What Women Want – 50 Shades of Grey’s ancient pattern

Posted in Fiction, Politics and Society, Things You Should Hear with tags , , , , , on February, 2015 by melendwyr

For years, people have been gushing over the novel 50 Shades of Grey, and now that it’s a major motion picture people are gushing about that.  Praise or condemnation, it doesn’t much matter – either way, people are talking about it.  It might not be quite true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  For people.  For ideas, for memes, that seems to be the literal truth.

I’ve been monitoring how the book is discussed in various male-dominated circles, and my overwhelming impression is that the people claiming to explain the ‘true significance’ of the novel just aren’t getting it.

50 Shades is a combination of two kinds of fantasy: sex-without-guilt, which like the ‘rape’ commonly found in romance novels permits women to enjoy forbidden/tabooed sexuality without being responsible for breaking the social codes – basically having the cake and eating it – and the fantasy of having a man be so obsessed and emotionally tied to the woman that he can be induced to change his bad-boy nature.

It’s the same basic pattern found in lots of romances. The only difference between this and the standard bodice-ripper is that as more and more forms of sexual expression have been normalized, more extreme practices are needed to give people the frisson of transgressing what’s ‘good’. Go back far enough, and sex we’d consider tame and standard would be kinky and shocking.

Readers get to be titillated by the forbidden, then released from guilt about enjoying the forbidden by having it be treated as a shameful male crime – “It’s not my fault, he tempted me” – then given what they really want.

And what is that, exactly? The medievals knew perfectly well.

Go read Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’.  Or better yet, go listen to Professor Corey Olsen’s Fairie and Fantasy lectures about ‘Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’ and ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’.  And consider how the basic pattern of those works compares to the structure of 50 Shades.

The Phoenix and the Firebird

Posted in Uncategorized on February, 2015 by melendwyr

It’s been nearly a year since I did much of anything with this blog.  Sometimes I’ve had nothing to say.  Other times I’ve had plenty to say in other venues, and didn’t bother repeating it here.

Perhaps soon I will think of something worth posting.

Skin Game

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May, 2014 by melendwyr

Jim Butcher has written fifteen books in his Dresden Files series, not counting the short story anthology.  The latest, Skin Game, was released today.  I’ve picked up a copy.

Butcher’s skill at spinning yarns has increased steadily since his humble beginnings as a creative writing student crafting a genre crossover between noir and fantasy as a class project.  He was twenty-five then.  We’ve had one book a year since then.  And each has been better than the last, with a possible exception for the pivotal novel Changes – not because it is lacking, but because it marked a watershed moment in theme for the series, and so cannot be adequately be compared to its surrounding works.

The new novel?  Extraordinary.  New mysteries are hinted at, subtle premises established more than a decade ago are revealed in a new light, old beloved characters are brought back in thoughtful new roles.  Instead of sprinting from one supernatural disaster to another, desperately trying to keep Chicago in one piece, Harry Dresden has had a lot of time off… to the point of sanity erosion.  Being left alone almost of the time on his unmapped island in Lake Michigan hasn’t done a great deal for his mental stability.  He’s so lonely that he’s taken to chatting with the entities imprisoned beneath the island, something he had previously lampshaded as near to criminally irresponsible.  But his old nemesis and new boss Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, shows up with a task for him to  perform, and she’s not going to take ‘no’ lightly.

I can’t decide which delighted me more:  the plot turns and developments which I didn’t see coming, or the one I successfully called many years ago.  So very satisfying.

The Self-Destruction of John Campbell

Posted in Comics, Politics and Society, Reviews, Things You Should Read, Weirdness with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

You may recall my earlier post detailing my sadness upon learning that one of my favorite webcomics, Pictures for Sad Children, had been deleted by its artist and creator John Campbell.

Upon learning that he had a Kickstarter project involving the release of his comics in bound and printed form, I concluded that perhaps he didn’t want the free online version of his work competing with his professional work.  Sadly, I have recently learned that the reality is much, much stranger than that.

As the bottom of that Wikipedia article indicates, in fact.

Campbell had gained a degree of notority for apologizing for purportedly “pretending to be depressed for money”.  Which is quite peculiar, but not nearly as weird as it would become…

John Campbell recently announced that all of the Kickstarter rewards which were going to be sent out had been, and that nothing else would be forthcoming – regardless of what had been promised or what people had paid for.  In fact, he released a video showing him burning printed copies of the book, one for each email he had received from people asking where their books were.  Along with the video was… well, a rant.

This might lead you to think that Campbell is staging some kind of avant-garde  performance art, which wouldn’t be incompatible with the style of his comic.  Possibly the whole thing is being faked… except for the vast number of people who haven’t received the work that they paid for and are beginning to become angry.

The rant itself sounds very much as though Campbell were sliding into depression, or schizophrenia.  Not quite at the word salad stage, but approaching it.  Faked?  Perhaps… not.  It’s really quite disturbing.  Campbell claims to have realized that he’s a transwoman, says that he has about $750 total, and has a lot of reasonably incoherent things to say about capitalism, society, and ‘privilege’.

Some people now claim they are working to scan the copies of the book and put them online.

I don’t know what the full truth behind any of this is,  but one way or another, it seems to be the end of John Campbell’s career.  Possibly the beginning of a number of angry lawsuits, although if the statement about the checking is correct I doubt there will be much of anything to win.


Dresden Codak is up again!

Posted in Comics, Things You Should Read with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

Dark Science #31:  Escalation

A truly excellent webcomic.  It’s a shame his long periods between postings limit the attention he can get.

Still, it could be worse, as my next post will discuss.


Product Placement

Posted in Science Fiction, Things You Should See with tags , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

Warning:  the following clip is emotionally intense, probably not suitable for people of a sensitive nature, and in context absolutely hilarious.

Don’t watch this around children, or at work, just to be safe.

Theodore Sturgeon

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Things You Should Read with tags , , , on March, 2014 by melendwyr

I am fortunate.  A quick browse through a local used bookstore yielded not only a hardback copy of Godbody but a collection of short stories by the same author, Theodore Sturgeon.

Although once widely known and generally acknowledged as a master of science fiction, Sturgeon is relatively obscure today; remarkably so, for a man who was once the most anthologized English author living.  Finding his works in libraries is slowly becoming difficult, except in the ones whose stocks are full of old editions.

My first exposure was when I came across his short work “The Golden Helix” in just such an anthology.  My eye was caught by the editor’s introductory blurb in which it was noted that the story was written before the structure of DNA had been discovered, and furthermore, suggested that the choice of the double helix was slightly spooky in that context.  Curious, I paid especial attention, and found that the story more than repaid the interest invested.

On doing a little research, I found that Sturgeon was not only responsible for, among other things, the “Amok Time” episode of Star Trek, the “Live long and prosper” salutation, and the characteristic Vulcan hand symbol (although its form came from Leonard Nimoy).  I tried to find more of his writings but found them to be fairly scarce, even decades ago – the situation has worsened considerably, it seems.

Like Robert Heinlein, Sturgeon seems to have contributed considerably to what I can vaguely refer to as ‘hippie culture’.  Given the times in which he was writing, and the mores of public discourse involved, many of the concepts in his stories were remarkably ideoclastic and radical.  Many of them seem quite same now, although parts would still shock many if they took the time to think about them.

I think I may write reviews of some of his writings in the near future.


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