Sexualized Saturdays: Creating vs. Consuming Problematic Media: The Fifty Shades of Grey Effect

“It’s okay to enjoy problematic things!” This has become a rallying cry in fandom, and I’ve seen it crop up most recently amongst the Star Wars fans. Fandom wars have already flown into full swing shaming people who ship Kylo/Rey, and while it is admittedly a very problematic ship (and will be more so if they end up being related), it’s also people’s prerogative to ship what they want as long as they understand the canonical issues with their relationship. Each person who participates in a ship or a fandom has to weigh the good against the bad, and the final call—is this something I’m willing to accept with its flaws, or is this too much for me—is a deeply personal one.

Unfortunately, unlike fandom, where The Discourse rules all and people tend to err on the side of policing the problematic aspects of fanworks, the Powers That Be seem to have a mentality along the lines of “this sold well; people must want more of it” that precludes the possibility of refining the product in any meaningful way. Basically, when something problematic becomes popular, there’s such a rush to cash in on that popularity that, while fans are having discussions of how to improve the original work, those who create and propagate the media are popping out clone after issue-laden clone, replete with all the problems of the original. And nothing is quite as emblematic of this issue as the cultural phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey.

fifty-shades-greyVaguely NSFW image and text below the cut.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Twilight and Fifty Shades of Abusive Relationships

Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are two of the most polarizing books that I have ever been unfortunate enough to read. It’s important to remember that it’s all right to enjoy something with problematic material. You just need to be aware of why it’s problematic. I’ve read and liked a lot of stories about abusive relationships—even recced a fic or two—but the biggest difference between reading fanfiction with glorified abuse and the Twilight and Fifty Shades books are that these fic authors are actually aware that their stories feature abuse and use disclaimers accordingly. Fanfiction is also often less about telling a cohesive story and more about expressing interpretations to already preexisting works of art. It’s not the same as writing for cash and putting a copy of their work in every bookstore out there. Stephenie Meyer and E. L. James don’t seem to realize the abuse they wrote, and what concerns me about their novels is that they do trick real people into believing that abuse—sometimes even rape—is a sign of love. Both these stories are incredibly misogynistic. They mistake abuse for love, sometimes even use love to excuse abuse, while also encouraging male entitlement and female submission.

Spoilers for both Twilight and Fifty Shades below, as well as a trigger warning for suicide, abuse, rape, and unhealthy relationships.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Fifty Shades of Understanding (Hopefully)

Two years after my first read-through, I realize I still have a complicated relationship with Fifty Shades of Grey. Perhaps it’s a bit embarrassing to say so, but I don’t think there’s any series of books I’ve devoted more time to than E.L. James’s train wreck of erotica, and still in no ways do I consider myself an expert on the lifestyles of Anastasia Steele and her wanna-be dom, Christian Grey. In fact, when finding the correct spelling of our heroine’s name just now, I landed on the Fifty Shades wiki, which I literally did not know existed until this moment. (Why we need a wiki for this, I have no idea.) It’s true that in some respects I appreciate the novels for making discussions of female sexuality and BDSM more accessible and acceptable to an audience, and have gotten many people to explore facets of their sexuality that otherwise would have gone unnoticed or ignored. However, this by no means excuses the series from its blatant framing of abusive relationships as part of the BDSM scene or as desirable, and it certainly doesn’t hide the fact that the misconceptions as perpetuated by Fifty Shades are, unfortunately, more likely to come up on a Google search than, say, the advice of people who know what they’re talking about.

While unwitting women and girls spend time looking for their Christian Grey and predatory men use this glamorized brand of abuse to draw in uninformed partners, many people are trying hard to expose James’s every creepy string of lies and romanticism woven between the books’ pages. While I have critiqued and sporked (see: critiquing in a humorous fashion) a fic or two in my time, Fifty Shades is a task too daunting for me to take on myself. Luckily, thanks to some very devoted folks online, I don’t have to.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Between Prudishness & Abuse: Feminists, Christians, & Fifty Shades of Grey

Being a Christian feminist, I navigate a minefield of issues. I often find myself in this weird state where I’m not really accepted in either circle, so it makes life difficult. On the rare occasion that Christians and feminists agree on something, you think I’d be the first to start cheering. However, it seems sometimes even when these two groups agree with each other, they really don’t. Case in point: the recent and growing popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight fanfic turned popular movie franchise. While many people, both Christian and feminist, hated the book, the movie is sure to bring the story to a wider audience, causing both groups to worry about how this popular piece of geek culture is going to affect our society.

50_shades_of_Grey_wallpaper-1 Even though both groups agree that Fifty Shades is a problem, many Christians are now using it both as an opportunity to kink-shame and slut-shame, and as an attempt to bring back archaic and sexist notions of chivalry.

Both the pictures in this post and the frank discussion of BDSM are NSFW.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Ace’s Top 10 Headcanon Asexual Characters

Asexual flagWell, it’s that horrible, horrible time of year again, when Lady Geek Girl forces all of us here to list our Top 10 fanon and canon pairings, successfully turning our blog and mission of equality into a giant shipping war for a day. This post, however, is not that list. You’ll get that later on today, but in the meantime, let’s talk about asexual characters. Asexuality is not well represented in popular culture, and when it is, it’s not represented very well. Unfortunately, this leaves me with very few characters I can related to sexually. Coming to my rescue, though, are headcanons. Headcanons are hardly the same thing as representation in the source material, but at least they’re something.

So without further ado, here are my Top 10 characters who I think could be asexual.

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Fanfiction Fridays: An Unexpected Reward

This foreboding trek of mine all started with a conversation I had with Ace a couple days ago. It was an innocent conversation, an innocent question with undertones far more sinister than I could possibly fathom.

“Are there any Twilight/50 Shades of Grey crossover fics?”

As someone who has read the entire trilogy of 50 Shades and has a small grasp on the events of Twilight, I had an idea of what I would be in for. However, until reading what would spawn from a union of the two, it would be impossible to say just how terrible it would get.

I Wish I Could Quit You

I Wish I Could Quit You

And honestly, readers, I want to tell you that I found the most sexually explicit, vile, terribly written fic I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I want to link you to a debauched story about how Anastasia Steele met Edward and became a vampire so that they along with Christian and Bella could have a BDSM foursome with bloodplay and probably something about werewolves on the side, but I can’t. It brings me great pain to say this: everything went better than expected.

Save for around five fics—three of which were in languages that I had no way of checking the sincerity of—the authors of all the 50 Shades crossover fics seem to have realized just how ridiculous not only the original novel was, but also the idea of forcing the rules of their universe onto any other universe. It’s an extreme case of ‘don’t cross the streams’, but damned if some people did it anyway. What did they get for their efforts? For my efforts? Well, I don’t know about them, but what I got were three hilarious parody fics. I’m sharing them all with you guys today because, to my great displeasure, they all managed to finish their experiment in one chapter.

The first one that caught my eye, and this may be giving away my highbrow sense of humor here, was the more-aptly-titled-than-I-thought Fifty Farts of Darker by Teresa Greyjoy. Rejoice, Game of Thrones fandom! You’re the first victim!

Taking the place of the unwitting Anastasia and the ever-stoic Christian are Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryeon and instead of BDSM we have… well, you can probably guess the kink from the title. Aside from the sheer absurdity of this crossover, what I love most about this is how perfectly Lyanna reflects Anastasia. Clearly Teresa Greyjoy has read the books enough to create a perfect replica of Miss Steele in the Stark woman. It’s also more engaging than the original 50 Shades, somehow. If Teresa wanted to continue writing this story, prime piece of literary real estate that it is, I would gladly read on. I might die from laughing, though.

This second one grabbed my attention from the simple “what the fuck” factor caused by the series chosen to crossover with. While Eighty Four Shades of Grey may give the impression of the kink du jour being age, instead it relates to the fandom. What I’m saying is that firebird377 crossed 50 Shades with 1984. If there was a series I would least expect to be ravished by the shades of grey, it would be this one. However, the result is hilarious and ends exactly how you would want it to and expect it to (given that you’ve read Orwell’s original novel).

But how could I be content with just these two treasures when I finally came across what I had been searching for all along? Yes, The Unlikely Meeting by giselle-lx combines the characters of the two series, making a statement in the meantime that maybe these protagonists really aren’t all that different in the end. As opposed to the other two fics, this one almost word for word replicates the first chapter of the original 50 Shades, but while exploiting its inherent ridiculousness, it also pokes fun at the stupid tropes that seem to be present in every paranormal young adult fiction these days. I think my favorite exchange in this fic is the following:

“Lie back on the desk, Miss Stolen,” he commanded, and his fingers fumbled for his steel grey tie.

“Why?” I murmured, but my Goddess was already telling me in a Goddessy way, to do it.

“Because,” he muttered, “if I don’t start to have sex with you now, there will be too much plot.”

Isn’t that just perfect? I am terribly disappointed that giselle-lx didn’t continue on with the parody, but my life will be forever changed with the parts they did gift the internet.

Perhaps I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but if I can put off losing the remaining faith in humanity that I somehow have just that much longer, I may as well take that opportunity. Don’t think my search stops here, though! I will find that terribad crossover fic yet! Even if it kills me. (If you know of one, please, by all means, link me to it in the comments.)

Yes, I'm Still Searching. Don't Look At Me Like That.

Yes, I’m Still Searching. Don’t Look At Me Like That.

Fanfiction Fridays: How to Do Satire Right

It’s no secret that I harbor a love for the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and I have read through the first two with glee—the third one is completely awful, and considering which series this is, that’s saying a lot. I love it for the grammar mistakes that somehow made it through editing. I love it for its characters that provide hours of sadistic critiquing pleasure for me and my friends. And I love it because I honestly think it represents the small beginnings of a shift, not only in general literature, but in the acceptance of our own sexuality. Yes, I may be my own fifty shades of snarky bitch, but I can give credit where credit is due.

I can feel the worry mounting in your mind, readers: this is Fanfiction Fridays and I’m here talking about Fifty Shades—something is wrong. No, something is so very right. Today’s fanfic is not that of a character study, nor one of exploring anything that the original story has to offer. It is, instead, a satire and a freaking hilarious one at that.

Author Bristol Fashion takes a poke at the titular characters, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, in their 51 Tints of Granite in just about the best way I could have asked for. It is insanely simple to make fun of this series, that much should be clear, but to exaggerate the story into such a parody of itself is truly a wonderful feat that had me almost in tears from laughing so hard. As someone who has read the series, I can say that Bristol’s re-writing sounds exactly like what was happening in the story as narrated by my inner thoughts.

As the story is told from Anastasia’s point of view in both the actual novel and the fanfic, the readers get some delicious truths from our eternally oblivious heroine. For instance, after an e-mail where Christian says he’s going to stalk her because he doesn’t trust her, this is her reply:

Wow. How do I interpret that?! He got mad, then apologized, then made a HILARIOUS joke. Ugh. He is so complicated. He makes my brain hurt like that time I tried a Sudoku puzzle. Even though I minored in math, that puzzle had me completely frazzled. I should just stick to the crossword puzzles from Highlights magazine from now on. Those are more befitting of my English major status.

The sad thing is that this kind of monologue isn’t even that far off from what E.L. James’s Anastasia does. In fact, it’s spookily accurate. That’s what I appreciate most in this fic: the characters are still in character. In fact, every exacerbation of the main text Bristol does, it’s so so very easy to find an exact companion to it in Fifty Shades.

It’s like I’m reading the story how it was meant to be read. (There is no way that Christian is not a creeper and bless Bristol for bringing that out in him.)

If you’ve ever been on the edge about reading Fifty Shades, but don’t want to sit through 300-some pages of Anastasia being in awe of the world around her, talking about her inner goddess, or Christian being an overprotective psychopath, read this fic. I can say from experience that literally everything in this fic happens in the novels and you won’t have that nagging sense of self-loathing after reading it.