50 shades of crap

February 10, 2015
Lords of Leather

Mardis Gras, 1990. About to leave for the Lords of Leather Ball.  Yeah, young. And that hair!

“My community is on the sidelines shaking their heads….breeders…this is news? a hot topic? Really? What crap, indeed!”
~my gay husband on 50 Shades of Gray

Unlike the majority of giddy 50 Shades of Grey fans, who would no more know how to pull off a real BDSM scene than they’d know how to do brain surgery, I know a little about this community.

I spent 10 days at Mardis Gras in 1990 with five gay men and another woman, and that is our group preparing to leave for the Lords of Leather Ball, an annual Mardis Gras event put on by the gay leather community.  The gay community has long been a key player in the BDSM scene and have honed its high theatre eroticism to an art form.

I saw more assless leather chaps at that ball than I’ve seen in an orgy (not that I’ve been to an orgy) and there are so many other iterations of the scene–well, let’s just say that it was an education.  In fact, I even knew a gay couple who had their own young (of age) “slave.” He wore cute black leather shorts and a leather cap and their interactions were quite something.  I also knew one of the Mr. Gay Leathers back then.

So when I hear soccer moms and others who wouldn’t know a riding crop from a crop circle all agog over this book, well, I shake MY head, too.

Oh wait. You want to know about that photo? Ok. My gay husband and I flank the guy in the mask. Oh, we were young. I wasn’t yet 40 years old!


Bodice-ripper cover.

I have a few bones to pick with 50 Shades. First, BDSM is more lifestyle than a romantic game.  Back in the day, I knew a number of people into it and I promise you that average soccer mom would want nothing to do with it. Second, even when BDSM is practiced as an erotic game,  the book simply doesn’t reflect reality.  The fact is, this isn’t a mainstream scene at all and it can be darker and heavier than the romantic fantasies in this 21st century bodice-ripper.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with power play. People who enjoy it aren’t inherently flawed, although I do know a couple very into it who are psychologically damaged beyond repair. I’m not so sure that BDSM attracts those people in any greater numbers than any other fetish.  But later on I offer you an expert’s opinion on that.  It’s just not a given, if you know what I mean.

And finally, the book is terribly written. Just awful.  And that’s the worst part–that so many are reading such a badly-written book. But don’t take my word for it. I perused some of the most amusing Amazon reviews, because some reviewers are much better writers than authors. Let me share some of the best excerpts:

What soccer moms think a riding crop is.

What soccer moms think a riding crop is.

Meymoon writes:

About half way through the book, I looked up the author to see if she was a teenager. I really did because the characters are out of a 16 year old’s fantasy. The main male character is a billionaire (not a millionaire but a billionaire) who speaks fluent French, is basically a concert level pianist, is a fully trained pilot, is athletic, drop dead gorgeous, tall, built perfectly with an enormous penis, and the best lover on the planet. In addition, he’s not only self made but is using his money to combat world hunger. Oh yeah, and all of this at the ripe old age of 26! And on top of that, he’s never working. Every second is spent having sex or texting and emailing the female character. His billions seem to have just come about by magic. It seriously feels like 2 teenage girls got together and decided to create their “dream man” and came up with Christian Grey.

Then come the sex scenes. The first one is tolerable but as she goes on, they become so unbelievable that it becomes more laughable than erotic. She orgasms at the drop of a hat. He says her name and she orgasms. He simply touches her and she orgasms. It seems that she’s climaxing on every page.

Then there’s the writing. If you take out the parts where the female character is blushing or chewing her lips, the book will be down to about 50 pages. Almost on every single page, there is a whole section devoted to her blushing, chewing her lips or wondering “Jeez” about something or another. Then there’s the use of “shades of”. He’s “fifty shades of @#$%% up,” “she turned 7 shades of crimson,” “he’s ten shades of x,y, and z.” Seriously?

The writing is just not up to par, the characters are unbelievable, and the sex verges on the comical. I don’t know what happens in the remaining books and I do not intend to read them to find out. But given the maturity level of the first book, I imagine that they get married, have 2 perfect children, cure world hunger, and live happily ever after while riding into the sunset, as the female character climaxes on her horse causing her to chew her bottom lip and blush fifty shades of crimson. Jeez!

The inimitable Tom Lehrer did a song called The Masochism Tango, which says it all. Here’s an excerpt, and then the whole thing on video. Don’t miss it!

Your eyes cast a spell that bewitches
The last time I needed twenty stitches
To sew up the gash
That you made with your lash,
As we danced to the masochism tango.

DS from LA has this to say in a review:

I enjoy erotica … but I’m five chapters in and just can’t take it anymore. This has to be the most appallingly atrocious writing I’ve ever seen in a major release. The pseudonymous British author sets the action (such as it is) in Washington State… for no reason than that her knowledge of America apparently consists of what she read in “Twilight”… but the entire first-person narrative is filled with Britishisms. How many American college students do you know who talk about “prams,” “ringing” someone on the phone, or choosing a “smart rucksack” to take “on holiday”? And the author’s geography sounds like she put together a jigsaw puzzle of the Pacific Northwest while drunk and ended up with several pieces in the wrong place.

And oh, the repetition…and the repetition…and the repetition. I’m convinced the author has a computer macro that she hits to insert one of her limited repertoire of facial expressions whenever she needs one. According to my Kindle search function, characters roll their eyes 41 times, Ana bites her lip 35 times, Christian’s lips “quirk up” 16 times, Christian “cocks his head to one side” 17 times, characters “purse” their lips 15 times, and characters raise their eyebrows a whopping 50 times. Add to that 80 references to Ana’s anthropomorphic “subconscious” (which also rolls its eyes and purses its lips, by the way), 58 references to Ana’s “inner goddess,” and 92 repetitions of Ana saying some form of “oh crap” (which, depending on the severity of the circumstances, can be intensified to “holy crap,” “double crap,” or the ultimate “triple crap”). And this is only part one of a trilogy…

This 1954 book was the original literary erotic novel with a BDSM theme. I read it in my 20s. I’m sure 99% of 50 Shades readers have never heard of it.


Ebeth822 reviews: Not the worst I’ve ever read… Oh wait. It IS.

I downloaded the book to my Kindle because it was on the best seller list and had 4 stars overall rating on Amazon. I wish I’d taken the time to read some of the reviews. As it turns out I agree with the negative.
I found myself thinking “Twilight, plus some spanking, minus the sparkly vampires.” Here, I’ll save you all some time (SPOILER ALERT):

Once upon a time…
I’m Ana. I’m clumsy and naive. I like books. I dig this guy. He couldn’t possibly like me. He’s rich. I wonder if he’s gay? His eyes are gray. Super gray. Intensely gray. Intense AND gray. Serious and gray. Super gray. Dark and gray. [insert 100+ other ways to say “gray eyes” here]
I blush. I gasp. He touches me “down there.” I gasp again. He gasps. We both gasp. I blush some more. I gasp some more. I refer to my genitals as “down there” a few more times. I blush some more. Sorry, I mean I “flush” some more. I bite my lip. He gasps a lot more. More gasping. More blushing/flushing. More lip biting. Still more gasping.
The end.

….the story is weak, the pace is slow and awkward, the characters come through as more schizophrenic than complicated, the “romance” is a juvenile and dysfunctional crush, and the “erotic” scenes alternate between Penthouse Forum and something that sounds like it was written by a painfully shy and sheltered 13 year old. I have now read through some of the rave reviews and I have to assume that these were posted by people easily shocked and/or titillated. I can’t imagine what fans are comparing this to when they describe this as “good.”

WR Smith says:

I understand that no one has read this book with intellectual enlightenment in mind, but this book goes beyond the pale of moronic.

rope heartAh, the dumbing down of erotica, and what’s worse, this terrible example of erotica is fodder for book clubs.

“The average woman discovers the romance of BDSM.”

Sigh.  As if.

But what do the experts say?  Take a look. And then, tell me what you think.

Why it’s bad for bondage.

What writers can unlearn from it.

6 myths about BDSM inspired by 50 Shades

Funniest quotes from the book

36 comments on “50 shades of crap
  1. Robin says:

    Bravo Carol. The emperor has no clothes…this best-selling book is atrocious. I read a bit of it in a book store and tossed it back on the pile. Send people to The Story of O. A revelation. You have a handsome gay husband btw.

  2. pia says:

    I didn’t even think of the book in terms of gay BDSM–and I’m one of the few women who had the “privilege” of going to the Anvil in the old meatmarket in NY, walked out of my friend’s living room when the 8 milimeter films he inherited were playing, and yes Mardi Gras and other events in NOLA with Gay men.

    I couldn’t help but compare it to Secretary as that was based on a story by Mary Gaitskill. Apparently I don’t understand. It doesn’t matter how badly it’s written or how it takes a genre that has some truly good literature, yes The Story of O, and ruins it. It’s fan fiction and that’s the future.

    For the first time I see great advantages in being older. Between being able to have unprotected sex, reading great literature, and having my writing turned up and down by workshop leaders and editors—I know what good and great BDSM is.

  3. Michelle R says:

    Despite being a mom of many sports, I’ve not read it, thanks to you. I recall you saying awhile back that you’d heard the writing was horrendous and that was enough for me. The reviews above are a riot – quite scathing. I’m so thankful that I didn’t have to experience it first-hand. That being said, I do know quite a few ladies who got all worked up over the series…and the movie might make a fun ladies night, just to watch all the moms squirm in their seats ;o) BTW, you look fantastic in the photo. That must have been quite the party.

    • It was quite the 10 days. I sure did see some things! But ordinarily, the other woman and I would be getting out to breakfast and run into my gay hubby who was just getting in at 9am. I loved that trip!

  4. I didn’t read the book and have no plans to see the movie. But, I really enjoyed your thoughts Carol. Great photo!

  5. Nora says:

    What does the popularity of this junk say about the literary status of our times–not to mention priorities! Well done piece Carol.

  6. No, just no. Yes I read it. After I read it, I found out it was fan fiction. Prior to that day, I had no idea what fan fiction was. I had read the Twilight series prior, and still didn’t get the connection. I remember being so embarrassed reading that I kept hoping no one would accidentally see what I was reading over my shoulder. I’m not a priss. But I just found the whole idea of master and slave and safe words and him hurting her so demeaning. And now, I’ve got throngs of friends who are dying to see the movie and I’m having questions in my mind about their sanity. As hard as we fight to have equality to men, women are tripping over themselves to see this flick and what message does that send? That a huge percentage of women are perfectly happy being submissive? It must, otherwise why would they pay to see it, which is promoting it? I don’t get it.

    • The long tradition of bodice-rippers has always relied on the man being “in charge” and the woman swooning, and it being all about sex. It’s all fantasy. If you want to read something good in this genre, it’s O.

  7. Carol Graham says:

    You are doing a great service with this post. I have not read the book, have no desire to read the book but certainly wondered why it is a ‘run-away’ best seller. So, can you tell me — why the popularity? Surely there are enough erotic books or romance novels out there to choose from — why has this one grabbed so much attention? I was surprised that it was poorly written. I expected that to be the captivating factor.

  8. Ellen Dolgen says:

    I have three gay husbands and no one has taken me to a BDSM party:<( I think it is great that these books are stirring up so much conversation about male dominance, book writing skills and you name it! Quite the hot topic, indeed!

  9. CAC2 says:

    As an avid reader, I read the first book of the series back in early 2013 just to see what all of the hype was about. And I have to agree with you. The book was one of the worst pieces of prose that my eyes have ever come across. It is clumsy, amateurish, and repetitive. The author bludgeons the reader to death with the excessive use of phrases such as “inner goddess” as well as attempts to seem cultured by making references to Icarus and “Mrs. Robinson.”

    As you know, I am no prude, so I should make it clear that I have no problem with the basic concepts that the book attempts to deal with. It’s an interesting lifestyle that I was interested to learn more about when I picked up the text from the store. However, any potential peaked interest in the subject matter was swiftly destroyed by the shockingly poor use of the English language. One day, I might consider trying some actual LITERATURE in this genre, so that my experience won’t forever be tarred.

    Nice photo with the leather crowd, by the way. Is there any experience that you haven’t had?

    • Well, CAC2, there are a FEW…well…hmm…I guess I can’t think of any at the moment! As Helen Keller said, “life is nothing if not a grand adventure”. And as my gay husband was told by a psychic, “taste all fruits!” I have had an interesting and exciting life in my own way and when it’s over I will have absolutely no regrets at all. None. Nothing left undone that I wish I had done. I wish the same for you.

  10. I think the book is so popular because so many women are repressed. Haven’t you seen all the women in their 50s and 60s carrying the book around? For me, I just see another book where all that matters to a woman is their man. And, preferably, she’s a virgin. Oh, and I think I glimpsed an orgy not long ago….it didn’t look very attractive.

  11. Carolann says:

    LOL I loved that video…hystercial. I wouldn’t waste five minutes on the book or movie. The reviews were right on!

  12. I have not read the book. I have absolutely no interest in reading the book, nor will I waste my time seeing the movie. But I gotta say, I love the ad campaign for the movie. From a purely marketing standpoint, it’s fabulous. It’s visually striking – unlike any other ads out there. Plus the team so took a major risk by asking everyone “Curious?” There are just so many negative responses to that question. I want to get some red spray paint and paint on the ads things like, “Uh, no.” “Not really.” “Seriously? No.” You gotta give that marketing team their props on that one. Hmmm. What other things could I paint?

  13. Carol – you nailed it with this one (no pun intended). My daughter read the books and said they were so badly written it was difficult to get turned on by them. She did, however, call me last night after previewing the movie and said it was kind of hot. So we’ll see if visuals can save it.

    I remember reading Harlequin Romances, which were like Fifty Shades only without being honest enough to admit it was about domination. We will also be vulnerable to anything that surprises us. No matter how badly written it is.

  14. Andi says:

    Very thorough post on a terrible book and what will be a terrible movie! My hubby is French and we watch the French news and they were making fun of all the repressed American housewives thrown into a sexual frenzy by this lousy book, I was embarrassed to be an American at that moment!

  15. Debbie D. says:

    I’ll take “Nine and Half Weeks” by Elizabeth McNeill over this crap, any day. (Not that I’ve read the book – just some brief excerpts and that was enough!) Thanks for articulating what many of us are thinking, Carol. Andi, above mentioned “repressed American housewives in sexual frenzy” and how the French ridiculed this book. I’m sure that applies to Germany (where I was born) and the rest of Europe as well.

  16. Haven’t read it, not even an excerpt, so I can’t speak from experiencing the crappy writing. From what I hear, though (and this post confirms it), I’ve missed nothing… except crap. Which is why I’ll pass on seeing the surely crappy film, too.

    Love the photo! Yes, the hair!! 😀

  17. Well, I will admit to reading all three since I’m the only one admitting it now. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and it took all 3 since I’m a slow learner. I’m from KY so it was the raciest thing I’d heard of since Jimmy Walton’s V8 Camaro….the Camaro was hotter I’m afraid. Seriously 99% of America is in the midwest where things that happen in California and New York takes decades to reach. This was a whole new messed up world to most so it was devoured and then talked to death at Nancy’s Clip & Curl where anything that wasn’t missionary style was considered BDSM.

  18. Laura says:

    I read the first chapter and I was so bored…I complained to a very intrigued co-worker about my boredom and she showed me a sex scene…still bored. In fact, I was so bored I can’t’ even bring myself to hate read it. Secondly, If I had known such low quality writing would sell so many books I would have written a boring and ridiculous love story years ago. Finally, I think the terrible writing pisses me off more than the questionable consent.

  19. I think you should write a book on the topic — it would be far more entertaining and definitely more articulate!

  20. Terrible writing aside (and it is terrible) as an author, I’m not jazzed about Fan Fiction, which is what 50 Shades is – the author used the Twilight characters, at first just online, and wrote them as adults. So she piggybacked on the Twilight fanbase. I’m not a Twilight fan either, but still. Ack.

  21. rilriia says:

    “This is what a soccer mom thinks a riding crop is”??? …Wow, and here I thought we in the Lifestyle weren’t supposed to be judgmental because, if only because until a handful of years ago, we were considered sick and abnormal according to the APA’s DSM.

    FYI, I’ve been in the Lifestyle for more than 20 years. And I happen to own the Ruff Doggie Flog Her collection, which includes that crop. (It’s in storage now, hence coming to your page for a pic of it…) Who are you to downgrade an item’s worth just because it’s not something you would use? And who are you to downgrade those who would use an implement like this? You should be more than aware that there are those who would choose this for show, as a part of their ensemble. There are those who would choose this because it represents a deeper connection to something, as I did when purchasing the set.

    Yet, you in all your knowledge and expertise, committed one of the ultimate ‘no’ faux pas in the Lifestyle; rather than viewing something from the “It Depends” answer, now pretty much the standard reply from online forums to munches to events when asked how ‘normal’ something might be, you took it an equated it to crap erotica that has nothing to do with the Lifestyle (or even literature).

    Just because you wouldn’t use something like this doesn’t make me or someone who would wrong. Just because you’ve been around doesn’t make you the end-all authority on acceptability. Do the Community a favor and knock that ego down a little bit before you taint some poor newbie with your skewed thinking.

    Just because you do something doesn’t make it right or even normal. It means it’s part of your dynamic. So kindly give the rest of us that same benefit.

    • You might consider not taking yourself so seriously. And you might want to read with a little more comprehension–this is a three-year-old somewhat tongue-in-cheek post about the book. Not about the lifestyle. Period.

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