Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Mad Science: A Guy's Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey

Alright, I’ll admit it.  I wanted to know what the fuss was about, so I swiped my wife’s copy of Fifty Shades of Grey this week and read maybe a third of it Tuesday night.  Fair warning: I’m about to get into that in some detail, so if you’re not ready for that—or you’re under seventeen—you probably ought to turn back now.

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t what I’d call scintillating reading for the most part—at least the first seventy pages or so weren’t—so I skimmed it until I started getting into the freaky parts.  With that said, once this book gets freaky, it gets really freaky.  The male lead in the story is a control freak whose parents beat him as a child, and as a consequence he comes to see love and sex through the prism of discipline, obedience, and violence.  Thus, this is a story with hard core bondage and beating and even talk of fisting (!), and frankly, some of that stuff, I can’t believe the women of America are going for it.

Still.  The fact that the women of America are getting into a story about bondage and violent sex doesn’t necessarily mean that their husbands need to go out and buy a pair of fur-lined handcuffs, a cat-o-nine-tails, and a size large butt plug.  I mean, if your wife does want that stuff, then by all means have at it, but I personally think the reality is a little different.  For example, I really liked the movie Die Hard.  But just because I thought it was badass when Bruce Willis fought European terrorists in his bare feet and then pulled out the shards of glass afterwards on camera while he was talking to his “pal” on the radio, that doesn’t mean that I’m looking to re-up with the Army, so I can personally fight the Taliban without any shoes on.  The same principal applies with women and this book.

And yet, there is something here.  I mean, there’s a lesson if we have the wit to see it.  There’s something in the characterization of Christian Grey that appeals, or else the book wouldn’t work.  And it’s not just his money (although I don’t discount the money’s value).  It’s this: Christian Grey’s ultra-human ability is his supernatural attention to detail.  As it happens, that level of attention to detail is worth a lot more than you’d think. 

Consider: Mr. Grey is a super-rich corporate CEO, but he still has time to learn literally everything that there is to know about Ana, the book’s protagonist, right after their first meeting.  Even his gaze is “intense”.  He obsesses about everything.  This is not the guy who’ll show up for a date with no clear picture of how that date itself is gonna go.  No.  This is a guy who knows everything in advance.  He has it planned to the minute, and he has the resources to make sure that absolutely nothing is gonna go off script.  This is a guy who shows up for a date with reservations for a specific table at a specific restaurant at a specific time with a specific waiter.  He brought the outfit that he wants his girl to wear with him, and it fits perfectly because he had it tailored even though she never realized that he’d taken her measurements.  And he’s already ordered dinner ahead of time because he did the research in advance in order to find out what his girl’s favorite foods are.  And all of that is sexy (rather than creepy) because this is a guy that Ana likes.  He’s good looking, he’s successful, and bottom line, she’s literally overwhelmed by the power of the attention he’s paying to her.  That, all of it, makes her feel incredibly special.

To feel that special, I think a lot of women will put up with an awful lot.  Maybe even zip cuffs and ball gags, and the occasional I’m-not-fucking-around spanking.  And really, even if they won’t, I’m pretty sure that they’d like to pretend that they would.

To an extent, I think this might even be a universal issue for women, especially young women in relationships that they’re not sure about.  They want the undivided attention of their men, they want to return that attention and show their love, but they don’t want to have to compromise themselves in order to do it.  That’s the tension in the book, and it’s a tension that I think exists in real life.  The fun of it then comes when we see Ana redefine herself and her definition of appropriate.  Ana really likes Christian, and she’s willing to do “pretty much” anything in order to show that to him.  This is where the book succeeds—in defining and then redefining that idea of “pretty much”.

For guys then, I think the key is to find a way to make your girl feel special.  Find some way to show her that you’re paying attention.  Make her happy, so that she’ll want to make you happy.  Be honest about it.  And then maybe you’ll be in a position to start pushing boundaries and exploring that idea of trying “pretty much” anything.

As a last thought, let me just say that Fifty Shades of Grey is very reminiscent, at least to me, of American Psycho.  So much so that I kept waiting for Christian to handcuff Anastasia to the bed, give us ten pages of why the music of Phil Collins is a seminal part of Eighties pop culture, and then cut Ana in half with a chainsaw.  That never happens (I don't think), but I'm just saying... it's freaky.

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One of the guys in my office sent me a pretty interesting article from the New York Times this week about differences in voting, beliefs, and outcomes between younger and older Americans.  The upshot is that while older Americans have suffered in the downturn, younger Americans are suffering a lot more.

Younger adults are faring worse in the private sector and, in large part because they have less political power, have a less generous safety net beneath them. Older Americans vote at higher rates and are better organized. There is no American Association of Non-Retired Persons. “Pell grants,” notes the political scientist Kay Lehman Schlozman, “have never been called the third rail of American politics.”

Bottom line, older voters tend to vote, and most of the systems in place in this country’s social safety net are and have been designed to support the Baby Boomers’ generation.  In contrast, unemployment and under-employment are brutally bad for recent college graduates, and no one cares.  Baby Boomers are worried about their retirements; today’s recent college grads can’t find jobs in the first place.  Given that government is even now choosing to cut funding for education instead of funding for social entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, the problem looks to get worse long before it even thinks about getting better.  And the way that the government propped up the housing market means that even if you are young and well-employed, it’s still difficult to afford to live anywhere nice.

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Thursday was a tough day for Conservatives.  The Supreme Court upheld the President’s health care reform law but struck down the Stolen Valor Act.  That’s not the way I’d have bet in either case, and what’s even weirder is that Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative from George W. Bush’s presidency, cast the pivotal vote in the case.  He actually sided with the Court’s liberals to uphold the law.

With all of that said, I think the health care law has gotten more than its fair share of coverage.  However, the Stolen Valor Act is much less well-known.  It’s meant to protect military veterans by making it illegal for a person to falsely claim that he or she earned military honors.  In this specific case, the Court ruled that false claims of valor are still legal forms of speech, and bottom line, the First Amendment protects liars. 

As I said in the opening, the success of that argument surprises me.  One would expect that the First Amendment would protect both the truth and statements of opinion, but I’m surprised it protects blatant falsehood.  That protection is certainly not universal.  For example, liable and slander are both examples of falsehood that are specifically disallowed, and speech that does harm is not protected either.  With that in mind, it’s hard for me to understand how the public good is served by protecting blatant lies, especially when the subjects of the claims are a matter of public record.  But I’m not a lawyer, so perhaps there is some aspect of this that I simply do not understand.

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So it’s been a weird week, right?  Maybe the weirdest (and worst) part of it came from a National Geographic poll: over a third of American’s believe that UFOs have visited Earth, and a full tenth of Americans believe that they’ve actually seen a UFO.


* * *
The John Hancock building
where Bain keeps its

Yeah, that’s politics.  But as a matter of reality, it’s also a cheap shot.  Bain specialized in buying out troubled companies with private equity, cutting their costs, and then reselling them on the public market one their profitability was improved.  That may or may not be a good qualification for a potential Commander-in-Chief, but even if it’s not, the reality is still this: if a business is going down, it can either cut its costs or die.  In either case, workers are likely to lose jobs and/or face wage and benefit pressure.  The difference is that if the firm goes out of business, everyone loses.  However, if the firm survives, but only some people lose their jobs, well, in that case it’s only the losers who lose.  And if the firm does turn around, the folks who made it happen often also make a lot of money.  That is the free market at work.  It’s not always pretty—in fact, reality is that it’s rarely pretty—but it is effective.  Bain, and the way that Bain operated, was a legitimate part of the free market system.

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Finally, here’s a sign of the Apocalypse for you: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are releasing a $39,000 backpack through their high end fashion line, The Row.  If you’re wondering, thirty-nine grand is supposedly a lot of money to spend on a purse/backpack, even for the well-heeled.  The price, apparently, is mostly driven by the kind of alligator from which it’s made.

Word on the street is that The Row already has orders for two.

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