Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fifty Shades of Twilight or a tale of two series

It was supposed to be a review but it turned into an essay about two series which annoy me horribly. Oh well. The best laid plans of mice and men...
An apple.

Once upon a time there was a nice lady called Stephenie Meyers who decided to write  books about a teenager girl and a sparkly vampire who shouldn't be named - they fell in love, married and had a child. Plenty of people read these novels (yours truly among them) and, as a result, their author became filthy rich very fast– no mean feat for a relatively inexperienced writer’s debut. Then the books were adapted for the screen and our author was simply raking in it. It’s not up to me to judge anybody here, filthy rich or otherwise; let me just observe that such a situation (wild popularity and profitability of the Twilight series) must have had a profound effect on the others. It was just a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’. I doubt Ms Meyers was aware of it, though. Or maybe she was. Who knows?

Soon enough some readers started to amuse themselves writing Twilight-based fan fiction stories– longer or shorter novellas or even fully-fledged novels based more or less loosely on the characters from S. Meyers books. Other people have read them and have written some reviews – it seemed the fun would last forever. However, one day, one of these fan fic writers was offered a big fat check for her work which, back then, was entitled Master of the Universe and now can be bought in a form of a paper book under the title of Fifty Shades of Grey. Not sensational enough? Wait, there’s more!

Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E.L. James, is the first part of a trilogy (yeah, nothing less!) telling the love story of a young literature student (in her early twenties), Anastasia Steal, and a rich businessman, Christian Grey. Mr. Grey is smitten with Miss Steal but, as he is into BDSM sex and she is a shy, clumsy virgin, they have some serious issues. All of them are overcome very promptly – by sex. . I must admit highly disgusting and very badly written variation of BDSM sex – you can find out EXACTLY how disgusting reading some of the reviews, published e.g. on Goodreads (links to my favourites can be found below). I can only tell you that I yawned a lot during those supposedly 'hot' scenes and just skimmed/skipped them. 

The truth is that the similarities between the Twilight story and this one are obvious even for a layman’s eye And guess what? Despite immature blunders like very awkward narration style (Those ellipses! Those constant referring to Ana's/ Bella's ‘inner goddess’ ! Those ‘Oh my’s’!!), the fact that the characterization simply lacks any significant depth, this book has been an exceptional publishing success and its writer has earned a staggering amount of money – seven digits, no less. The book also started a hurricane of controversy and criticism and for more than one reason. Now prepare yourself for the first big shock.

Twilight versus MotU/ 50 Shades – a comparison using  just a few chosen examples

 Twilight series                                                       MotU/50 Shades 

  • Main leads: Bella Swan , an awkward high school student and a dazzling, extremely handsome  but dangerous vampire, Edward Cullen; Bella’s parents are divorced, her dad is a cop. Edward is an adoptive child of a doctor.

  • Main leads: Bella Swan/ Anastasia Steal, a very awkward university student and Edward Cullen/ Christian Grey, a very handsome but dangerous communication media tycoon. Ana’s parents are divorced, her dad is a cop. Christian is an adoptive child of a doctor.

  • Bella falls for Edward immediately and vice versa but he warns she should stay away from him. Oh and he saves her life.

  • Ana falls for Christian immediately and vice versa but he warns she should stay away from him. Oh and he saves her life.

  •  1st person narration (Bella’s voice) with plenty of ellipses.

  •  1st person narration (Ana’s voice) with plenty of ellipses.

  • Bella’s childhood friend is in love with her but she doesn’t reciprocate the feelings

  • Ana’s childhood friend is in love with her but she doesn’t reciprocate the feelings

  • Edward proposes to Bella and they marry.

  • Christian proposes to Ana (I bet they will marry in the next part)

  • Edward’s family approve of Bella.

  • Christian’s family approve of Ana.


Well, there are some other issues as well.

First of all, the fan fiction which had been published by the same person (E.L. James) before and freely accessible on the Internet even now (Google is your friend), is very similar to the text published by Vintage. If you want to compare those two you can do it going  here and here. As you can notice the main difference are the names of the main leads and some really meaningless editing. While it is firmly within the law I suppose it remains a question of ethics or rather lack thereof – why some ‘happy’ readers could access it for free whereas now other not so happy readers must pay something about 10$ for a copy of the same story?

Secondly E.L. James admitted that Twilight series was her inspiration but then she changed her mind, claiming that her book is original to a satisfactory degree so she didn’t  infringe on S. Meyers’ copyrights. I am not a lawyer but I suppose the case is interesting enough to ensure several years of lawsuits and courtroom circus. Of course you can argue that both series just base on the same literary tropes, taken straight from older books like Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice or Beauty and the Beast but still, in my humble option the similarities between these two are so obvious that you can start asking yourself what is going on…well, usually a vast amount of money is the best answer.All of these points would be enough to put me off of these but there is more.Unfortunately.

I find both series really unfit for their target audience. Let me explain why. I’m going to deal with Twilight first as it is older and still more popular than 50 Shades, especially among teenage girls. What does this series teach its young readers?  It seems that, especially from a male point of view, the only redeeming feature of the Twilight books and movies is the ammunition they provide against female claims of innate moral superiority over men. Or any superiority at all. Reading them you can find out that:

  1.       If a boy is aloof, stand-offish, ignores you or is just rude, he must be secretly in love with you. As long as he is handsome and has great abs he can be simultaneously dimwitted, violent, self-centered, manipulative and vengeful.
  2.     Its OK to lie to your parents if it's for love. Lying to your parents while you run away to another continent to save your suicidal boyfriend is a great, mature decision and something every girl seriously in love must do when there is such a need.
  3. Its OK to commit grand theft auto as long as it's a good cause. Love is always a good cause.
  4.   When you really love someone, it will be ok if you sneak into their house without their knowledge or consent; to stalk them or stare at them when they sleep is something pretty normal, even expected.
  5. While your beloved is away, it is OK to date a guy who clearly wants more than just innocent friendship. String him along for months - you might kiss once or twice just for comparison’s sake. Remember, an attractive girl will be able to have at least two suitors at the same time.
  6.  Boys who leave you always come back and you can make that comeback more romantic if you put yourself in very dangerous situations. A staged suicide might be a great idea
  7.   Boys can be changed for the better if a girl sacrifices everything and devotes herself completely to their needs. Spoil them rotten – only then they will treat you nicely.
  8. You might be an intelligent young girl who wants to finish her secondary school, go to a university, obtain her degree and start an independent career but still you will only succeed and will be made happy at all if the right man asks you to marry him.
  9. When you are unmarried sex is dangerous (but there is no harm in dating, kissing and petting, even sharing the same bed with your boyfriend, just remember, no sex).  After the marriage sex is still dangerous but you will crave it madly anyway and you will do anything to get some more. Protection? What’s that?

As you see the list is quite long and chilling although I limited it to just my main problems with Twilight. What about 50 Shades? Fortunately that one is aimed at more mature audience, even dubbed ‘Twilight for adults’ or ‘Mommy porn’; still you can be practically sure some teenagers will read it too. What can they find out?

1)      Its OK to be seduced by a complete stranger, life is short and you shouldn't waste time getting to know him better; anyway as long as he is rich, handsome and has great abs he can be simultaneously dimwitted, violent, self-centered, sadistic and vengeful.
2)      If he prefers a bit more ‘original’ sex you should do everything to satisfy his needs including utter objectification and submission. You will love it even though he might ask you to sign a several-page contract that allows him a complete control over your life.
3)      Being a virgin is ‘an issue’ but every problem can be solved by sex. A lot of sex. The more the better. Remember, an attractive girl/woman will be able to have at least two suitors at the same time.
4)      Men can be changed for the better if a woman sacrifices everything and devotes herself completely to their needs. Spoil them rotten – maybe they will treat you nicely.
5)      If you really love someone you should allow him to rule your life and manipulate you into uncomfortable situations. As men are naturally dominant, women should be submissive and hope for the best.
6)      Women don’t know what’s good for them and are often undecided. If a woman says ‘no’ deep down she still most likely means ‘yes’. Men know best and it’s up to them to decide.
7)      Sex is dangerous and painful but you will still crave it madly if you only start having it. You will do anything, turn into the commonest slut, to get some more.
8)      You might be an intelligent woman who wants to finish her studies, obtain a degree and start an independent career but still you only will succeed in your life and be made happy at all if the right man asks you to marry him.

Nothing serious? Nothing to worry about?

You might tell me now that these two positions just describe some fantasies young girls or not-so-young women might nurture in private but I think their huge popularity is quite dangerous as it also says something about the society at large (and more specifically about women as both authors and the majority of their audiences are females). If you write about rape or/and manipulating the other human being by using any form of pressure (sex included) in positive terms some people will think it is basically a proper behaviour whereas in reality it is just abuse plain and simple. Women have spent years trying to get equal treatment (still a matter of distant future in so many countries even in Western Europe and in the USA)  and now some spoilt female authors write tasteless fantasies about being stalked, beaten, raped and basically tortured and their heroines, allegedly modern human beings, simply love it. How can we ever expect change if those kinds of fantasies are put on the forefront? What bothers me most is that these are women who are writing most of the books that degrade women. How could they possibly feel okay about that? Do they think only about the money they can earn? Is there no social responsibility or simple decency left? I know, I am being ridiculously idealistic, but still...

In reference to initially writing Fifty as the fan fiction work 'Master of the Universe,' Ms James said: “I have done it as a sort of exercise … to see if I could … and I think I have proven that I can … I now want to capitalize on it…” Then she went on to say: “Well don’t tell anyone – I have visions of being interviewed by Time Magazine for revolutionizing publishing…” (This must be a joke considering the state in which her 'book' was released after all those supposed edits).

I must admit that in my very humble opinion James has very little in the way of character or integrity and was too attached to her money before she even made it. Will you make her even richer and more complacent, buying such crappy books as hers? Everybody should answer this question on his or her own.

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