Thursday, October 11, 2012

Should Pop Culture Characters REALLY Be Taken Seriously?

I'll begin this by saying that perhaps I am a little late jumping on this particular bandwagon.  But then again, I normally tend to avoid alot of today's mainstream pop culture that I usually am in the dark about new trends until they've been out for a while.  I was the one who knew zilch about Lady Gaga the first year she hit it big.  Sure I'd heard the name thrown around every so often, but beyond that?  Nothing.  Then I found out she was a popstar and then I came to hear snippets of songs little by little.  Same thing with the Twilight Series and many other things considered 'popular' by today's standards.  While I will give things a chance, most of what pop culture today has doesn't really appeal to me.  I really don't watch much TV and I don't buy pop culture magazines nor do I go to their websites.  This brings me to the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey...

When the Fifty Shades books began to heat up, I was in the dark in the beginning (yes, a female who really didn't know or care about the Fifty Shades trilogy so many others were swooning and falling all over themselves over).  But after hearing it mentioned several times, my curiosity took over and I decided to check out what all the fuss was about.  I perused book websites, amazon, and other places like it.  I checked out excerpts online and, at the risk of sounding like a literary snob, was not impressed and did not understand why this was such a phenomenon among women.  And after reading some other reviews stating that it promotes abuse and Ana is portrayed as being whiny and wimpy in her willingness to let Christian Grey dominate her, I did find it a little disturbing especially for the supposed progressive times we are supposedly living in.  In fact, I was a little surprised that some feminist groups were even endorsing this instead of being up in arms about it.  I voiced my disgust with such things vowing never to read the books.  But I will admit to breaking down and finally reading the first book.  I figured that in the end, it's only fair to give things a chance which is what I like to do.  And I can't really have a fair assessment on something unless I give it a chance.  Don't knock it til you've tried it, right?

So I read the book.  It took me nearly a month to finish it.  Now mind you, I read Stephen King's "It", a 1000+ page book, cover to cover within a week.  So that should speak volumes about what I thought of Fifty Shades.  As many critics of the book have said, yes the writing was below the satisfactory level.  Excerpts such as the 'inner goddess doing the salsa merengue' actually had me at a loss for words.  Someone actually put that in a story...?  As for the story itself, it wasn't as Godawful as I anticipated.  Ana, the female lead, did get on my nerves and Christian was too 'beautiful' and perfect despite is hinted at past.  Whether or not certain parts of the book promotes abuse or not is debatable as I do want to give the author a pass saying that doing so very likely wasn't her intention (but I will say that if a guy I was dating kept stating how he 'wanted to hurt me' I highly doubt I'd be sticking around...but that's just me).  Some aspects of their relationship did cause me to "raise and eyebrow" more than a few times.  I also still didn't get why people were finding it so revolutionary and shocking.  I didn't really think the sex scenes where that far 'out there' and people were really talking those up like they were the greatest things since sliced cheese.  Now, I'm not an expert on the BDSM lifetsyle, though I have known people who are into it.  And perhaps my being in the entertainment industry and underground subcultures?  To be fair, it really does take alot to shock me anymore.  But in a way, I can understand how some may view the sexual content in the book as something new and exciting.  

Now with that said, I will continue to why I still don't think very highly of the book.  I will start that by saying that I don't have issues with the author having success with it.  If she was able to create a product and have massive sales with it, good for her.  And I really do mean that.  It does bother me, though, how it is becoming such a huge part of our culture.  Oh, but it's just fluff and entertainment I hear so many say.  But is it really? 

One of my favorite shows from the 1990s is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."  Buffy has always been one of my favorite female characters.  She was tough, strong, could kick anyone's ass but she also had a vulnerable and feminine side too.  The characters from the show were quirky enough and had flaws as well as attributes.  Moments of prejudice and moments of being openminded.  They were HUMAN.  Well, most of them at least.  Then there was her relationship with Angel.  Even when they were at odds with one another (when Angel reverted to his former evil ways for a while), they had that deep rooted, emotional and intellectual connection.  It was this connection that made their inablility to be together all the more heartbreaking (yes I actually cried during a couple of the episodes).  Now if you got a group of 100 women between the ages of 18 and 45 together and asked them who would they rather be...Ana Steele or Buffy Summers...how many do you think would say Ana and how many would say Buffy (or even know who Buffy is)?

The thing I found horribly lacking in the relationship between Ana and Christian was the lack of emotional and intellectual connection.  Ok, we got that Ana was a literary major, but other than a few references to British classics?  Well, there really wasn't much there.  Nothing, at least, that really made me care about her.  In fact, half the time I wanted her to shut up.  It got me thinking though that have we as a society, lost the value of an emotional and intellectual connection in our relationships?  Has having strong and independent female role models gone down the drain?  I've read online about how women are crying because they want that type of a relationship (Christian and Ana).  Yes, it's to be entertainment.  But is it really when women everywhere seem to be taking it seriously and are claiming to be looking for their own 'Christian Grey'?  I mean, I thought it was just a book.  And it isn't like a little girl watching a Disney movie wishing she were Sleeping Beauty.  These are grown women.  Throughout time, entertainment (movies, books, music, television shows, theater) has been known to either be a mirror of the society of it's time, influence it, or both.  Hell, look at the Vietnam era of the 1960s.  When women everywhere are claiming that a book saved their marriage, it stops being just a book.  And while that isn't a bad thing, I'm not sure if it's a good thing, either.  I find much entertainment today to be rather materialistic and Fifty Shades is no exception.  While I know every era has had it's materialism, it seems to be more prevalent today.

With the writing that I do with my production company and screenplays, my goal is to create both male and female characters who are both tough yet vulnerable.  My goal is to create a tension, yet a form of equality between them.  This brings me back to Buffy.  Buffy and Angel fought each other equally and they loved equally.  There were times when Buffy put Angel in his place and vice versa.  Because that's how people are supposed to be.  We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our prejudices, our vices, our moments of being thoughtful, our moments of being uppity.  In my own novel, I'm creating my two main characters in that fashion.  It may not be a popular approach, but it is an approach I feel strongly about and should be taken.  Everett (my male lead) is not a wealthy 27 year old billionaire who's too perfect for words save for a hinted at troubled past.  He is a 22 year old guy who shares an apartment with his fraternal twin brother, Ron and he's living in 1959.  Joanna (my female lead) is a 22 year old from the 21st century who pretty much has her shit together and a sense of direction.  As much as a 22 year old can, at least.  Both of them have their issues when they meet that are dealt with Joanna having a dark past (among all the other supernatural events occurring in the novel).  No one dominates the other and they develop an emotional and intellectual connection and mutual respect for each other.  I guess you can say that Everett does sort of follow Joanna for a little bit, but not in a creepy 'I want to hurt you' way.  I was a little influenced by Buffy and Angel (light influence) when writing them, I'll admit.  There are some sensitive issues that are touched on along with the supernatural elements.  My goal is to make my characters, whether a screenplay or in a novel, as human as possible.  No one is perfect, everyone has their faults and virtues.  It may not be a popular approach, but it's an approach I want to take.

Hey, I've read my share of 'smut' (VC Andrews, bring it on) and yes there will be sexual content in my novel.  But that will only be a small ingredient of the book.  And I'm not saying my writing will be perfect, but I want to tell a story as opposed to just shock people.  Plus, Everett isn't a billionaire and he can't get Joanna a mac and blackberry, since he's also from the year 1959 and has no idea what those things are anyway (black rotary phone, boys and girls).  And Joanna actually isn't worried about those things anyway.  She has her own cell phone and laptop.  She pays for her own cell phone and her laptop was given to her by her mom and stepdad when she went to college.  In other words, no one has it easy.

Sure it's supposed to be entertainment.  But what do they say?  Art imitates life...

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