The movie, the cruelty, the helpless love given by sacrificing your body and dignity, the beatings, the tears, the sin, the surprises, the complex emotions and the unavoidable eroticism of pain… No, I’m not talking about “The Passion of The Christ” – but about the theater version of the best selling “50 Shades of Grey” received with an equal amount of zeal and fervor.
I’m not concerned with judging whether the book or movie was bad or good, harmless or sin. That’s not my business and there’s no critical analysis I can give that hasn’t already been printed. What really concerns me – the thing I want to make clear – is that we as a culture need to stop seeing without seeing. What I want to show you (which I can fortunately do with my clothes on) is the real reason it successful and what that says about us. Note: Before you start asserting YOU didn’t read/watched it – the sales figures indicate A LOT of people did – so it doesn’t matter – the herd has spoken.
The draw to 50 Shades isn’t the writing (reviewed as horrid), the story (reviewed as ridiculous), or the nudity (reviewed as <…you know…>). Despite what many churches are preaching – it isn’t even because it is taboo or represents something missing in our lives. Our societal impulse hasn’t been to flock to this because of what it says about sex, love or mystery. People respond to what it says about money – and that fetishization of wealth is the last thing this country (USA) needs right now. As many before me have pointed out: In a country with the economic disparity of the United States, where many struggle with working poverty, lifting up the adulation of the wealthy is calloused at best. We don’t need Wall Street to tell us the rich have the right to do anything they want. We learn it through media, celebrity culture, and a consumer driven world. Think about it: The wealthy can afford organic food, they can fly in comfort and get on the plane first, they can see the doctor of their choice and afford their medication. As a former HIV/AIDS worker – I can tell you first hand – the difference between thriving, surviving, and dying for those with HIV is money. The rich get better meds, better care, better odds. At a time when we should be questioning that – we are stampeding to theaters to celebrate it. When a poor man beats his girlfriend and plays emotional games to create her consent – we call it “abuse.” When it rich man does it – well – it’s “erotic fantasy.”
Fear Driven: It is, in fact, our helplessness to financial disparity that makes wealth fetish possible (for an example of wealth fetish – go to Amazon and type “billionaire” in the search line. Pages of billionaire books make up their own highly successful subgenre of Romance). Human beings tend to revere what they desire based on what they fear. Ancient cultures were terribly susceptible to the ravages of the weather. While this harsh winter of 2015 has frustrated many of us – it would have killed a village centuries ago. The fear and dependence on nature led to a host of religions lifting up “nature gods” – beings who were powerfully able to control that which humans couldn’t. Those gods were sometimes beautiful, sometimes loathsome – but they worshipped them. Because it made them feel safe.
Throughout history war and plagues would periodically devastate societies. What became popular almost every time that happened? Vampire legends. Vampires should be gross and villainous – but every major facet of history that involved a precarious fear or loss of life – vampire stories, first oral, then written, then movies – filled public imagination. Vampires (even the nasty un-sexy ones like Nosferatu) have something we don’t. They rise from the dead. They are (with notable exception) immortal. Fear of death creates a lust for life. It is no accident that True Blood (published the year of (9/11) and Twilight (published as young adult literature in the age of school shootings, teen suicides and drug deaths) are so popular and romantic. Vampires almost always beat the odds. Who wouldn’t want that?
Now, after a recession that took homes from our neighbors, and during a time when our media reminds us nightly about our growing deficit, the shaky stability of the dollar and the terrible gap between the rich and the poor, the billionaire with a stable, unshakeable wealth is our new legend, our new god. Why else would the wealthy majority in Congress (backed by a conservative Christian base) which has shown its willingness to have a say about our birth control, our sex lives, and who can marry – suddenly be disinterested in the morality of its citizens? Legislators are challenging the AP History exam which questions racial and economic justice, but letting erotica with slippery consent issues flow unregulated through the land. It isn’t because it suddenly decided censorship was wrong – but because we are being taught to lift up, revere, and lust for the love of power, and the power of money. With 50 Shades, we say we are being entertained – but most of us are being “trained.”
So what to do? Am I calling censorship? Heavens no! That is the way of ignorance. Free expression is the only hope of our world. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me if you love 50 Shades or hate it. If you embrace it or ignore it. Watch it, live it, laugh at it – whatever. But what I want you to do – is be aware of what it’s really trying to sell you.
It was very easy to laugh at the idealistic, disorganized youth of Occupy Wall Street who raged against corporate culture while drinking Starbucks and tapping on an iPad. However, be aware when you are posting articles about the outrageous privileges of the 1% and the horror of economic disparity – that wealth fetish may be as near as the movie ticket in your pocket.
I have the world’s worst taste in music. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s some testimonials: Three years ago a college intern working in our office said to me, “You know, for an older lady – you have the worst taste in music I’ve ever seen.” I didn’t take the intern too seriously because:
- I was 46 at the time.
Then, last year a friend visited us for Thanksgiving. He’s not the kind of guy that’s famous for keeping his opinions on the inside (or even using his inside voice). So, after driving him around over the weekend, he turned my car radio off and said, “All you listen to are ‘bubble gum sluts’.”
I didn’t take him too seriously because
- I know more adults who chew gum than kids.
- The only person’s sex life I care about is mine.
- If Lady Gaga spent all her time on that music just so she could buy some bubble gum, more power to her!
But, yesterday – my own wife, whose opinion I actually do listen to, said with a withering voice, “I wouldnt hear any of these songs if it wasn’t for you.”
So – there you have it. Truth is, I listen to all kinds of music for different purposes:
- Housecleaning: 80’s Music (Madonna has cleaned many a bathtub with me).
- Relaxing: New age-y meditation, instrumentals, Spanish guitar.
- Writing or studying academically – Classical – particularly baroque.
- Writing fiction: Whatever my character would listen to is what I put on.
- Fantasizing I’m a Medieval Queen – Medieval Baebes/Celtic (This takes up a large portion of my day)
- Thanksgiving to New Years: Christmas Music, Baby 24/7.
- Boxing – Rock, harder the better.
- Driving, Exercising, Living, Breathing, Most of the time: Dance, Synthpop, Hip-hop, Pop, Rap, Top 10, etc.
So, yeah. Worst taste ever. Before your write off my musical appetites as apocalyptic – I will say that pop music offers some good life lessons.
Ellie Goulding’s ethereal voice blended with Calvin Harris’ electronic mix skills (I Need Your Love, Outside), Jessie J’s writing, Ariana Grande’s voice and Nicki Minaj’s rap rhythm (Bang, Bang), and of course any song featuring Pitbull (he’s provided a feature line on over 80 songs for other artists) will show you that pop musicians love to flavor their music with other voices.
Collaboration makes songs great because of the diversity found in the music. In Western culture where we are constantly placed in competition and taught to live in a “me first” world, the ability of musicians to work together consistently, and invite differences into the mix is a breath of fresh air. Working together never sounded so good.
- Sampling and Covers
Pablo Picasso famously said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Nowhere does that happen more than in pop music and it’s awesome. I love the music of my teen years (80’s) but I don’t want to live in the past. So, nothing makes me happier than to hear Rihanna’s sample (2006) of the tag line from Soft Cell’s cover (1981) of the Gloria Jones hit (1964) Tainted Love. See – 40 years of music collapsed into one song and I can dance to it.
Sampling and covers not only bring back the good old days – but can make me hear an old song in a new way. I know as part of the GBLT community I’m supposed to adore Elton John (I think it’s in the contract for my lesbian card) – but I’m not a fan. Even the “big songs” leave me a bit cold – except “Crocodile Rock” – I love that song.
One of Elton’s songs I never connected with is “Your Song” although many of my peers adore it. I found it dull, obvious and over-dramatic. Then in 2010 Ben Lovett from Mumford & Sons produced Ellie Goulding’s cover of Your Song and …wow…I finally got that song – better yet – I felt it.
- Name it, Claim it.
As a fiction writer I am always threatening to toss my name into books the way rap singers make sure their name is featured in a song. I can see it now:
Rebecca turned toward Tom, ready to confess the secret she’d kept like a worn penny in her shoe. She gazed into his soft, brown eyes not daring to believe in his forgiveness. “I know I’m not Kellie Schorr,” she said. “But I have something to say.”
Okay, so – maybe not. But I adore the way musicians work their name into things – some well (Nicki Minaj) and some painfully horrible (Jason DeRulo – who finally announced he was retiring from singing his own name). Narcissistic? Yes. But at the same time there’s something encouraging about any artist who says “this is me – this is my work, this is what I do.” Artists sign paintings, writers put their name on the binding and singers get their due as well.
I celebrate diversity and working together, bringing new life into old efforts, and being proud of your creative work. Because when the iPod runs out of power and Pandora is offline – those things will still exist. Music can make us better people – no matter what genre we love.
As a commissioned novelist who averages 10 – 15,000 words a week – and the staff writer for a publishing company – I was asked to come up with a list of the best Christmas gifts for writers. I also threw in the three worst – in the interest of my fellow word herders out there. And remember, the most important gift you can give anyone at any time – is love.
The Ten Best Gifts for Writers
Coffee – (Or Tea) – Most writers either need to wake up or stay up. Some specialty coffee (or tea) is always well appreciated.
Gym Membership or Free Pass – Writing is a solitary, sit-down-all-the-time existence. Something that gives writers a chance to get up, be around people and move is a good thing. Exercise is also a great way to get ideas and defeat writer’s block.
Massage Gift Certificate – If your writer doesn’t like working out, loosen up his/her muscles with a nice massage. Relaxation encourages creativity and productivity.
Autographed Books – All writers have writers who inspire them. Give an autographed book to connect your writer to the community of authors. Or, give a gift subscription to Tattered Cover Book Store’s “Autograph Book Club” which sends out a signed book each month.
Staples Gift Card (or any office supply store) – Writers love office supplies. Highlighters, tape, cool labels, index cards – you name it we want it.
Pandora One Subscription – A great way to get into a character’s head is listen to the music that character likes. But, who wants to spend money on music you hate just because you’re writing dialogue for a teenage Goth or an eighty year old big-band fan? Pandora (without commercials and no time limit) can let you design a station for every character.
Cork Board or Dry Erase Board – with pins – Cork boards make great story boards to put up pictures of characters, plot outlines, or descriptions. Dry erase boards let writers dump all their ideas, character names and weird things to remember in one erasable place.
Dyna-Flex Gyro – We might not be surgeons or pool sharks, but – writers need their hands. We type A LOT. Keep your writer carpal tunnel syndrome free with a Dyna Flex. It is a plastic ball with a rotor inside and spins at G Force. A 3 times a day Dyna Flex (2 mins per hand) will keep the doctor away.
Noise Cancelling Headphones – You don’t realize how loud common household stuff is until you try to concentrate. The cat snores, the office lights buzz, the person beside you won’t shut up. Give your writer the ultimate gift – white noise or the ability to control their sound environment via music so they can concentrate.
Specialty Dice – head to any game or comic shop and pick up a couple 20 sided, 8 sided, 6 sided dice and put them together in a set for your writer. Dice are amazingly helpful. You’re writing, you need an address for the killer to go to – if you stop to think too hard about it you’re going to break the flow and the muse will get all cranky and leave again. So – grab the dice on your desk and toss a couple. BAM! 1482 Applewood Street. Or the guy is in hotel room (3 Dice Roll) 624.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE WRITERS:
Fancy Pens – They are beautiful, functional and personal. But – writers really don’t use pens that often except for jotting notes (and most of use our phones for that).
Blank Notebooks – It doesn’t matter if they are fancy or plain, lined or open. Don’t do it. First, writers get tons of these and second, the last thing a writer needs is MORE BLANK PAPER STARING AT YOU!
DVD’s of TV Shows – So, you know your writing friends would love Boardwalk Empire. But they keep blowing off the suggestion (cause they are busy writing and don’t have time for TV) – Do NOT buy them the Box Set. Writers have to shut out other media for time and creativity (It’s hard to write your story when you are watching other stories) – Don’t force it into their life. Let them decide IF and WHEN they have time for a new story in their world.