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After Recap Chapters 0-15 (not much happens in them)
A few years ago I heard about a book that had been written on Wattpad and had a lot of followers. Cool, I thought, and hoped for something good. I really love when there’s a good book or book series so I can jump on the fandom-bandwagon. Few things are as fun as anticipating the next thing with millions of people. I was a major fan of Harry Potter back when there was only one book and everyone asked why adults would read children’s books, back when there was no big fanfare for the second and third books being released, and so got to experience the sudden explosion. I was a major fan of Tolkien back when the Lord of the Rings movies came out, and loved seeing people dress up to go stand in line for hours for new releases. This stuff is FUN. Not feeling the same passion isn’t fun. I wanted to like After and to be part of something fun again. Well… Let me back up.
The Hunger Games books have a lot of fandom, but the fandom around it isn’t the same. There isn’t that die-hard love where you can quote one thing, and everyone knows what you mean, the way there is when you say “my precious” or “avada kedavra” or parody a line and say “I’m never late–I arrive precisely when I mean to,” or draw out “always.” (Love Snape or hate him, it’s hard not to sympathize with unrequited love and missing and still loving someone for years upon years after they’ve died.)
Twilight was a let-down. I had hoped for some fun vampire books. Obviously HP and LOTR fans enjoy supernatural stuff (and probably Supernatural…those Winchester boys are like a fine wine…). But Edward’s treatment of Bella was anything but romantic, and Bella’s supposed love wasn’t believable when she was so focused on becoming a vampire so she’d stop visually aging. Edward seemed to be just a means to her desired goal. And when one of the vampires we’re supposed to like was a major in the confederate army, which fought for the right to continue owning black people… No. Absolutely not. The first two and a half movies are hilarious, though, and I admit I enjoy watching them because they’re so unintendedly bad. And I know many of the places used for filming since it was in the area where I live, and most of the forest scenes are in the state park by where I went to high school.
Then along came Fifty Shades, and I’m not against fanfic, per sé, though I do get annoyed when something is just a retelling, and not subtly. It’s like paraphrasing and taking credit for the story. But I was willing to give it a chance. I didn’t expect it to be so full of abuse that people would defend because “he had a hard childhood” and has lots of money and can give orgasms easily. Money and orgasms don’t matter when someone controls your every move, violates your body, frightens you, tracks you across the country when you said you were going away to take a break from that person, obsessively follows your every move and dictates where you can go and who you can see, etc., to the point that you fold and abide by the orders since it’s not like you can get away from someone who managed to access your bank account and sell your car without your permission, meaning somehow getting the title paperwork to it. And no, hard childhoods don’t cut it. All his memories of time with his mother were sweet, like her singing when happy, or baking him a birthday cake. There was nothing to actually indicate she used drugs. Her being a prostitute doesn’t make her a bad person (the treatment of prostitutes in this book inspired the occupation of one of the mothers in my current WIP). She did what she could. Her pimp put out a couple cigarette butts on Christian, and that would be traumatic, but he was adopted at the age of 4 by extremely wealthy people and given every privilege in life. Even if he had been actually abused by his mother (her being poor and a prostitute doesn’t mean abuse), that doesn’t excuse abusing people later. It doesn’t help that EL James has no idea what BDSM actually is, and has led to millions of women thinking they now know, and they think they know better than those of us who have actually been a part of it for real, and she and they have made it out to be something for the mentally troubled. Abusing someone and calling it BDSM doesn’t make it BDSM. You can be a sadist, but that doesn’t mean what you’re doing is covered under BDSM.
Obviously I didn’t like the books, and still don’t. And no, “It’s just fiction” doesn’t cut it. When the behavior of even fictional characters is held up as ideal, what does that tell people? it tells them that this behavior is acceptable, and that normalizes abuse.
So I’d heard about Anna Todd’s After book, and how popular it was, and how it had affected the life of 1 Direction band member Harry Styles. “Can’t be as bad as Christian Grey,” I thought, and so decided to give it a try. I don’t care for the bank 1 Direction and couldn’t name a single song, but did feel bad that fans were treating him very, very badly because of this book.
In some ways, he’s even worse, and it doesn’t help that this is explicitly targeted at the teenage crowd. Harry, who became Hardin in the published version, doesn’t even have the non-excuse of a hard childhood. He’s just an asshole from the start. From his first meeting with Tessa, he’s a jerk, to put it mildly. At least Christian “merely” made some inappropriate innuendo. He didn’t refuse to leave when a girl he just met was naked and wanted to get dressed in peace. When I’m able to say “At least Christian isn’t a bad as,” something is very wrong. Getting through the rest was all downhill from there. Even ignoring the horrid writing that makes EL James look like a master of the craft, even ignoring how Todd tells us every damned detail of things we don’t need to read about and that don’t affect the story or tell us anything about anyone or anything, even ignoring how Todd knows as much about college and James knows about BDSM (as in, nothing), the story itself was horrid and the characters meant to be the protagonists are both rotten people. Hardin is an abuser, and Tessa slut-shames women and looks down on anyone who doesn’t dress like they’re extras in Handmaid’s Tale.
Like Twilight and Fifty Shades, After got a movie deal. I expected it to peter out the way so many deals do. Rights are bought all the time, but usually studios decline to use their option, and the rights are released. (A deal doesn’t mean something will become a movie, just that that studio is buying the right to get to be the one to do it if they decide they want to, and they usually have a set time to decide.) Well, it’s coming out next month. Since it’s more of Fifty Shades fanfic using the band members from 1 Direction, and is aimed at teenagers, and since I’m against putting abuse on a a pillar and insisting that it’s romance…
I started writing books because I was tired of abuse being hailed as romance. And here we are, in a just-post-#MeToo society, still praising abuse and sexual assault. This is why nothing changes.