…Or, as I like to call it, Fifty Shades of Poooooooo, with “pooooooo” being lengthened for extra disgust.
Pp. 48+: Christian and his brother Elliot go mountain biking. James’ bed-to-bed problem becomes glaringly apparent in sections such as this one. She treats us to Christian’s conversation with his housekeeper about what he wants for breakfast, the invitation from his brother, the talk during which Christian orders some mountain bikes through one of his servants, the drive to the mountain biking place, during which nothing happens and Elliot sleeps most of the time. The mountain biking expedition, dwarfed by the extensive inane conversation beforehand, takes up one paragraph, maybe two.
What is the point of such bland, useless scenes? They reveal nothing about the characters or the plot. We don’t need to know that Christian got up, talked to Elliot, got some bikes, traveled to the mountain biking location, then started biking. The scene during which he and Christian are biking shows him obviously biking, so clearly he had to wake up, eat breakfast, get bikes, and travel in order to end up in the mountain biking scene. Nobody cares how he got there, and all this bilge should have been cut by James’ editor.
P. 53: Ana drunk-dials Christian and then abruptly ends the call. “She hung up on me! I stare at the phone in disbelief. No one has ever hung up on me. What the fuck!” Wait a minute, Christian. Slow down. I didn’t quite catch that. Are you saying that Ana hung up on you? And what’s your reaction? Are you shocked? …Because I’m still not sure. This paragraph in no way gives me enough detail to surmise how you’re feeling. Say it once more for the people in the back.
P. 54: Everything under the sun pisses Christian off. During the scene where he stalks Ana and takes her back to his place from a bar, his voice is “arctic…as [he] wrestle[s]” with anger at Ana’s behavior, while his brother’s glee over Christian finally being interested in a woman prompts the internal exclamation of “Oh for fuck’s sake!” [both quotes on p. 54] Arriving at the bar where Ana and her friend Katherine are hanging out, he judges Katherine “an exasperating woman” for flirting with Elliot [p. 55]. He sees Anna’s acquaintance Jose assaulting her, which prompts his “cold and sinister” intervention as he restrains himself from “smash[ing] the disappointment off [Jose’s] face” when Jose sees Christian cut in [p. 56]. He picks Ana up in his arms and judges her “surprisingly light,” which “irks” him [p. 57]. Is there anything at which he doesn’t get angry?
In the strangest, most trivial example of his huge problem with anger, Christian thinks that Jose is a”[f]ucking idiot” [p. 56] because he jumps out of the way when Ana starts barfing her guts out. I am not sure why. Jose may be a repugnant character, but even repugnant characters don’t want to get throw-up on their shoes. Jose’s reaction to Ana’s sickness illustrates nothing except for a general human response to someone else’s enthusiastic gag reflex. It’s not a sign of a contemptible character. It’s just an mostly involuntary response. Christian’s antipathy toward it suggests that he has some deep-seated problems with physicality and bodily functions.
Christian’s responses to Jose have no appropriate moral scale. He does not insult Jose as a “[f]ucking idiot” [p. 56] after he sees Jose disrespect Ana and violate her physical boundaries by sexually assaulting her. No, he just thinks, “Hell! She’s with the photographer.” [p. 56] He uses a mild curse, which seems to correspond to the minor weight he assigns this interaction.
By contrast, Christian reserves his most contemptuous language — “Fucking idiot!” [p. 56] — for Jose’s reaction to Anna’s projectile vomiting. In other words, sexual assault receives a response of annoyance, while jumping out of the way of puke receives a virulent, outraged condemnation. Christian seems to think that the involuntary avoidance of airborne barf is a worse, more unforgivable transgression than sexual assault. I’ve analyzed James’ “troubling inability…to assign the appropriate ethical weight to” things before actually, when I was reviewing this stalking/barfing/ “rescuing” [i.e., Christian takes Ana back to his house] scenario from Ana’s viewpoint in 50 Shades. And lo, here it is again.
For all the aspects of 50 Shades etc. that I have criticized, its fundamental moral vacuity disturbs me the most. Throughout the series, in moments like the one above, James demonstrates her belief that disrespecting someone’s autonomy, agency, and worth isn’t that big a failure. These moral elisions occur throughout James’ works, across her cast of characters, without anyone in the narratives calling them out as bad. Thus I believe that she herself [and not just her cast] considers said vacuities unobjectionable and acceptable. I conclude that she doesn’t support the idea that all people should respect one another. Instead, I suppose, she believes that people only earn respect based on whether they perform according to her approval. I know that such self-righteous, judgemental people exist; indeed, the world is full of them. However, experiencing such insouciant inhumanity so in the form of a popular media franchise alarms me deeply. The fact that there are some people who think it’s self-evident that the twitches of their gag reflexes should serve as the world’s moral code scares me.
P. 63: Christian finds sleeping next to [as opposed to sleeping with] “an alluring young woman…a new and stimulating experience. My cock agrees.” Remember how I said that Christian talks to himself, but doesn’t seem to have a subconscious or an inner goddess the way that Ana does? I was wrong. His inner goddess is his penis. I assume that he’s referring to an erection when he talks about his concurring cock, but all I can picture is a little dude attached to Christian’s pubis, like a very small conjoined twin, looking over at Ana sleeping, then giving him a little thumbs up. Very weird.
P. 66: Ana, waking up in her underwear, says, “You didn’t have to track me down…”
Christian’s insufferable internal monologue goes, “Whoa! Now she’s pissed. Why?”
Hmmmm, why would Ana be pissed at Christian? Perhaps because he stalked her using illegal technology, teased her and guilted her after she was sexually assaulted by Jose, then bodily carried her off to his car when she passed out, took her to his house, removed her clothes while she was still unconscious, stuck her in his bed, then slept next to her without asking her if anything of this was okay. Maybe because he has equated humiliating violations of boundaries, consent, privacy and bodily integrity with affection and caring. Maybe because he’s arguing that abuse is love.
P. 97: Christian shows Ana his room of sex toys, as well as his exhaustive, ridiculous “contract.” After scanning it, Ana asks for a definition of “hard limits” and then says, “I’m not sure about accepting money for clothes. It feels wrong.” It strikes me as odd that Ana, who has absolutely no sexual experience and knowledge, not even of masturbation, skips over all the novel and unusual bdsm activities and goes right for the clothes. I would expect her to make some sort of remark about the activities included in the “hard limits” [like, perhaps, “Wait a minute — there are people who are into peeing on each other?!”]. Then again, since Ana does accurately analyze Christian as a control freak, I can see how she would pick up on one of the non-sexual ways in which Christian tries to use this “contract” to exercise total control over the people he’s banging.
P. 106: They’re having sex. Christian thinks that he’s going to make Ana “come like a freight train.” What a nonsensical comparison. Nobody says that. What does that even mean?
P. 109: Christian puts his penis in Ana’s vulva. His internal commentary goes, “F. U. C. K.” Uh…well…I’m glad he can spell, I guess. This is the eighth or ninth time in a two-page spread [108 and 109] that some form of “fuck” comes out of Christian’s mouth. Once it’s a verb, but the rest of the time it’s an exclamation. Man, talk about a limited vocabulary. It’s tedious.
P. 110: Ana finds it entertaining that Christian asks if he hurt her. He realizes that she thinks it’s funny on account of having just seen his room of painful bdsm toys. He remarks, “The irony is not lost on me.” Yes, it is, Christian. You wouldn’t know irony [or humor, for that matter] if it came up to you in tap shoes, dancing, waving semaphore flags, and setting off fireworks, while singing, “Hey hey, I’m Irony the Magnificent!”
P. 114: Christian refers to “sexual congress.” Yet another example of James’ inability to create a convincing voice for a 28-year-old college drop-out billionaire circa 2011.