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.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Have We Learned Nothing From Indiana Jones?

I saw the Jack Reacher movie the other day. Now, before anyone harps all over the diminutive casting choice, I have not read the books. After the movie initially came out, and seeing the furor and the obvious popularity, I did pull one off the library shelf. After reading the dust jacket, I promptly put it back. All of the blurbs read like too much Marty Stu guy fantasy fulfillment, and the movie, while for the most part entertaining, did nothing to disabuse that notion. While I will spend two hours on a movie that does that, the time invested in a book is another matter.

(I used to read things like that back when I was younger; I just grew out of them after a while. Which is not to imply I "grew up" or anything else, just that tastes change as we get older. A trip through the cd's that have been sitting in a box in my closet for years will demonstrate that.)

But I did have one major problem with the film, and something I hope was Hollywood insertion. At the climax of the film, in the midst of the big action scene, Reacher has just gone several rounds of both gunplay and hand to hand with the big bad's burly henchman, and has finally managed to mostly overcome him. A henchman who has spent a good deal of the film attempting to kill - often successfully - numerous people, including the hero and the leading lady. A henchman whom, there is no doubt, our hero will have to shoot.

Now, just to further the Raiders of the Lost Ark comparison here, the leading lady is, at that very moment, in danger. It would behoove our hero to be done with the henchman as absolutely quickly as possible, as decisively as possible, before the bad guy kills the leading lady.

Fortunately, in the ensuing struggle, Reacher has wound up with the gun, whereas the henchman has not. Reacher has him point blank, and all he has to do is shoot.

Which is when he throws the gun away in order to go mano a mano in fisticuffs with the guy.

I'm pretty sure that's the moment I yelled at my tv.

Now, I know there are certain conventions in the movies. Cars blow up, even when someone just bumps the fender. Heroes shake off concussions like they've been okayed to play by the team doctor. Every explosion is a gas explosion with a giant fireball (see the aforementioned car). I accept this, even though I know it's wrong, and it's okay. It's called suspension of disbelief. (Also a Michael Bay film.) Even so, I would think we had put to rest this dumb as a post macho need to go fist to fist with the bad guy when we can just *shoot* the guy and it's expedient to do so.

Even Andrew Dice Clay knew better than this in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Yes, I am citing the Dice Man as a supporting reference here. That's how put to bed this trope should be. It does not prove the hero is a manly man. It does not demonstrate a sense of honor (which, it should be said, Indy has, to a certain extent, as did film Reacher, but they both demonstrated a great deal of flexibility with that, too). All it demonstrates is that they put testosterone (because this is by and large a failing of male heroes. Female heroes seem much more willing to just shoot the bastards, and rightly so) over the need to do what they should be doing in the first place.

Which, I will remind you, was saving the person Reacher had deliberately gone there to rescue in the first place.

So please, Hollywood and writers everywhere, learn from Indiana Jones: just shoot them.