I open up my e-mail inbox one morning to find that the first message on the list bears the following title:
“THIS MONDAY—RAPE IN THE CONGO!”
Of course, after I open the e-mail, I realize that it comes from an activist group that is inviting me to a special event where they will screen a documentary about some humanitarian crisis in Africa.
But the first thought that came to my head, when I saw that email, was this:
Who can afford a plane ticket to the Congo in this economy? Much less stomach all the raping?
I blame “Fifty Shades of Grey” for this.
In part, I hold the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon responsible because, in this day and age, violent sex is on everybody’s minds. It’s all the vogue. It seems that no matter where we turn lately, bruises are the coolest new thing to wear. Bella wakes up after her wedding night with Edward Cullen to find her body bruised and sore, and she is filled with love for her new husband. Anastasia meets a man who tells her he wants to put metal projectiles inside of her, and she instantly falls for him. “You had me at ‘projectiles’,” she says.
It used to be, the violence was at least kept subtle and implicit in films and books. You watch one of these old black and white movies from the 1940’s, and sure, the men do a lot of tough talking, but they keep it classy for the most part. I recently watched “Double Indemnity”, a film noir from 1944. Sure, the main character is always pulling women around by the upper arm to get them to go along with him, as if they had no sense of agency of their own, or were incapable of responding to a simple, verbal “hey, come over here please”. Sure, the lead male has a habit of fiercely shaking his love interest by the shoulders as a prelude to kissing her.
But at least nobody is waking up with bruises in the morning, or having metal balls put inside their nether-regions.
In the 21st Century, on the other hand, we have Twilight and Fifty Shades.
We have Edward Cullen, a husband who is “special” and “magical” and sparkles in the sunlight—and, because he is special and magical and sparkly, his wife is forced to cut off all contact with her friends and family once she marries him. Because nothing says “loving relationship” like a man who won’t let you call your dad on the phone.
We have Christian Grey, who makes you sign a contract regulating when you can touch yourself, who monitors what you eat meticulously.
All that’s missing is for Christian Grey and Edward Cullen to sex their respective lovers to the tune of Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique” like Julia Roberts’ evil husband in “Sleeping with the Enemy”.
But this isn’t the only problem I blame on the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon.
I also hold “Fifty Shades” and its kin responsible for my confusion. My misunderstanding of the aforementioned email—and the vagueness of the email’s title itself—are the direct result of these books, as they have normalized imprecise language. More than the bizarre sexual practices, the poor syntax is, perhaps, the most disturbing thing about the whole “Fifty Shades” series.
The Congo isn’t the only thing being raped these days—the entire English language takes a beating when something like “Fifty Shades” becomes popularized.
Every time Christian Grey says a phrase like “thank f***”—as if F*** were some commonly accepted deity to whom we offer thanks and praise—I feel as if King Leopold of Belgium is marching his troops into the pristine wilderness of the English language, rampaging through the countryside and mining the soil of our language for blood diamonds.
Every time E. L. James carpet bombs her narrative with ubiquitous ellipses, raining down a maelstrom of fire on the punctuation, I feel the English language shrivel up and die inside.
Every time her main character says “oh my”; with every non sequitur in the plot development, with every nonsensical metaphor and simile, the defenseless English language is ravaged like a nation being colonized.
In the face of such devastation, I did the only thing any sensible person would do—I launched a counterattack, via parody. My novella, “Pirates of the Danube”, is a work of comic farce which satirizes the entire lot of barely-legible erotic and romance stories which have taken us by storm. It is humanity’s last stand, in the face of almost certain literary demise.
And it will be free this weekend.
David J. Schmidt is the author of the satirical romance novel, “Pirates of the Danube”, as well as its sequel, “The Baron Rides Again”. The former, “Pirates of the Danube”, will be available on the Kindle store for free this Passover / Palm Sunday weekend, March 23 and 24.
Schmidt has received various recognitions for his charitable contributions toward the preservation of Peyronie’s Disease. In 2004, he was granted knighthood by the Basque Republic, becoming Sir David J. Schmidt for the following three years. The title was stripped from him by the United Nations Council on Fallacious Royal Families in 2007. Schmidt lives with his beloved ex-wife of 14 years, his two cats, and his indentured servant. He can be reached via his blog, www.donguero.blogspot.com or via email email@example.com
See this link to find the book on Kindle.