50 Shades of YHBTSo I recently read 50 Shades of Grey. I had heard it was terrible but you want to find out for yourself just how terrible things are. And I was delighted to find that far from being terrible, 50SOG is a work of genius.
Wait what? I hear you say. Isn't it one of the worst-written piles of nonsense ever foisted on the reading public and aren't you supposed to be a good judge?
Indeed but here's the thing. If you are reading 50SOG as a serious attempt at literature that falls flat, you are doing it wrong. It is in fact a stunning parody. The writer has run a huge troll on the reading public and has coined it in doing so.
It takes the romantic novel trope of the ingenue who is swept off her feet by the hard man, unleashing the romantic side he has up to now been hiding because he's afraid of being taken for a ponce, and ramps it up to 11. The ingenue is ridiculously disingenuous: she is not just clueless about men to the extent that she doesn't worry about the dude's stalking her, raping her and assaulting her; she is clueless about everything. But it turns out this shy virgin has no gag reflex and is an expert knobgobbler.
Yes, people, she is a dream woman. She doesn't need to be shown how to be great at sex, she just is. She is totally passive. The dude tells her not to touch him and instead of laughing full in his face, she does what she's told. Upon being shown a list of kinks, she's slightly alarmed by butt plugs. Slightly alarmed! Lady, you had your first fuck on Sunday and now it's Thursday and you're wondering whether you would or wouldn't like a chunk of plastic up your arse (hint: you wouldn't; protip, begin with a finger and see if you like it).
Now where can I meet women like this, I want to know? Well, nowhere, and that's the point. And even if I could, I'd need to be a helicopter-flying, hard-charging bazillionaire to get in her lacey knicks.
What I do know is that EL James is very aware that romance novels are inherently patriarchal. They sell women a myth that they should be what men want and what men want is passive women with no discernible qualities except a willingness to suck us off on demand. Or so I'm told. Contrast with the romcom, which takes the approach that the hard man will really like you if you're a complete bitch, so long as you're pretty. Oh wait, that isn't a contrast at all and it's no surprise that romcoms are so often written by men.
James does leave clues. My favourite was the sentence that went something like this: "Oh Mr Grey, you are naughty fellow!" she said with an exclamatory tone.
Yes, she thinks you're an idiot. She thinks you could not figure out that Ana had an exclamatory tone from the, erm, exclamation mark she deployed but needed it further explained. But get in on the joke. Obviously, James does not think you are an idiot. She is parodying the by-the-numbers awful writing that is foisted on you in romance novels.
Perhaps the best part of this work of staggering genius is the dark secret. The romantic novel hard man has to have a secret, obviously, because underneath the abusive rapist is the lovely bloke all women believe is hidden by the exterior arsehole. Come on, you do. Why else did you spend so many years of your life trying to change men who shit on you (literally if they could get away with it)? See, men aren't fooled by other men. If a dude seems to be a wanker, he's a wanker. He doesn't have hidden depths. He really is the bastard he seems to be. We don't do complexity. We wear ourselves like coats.
So anyway we're not totally sure what the details of Grey's secret are yet (I'm guessing you have to read all three books to find out) but we know it involves cigarette burns and a crack whore mother. But of course. He would be lovely if he hadn't been abused. Again, this is a myth men like to propagate. We'd be completely well adjusted and lovely if it wasn't for our mothers and other assorted women who have treated us like shit. Well, sometimes women treat us like shit, but we're arseholes because we're arseholes and we're fooling no one.
Except for those poor souls trolled by 50SOG.