I’m so close to being done with Fifty Shades Later that I thought it might be an enjoyable little retrospective to watch that Bronies documentary on Netflix. After all, I’ve spent close on a year finding out more about bronies than I ever needed or wanted to know – it felt like an interesting way to say goodbye.
We lasted about forty-five minutes. Holy Christ, this thing is dull. It’s like an endless, one-note puff piece in which a collection of tiresome young men and boys talk about how much they like ponies. And that they’re not gay. But they like ponies. And they’re persecuted for liking ponies. And not gay. Even though they like a cartoon for little girls.
Writing the Fifty Shades of Neigh series has been a weird experience in a lot of ways. The strangest one is that – in attempting to create a faithful parody of Fifty Shades of Grey – I’ve had to try and stifle my own instincts as a writer. For example, the characters in the original are so static they may as well be cryogenically frozen. They rarely grow or change in any significant way throughout the books. In writing the parody I wanted to carry that across, but it felt totally self-defeating, like trying to swim against a current. It was like I had all these panicked little instinctive voices in my head, all of them freaking out because I was going against something that everyone from Stephen King down had told me was a fundamental truth of good fiction – characters need to change and develop.
Eventually I gave up. I couldn’t keep it up. I listened to my gut – change was too vital a thing to toss aside. Even if – in Hanna’s case – she just got a mani-pedi and a new weave, there was still a joke in there in that she thought a pedicure constituted growing as a person. The one character who’s remained totally static is Crispian Neigh, which goes right to the heart of why I hate him and hate writing him. He’s boring. He’s a one-note joke. He’s a grown man who likes My Little Pony and isn’t that whacky and weird?
It’s the reason why I spent most of the Fifty Shades of Neigh series trying to avoid writing about Crispian – if the books were just one long brony joke they’d almost be as boring as the originals. Almost. You could practise for a lifetime at boring the tits off people and still not approach the depths of boredom we’re about to plumb in chapter eleven of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Yes, it’s time to read the Sex Contract. Clause by clause, paragraph by paragraph, epoch by geological epoch. Soul-crushing boredom is the new Sexy.
The infamous boff-contract of Fifty Shades of Grey begins with listing the protagonists names and addresses in full, because God knows this book doesn’t contain enough boring filler, and in Ana’s case – let’s be honest – she is rather prone to forgetting where she lives.
Let’s just dive in, shall we?
THE PARTIES AGREE AS FOLLOWS
1. The following are the terms of a binding contract between the Dominant and the Submissive.
2. The fundamental terms of this is contract is to allow the Submissive to explore her sensuality and her limits safely, with use respect and regard for her wellbeing.
Actually she could explore her sensuality just as well (probably better) with a copy of My Secret Garden and a Rampant Rabbit. And she wouldn’t have to read a forty page warranty in order to do so. Also, take careful note of point one – binding contract. This is going to come up again and again.
3. The Dominant and the Submissive agree and acknowledge that all occurs under the terms of this contract will be consensual, confidential…
…no. The non-disclosure agreement was silly enough. Trying to intimidate her into not talking to her friends about sex doesn’t make you look like a person who values his privacy. It makes you look sinister. Which you are.
7. The Dominant shall take responsibility for the wellbeing and the proper training, guidance, and discipline of the Submissive. He shall decide the nature of such training, guidance, and discipline and the time and place of its administration, subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety procedures set out in this contract or agreed additional under clause 3 above.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m already wildly aroused.
Subject to the agreed terms, limitations and safety provisions set out in this contract or agreed additionally under clause 3 above she shall without query or hesitation offer the Dominant such pleasure as he may require and she shall accept without query or hesitation his training, guidance and discipline in whatever form it may take.
Of course, a cynic might point out that the jaw-dropping dullness of this contract and its unnecessary and elliptical legalese are just another form of intimidation. Since Ana is astonishingly dim and may as well have been hatched in some kind of cabbage patch for all she knows about reality, she’s likely to be convinced that this contract is legally binding – just like she was with the NDA. Similarly, a beady-eyed observer might note that the thing has been made as boring as humanly possible the better for your eyeballs to slide off it. That way you’d be more likely to not really read what you were signing up for.
And what you’re actually signing up for is completely dicked up.
The not-remotely-legally-binding contract is good for three months, after which time he’ll manipulate her into signing up for another three ‘the parties shall discuss whether this contract and the arrangements made under this contract are satisfactory and whether the needs of each party have been met.’
15. The Dominant reserves the right to dismiss the Submissive from his service at any time for any reason. The Submissive may request her release at any time, such request to be granted at the discretion of the Dominant…
So basically, if she wants to call a halt to it, she can’t unless he says so.
The Dominant will not undertake or permit to be undertaken any action which could cause serious injury or any risk to the Submissive’s life.
Does this cover injuries to her mental health? Because it should.
The Dominant may use the Submissive’s body at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times in any manner he deems fit, sexually or otherwise.
The Dominant may flog, spank, whip or corporally punish the Submissive as he sees fit, for purposes of discipline, for his own personal enjoyment, or for any other reason, which he is not obliged to provide.
In case of illness or injury the Dominant shall care for the Submissive, seeing to her health and safety, encouraging and when necessary ordering medical attention when it is judged by the Dominant.
Just in case you were thinking of heading to the hospital with the bruises he left on you, lady. See what I mean? Once you parse the boring shit, you’re left with a Lifetime movie nightmare.
The Submissive will ensure that she procures oral contraception and ensure that she takes it as and when prescribed to prevent any pregnancy.
He can’t wear a condom, obviously. Even though he’s a control freak and you’d think that he’d be concerned about controlling his own fertility it’s still her responsibility. As usual.
The Submissive shall not touch or pleasure herself sexually without permission from the Dominant.
Oh, that’s a big old fuck off right there. ‘Explore her sensuality’? Please.
The Submissive shall submit to any sexual activity demanded by the Dominant and shall do so without hesitation or argument.
For the last time, Christian – just get one of those uncanny valley sex dolls.
There’s a bunch of other amazingly creepy stuff about how she’s to call him ‘Sir’ and keep her eyes lowered at all times. Then there’s a section about safewords, which is another thing we’re going to keep coming back to. A safeword is a word that’s used in a BDSM setting to keep things…well…safe. Since a lot of bondage is very theatrical (to the point where some of it is not so much sex as it performance art) the sub’s cries for mercy are often nothing more than part of the ‘scene’. Safewords tend to be odd and specific non-sequiteurs, such as ‘marshmallow’ or ‘daiquiri’ – words that can’t be mistaken for anything else but what they are. When a dominant hears the safeword, they know that the sub genuinely wants them to stop.
Christian gives Ana the old traffic-lights safewords – ‘yellow’ for ‘slow down’ and ‘red’ for ‘stop’. Given that he plans to do all of this in a room that’s entirely decorated in red, maybe he might want to pick something more specific. But, like I say, we’ll be coming back to Christian’s relationship with safewords and how they apply to his relationship with Ana.
Then there’s an Appendix, in case we weren’t already bored, which is pretty much the same paperwork she scanned in chapter six. There’s a list of ‘soft limits’ listing so many sexual acts that it sounds like it should conclude with ‘The Aristocrats!’, but in fact is more a list of ways in which you’re bound to be disappointed with this book. Over half the depraved acts listed do not happen in Fifty Shades of Grey.
There’s also a list of what she’s allowed to eat, which bits of herself she will be obliged to wax and how much sleep and exercise she gets.There is also a clause about her ‘personal safety’ which is kind of special.
The Submissive will not drink to excess…
Except when he’s the one pouring it down her throat, of course.
For once Ana sees through his bullshit.
And apparently it’s for my benefit, to explore my sensuality, my limits – safely – oh please! I scoff angrily. Serve and obey in all things. All Things! I shake my head in disbelief….only three months, is that why there have been so many? He doesn’t keep them for long? Or have they had enough after three months?
I’ve had enough of him after forty-eight hours, but yeah – that’s probably it, Ana. Probably nothing to do with those ‘hiking trips’ he’s so fond of up in the forest. Or the cable ties, rope and coveralls he bought from the hardware store. I wonder if all his previous subs parted their hair in the middle?
Ana has several pages of perfectly understandable reservations but decides she needs some sleep, probably because we’re about due for a section break.
I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. You can’t seriously be considering this…My subconscious sounds sane and rational, not her usual snarky self. My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old. Please, let’s do this…otherwise we’ll end up alone with lots of cats and your classic novels to keep you company.
Yes. There are clearly only two options here – enter into a relationship with a sociopathic pervo or die alone and get eaten by cats. You do know there are about three and a half billion other men on the planet, don’t you?
I close my eyes, and I drift into a heavy sleep with occasional dreams of four-poster beds and shackles and intense grey eyes.
Oh look. A section break. While we’re here, don’t you just love how Ana’s dreams always vaguely shunt the plot (such as it is) along or capture how she’s feeling about Christian, as if we weren’t privy to enough of that shit when she’s actually conscious?
The next morning Kate wakes Ana to tell her there’s a delivery for her and lo and behold, it’s a MacBook Pro, a computer apparently so exclusive and rare that the plans were probably dictated by Steve Jobs on his deathbed.
The Mac laptop is sleek and silver and rather beautiful. It has a very large screen. Christian Grey likes scale – I think of his living area, in fact, his whole apartment.
Cocktail sausage. That’s all I’m saying.
[The tech guy] points to an icon on the screen and continues to talk at me but it’s like white noise. I haven’t got a clue what he’s saying and in all honestly [actual typo], I’m not interested.
Remember, Ana is ‘bright’. While she’s somehow managed to avoid the entire digital revolution (and some might say the sexual one as well), when given access to the internet her reaction is one of bored disinterest. The only thing that impresses her is the knowledge that she now has an e-mail address.
This is, of course, the beginning of the fucking end. Now it’s time to relentlessly pad the pages with endless boring e-mails in which the entire subjects, time-stamps, sender/recipient and Christian’s big fat look-at-me dicksmack of a sig line (Christian Grey – CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.) are written out in full every single time.
He e-mails her right away and she e-mails back to say she’ll accept the computer ‘on loan’. He e-mails back immediately and says;
The computer is on loan. Indefinitely, Miss Steele. I note from your tone that you have read the documentation I gave you. Do you have any questions so far?
Yes. Why are you so fucking pompous?
Obviously Ana doesn’t ask this, because she hates fun. Instead she goes on to sum up one of the many reasons why I hate this whole e-mail schtick possibly more than anything else in the entire series.
I have many questions, but not suitable for e-mail, and some us have to work for a living. I do not want or need a computer indefinitely. Until later, good day. Sir.
It’s just more of the same smug, smirky ‘Miss Steele’ and ‘Mr Grey’ thing they do when the author wants them to be clever or funny, except neither of them are either of those things. They’re just snide and self-impressed.
Again, it’s another of those things that bleed over from fanfiction – I’m sure fans were giddily excited to experience every ‘witty’ subject line of Edward and Bella’s e-mails. For the rest of us it’s just more filler.
He e-mailed me. I’m like a small, giddy child. And all the contract angst fades. As I wash my hair, I try and think what I could possibly ask him via e-mail. Surely it’s better to talk these things through? Suppose someone hacked into his account?
Hacked into his account? I’m strangely reminded of the time I set up a g-mail account for my mother. Everyone Ana knows is probably about to find their inboxes full of lolcats, ‘virus warnings’ and joke e-mails from the late 1990s.
Jose phones Ana and arranges to meet for coffee, which is basically an opportunity for Ana to be weird about minorities (“…he smiles his dazzling tooth all-Hispanic-American smile…”) and remind us that Jose used to be a werewolf. (“He comes bounding into the shop like a gamboling dark-eyed puppy.”) She says she forgives him for Friday night and that’s the end of that.
Nothing compares with the stark-naked, insane kamikaze thrill of e-mailing with Christian Grey, you see. Nothing.
Dear Miss Steele
I do hope you had a good day at work.
Sir…I had a very good day at work. Thank you.
Admit it – this is riveting stuff.
Delighted you had a good day.
While you are e-mailing, you are not researching.
Yes, Ana. Go and look up a bunch of BDSM porn so that he can claim that you knew exactly what you were getting into when you signed that contract, even though you didn’t really have the first fucking clue.
She goes into spasms of ecstasy because he sent her ‘a winking smiley’ and he tells her to start her research with Wikipedia. You notice he doesn’t point her to one of the bazillion BDSM forums on the internet, in case she got the idea that kinky sex was supposed to be fun or consensual or anything like that.
I type Submissive into Wikipedia.
Half an hour later, I feel slight [actual typo] queasy and frankly shocked to my core. Do I really want this stuff in my head?
Your initial reaction – and most of your other reactions, actually – would say you don’t.
I sit staring at the screen, and part of me, a very moist and integral part of me – that I’ve only become acquainted with very recently, is seriously turned on. Oh my, some of this stuff is HOT. But is it for me?
The fact that you call it a ‘moist and integral’ part tells me you’re not ready.