A Cartoon In A Cartoon Graveyard

There is a lot of discussion about the book, and now film, 50 Shades Of Grey on various writer’s communities.  The general consensus seems to be one of incomprehension. Stripped of the oft sparkling invective there are two points which seemed to be central to any discussion of the work:

  1. The events described therein are abusive, not romantic.
  2. The work itself is written in a stilted, unrealistic style.

I submit that it is the latter point that allows the work to be accessible despite the former point.  The violence is, as it were, cartoon violence.

There are works that describe abusive and controlling relationships that are well-written.  John Fowles’ The Collector, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita.

All of those books are very hard to read.  They are gut-punches, books with a strong emotional impact that lasts long after the last page.  And while all of those books are often discussed by critics and debated in Literature classes, none of them have had the mass appeal of the 50 Shades series.

Some stories, I believe, are best told badly.

Or perhaps I should say that some subjects are easier to deal with via a stylized, unrealistic aesthetic.

Recently I rewatched Raiders Of The Lost Ark–one of my favorite films from my youth–and I was struck by just how violent it is.  Indiana Jones kills a lot of people in that movie–several times as many as Francis Dolarhyde kills in Red Dragon. The violence in Raiders is cartoon violence, however.  It doesn’t have the emotional impact, and it is not intended to.  The bad guys die neatly, shot off moving cars, and are gone, never to be seen again.  There are no consequences because the audience doesn’t seem them as real people, just as “bad guys”.

In the same way I believe that the abuse in 50 Shades Of Grey is cartoon abuse. Christian and Anastasia aren’t mean to be real people–they are cartoons.  Does the book promote abuse?  I don’t think so–readers of the work know that none of this would work in the real world, just as they know that  real world you can’t really cling to the outside of a submarine from Cairo to Sardinia.

Fantasies are often things that would be unhealthy and dangerous in the real world.  Honestly, I don’t think that women who enjoy 50 Shades Of Grey are at any more risk of entering into an abusive relationship than men who enjoy Raiders Of The Lost Ark are of going on a shooting spree in a crowded bazaar.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Cartoon In A Cartoon Graveyard

  1. Oloriel says:

    I would say that you hit the nail on the head with what you exposed here. It reminded me a little of the people who always boldly claim that playing computer games makes me violent.
    I believe that the current state of the populace mind and the the way in which we are trying to evolve to handle actual, real life abuse cases, is what is making this whole topic and it’s showing sensitive. I believe that is why the movie is sparking and outrage, because of our current inability to see it and grasp it as cartoon abuse, when we are in real time trying to work to solve the real abuse.
    I do not personaly think the book can and will coerce many into abusive relationships, because our minds are a powerfull thing. Just like in dreams, when you are dreaming of getting hurt, it is an abstract pain, unfeelable, it is only an image present in your sleeping head. Same is with sexual violence. it might appear appealing when you sit in your chair and imagine being spanked by a man in a suit, bruised, hit, but it feels entirely different in reality.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I agree, and I think that the books are unrealistic enough that they will be taken as fantasy. I suspect that there will be a number of women who want to try out BDSM play with their current partners, or look for partners for that sort of play, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to use 50 Shades as a blueprint for a relationship outside of the bedroom.

  2. I mean, the thing is that I’ve read dozens of articles saying how dangerous Fifty Shades is, and how it’s teaching the wrong lessons and how it’s romanticizing abuse, and so on. But I can’t remember seeing any news stories of beaten or abused people whose attackers cite Fifty Shades as an inspiration. Or, conversely, beaten or abused people who cite Fifty Shades as the reason why they didn’t seek help in their situation. So I really like your reasoning, because it really makes a lot of sense. A muscular billionaire isn’t going to drop out of the sky to seduce some random, naive college student, not matter how pretty they are. Although it would be kind of awesome if that happened, because then the media would go crazy with the Fifty Shades comparisons and probably work themselves up into a frenzy, which would be fairly amusing to watch.

  3. LindaGHill says:

    50 Shades is like this: imagine Dracula and Mina in the roles of the 50 Shades characters. Mina is a 21 year old virgin who has never even thought about having sex. Never. She meets Drac and he tells her he’s going to take away that pesky virginity for her because 1) he’s a bad guy and 2) he feels like it. So without as much as a whimper she goes with him and he does just that – because she’s convinced she can change his evil ways. See inconsistency in character here? It gets better, because by the end Mina has grown fangs, not because of the evil blood he’s given her but because she’s decided to compromise and pretend that she’s evil too. Meanwhile, Dracula is bouncing kiddies on his knees in his robe on a Sunday morning because love conquers all, including evil, manipulative monsters. Think Young Frankenstein without the elaborate brain transfer.
    Thing is, and I know I’ve said this before, young women ARE taken in by it. There are real, actual, Christian Grey fanatics. There are 51,213 members on the facebook Christian Grey Fan Club. As you say, any adult with a brain in their head is brushing it off. But there are real monsters of the narcissistic type out there who do prey on people. And now they have a new crop of airheads who believe they can change the monster with love. It’s scary, I tell you! Scary!

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I do agree that there are sociopaths that prey on vulnerable women (and men), but I don’t think that this particular set of books is likely to influence anyone to accept as normative an abusive relationship. There are far more insidious works on the internet, “slave manuals” and “guides for submissives” and what have you.

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