Abusive undertones leaves ‘Shades’ lacking

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Jennifer Manalili

This year’s literary hit glamorizes a destructive relationship

Arguably the biggest phenomenon to hit bookshelves and e-readers this year is “Fifty Shades of Grey.” CNN reports that between March and July the erotic novel sold over 31 million copies worldwide, with 20 million in the U.S. alone, and the number is still growing.

The origins of “Fifty Shades” are rooted in “Twilight” fan fiction (stories written by fans of a specific band, show, movie or book and usually published on the Internet), where author E.L. James — then known as Snowqueens Icedragon — plucked Edward Cullen and Bella Swan from vampire folklore and moved them to a BDSM love story she dubbed “Master of the Universe.”

Bella is reimagined as Anastasia Steele, an insecure, naive college student and virgin who’s never had a boyfriend or even touched herself before. She nicknames her subconscious her “inner goddess,” a reference she makes a total 58 times in the first book alone.

Enter Christian Grey, James’ excuse for Ana’s sexual awakening. Imagine a combination of “Batman” star, Bruce Wayne, with “American Psycho” Patrick Bateman’s issues, and you’ve got the man that women worldwide are swooning over.

Grey is extremely attractive and known as Seattle’s most eligible bachelor. James attempts to give him depth. He is a billionaire entrepreneur — Christian says he makes $100,000 an hour — but even with his cars, planes and expensive penthouses, Grey is lonely. He’s neurotic, has no friends outside of his adopted family, has never been in love and hates to be touched — the last dates back to trauma he experienced as a child at the hand of his drug addicted prostitute mother and her abusive pimp.

For something that has to be marketed under the guise of erotica and sold shrink-wrapped in plastic to keep curious eyes at Wal-Marts across the country away, the book is an utter disappointment. The sex scenes aren’t sensual or dirty but tiresome and redundant. James is a horrible writer, her love scenes reminiscent of a child trying to write about sex.

Ana refers to Christian’s voice as “Warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel … or something” and being “caught up in his cool vanilla spell.” At one point she even refers to his penis as a “Christian Grey flavored popsicle.” I can imagine 13-year-olds giggling over this, but grown women swooning? The irony of it beginning as fan fiction is that James could’ve simply logged onto a plethora of fan fiction sites, read better stories and learned how to write that way. If you have read anything, and I mean anything remotely sexual in the past, this will prove underwhelming.

So if it’s not hot or sexy, lets talk about what “Fifty Shades” really is: a lackluster plot masquerading as erotica, a story romanticizing an abusive relationship between a deeply insecure girl and a controlling egomaniac.

Let me be clear: Christian is not screwed up because of what he likes to do in the bedroom. And I can only imagine how those involved in the BDSM community resent James for portraying a BDSM relationship as unhealthy and abusive. From the beginning, it’s an inaccurate portrayal because Ana doesn’t like the pain Christian inflicts on her. She feels guilty for safe wording and only partakes in the activities because she thinks it’s what Christian wants and will make him happy.

Christian is an a–hole for treating Ana the way he does: stalking her, trying to control her outside of his “playroom,” being possessive and cruel, and openly admitting he’d like to beat her throughout the story. After they are married, the behavior continues. When Ana sunbathes on their honeymoon, Christian is enraged that she would do so in front of their bodyguards. He seethes when he finds her best friend Jose has lent her a jacket on a cold night. She must ask him for permission to go out drinking or to see her friends.

Ever the a–hole, James tries to forgive his behavior by making him spew ‘romantic’ lines like: “I want you … and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.”

We all might know an Ana, a girl who’s fallen for a bad boy who controls her, who won’t listen to what she has to say and whose behavior will go excused because like Christian he may be messed up but he ‘loves’ her.

But this is real life and all “Fifty” does is romanticize these sentiments. How many women are reading this book and growing inspired to stick with their own emotionally handicapped bastards so they can wait out fairy tale endings? How many of us have known women with this mentality? Women who choose to stick with men who are damaged, dangerous, threatening and destructive in the hopes that they will be the special snowflake that can cure him with their magical love and change him.

I’m glad women are beginning to feel confident in their sexuality — just look at the year’s other big success, “Magic Mike,” and it’s clear. But ladies, can we stand up for something that has substance next time? Can we stand up for something that’s actually good?