Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Defense of Something I Didn't Really Like

I'm just going to put this out there:

Picking on 50 Shades is starting to feel like teasing the developmentally disadvantaged kid on the playground.

Look, is it great literature? Oh hell no. Twilight may have actually been better written, and that's saying a lot. (Yes, I've read them. At least enough to get a feel for them, anyway. Didn't finish either, in total honesty.) Then again, considering that was the source for the fanfic that was 50 Shades origin story - like Peter Parker before he got bit - it's also somehow not all that surprising. The plot was problematic in its essential glorification of an emotionally abusive relationship (not that it was original in this *cough*), and there are issues with how it portrays certain aspects of sexuality and even the mechanics of safe sex.

So yeah, it's a bad book, and yeah, it making the splash it did was the equivalent of hitting the lottery in terms of luck and timing.

I'm not saying it didn't deserve a certain amount of sarcastic disassembling, because it did.

But I'm starting to feel that we - and here "we" includes a number of people in the writing community that I talk to - that we're all busy patting ourselves on the back for how much more clever we are for mocking it. We sit around and we point and laugh and congratulate ourselves on understanding just how bad a book it was, as if somehow seeing the fifty car pile-up on the freeway is the equivalent of being a great mechanic. Myself included at times. Worst of all, the discussion often just waits to turn that mockery from the book itself to the people who read it and unironically liked it.

All of which misses one of the most salient points of the whole thing:

No matter how bad a book it was - and, again, it was - people read it. It entered the zeitgeist, and put erotica into that same mainstream sphere. And before anyone gripes that there was erotica before, sure, there was. How much of it got read publicly? Acknowledged publicly? Turned into a freaking movie with a section in Target??

If for nothing else than educating that section of older women - like one of my coworkers - that hey, there is actually more to sex than missionary and hey, there's nothing wrong with that - I think the book can be cut some slack.

Yet it feels like there's a curb stomp waiting to happen for anyone who speaks up and says they enjoyed it.

But people did read it. Droves of people. A lot of them enjoyed it, and not just desperate middle-aged divorcees who had to look up the terms in the dictionary (that would be my coworker). And if it opened their eyes to an entirely new genre (for them), then more power to it.

Where is it written that just because something becomes popular, that opens it up to even more disdain? Which I think is part of that whole "we're so much more clever" motif is coming into it. You're not allowed to like the book in certain circles. There must be something wrong with your judgement. Don't you know there's so many other better books out there?

Forgetting, I think, that a lot of what's popular is, in fact, not particularly sophisticated entertainment in the first place. Big Bang Theory, what few episodes I've managed to watch, seems about as accurate to geek culture as 50 Shades was to the BDSM community. Yet those same people who rail against the latter don't seem to have as much problem with the former. Moreover, popularity for a less well done thing can lead to increased exposure for things in that same vein that are better done.

"You liked that? Well, here, you should like this, and you might get a little more out of it."

Or even, "You liked that? Well, here, this is like a new and improved version of that. You should like it, too."

So I hope the movie does well.

I hope it gets mocked mercilessly, too. I still think the movie is begging for the MST3K treatment, though that speaks more to Hollywood than anything else. (Yes, I'm perfectly capable of holding two contrasting ideas about something.)

Yet I also hope that somewhere between there a conversation gets had about abusive relationships and why they get glorified so long as the guy is broody and "dark" and handsome and a conversation about all the better erotica out there. Because this is one of the things you can do with that piece of "bad" media. You can use it as a bridge to other things. You can talk about issues that sometimes get lost when something isn't labeled as "bad." Gone Girl is in many respects extremely problematic in terms of its own portrayal of abuse in relationships, yet no one really talked about that because everyone was busy oohing and ahhing over the artistic merits of first the book and then the film. Admittedly, 50 Shades doesn't have a whole lot of artistic merit, and maybe that can be a good thing.

Then when all of this is done, when it all blows over and we're on to the the next thing, good or bad, we can actually talk about whatever new issues that thing raises.

Once we're done with the sarcasm, of course.

1 comment:

Patricia Baxter said...

Your point about using 50SOG to start conversations about abusive relationships is an excellent one. I tried it with some friends. Have to realize, some people aren't going to listen, but others did get in on the talk and appreciated the angle of what a healthy relationship looks like.