between Ana and Christian is entirely disturbing.  Ana pushes Christian to explain himself, which he claims to be doing only to gain her trust.  Apparently, trust is a one-way thing and a tool for manipulation.  That is, he doesn’t care about trusting her, he only wants to make sure she trusts him so that she’ll comply with their agreement.  Good luck with that, Christian.

Ana, on the other hand, also doesn’t seem to actually care about Christian.  She just wants to know things about him because she feels like she’s in the dark.  She doesn’t leave me with the impression that she is genuinely building depth into this relationship.  She feels sorry for Christian, but it doesn’t seem to have triggered the kind of healthy concern normal people experience with their partners.  The whole thing has an unbalanced quality to it, as though this exchange is some kind of business transaction.  In a sense, that’s what this relationship is, but the story is set up to convince us it’s deeper than that.

Christian finally says his involvement with Mrs. Robinson steered him away from his destructive path toward becoming, as Ana puts it in her mind, a “crack addict or whore.”  He claims Mrs. Robinson “loved” him in a way he found “acceptable.”  This is apparently because his adoptive family was perfect and he was not.  Ana asks if Mrs. Robinson still loves him, and he says not the way she did.  I must stress again, however, that Mrs. Robinson did not love him.  Not then, not after it was over, and not in the now of the story.  At least, not in any way that resembles something good.

Anyway, they go back and forth on this issue some more.  I’m on Team Ana this time–I think the (apparently married, at least at the time) Mrs. Robinson is a predator, and the whole thing disgusts me.  We’ve now also arrived at the part where E. L. James most blatantly equates past abuse with BDSM.  She’s attempting to dive into the psychology of it without actually having any real knowledge of her subject.

It’s always hard for me, as I read this book, to figure out where the line is between bad writing and bad philosophy.  I honestly can’t tell if Ms. James believes what she’s written or if she’s just failing to express something.  I could probably write a whole blog post–heck, a whole series of posts–on how the way we use words reflects something much deeper than we may realize.  It’s those complexities that turn a ho-hum story into something that strikes a chord.  On the flip side, a seemingly bland novel (even an erotic one) can suddenly become an unintentional mirror of our own wrong thinking.

By the end of Ana and Christian’s talk, during which he’s threatened to spank her–presumably for some kind of insolence–he’s crossed the line on defending Mrs. Robinson.  If I were Ana, I would hightail it to the nearest exit.  Sadly, she doesn’t, and they continue their conversation until it morphs into bathtub sex.  Good job sticking to your boundaries, Ana.

Just three more chapters to go, folks.  I’ll pick things back up next week with whatever is happening in chapter 24.

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