Skip to main content

Fifty Shades of Grey: a primer for aliens

Fifty Shades of Grey: a primer for aliens

/

Explaining the phenomenon based on a phenomenon, wrapped in an enigma, chained to the bedpost

Share this story

Focus Features

If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow and found America plastered with promotional materials for Fifty Shades of Grey, explaining it would be a pretty good exercise in examining how stories become sensations in 2015.

"Well you see, there was a book called Twilight. Many humans liked this book — a book, you know, pretend-words. There were four books, and they all got made into movies."

The alien tilts her head, her four brains pulsating furiously as she processes this.

"Oh, sorry, movies are a thing we humans make when books and comic books make lots of money, but not enough money. They are kind of like promotions for books."

"Can movies be made without being books or comic books first?"

You hesitate. "Yeah, but..." you shrug, gesturing vaguely, indicating a line of inquiry that is of little real import.

"So anyway, some of the humans liked Twilight so much that they made their own pretend-words about Twilight."

"Did they make money off of it?" asks the alien, who is clearly a quick study.

"In most cases, no. But in one particular —"

"Why would you write a pretend-words without the intention of making money?"

You pause, shrug, and pat the alien on her translucent skull. "Love."

Some of the humans liked Twilight so much that they made their own pretend Twilight

Clearing your throat, you continue: "One of these pretend-pretend-words became very popular, even though it was not really a Twilight book. It became so popular and made enough money that it had to be made into a movie so that it could keep making money."

Then you make the alien read all of the Twilight books and all of Fifty Shades of Grey. The alien reads very fast, because she has four brains and also 32 eyes. Her first question is, naturally, why the characters have completely different names and appear to have little relation to each other. And is she to assume that Christian Grey is still a vampire — he's just not making as big of a deal of it this time? Here's where you may hit a wall. You may just have to send the alien to the "Twilight: All Human" board on fanfiction.net and let her figure it out for herself.

"I don't understand," the alien says, a few hours later. "Why would you write pretend-pretend-words about Twilight if you don't even want to use the same characters? Is it illegal to write pretend-words that are not based on Twilight?"

"No, but I suppose it is more inviting and easy to read and write something that begins with a familiar element."

"So most stories are based on Twilight."

"No, there are lots of stories that are not based on Twilight. The Hunger Games, for instance."

The alien narrows her large, obsidian eyes suspiciously. "How do you know that this Hunger Games is not based on Twilight?"

It's a good question. "Well," you finally say, hedging a bit, "all pretend-words are sort of based on each other, in some way or another."

Then you and the alien hit the movie theater. "So this is not a Twilight movie," she asks as the lights go down, just to be certain. You shake your head no. The alien smiles as if she's got the hang of this, "But all movies are Twilight movies, when it comes down to it."

You nod, just to shut her up, as the opening credits roll.

Movies are so much fun!

As you leave the theater, the alien is naturally giddy, having just seen her first movie. "Movies are so much fun!" she says. "I mean, I didn't have much use for that Christian Grey — what a creep — Anastasia deserves better!"

"Jamie Dornan was a little leaden," you agree.

"They had no chemistry. But that's not really the point, is it?" asks the alien. "He's a conduit for a fantasy. It's more important that Anastasia register as human, because ultimately we experience her attraction to him through her, not him."

You nod. "Dakota Johnson deserves some kind of medal for that performance."

"She is not the audience surrogate this movie deserved, but the one it needed," says the alien, who must have Google searched for Batman quotes while she was in the bathroom. "She conveys lust in a very relatable way. And she clearly has a sense of humor, which makes less of the film itself outright mockable. It's in on a lot of the joke, but not in a cynical way."

Under the flashing lights of the theater marquee, as your fellow filmgoers flood outside, you begin laughing about riding crops and peacock feathers. "I will need to investigate this BDSM," the alien murmurs. "It's something that only dysfunctional children of drug addicts gravitate toward?"

I will need to investigate this BDSM

"No, no, no," you say hurriedly.

"Only the extremely wealthy?"

You shake your head emphatically. "Not at all."

"People into gadgets?"

You make a noncommittal "eh" sound. "Maybe you should forget everything Fifty Shades of Grey says about BDSM and do some of your own research if you're really interested." You pat her shoulder encouragingly. "Just like in the movie!"

"Just like in the movie!" she repeats, her eyes lighting up.

As you walk, she gazes at the row of coming attractions posters outside the theater.

"No, seriously though," she says, "I like how these movies of yours visually take on the point of view of female characters, both in terms of camera angle and editing. I enjoy identifying with their emotional processes as they think about sex and romance. I like how your human forms of entertainment seem to be made for women," she says with a little nostalgic sigh, "just like on my home planet."

"Well —"

I would like to see more movies of humans having sex

She tugs on your sleeve excitedly. "I would like to see more movies of humans having sex. Perhaps, with any luck, one that is 'good.'" She looks up at you with uncertainty. "Because, I know I'm an alien from another planet, but that movie was not very good, was it?"

You shrug. "The soundtrack was pretty tight."

The alien nods in agreement. "I must investigate this Beyoncé," she says, before returning to the matter at hand. "Please, let's watch another movie! I cannot wait to see more pretend human women having and thinking about sex in a variety of complex and nuanced ways! I cannot wait to see more stories for women!"

You look down at her, not sure how to break it to her, as an ad for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 illuminates her wide, twinkling black eyes.

The two of you take the train home and watch Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 on Netflix.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.