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The Problem with 50 Shades of Grey

I have finally put my finger on my whole problem with the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy,* and it is best explained with two songs that coincidentally run back-to-back on the mix CD I made for the twins for our last beach trip.  In the interest of giving helpful criticism, perhaps this will aid EL James in constructing better books in the future, but may also help you to decide whether or not you want to read these books if you haven’t started yet because I really think the world comes down to two types of people: those who are still happy to listen to Gotye, and those who liked “Somebody That I Used to Know” the first ten times but the song has worn thin.  Those who are still groovin’ on Gotye may really enjoy this series, and those who have moved on to other summer songs may want to skip all 50 Shades including the grey ones.

I want to preface this by saying that I like both songs.  I mean, I purchased both songs and placed both on the mix, so I’m not commenting on the worth of either song, but rather, their lasting value and how they illustrated problems with 50 Shades of Grey.

And yeah, am I giving this more thought that perhaps the books are worth?  Absolutely.  But it’s my summer to fritter away.

So, song #12 on the mix is Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.”

Adam Levine isn’t really my type, but even I have to admit that he’s sexy in this video.  How would EL James describe him?  Pants that hang from his hips in that way?  He’s confident, he’s obviously physically attractive, and he’s having fun.  Beyond that, what he’s saying is sexy:

But when you’re with me
I’ll make you believe
That I’ve got the key

…And you want to steer
But I’m shifting gears
I’ll take it from here
And it goes like this

Take me by the tongue
And I’ll know you
Kiss me ’til you’re drunk
And I’ll show you

All the moves like Jagger

…I don’t need to try to control you
Look into my eyes and I’ll own you

As Anastasia would say, “oh my!” And “holy shit!” And “that’s hot!”

Hells yeah, who doesn’t want to be with someone who is going to take charge.  Who isn’t going to try to control me but admits that he’s going to own me regardless because he is going to drive me so fucking crazy that I’m going to want to stick around and go wherever he’s steering because he has the moves like Jagger?  This is the bravado that makes many a physically unattractive rock singer look incredibly hot in the right context.  Such as Mr. Jagger himself.

The Maroon 5 song is immediately followed by #13, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

I still like this song, but not nearly as much as I did the first few times I heard it.  It’s the type of song that begins to grate after that initial “who is this mysterious, vulnerable man?”, mostly because Gotye comes across as the type of guy who spends a lot of time licking his wounds like the cowardly lion and saying, “why did you do this to me?”  He’s not active, he’s passive.  Girls do things to him vs. he doing things to girls.

And look at what he’s singing:

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Broken doesn’t have long-term sexiness.  It’s interesting, and I certainly want to give Gotye a hug.  But there’s a reason why relationship advice gurus tell you not to discuss your ex-partners in the first few dates if the subject doesn’t need to come up.  It isn’t sexy to think about rejection, even if all of us have our own varying rejection stories.  I mean, let’s face it, every single person comes with baggage.  But some people tuck that baggage under the table and project confidence, and other people use their vulnerability as their hook.  And equally, there are people out there drawn to vulnerability because they love to fix people.  You know, like James Wilson and House.

Christian Grey’s whole character, his motivations, his personality all hinge on the fact that he was rejected as a child.  His self-hatred fuels him, and that’s interesting, but it isn’t sexy after a while to me.  As much as I feel badly for Gotye, want to bash his ex-girlfriend with him (she sounds like a real bitch, sweetie!), and give him a warm sweater to put on after he washes all that paint off his body, when it comes to being turned on, I want someone a little more Maroon 5 telling me that he’s in control and going kiss me until I’m drunk without any self-deprecating moments pointing out how he has been rejected in the past.

I am well aware that this is a case of to-each-their-own.  James Wilson would probably be equally attracted to Gotye and Christian (the small detail of his straightness notwithstanding).  But for the people who haven’t been able to embrace Christian as desirable, these two songs may explain why — like me — you’re more annoyed by him than attracted.

And as a side note; I didn’t actually know what Gotye was saying until I Googled the lyrics.  And damn was I off.

P.S. I am almost done, but I’m still slogging through 50 Shades Freed.  I am, if nothing else, dedicated.  I also want to add that I am reading a popular physics book at the same time, and Michio Kaku beats out EL James ten to one.


1 KT { 07.17.12 at 9:27 am }

YES. I love this comparison. I 100% agree with this. I do think that there are a number of women out there that love to help “fix” guys (I have some friends in this category) and those women are probably the women that love this book. Personally, I’m glad I didn’t give the author any of my money (I borrowed the 1st book from a friend and have no desire to read the 2nd or 3rd).

2 KeAnne { 07.17.12 at 10:25 am }

This is brilliant! Christian comes off initially as having bravado, but then you realize that he’s just a sad little boy and who has time for that? Very seldom can they be fixed, at least in reality.

3 Bon { 07.17.12 at 11:26 am }

I love love loved this post!!!
And I have to agree with your analysis of those two songs…and thank you — I wasn’t much interested in reading 50 shades anyway, but I will admit all of the hype (and the fact that there are now e-card memes all over pinterest about it) had me curious for about 20 seconds….
But, now I know that I will not find it sexy at all…. so I’ll stick to my original choice to steer clear of it all.

4 tigger62077 { 07.17.12 at 12:26 pm }

I was likewise not interested in reading 50 Shades and this is confirmed. I find Gotye irritating and annoying and whiny. There’s emo and songs about rejection and…when well done, they’re really good. When not done well, it’s terrible. Thank you for confirming that this is not a book I should ever, ever read.

5 a { 07.17.12 at 2:40 pm }

Ya know, it’s the Kimbra part of the song that I really identify with –

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
Making out that it was always something that I’d done*
But I don’t want to live that way
Reading in to every word you say
You said that you could let it go and I wouldn’t catch you hung up on
Somebody that you used to know

Because my husband thinks I read minds (I’m pretty smart, sure, but not that smart) and because he had an ex-girlfriend that he knew he couldn’t live with but always ended up going back to in every relationship he’s had…except ours.

Also, I’ve done the “have your friends collect your records and then change your number” thing.

I still don’t want to read 50 Shades of Gray. I’ve been too let down by Twilight and Game of Thrones…

*I did not google the lyrics, so they may be off by a word or two.

6 sushigirl { 07.17.12 at 5:36 pm }

I’ve read the sample chapter on my Kindle and was so annoyed with the main character I gave up! That and it’s everywhere at the moment, I’m bored with it without having read it.

7 jamie { 07.17.12 at 5:55 pm }

“If you touch me I think I’ll Scream” By My Morning Jacket is also PERFECT too!!

8 V { 07.17.12 at 6:54 pm }

What I have learned is that I am not a Home Depot. I can not date fixer uppers. Truth be told I have a real problem with the concept of domination and so that’s where those books lost me.

9 Chickenpig { 07.17.12 at 7:31 pm }

What bothers me about 50 shades of crap is that Grey can’t even remember his birth mother, or barely, yet he is permanently fucked up by his first four years?. In reality, I have seen 3, 4, and 5 year olds who were sexually molested, kept in closests while their parents worked and fed on raw hot dogs, and pimped out for crack money who are still happy, loving, totally un-broken kids. If Grey had been mistreated until he was say…10? I could believe his hang ups, but kids that young are amazingly resilient. I’m not saying that they don’t have issues and need some professional help, but c’mon…Grey got adopted by GREAT parents and had all the best resources at a very young age, I don’t think he would still be so freaked out by being touched. Now if he was raised in a Russian orphanage until he was 9 or so….maybe.

10 battynurse { 07.17.12 at 8:10 pm }

Hmm. I had a bit of a hard time with the first book and the submitting etc. However once I got past that I was ok with it. It was like mind candy and it was fun and now I’m done with it and I’ll likely never pick the books up again.
I will say that in the past I tended to seek out relationships that mirrored to some extent a similar need and co-dependency. I was drawn to guys who needed me or needed to be fixed. In my mind when I played out various aspects of the relationship it was usually similar to something you’d read in a romance novel. I’ve finally accepted or understood or whatever that life isn’t like that at all and I’ve stopped seeking out broken relationships to fix. Granted I don’t really seek out relationships much at all but I’m ok with that.

11 Brid { 07.17.12 at 9:25 pm }

Hi Mel!
I totally read the Gotye song differently from you. I still like it, but then, I hear it so rarely because I usually have my iPod plugged into my car. I remember the first time I heard it… I heard it on the CBC, so when I got home I googled it and watched the video.

At first, I think I read it like you, but after watching the video I totally changed my mind. I haven’t read the 50 Shades books, so all I know is from what you’ve posted about them. I don’t see Gotye’s character as vulnerable, as such, but I did at first (and probably only because he’s pretty damn cute and I wanted to like him). The lines about having friends collect her records and then her changing her number is what made me want to read closer. Sending friends for belongings may be rather normal, but if a girl has to change her number, then something more is happening. He sets us up by putting her words out there in the second line; he provides us her testimony suggesting she is happy with their relationship and he is the one who realises they aren’t right for each other. But, when they are no longer together, he wants to drag things out. It’s as if he loves her more when she agrees they aren’t meant to be together. He says he’s glad it was over, but then complains about not seeing each other anymore.

He says “I don’t even need your love, But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough”. Then he repeats that he doesn’t need her love, and then sarcastically pouts that he guesses he doesn’t need her number because she’s just somebody that he used to know. I know that when I broke up with someone (or vice versa), we would pretty much cut ties for a while. Sometimes one or another would somehow float back into my life as a friend, but that was the minority. Never did I feel like I had to change my number to get them to back off. So, he’s at once saying he doesn’t need her, but obviously attempting some sort of continual communication.

I think the way the song progresses into Kimbra’s lines also suggests that the initial statement of her being so happy she could die was either inaccurate or had eventually changed into something else. She admits being manipulated by him and that she was ready to stand up for herself and change her life. She even says that she believed what he’d said about him being able to let go… that she wouldn’t catch him “hung up on somebody that [he] used to know”. She continued to try to trust him, even at the end, but she shouldn’t have.

In terms of the video… I don’t know if this can relate to the lyrics or Gotye’s intentions, but I think the paint is very telling. The video starts with him naked and the paint begins to cover him as the lyrics begin… I see this as a possible veiling over of the truth. The paint even covers his face as he sings. Kimbra’s character begins painted and ends up naked, as if she becomes into view, or into some sort of unmasked, exposed self-realisation or something. Her face is never painted, even at her first appearance, which I think indicates a truth of representation. Further, and to only add to the length of this comment (my apologies… maybe I’m making up for a lack of commenting over the years), Kimbra’s gaze is upon him the entire video… she addresses him directly (the paint between them). Gotye doesn’t even so much as glance at her until she moves away at the end of the song; so, he doesn’t care until she is gone.

Sorry again about the long post; I dig your blog, but don’t comment very much…
All the best,
ps… check out the youtube Sam Mac’s Gotye Parody for a giggle

12 Her Royal Fabulousness { 07.18.12 at 8:42 am }

I am ashamed that I am re-reading Fifty Shades Darker now. Why? It’s crap writing with a crap plot and crap characters. But, I find the naughtiness addicting in my boring little life. I’m also the kid who would steal my mom’s awful romance novels with Fabio on the cover, skipping to the good parts. Lordie. I hang my head in shame.

Feel free to give up on Fifty Shades Freed. So boring!

13 myinfertilitywoes { 08.01.12 at 5:58 pm }

I’m belated in responding to this… but am interested you wrote about it because I’m so mad I actually bought the book (wish I had read your post first!). It was in a moment of weakness, when at the beach, I didn’t have anything to read. I had told myself since it had come out that I wouldn’t get it and then I got curious. I should have known something was up when the bookstore owner wasn’t responding when patrons asked if she read the book, all she said was that it’s been very popular.

Ugh. So incredibly poorly written. Annnoying. And was so turned off by the spanking.

But… in general, like someone said, it was mind candy, and… it did spice things up for a couple of days… 😉

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