Best Minds Destroyed By Stupidity

Last week, all the best women writers were writing about 50 Shades of Grey, so I played around with the idea of writing something to join in the discussion. I downloaded the first two books in the series and read 2000 pages of extremely badly written erotica. Really badly written. Embarrassing prose. Cut and paste sex scenes with two profoundly boring individuals. I cannot tell you why this trilogy is popular, except that Kindles, the new brown bag for chick porn, make it easy to secretively read this stuff. 

Anyway, everybody was debating what this book means for feminism. (I'm too bored with this topic to even bother hunting down the links.) This book doesn't tell us anything about feminism, anymore than Snooki or Madonna tell us anything about feminism. It is just what it is. Badly written erotica. 

The only message about feminism that I got from this collosal time waste is that women writers are still in a ghetto where we feel compelled to write about certain topics. Naughty, witty, snarky, pop culture bits are fine in small doses. But can't we write about something else? 

I'm pouting right now. And not in a bite-my-lower-lip sort of pout. Just really annoyed. 

30 thoughts on “Best Minds Destroyed By Stupidity

  1. People are buying it because they think other people are buying it. Like Tickle-me Elmo.
    Has anyone writing on this topic listened to rap music lately? I am not a rap music fan–I only researched this topic when my daughter went through a rap phase. She went through the phase because it was popular in her middle school (affluent, upper-class community, btw.)
    Our children are listening to explicit, degrading lyrics. Yes, they understand them. They watch the slasher films and R-rated adult films Hollywood puts out. On video, they can (and do) watch anything. The local movie theaters do seem to check ID for ages, but the same movies are available as DVDs.
    The cultural products on offer are coarse. I’m more worried about Saw (up to six installments! in 3D!) or the typical Disney Labs Product Development Curve (Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, et al) than spicy romance novels. Even badly written accounts of intimate acts between consenting adults aren’t a threat to civilization.

  2. Well, I think what it tells us about feminism is that women do like to read about sex, in many iterations, on occasion, and that online downloads + kindles make that possible, in a way that was socially unacceptable in other times.
    I haven’t read these books, so I can’t talk about them, but I guess the feminist question would be to talk about whether it is a good or bad thing that women want to read about sex in the form the books include. My main objection to porn in the form of movies and pictures has been concern about the women in the pictures/movies, and this objection doesn’t apply to the women in the books (since they are fictional).
    Do we need to be concerned about the affect of the fictional women on society?
    And, if it does, it is true that the availability in electronic form of porn in all its versions makes the issue more relevant to everyone (i.e. no need to drive to seedy sections of town to pick up porn). Kids have access to way more then the fairly gentle harlequin romances I read as a kid. I guess, since my daughter has a kindle, she could download this book and read it. Hmh, reason to remember that I’m still monitor those kindle downloads pretty robustly.
    I’ll have to think about whether I should have more concern about my daughter watching the shows in the “Disney development curve”? Actually, they watched a series of them on our plane trip on Saturday and I was pretty disturbed, particularly by the one where a girl watches a series (instead of homework) on her computer when told that she couldn’t watch the show. Need to have a discussion with the kids (and point out to them that I monitor everything on their computers and will find it).

  3. I’m more worried about Saw (up to six installments! in 3D!) or the typical Disney Labs Product Development Curve
    The two might not be as far apart as you think!

  4. I think there’s an interesting contradiction between what women want erotically and what they want the other 95%-99.99% of the time. The desires that many women have in the erotic sphere do not have much to do with the rest of life. In the erotic sphere, the desire to be swept away and dominated is very common (hence the wild success of literature that reflects that fantasy). Meanwhile, outside the erotic sphere, women do very much want things their way. Of course, there’s a further paradox that the desire to be erotically dominated may mask yet more striving for control, so that submission may be disguised domination.
    Florence King has a review of a couple of Sylvia Plath biographies where I found the following quote from FK: “For all her insecurities, Plath was the kind of American woman who gets a lock on femininity by saying, in effect: “Listen, buster, I’m giving you five minutes to dominate me, and if I’m not dominated by then, you’re toast.”

  5. I have no idea what 50 Shades of Gray is about, but based on the title, I can’t help but wonder if the main characters suffer from “madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”

  6. I agree with Cranberry. This is nothing more than the internet-age version of getting “Valley of the Dolls” on the NYTimes bestsller list: strategic book-buying at stores whose sales stats fed into the calculation plus lots of her own time spent on publicity.
    Only “Valley of the Dolls” benefited from real editing. By all reports the writing was no better quality than what we see today with “Fifty Shades”.

  7. You know, if you think about it, people reading crap like 50 Shades is no different than people frying their brains on the most inane reality tv or sitcoms like 2.5 Men. I mean, you could watch Community, or you could watch Two and a Half Men, and you choose the latter? That’s a sign of the fall of civilization if ever one existed.

  8. I don’t interpret Laura as considering “Fifty Shades of Gray” to represent the fall of civilization, or a danger to “the children,” or anything of the sort. I interpret her concern as being that this trashy book, unlike, say, the typical sitcom, is being read primarily by people like her, i.e., well-educated, literate matrons. I guess I would feel the same way if you told me that most of my law partners spent their weekends watching ladies’ mud wrestling or some such.

  9. You know, if you think about it, people reading crap like 50 Shades is no different than people frying their brains on the most inane reality tv or sitcoms like 2.5 Men.
    I think the difference is that, compared to TV, reading a book is generally considered to involve more mental effort for a deeper payoff.
    “I want to zone out and watch crap TV for an hour” makes intuitive sense. “I want to zone out and devote endless hours to a poorly constructed narrative” — less so.
    It’s a little like saying, “I need some sexual gratification, so will complete this pornographic needlepoint project.” Maybe you’ll get there in the end, but it seems like if your goal is sexual gratification, there are more convenient ways to get there.

  10. “I interpret her concern as being that this trashy book, unlike, say, the typical sitcom, is being read primarily by people like her, i.e., well-educated, literate matrons.”
    Well, that’s what *I* meant when I referred to the “fall of civilization.” ;)

  11. “I want to zone out and watch crap TV for an hour” makes intuitive sense. ‘I want to zone out and devote endless hours to a poorly constructed narrative” — less so.'”
    Eh, I guess. Maybe we just have to rearrange our thinking and realize that a lot of people would rather read a book than watch tv, so the zoning out will be in the context of reading different genres, not reading vs. tv watching.

  12. There’s nothing wrong with mindless reading or tv watching. I love dumb tv shows. I love pop culture. But I hate looking for meaning in dumb things. Dumb things are just dumb things. I especially am bothered by the fact that so many women writers all wrote the same essay last week. “What Does 50 Shades Say About Feminism?” There aren’t that many women writers who are getting published by big mainstream magazines. Do we have to tie up all the women writers in this tiny niche?

  13. I think this is an indictment of the “big mainstream magazines” (and, I’ll note that I haven’t seen a single one of these articles, presumably because I don’t read the “big mainstream magazines”) and group think, rather than attention paid to any particular topic.
    I remember emailing an author of a column I liked in some online venue a while ago, complimenting her on an article that seemed “true” (that is, not a simplistic overstatement of a cliche) and saying I’d like a book by her. I must have caught her on one of those days, ’cause she wrote me back a fairly long emailing saying that the publishing industry simply didn’t allow for complexity, and that she’d only really be able to publish the book if she made it into a “mommy wars” or a “chinese parents are better” sort of book (I’m paraphrasing, ’cause it was before either of those books).
    I’m guessing that the root of the multiple articles stems from the same kind of group think, the same reason that 10 identical sitcoms and movies come out at the same time and why all the Disney stars are exactly alike (even when they come in all different colors).

  14. Sorry, this was such a grumpy post. I didn’t read these books for fun. I read them, because I thought I could make a buck out of writing an essay about them. I spent most of the weekend trying to figure out how to find some deeper meaning to this book and came up with a blank. I don’t think erotica tells us anything about feminism or women’s desires to be back in the kitchen or whatever.
    And, yeah, it is an indictment of mainstream publications.

  15. I should just shut my trap. I spent two days reading 2000 pages of stuff. Actually, it was more like 3,000 pages. I’m quite certain that I’ll write something about it.

  16. I thought “I don’t thin erotica tells anything . . . .” seemed like a pretty good topic sentence. Especially since your comment section seems to have plenty of disagreement in it.

  17. I figure 50 Shades of Grey is pretty safe reading for your Lands End pool matrons. It’s less safe for much younger women, who are still figuring stuff out. Just the heroine’s improbable sexual responsiveness alone almost merits some sort of warning label for the inexperienced.
    I haven’t seen Girls (I’ve seen some online snippets and some Slate commentary), but there’s an interesting contrast between how a dominating relationship looks in FSOG and Girls. In Girls, one of the heroines is involved with a really jerky jerk who takes advantage of her low self-esteem and humiliates her sexually, but it’s not played as sexy. Of course, it helps to clarify things that the jerky jerk is not a billionaire, is not dazzlingly handsome and isn’t whisking our heroine away for romantic getaways.

  18. I don’t think erotica tells us anything about feminism or women’s desires to be back in the kitchen or whatever.
    I too think this might be the more interesting topic. or perhaps the idea that even if people (sometimes) like thinking about some sort of bondage room, or even like thinking of themselves in it, that doesn’t mean they really want it. (I used to like reading books about war, but once I was more than 12 I realized that that didn’t mean I wanted to be a soldier, even if it was sometimes fun to think of myself as daring or bold.) So, it probably doesn’t even tell us anything very interesting or deep about women’s sexuality. (It does tell us something about people’s willingness to consume garbage. My wife used to compare reading Harry Potter to eating potato chips- not really that good, but hard to stop once you get going. I assume this is like a worse version of that situation for many people.)

  19. #1 in Amazon, 500 pages (the first book alone) and it’s utter crap? HOW DEPRESSING…
    In any case, I was really surprised to read about these books and their writer on Time magazine. The article focused almost entirely on the reaction of the readers — how their sex lives were revitalized by the books, and how surprised James was and delighted.
    Whatever… it’s a fad, hopefully it’ll pass SOON. As for the women writers fussing about this and feminism? I don’t know what to think of it.
    I’m *really* sorry for your waste of time. I’d be horribly grumpy if I were you. Thanks for the warning, though… I don’t have a second to spend on trash & stupidity. (and I know you don’t either :( )

  20. “So, it probably doesn’t even tell us anything very interesting or deep about women’s sexuality. ”
    I think Matt’s on to something. And maybe this is the question. Why do we assume that what women like to look at/think about to sexually excite them *means* something when it doesn’t necessarily for men. To quote Xander in BtVS: “I’m seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.”

  21. “I think Matt’s on to something. And maybe this is the question. Why do we assume that what women like to look at/think about to sexually excite them *means* something when it doesn’t necessarily for men.”
    Female sexuality is different than male sexuality, but in somewhat unexpected ways. Remember that study that found that women were aroused by the sight of just about any kind of sex (heterosexual, human, non-human, whatever) while men (both gay and straight) were much more particular? Women were also very verbally misleading about what did and did not physically arouse them.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25desire-t.html?pagewanted=all

  22. Sigh. I’m writing this essay. I feel like I should write about serious stuff. I should NOT be writing about butt plugs! And, yet, I am. God, help me.
    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read it, Lillian. The writing is really horrible, but if people say that it brings life back into their marriage, then who am I to quarrel with that? I also didn’t know anything about butt plugs before and I know I now a little bit more, so that’s a good thing.

  23. “Female sexuality is different than male sexuality, but in somewhat unexpected ways. ”
    But being different doesn’t mean it means something. If you know what I mean.
    Well, the good thing about these past few days is that I’ve read two romances and wallbanged a third. (Romances: Ride With Me, by Ruthie Knox–very good; If I Fall, by Kate Noble–good but not as good as her previous book; Once Upon a Winter’s Eve, by Tessa Dare–wallbanger. Except I was reading it on my Kindle, so can’t do that any more.) Unfortunately, my Giant Stack of Grading is feeling neglected….

  24. Sure, I didn’t think you said that, but I don’t think I want to read badly written prose either and waste my time, no way!
    And I don’t think I want to know *anything* about butt plugs, that’s for sure! :P

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