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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fifty Shades of Foolhardy

Think isolated farmhouses, not luxury Manhattan digs
(Lizon farm in W. Virginia)
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Yes, this post is about the book Fifty Shades of Grey. And you will have the opportunity to disagree with me or share your insights. Please, take a moment to step into my world first.

 There are two kinds of people who end up in newscasts: 1) professional politicians, other activists, over-achievers making the world go round  and 2) Everybody Else.   

Something I hear over and over and over again is "I never thought it would happen to me."  Nobody in Category 2 expects to be on the news. But night after night we see a fresh crop of hikers falling down a cactus-dotted mesa or sheer snow drop, a group of prom kids wrapped around a telephone pole surrounded by ambulances, a guy in handcuffs shuffling off while a group of neighbors/survivors/grievers express their shock and anger.  

If you are a professional reporter, you see these people every day in person. They cry on your shoulder, they beg you for information, they unleash their fury.  After a few years as a reporter, a job I started when I was too young to know anything about anything, it finally sinks in to you that it can and does happen to "you." You develop a caution and a sensitivity about warning signs and unnecessary risks. 

Most of all, you absolutely and forever lose that sense that such-and-such "only happens to other people."

Some times people in my personal life chide me for possibly being too affected by the work that I do--which is now exclusively about crime.  Just the other night as I was passing into the KTAR studios, Congressman David Schweikert was heading out. I was about to take over the "guest" chair he had just vacated. I have known Schweikert casually since he was a young state legislator and I was an also young journalist.  He jovially greeted me and asked me if writing exclusively about crime the last few years was "doing something" to my mind? Then he warned me about someone he knew who worked in a forensic profession for 20 years and it "did something" to that man's personality. 

This was a bit of cheerful conversation-making tossed off in a friendly manner, with smiles all around. I don't want anyone to misconstrue that I'm picking on the Congressman in any way -- it was all fine, he's fine, we're fine. I bring it up only as the most recent example of how people, confident in their own security, can consider someone like me an annoying Cassandra. 

Which brings me to my colleague, the very fine crime writer Kathryn Casey. She went ahead and did something I've been toying with doing for a few weeks: she wrote an essay expressing caution about the mega-blockbuster phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey.  She did a much better job of writing this essay than I could ever do for a very good reason. She was willing to read the novel. I am not.

As a crime writer, Kathryn saw alarm bells flashing in the story of violence. So do I. 

But in the comment trail, Kathryn is taking a lot of heat from people deriding her alleged inability to separate fantasy from reality.  I would like to say I am certain Kathryn understands fantasy perfectly. Fantasy is fiction. It's made up.  

Where I am concerned is that the millions of people sharing the fantasy with the Fifty Shades author don't understand non-fiction. Non-fiction is what Kathryn writes and what I write. It's reality. It's all too, too real.  Too, too painful. Too, too irreversible. 

Members of the BDSM community in particular have been whining and wailing about Kathryn's essay.  I won't repeat the discussion, but I will add here that the world of Christian Grey is not derived from some organized club, it comes straight from the mind of the author. That author gets to make up whatever she wants. Christian Grey does NOT have to follow the rules of established BDSM clubs. As Kathryn points out, he does in fact deviate from several of the rules that the commenters are so passionately defending as safeguards against all possible harm to someone in the fictional Ana character's position.  And, as Kathryn also points out, not only is Christian Grey not required to follow the club's rules, NOBODY is required to follow these rules. Club members may have jurisdiction over themselves, but NOT OVER ANYBODY ELSE.

I myself became most alarmed when I started reading news stories about how the book Fifty Shades was driving all kinds of new traffic to various online services where previously uninitiated women could seek their own Christian Grey experience. This, my friends, is where fiction ends and non-fiction begins. Non-fiction is what Kathryn and I know about. This is the part that makes us very, very nervous.

Defenders of the book are quick to point out that the Ana character "agrees" to most of the things she goes through and even signs a contract (with a draconian non-disclosure clause and other forms of legal intimidation). Just this week, in mine and Kathryn's world, a man named Peter Lizon was arrested in West Virginia for allegedly keeping his wife chained up for 10 years and torturing her. I wonder if as this story unfolds investigators will find that Mrs. Lizon signed some kind of permission slip along the way? She is already denying any of her multitude of injuries were anything but accidents.

We know that Colleen Stan signed such a slave contract with sadist Cameron Hooker in California. Prosecutors were not impressed. Nor the jury. Hooker is now serving a prison sentence of over 100 years. And Colleen herself, with name changed, is now active in an abused women's group.
Cameron Hooker under arrest
Try picturing this guy, Cameron Hooker, instead of chic Christian Grey

These are the kinds of outcomes Kathryn and I live with. I know that between the two of us, we could list off zillions more such cases.  This is not fantasy.  This is real life. This is real horror.

So I hereby strongly endorse Kathryn Casey's essay in Forbes and urge you to read it.  If something about Fifty Shades of Grey titillates you, I beg you to keep that safely in your own head, where fantasy belongs. Do NOT go seeking strangers online who will be only too glad to oblige. Do NOT become the person in Category 2 on the news.

I'm begging you, if you want to enjoy a book like Fifty Shades of Grey, please take steps never to become the subject of one of my books. Believe me, it can happen to you.

Now. Go read Kathryn's excellent essay by clicking here.

That comment thread has gotten pretty long, so feel free to come back here to share your thoughts.

Launch your non-fiction habit with short stories from the Masters of True Crime

Pssst! Going to jail, buying documents, and everything else it takes to get this kind of info for the blog takes time and money! Every time you make a purchase here, it helps me be able to do more for you! 


  1. Thanks, Camille. Well said, and appreciated.

  2. I thank you, Kathryn. I felt galvanized when I read your piece and the comments below it. You swam upstream and bravely so. I hope people are paying attention. Your insights were spot on.

  3. I m excited for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. and i watch Christian Grey's work it is pretty awesome to see on the screen in Fifty Shades Movie.
    Fifty Shades Movie

  4. 50 shades movie
    I wish robert pettinson would cast as christian... and am also excited to see this book on reel.
    "Fifty Shades Of grey"

  5. Hm... I do like how Dakota's flawed. I'm excited to see how she plays Ana.She looks too mature to play the part.
    Christian Grey