Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey—A Formula for Success?

After having seen countless references to Ms. E.L. James’ best-seller, I had to read it—at least that’s what I told my wife. I explained that I wanted to see what made a self-published book so popular. She just nodded and gave me her disapproving frown.

My more-experienced (and published) friends told me that Fifty Shades was not well-written, so I did not expect much in the way of literary excellence. Having read my share of ‘adult’ books (few of which were well written), I also had another benchmark with which to compare Ms. James’ work.

For me, I found Ms. James’ character arcs interesting and engaging. Miss Steele, the protagonist, seems, moral, genuine and naïve (at first)—hesitant to take advantage of Mr. Grey’s offers of gifts and the other ‘benefits’ of their budding relationship. In time, she evolves into to the controller—the one who dictates how the relationship is to proceed, and the boundaries to which it must be confined—at least to some extent. Mr. Grey’s domineering character also softens as he realizes how much he cares for his latest submissive.

While there are a number of passionate sex scenes, there are also love scenes which most of the adult books I’ve read don’t generally include. As Mr. Grey pushes Miss Steele’s boundaries, she resists and expands his own limits.  It’s these tender moments that make both of them feel more like lovers than simply sex partners, and what makes this book more than porn.

Is this a great work of literary art? Not really. I thought it could use another editing pass, as the word-choice was distracting from time-to-time and it could have been tighter in places. And no, I didn’t read the fine print in the seemingly endless contracts, but they did give me a better idea of what goes one behind the scenes in an dominate-submissive playroom.

So what makes this a best seller? I would say it’s the lack of sex. When you pick up a typical adult (okay, porn) book, you can turn to almost any page and find graphic intercourse nearby. Ms. James’ book has sex, but it’s the meat in the stew, not the slurry of flavors around it. Because of this, any reader can pick up Fifty Shades of Grey and not feel guilty about reading about people having sex and the intimate dance that leads up to it. It’s like buying Playboy—we (all) read it for the articles—at least mostly. Of course, reading Fifty Shades on the Kindle makes it far easier to be discreet.

“What are you reading, Sally?” A voice over my shoulder broke my concentration.
”Oh, just another political thriller,” I say, catching my breath and looking up. I pull the Kindle to my chest. It’s Donald, my boss. He doesn’t need to know that I’m immersed from the waist down into 50 shades.
”It must be exciting, you’re kinda flushed.”
”It’s just this fleece.” I discreetly press the power button on the ereader and give him my full attention, unzipping my sweater a bit. I can feel his steel-blue eyes seeing right through me. If he only knew what I was thinking…

Fifty Shades of Grey is a story is about two people with radically different ideas about romance and sex and male-female relationships, and how money can buy anything—but love. I liked it.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Are We Witnessing a Coup D'état?

     I spent my high-school years in Bangkok—we had a great time and came home having learned a great deal about other cultures. However, we also discovered that in Southeast Asia (like other parts of the world), one part of the military or another attempted to take over the government in a coup d'état every year or so. We just stayed home from school when the tanks started rumbling through the streets. In Bangkok in the 60’s, it was considered to be an unfortunate part of the culture.

     Typically, a coup would occur if one or more of the power groups felt it could not get their way through the elected government. Here in the US, we’re seeing the same thing playing out in the media. No, there aren’t any tanks in the streets (they aren’t back from Iraq yet), but this kind of coup is being fought with money and the media.

    Yes, IMHO, I think we’re witnessing a coup here in the United States. While it’s not the military taking over the TV stations (yet), it’s a coup just the same. Years from now history students will pour over the news accounts from Faux News and the spineless media outlets that played into the hands of the mega corporations and discuss how it happened—or almost happened. They’ll shake their heads as they add up how much money was spent buying votes (projected to be over $5.8 billion). While much of this money is coming from secret sources and corporate donors, too much of it is been wrung out of individuals from both parties using fear tactics, harassing phone calls and urgent pleas that suggest if a deadline isn’t met the election will be lost. In these hard times, this money would have paid for groceries, gas to get to work and rent. It’s a disgrace.

I made the mistake of giving to the Democrats. After that, I was called, emailed and incessantly prodded for more. I even offered to make another donation if I would not be contacted again. It’s like giving money to your derelict uncle who keeps coming back for more once he figures you’re a soft touch.

     Sadly, this entire election seems to be about money. The for-profit corporations that provide us fuel, healthcare, food and supply the military and about everything else have seen a golden opportunity to take over the country—literally. They know if a progressive congress is put back in place run by a progressive President, their days of wonton profiteering and election rigging are numbered. The military suppliers (what Eisenhower called the ‘Military Industrial Complex’) want us back in Iraq and Iran and North Korea—because they’ll be paid for everything from bombs to body bags. The corporations know if President Obama is reelected, the Supreme court will be repopulated with justices that really believe that corporations are not people and don’t deserve the rights and freedoms of individuals. They know that the people will ultimately insist that media corporations be held accountable for what they broadcast. I think it’s obscene that while a network can be fined for showing a human breast but are permitted to blatantly lie without fear of censure. While there are shades of truth to any story, outright lies and evil distortions of the truth must be eliminated from political discourse. If that takes a Constitutional amendment, then so be it.

     I expect campaign reform to be a plank of the Democrat’s platform. We have some very serious problems to face in the next decade, but we can’t face them if we don’t hear the truth from our media sources and those who would use their money to influence elections beyond their single, individual voice.