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‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold 20 million copies. We’ll ask what’s up with the ladies?

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. (captain.orange/Flickr)

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James. (captain.orange/Flickr)

Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere now.  On nightstands and Kindles.  Airport kiosks and library shelves.  In purses and beach bags and up in mom’s closet.  The bondage erotica romance that almost no one had heard of six months ago has sold 20 million copies in the U.S. alone as of this week.

It’s hands down the year’s pop-culture phenom.  And who would have guessed it?  In the age of female empowerment and rage against the rich, it’s a blockbuster trilogy about female submission to a whip-cracking billionaire.  Wow.

This hour, On Point:  What’s up with the ladies?  What’s going on with Fifty Shades of Grey?

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Meghan O’Rourke, culture critic and advisory editor at Slate.

Carolyn Marvin, professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications.

Rachel Kramer Bussel, writer and editor of over 40 erotica anthologies, including Please, Sir and Best Bondage Erotica 2012.

From Tom’s Reading List

You can find a clean excerpt of Fifty Shades of Grey at the publisher’s website here.

USA Today “Why are millions of readers, most of them women, devouring the trilogy and praying the rumor that James is writing a fourth book is true? Here are 10 reasons Grey is the new green in book publishing.”

The New York Times “It’s a great commodity, except that the market is glutted. In an age when almost all forms of erotica and pornography are available at any time, anywhere, on cable television, on the Internet and even on a smartphone, it’s almost impossible to find a fresh way to be risqué.”

Slate “By night, she is the willing slave of Christian Grey, who trusses her up in his “red room of pain” and slaps her and makes her shiver with just the tip of his whip. You can tell by the characters’ names what general territory we are in: erotic fiction mixed with Harlequin and just a hint of legal brief (apparently bondage drama requires the exchange of elaborate documents and disclaimers).”

Saturday Night Live produced this hilarious spoof ad featuring Fifty Shades of Grey. You can find more parodies here.

Fifty Shades of Grey The Musical

Here’s a funny parody video from AVbyte.

Video: Ellen Parody

Check out this funny video from Ellen on the Fifty Shades of Grey audiobook.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • ToyYoda

    Men dominating women.  Doesn’t E.L. James have it reversed?  There are plenty of sites where men pay to be dominated by women.   I don’t know of the reverse.  A girl that I know -a friend- who lives in Manhattan who is a dominatrix.  Through her I got to see the concrete details of what they do.  Previously, I knew very little.

    I once visited her in her Upper East Side Flat.  At the time my lower back was a problem and so I spent a lot of time supined on her bed.  She had a client visit and before he arrived I asked her if I should leave because I didn’t want him to misinterpret my presence and get into a jealous fit.  She told me to stay.

    And so I saw a dominatrix session.  It was a lighter kind of session -no sex acts-, but quite noteworthy still.  She would boss him around with a sharp tongue, telling him to take out the trash and to do her laundry.  The instructions were quite explicit.  The trash had to be placed on the right side of street post and tied in a specific manner.  The clothes needed to be folded in a specific pattern and stacked in a certain order.  And throughout the crisply given commands, her client -a guy- would occasionally yelp and woof like a dog.  And what was my friend’s fee for all this?  $150 dollars/hour.  

    Men will willingly pay to be bossed around and do house chores for women and be humiliated in the process.  They will pay to give women gifts and be humiliated.  They want to be dominated in all sorts of heterosexual ways as well.

    Later on, she showed me a review of her ‘service’ on a website. It was that very session, and in it the guy described a mysterious man lying on his domina’s bed and his mind raced as who it could be.  Was he [I] a secret lover?  Was he [I] another client?  It was mental torture for him.   And throughout that time, I just stared at the ceiling, mostly, hoping I wouldn’t attract too much attention to myself.

    So it turns out that the client wasn’t the only guy being manipulated in that session.  I had become not only a prop in her session, but an unwitting instrument to mental torture as well.  And I just smirked after that review just thinking of how ‘domineering’ her whole design was.

    • counterpoint

      Yeah, cuz we can get it for free at work, in our families, in the media…etc. 

  • SK

    We emerged from a strange, vicious Republican primary season where normative sexual behavior was vilified as unnatural, dangerous, and slutty (thank you Mr. Santorum and Mr. Limbaugh), only to find that meanwhile… the country is reading a bondage trilogy! Not one idle book, mind you, a trilogy! 

    We are not nearly as uptight as politicians and media paint us.

    I love this country. We crack me up.

    • Taboohunter

       In my experience, the biggest kinksters , or ones having serious issues are the ones living the most conservative lives in public.  Look at the plethora of alleged upright and uptight politicians and clergy getting busted by the law and/or press in the last 10 year alone.  You don’t see porn stars getting busted. No it’s your local congressional delegate that go caught with another man, or in diapers at a cathouse, or abusing children, or sexting.  Meanwhile, soccermom & dad have a special drawer for the nights the kids go to Grandma’s. The Easy Spirits come of and the CFM heels go on.

  • Kathy

    It’s not particularly explicit and to be blunt, it’s terribly written. However, it has a definite compelling quality to it that is more about the characters than the sex.

  • AK

    Flimsy characters, unbelievable plot, easily the worst book ive ever read…but it gives me confidence that I can write a kinky book for bored married women if my life goes horribly wrong

    • Anawillow

       LMAO!!! good answer!!

    • counterpoint

      Back when I was a teenaged girl, I read a Harlequin. My thought was: boring…but I could write that better! I had the same reaction the first time I read the pornish letters in Penthouse (around the same time). The thought that anyone is reading this for the craft, the writing, is ludicrous. 

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    “In the age of female empowerment,” as women struggle between strong impulses and weaker impulses within themselves, it makes sense that women would be interested in a character study of a weak, submissive woman. Reading fiction is not the equivalent to reading how-to books. One doesn’t just read fiction for role models and to learn how to be. One reads fiction to learn how not to be.

    • SK

      Good point. Also, fiction is also an escape from life’s daily doldrums and an opportunity to inhabit another world that one would not experience otherwise. 

  • michele

    Cant believe women are just figuring this out !! This book must  be for bored housewifes …Ive been indulging in S&M type stuff for years , and it was always looked sort of looked down upon ..Hello !!!

  • Chas

    Women’s lib at its best!

  • Mdorothy

    Here’s the irony about this novel: a wealthy, successful man is FAR more likely to be sexually submissive than dominant. But, of course, that fact goes against our ideas of what men “should” be. So we cannot have a realistic “softBDSM” story!

    • counterpoint

      You are absolutely right. This book sounds like it’s a spoof/parody. 

    • Taboohunter

       I don’t know that I’d agree entirely, as many men that are successful in life are dominant at work and that can carry over into their sexlife; but there does seem to be an awful lot of men in positions of power that want to give up that power behind closed doors. This applies to women as well. 

  • AC

    this book sounds sappy and embarrassing – i’m not sure why it’s so popular except maybe as the guest suggested it’s become a curiosity….i hate mushy mush 
    Also, presumably there is a percentage of men also purchasing the book – do you know the breakdown on sales by gender?

  • Kwaish

    Tom, I think ebooks is one of the reason this book has sold so much. May be not many people do brown paper cover but a lot do like the fact that not many people notice what u read on kindle as ebooks on a train for example. The popularity that increased due to ebooks now help people understand it is normal and not to worry about covering it up

  • Sarahgood

    A friend recommended this book to me. I began to read it, but could not stay with it because I found it to be boring, redundant & just plain silly. (If Anastasia stated that her face “flushed red” one more time in just the first few chapters, I thought I would fall asleep.) I love erotica just as much as the next person, but this book is ridiculously silly. There is so much great literature out there in non-fiction erotica, historical erotica, why would you waste your time with this less than great piece of fiction? I find this book to be suitable for high school girls, I just don’t understand the hype with it.

  • Marianne

    This sounds like an AWFUL series.
    Ellen D. is on right now — she seems to have it right!

  • TFRX

    Speaking of SNL, anyone else remember “Charlton Heston” (Phil Hartmann) narrating the audiobook of Madonna’s photography?

    • TFRX

      …with Danny DeVito as Bob Guccione, “directing”, if I remember correctly?

  • Julia

    A kinky Byronic hero (think Mr. Rochester) meets Anne of Green Gables… oy vey.

  • Vanessa, Jamaica Plain

    I refuse to read this trash. It upsets me that a book this shallow – glorification possessions and wealth and female submission –  is what gets today’s women excited. This sets an unrealistic standard for all women. 

    Plus, the writing I hear is TERRIBLE.  C’mon ladies, rise above the silly female romance-reading stereotype! 

    • TFRX

      To break out of that stereotype, one could do worse than the website run by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan which promises “All of the romance, none of the b——-”.

      It has a lot of smart talk about trashy books.

      • Vanessa, Jamaica Plain

        What I don’t understand is that these sorts of trashy sex books have been sold at convenience stores everywhere for YEARS. I don’t get how this offers anything new. Doesn’t make sense to me.

        • TFRX

          I’ll cede to you the upper hand in knowing what kind of trashy sex books are sold where.

          Nevada Barr’s mystery novels are a favorite of mine, and are nothing like (people say) this is.

          PS Seeing that you’re in J Plain: We went to Boston some years ago and saw an art installation of romance novel covers called “Our Bodice, Ourselves”. Worth it for the title alone!

          • Vanessa, Jamaica Plain

            Sounds awesome! Come back to Boston! We love visitors! :D

  • ToyYoda

    I got a friend who owns his own law firm.  He’s in his mid 50′s and he dates women in their early 20′s.  He’s rich and the girls  are almost all poor.  He spends a good deal of money on them, taking them to top restaurants and to exotic vacation spots.  He often give them stocks and contemplates buying them houses.  He even pays for them to get educated.  

    Then after a few years, he drops them.  The girls are often devastated, but they are materially in a much better place.

    He often tells me about his bedroom manners and he often has dominant/rough sex.  He says the girls like it.

    Should I be surprised that fiction follows real life in this case?  Or is this a typical situation?

    • Sara

      Women like falling in love.  The book has love in it, not a dirty old rich man.  I’m sure these women who enjoyed being lavished with material items would give it all back for a real long-lasting relationship that is centered around love.  There is probably more than one reason your friend picks up women in their twenties.  The most obvious would be their youth and beauty, but their naivete must also be a factor.  Women any older would see through the old codger and pass him up.  I would also question whether or not the girls like it.  They might just put up with it. 

      • ToyYoda

        I often get to know the girls and remain in contact with them after the breakup. It takes them about 2-3 years to recover.

        My friend goes after poor girls because he says they are easiest to get.  And he  goes after the young and poor girls because they are pretty and often hyper sexualized.  Outside of this sexual habit, he’s actually a nice guy, although thinks quite highly of himself.  Compared to the other men these girl’s date, my friend as a ‘white collar personality’ instead of the ‘clubbing personalities’ that these girls are use to.

        Anyways, I often question my friend’s morality.  He justifies it by saying that the girl’s are in a much better place from a wealth point of view, and from an educational point of view.  He believes that they’d be in much worse shape had they not met him.  I have some serious doubts about that.But, I don’t really know.  Anyways, I’m the complete opposite of my friend.  Though, I am straight, I’ve never enjoyed sex, and even more so, I place premium on a simple life.

      • http://www.angiesargenti.blogspot.com/ Angela R Sargenti

        You’re right, Sara.  Plus, a lot of people don’t know what kind of pressure other people put on staying with a sh*tty guy just because he has money.  The friends all think she’d be crazy to leave him and the parents want them to marry the guy who can “take care” of their litle girl, etc.  Older women don’t need to be taken care of.  They take care of themselves.  Being a rich guy is a bad excuse for being abusive, but it happens.  A lot.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Does anyone listening to On Point at work ever have to change the station because of the content of the show? :-)

  • rmutt

    I have not read these books. My wife did (thank you!).

    The popularity of this series reminds of the popularity of Erica Jong back in the mid-70′s, early 80′s.

    I’m really curious about why they’re so popular. I know many women who like to play around with the type of power relationships described in these books. Why is that?

    • lhooq

      if you read this on air please do not refer to me by the name. I realized that it’s too revealing of who I am. Thanks.

    • Taboohunter

       There’s so little out there for women, by women, in this genre.  50 Shades is not great stuff, but it’s more explicit than Harlequin romance novels, and has more emotion and plot than Penthouse Forum. Personally, I much preferred Nancy Friday’s novels of people’s fantasies, as they give far more insight into real people as it was real people writing them, way back in the day. But they still hold up!

  • Darlyne

    I read teh triology, and for me …I was more interested in the tormented childhood that created the kind of man the Christian Grey became.  I found myself skimming teh kinky stuff to get to the meat of the personalities in the story.  I was more facinated with teh psychology than teh sex.

  • Byoola

    I haven’t read Fifty Shades, but from what I am hearing, it seems reminiscent of 9 1/2 weeks with the very wealthy mysterious gorgeous man who is into very dominant sex… that movie was a huge phenomenon when it came out and seems the theme has the same pull today.

    • lhooq

      Yes!

  • Dave

    If the rich, powerful man narrative is so appealing to women, does this bode well for Mitt Romney in Novermber?

  • Leslie

    My book group chose this book (that’s what I get for not making a meeting!). It is worse than awful.

    The writing is poor. I felt like I was reading the diary of tween girl. The author’s idea of how American college women speak is laughable. Remember the scene in “Legally Blonde” when Elle tells her ex-boyfriend that she “No silly. I go here [Harvard Law School]!”: the whole book reads like that line.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    An overlying theme is just being the object of someone’s obsession. That said, I think there are other ways to show that.

  • Scott B, Jamestown NY

    I can’t wait for the movie, where they take out 99.99% of all the DS/BDSM, put in a murder plot, make it a comedy, and get a famous comedy director, say Gary Marshall, and…wait… They did this with Anne Rice’s “Exit to Eden”. 

    One of the centuries America is going to be able to deal with a topic that not everyone can wrap their heads around like the adults it’s aimed at. 

    If women really want farce DS/BDSM, do read Anne Rice’s “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy under her pseudonym, A. N. Roquelaure.  Google time, ladies…

  • Raine

    I found this book initially interesting because it was erotic and yet ‘woman’ friendly.  But, after a while, it just became boring. 
    It was the same thing over and over.  

  • Amy

    I read the first book and thought it was poorly written. I won’t read the next two. I thought the book was disturbing because Ana was so young and inexperienced.

    • Scott B, Jamestown NY

       What does anyone expect? It was based on the Twilight series, which is unreadable to anyone that’s beyond high school comprehension, and barely that. 

  • Litt_alien

    I have tried to read this book, but was unable to finish because of its bad writing. I understand why it is so appealing to a lot of women… rich and secure man doing things for a naive girl and showering her with gifts and then falling in love with her (as I heard thats how this ends). But this story is so far from reality , I don’t know how anyone can relate to anything in this story. No, there is not a rich guy waiting for you and no, you can’t change a man. This book is sad. And definitely not exciting (sexually or otherwise).

    • Masha

      Yes. Thank you. The only shocking part is that something so repetitive and poorly written can be a best-seller. The unimaginative writing eclipses everything in it. I tried for 160 pages, but couldn’t take any more. 

  • counterpoint

    LOTS of men pay to be dominated (or dominate, but sex workers will tell you that it’s more often the former). LOTS. BD is much more common than anyone wants to admit. The notion that it’s aberrant is, frankly, out of touch.  Even if people don’t act on these desires, the fantasies and fixations are common. 

    Most porn is made for men, by men, and even when it’s lesbian porn, it’s mostly women performing for men. Books like this could be seen as equalizing that a bit.

    Sex, any kind of sex, has power dynamics. BD and SM make that clear, explicit, and in some cases, extreme. But let’s face it, even women who wait for their male sex partners to initiate a kiss or lovemaking, even then, there’s a power imbalance. 

    I’d guess the huge sales of the ebook is at least partly due to the fact that no one sees the cover when you’re reading an ebook…and you can close the app fast if someone walks by.

    Note: “vanilla” is not just a term in the book. It’s the common and widely used term to describe sex without explicit power dynamics/roles, domination, bondage, SM, etc. 

  • Maria

    Ever since I was a young girl decades ago, I’ve noticed a sexual response to certain violences, including the sight of blood.  I’ve always squelched the feelings immediately, because I don’t like the idea of sex and violence going together.  It wasn’t guilt for my feelings, but because I didn’t like the connections.  Finally, at the age of 60 plus, I realized that these feelings are what drive sadism; people are cruel to others because of sexual responses that the sadists encourage instead of squelch.  I’m going to squelch those feelings forever.  I want nothing to do with cruelty and intentional pain.  This book has limits; some people do not.  I reject the entire phenomenon.

    • Taboohunter

       DS/BDSM isn’t so one-sided.  It’s filling something both parties want, and there are limits, to which any decent Dom/Domme respects. 
        You say that you’re attracted, but your “better angels” (as it were) squelch them.  Why?  So many people put anything that doesn’t fit the little vanilla box that peers and society place around them that they dismiss them out of hand.  Did you ever dabble a little?  Or is it that you might actually like it, to any degree, what scares you?

  • Cassera

    I haven’t read this, nor will I. It’s not that I have any kind of moral compass about this book or series of books, it’s just that it’s so banal and ridiculous that people are making such a fuss about this crap, that I find it unbelievable and amusing at the same time.
    Someone’s making a heap ‘o money off peoples’ idiot cravings. No wonder the world looks at the U.S. as if we’re trolling around in a drunken stupor. 
    Grab a ‘Penthouse’, fans —  I’m thinking it’s all the same stuff regurgitated for people who just don’t read or get out much.

    • KayJay

      Thank you for the comment.  Have more sex, be happier, don’t dream about being rich if you’re average.  I think that alone will kill any real sex desire stone dead!  Who wants S&M to get… what?! a computer? – geez…..

  • Creativeconfidence

    While I agree with everything that’s been said about the sex, and the power, for me, it was that Anna has the courage to go into Christian’s heart of darkness, to heal him with her love.  yes, it’s a romance novel, but his horrific childhood resonates for me, and her bringing him into the light of releasing his past is what resonates for me.  Not only was his childhood ghastly, but he was abused by the friend of his mother who introduced him to his lifestyle.  That, their healing together is what is beatuiful, and appealing to me.

    • Taboohunter

       My problem with Christian’s character is that it makes it sound like the only people that want this kind of sex play are badly damaged from abuse.

        There is no one thing that makes someone want some aspect of their sexuality addressed or feared.  Most of the people I know into various kinks, to any degree, are normal people that happen to have seen, read, or heard, something that made them want to act on it. 

  • Amlnrse

    i haven’t read the book yet, but some of the comments, and not the ones about sexual content, when it actually sounds like intimate partner violence being described- “do this or i’ll leave you”? now that’s a glaring example of reproductive coercion and manipulation- why is this being celebrated as exciting…sounds like the ‘heroine’, if you can call her that, has no inner authority, reminds me of many young women coming from abusive relationships… sorry , don’t get it. all kinds of Sex is great when both partners are equally participating … no?

    • Carolyn

      Perhaps you should read it first. 

    • Truebgood

      too all those that haven’t read the books and dare to comment, come back after you read it and them we will talk. It is a fanasy book. it does not need to be totally realistic nor a how too book. Read it and grab your partner for some role play. Stop analyzing it to death.

  • Bob

    How does ’50 Shades’ differ from ’9-1/2 Weeks’ (very similar)… that was written several decades ago?

    • goodchild

      i read 50 on saturday and all the way through was thinking “this is just 9 and a half – she should be reported!”  they even had the ice cube schene and managed to fit the tantalising strawberry into a dream schene.  How has no-one picked this up!

  • rfra20

    Like your caller comment “what are men supposed to think about what women want” – if you can put that down in a book talk about a blowout bestseller! Other than that these books sound BORING….

  • STEVE ACKERMAN

    Not having read this book, from listening to the show today I could only envision the film “Nine and a half weeks” starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger…Do others see the similarity as well?

  • Gotjohann

    I guess me and my friends are on the outskirts of society because I don’t see why everyone is so flabbergast at the notion that women and men enjoy S&M/Bondage. It’s a natural thing and the sales of these books prove it. Enjoy it everybody!!!

  • Creativeconfidence

    Another thing, I think it’s a bit hypocritical that this series is singled out as being degrading to women, when most of popular culture has been doing the same thing to women and there has not been such an outrage.  I think you are missing the point in that Anna states her limits, and is willing to walk away.  When Christian comes back for her, she explores her limits, and stands by her own choice.

  • Hayesspd

    Haven’t read – come on people every body repeat after me”ROLE PLAY”

  • NPRJunkie

    I’m having trouble getting past Chapter 5 and the contracts.  I’m stuck on the idea of a woman voluntarily submitting to domination and pain.  I can’t accept that as part of a love story.  I guess I’m more of a feminist than I thought.  I also think it has something to do with my own fears of giving up that control.  I won’t let my husband use handcuffs even though I trust him implicitly in every other aspect of my life. 

    • Taboohunter

       People seem to be missing the point that her actions are VOLUNTARY.  He didn’t force her into anything. He presented her with something (like the contract) and she had the power to turn them down. It’s called “respecting limits”, and it’s how it should be.  She walked away, right?  She wasn’t prevented from doing so.

    • nykohchyn

      See my comment above to “Bud Glory”…or the comment by Patova (my lover/Master). For some people, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism are all facets of this thing we call love. Submitting, serving, and relishing the pain he causes me is a large part of how I tell him I love him.

      • NPRJunkie

        Remember that I said “I can’t accept it”  I know that people find and express their love in many ways that I can’t understand.    If you’re safe and happy and are truly doing this as your choice, more power to you.  Go forth and make love and be happy.  I’ll stick to the Kama Sutra as my freaky limits.  :)

  • KayJay

    Most of my friends and relatives have SEX once every many months.  Quite a disconnect: wish to have sex versus no sex.  Both men AND women seem too tired and spent.  Depressing.  Those of us who have sex every day of our lives, just like we go to the gym, eat, meet friends, see a movie…  have to keep quiet about our good fortune.  
    Sadly, it’s all about this junk literature…….  and they say it’s not even well written!?

  • Amanda

    I started the series 3 1/2 months ago… Now I am 3 months pregnant with my own “little blip.” Coincidence?

  • Holly Christopher

    We read the book for our book club two months ago, and I have to admit, that as an avid reader, I was disappointed by the quality of writing and the lack of creativity (I know that sounds shocking, right?). In the mid-eighties, which I read in the mid-nineties, Anne Rice wrote a trilogy under the name Anne Rocquelaure on S&M (no vampires or witches) called The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which explored a woman’s/princesses journey through sexuality, and that of her future prince, to an end destination of awareness, empowerment and gender/sexual equality. Having read those gorgeous words and exotic descriptions, I found that I currently lack the enthusiasm to read the follow-up novels to 50 Shades. ~Holly, Norfolk, VA

    • Taboohunter

       “Beauty” is well written, but it’s SOOO over the top, which was the whole point.  As badly written as 50 Shades is it’s something that everyday women can identify with, and not be scared of, as they’re slowly lead down a path with the characters; vs Beauty, which starts at a full run and doesn’t let up.  All would be better suited with “Story of O”, which is better writing and follows a characters path into the DS/BDSM world, and from different aspects.

  • Treevt80

    It sounds a lot like the new push towards submissive wives as a reaction against feminism, very concerning.

    • Zing

       You’re kidding…who reacts against an historical hiccup?

  • lhooq

    Another thought. Some of this discussion reminds me of the discussions that took place in the mid-80′s in the lesbian community around the ideas of Bondage/S&M. There  were two lesbian-feminist magazines, one named “Off Our Backs” the other named “On Our Backs”, that went back and forth with one another regarding sexual roles. “Off”‘s argument was any sort of inequality was a vestige of a sexist society. “On”‘s argument was all kinds of sex is o.k. as long as the players are in control and making the decisions free of coercion.

    • counterpoint

      Yup — exactly. This brought to mind the debates [or "sex wars"] in the lesbian and the feminist communities about porn (Remember Nikki Craft (anti-censorship) vs. Andrea Dworkin (anti-porn)). It was always painted as a clear all/nothing: either you were “anti-porn” (and thus called anti-sex by those who disagreed with you), or you were “anti-censorship” (and thus called complicit in the exploitation of women by those who disagreed with you). There were those of us who supported sexual freedom, liked sex, porn, and opposed censorship, and also acknowledged that (as the psychiatrist said) some BD and SM is abusive (just as some vanilla sex is), and that violence against women and sexism is rampant and must be exposed and countered. I was villified by both groups for holding those positions. In the anti-domestic violence movement (in which I worked) I was challenged and chastised and criticized when I said that SM was not by definition abuse. In SM circles I was called prudish and unwelcome because I said that some SM was abusive, or pointed out that a disproportionate number of sex workers are survivors of sexual abuse. Oy! 

  • Barbara Heeter

    The theme of 50 Shades of Grey is quite simple, but the program, even with the experts, is missing the point. Women are taught that the their virginous state is what the culture holds high, while men are allowed to “fool around”….that is to learn what feels right to them. The question that E L James is posing is “Can women enjoy sex if love doesn’t exist between the two?”

  • Kay

    This has been the talk of the time between my friends and I recently. I feel as though, even though I am in my mid-twenties, the normalization of this type of recent media surge such as 50 Shades and Magic Mike is a disappointment for women today. I am embarrassed that women have grasped onto this fantasy media in replacement of seeking their own journey, rather than spending hours wasted reading poorly written pop-media. The “equalization” between sexes that has been suggested by previous callers/contributors, in my opinion, is an unhealthy reframe of violence and objectification. As a psychotherapist, I would suggest this book replaces the passion and motivation for women to engage fully in their own lives.

  • Anawillow

    Lady Chatterly’s Lover…now THAT was a scandalously wonderful book!!!

    • KayJay

      Yes, I “stole” if from my aunt’s library and read it under the covers at night.  Loved it!  Great book.

  • Baierouge

     I have no desire to read these books.  I am a very sensual woman and I
    have been very fortunate to have had really great sex and some very bad sex. 
    I do not like to read about someone else having sex.  It is always so
    predictable.

  • wenwig

    50 Shades of Boring!  A standard romance novel, poorly written.  The only interesting aspect I could glean from the story – -and one that the author failed to fully explore – -is the universal premise of how far a woman will compromise her values and self-respect to get what she wants from a relationship with a man – - something we all do in relationships to some degree.

  • Sarah

    I have read the series and I have a few points I’d like to add to the conversation:

    First, Romance and Erotic Romance is some of the most feminist writing on the market today. It’s written by women, for women, about women, on topics that women are interested in reading.

    Second, the end of the series (not the first book) focuses on the win-win situation that is the trademark of the Romance genre.

    Third, this book is a fantasy. Just because people are interested in reading
    about BDSM, doesn’t mean they actually want to do it. It’s just like any
    other genre (mystery, suspense, etc). Just because you like to read about serial killers doesn’t mean that you are going to go out and kill someone, right?

  • Mvsmayday

    I was given the first ‘Shades’ by a book club member who felt embarrassed by this gift she was given for her 70th birthday. I left the book along with a pile of others we were discussing on my LR side table. The book was not to be found a few days later in the place I thought I had left it. Many verey funny emails amongst us who might have accidentally taken it I did a more thorough check amongst big display books and it was hidden on the bottom! The only culprits possible were my very religious but very embarrassed cleaning women !!

  • http://twitter.com/chacal_lachaise chacal

    It is ironic and scandalous to the women of this country (here, post-feminist to me is about as invalid as post-racial) when this book (and the hunger games) receive such over-the-top commercial attention and discussion. Such books arrived at a time when religious fundamentalists, certain libertarians, and the tea party aim to curb the economic, political, social, and especially, reproductive rights of women. Isn’t this just a safety valve to release a mounting steam of frustration? 

    • Zing

       Maybe….which valve were you contemplating?

  • Tracie

    I will not be reading any of these books.  I don’t *NEED* to read them.  The rampant popularity of this series among
    the soccer mom-minivan set is a reflection of the dearth of sex in American
    marriages today and not much else.  Put
    the books down ladies and put your eyes on your relationship instead.

  • Patova

    I have not finished reading these books yet but from what I am told I will find this series to be wretched and detrimental to the true nature of the lifestyle. they are poorly written pornography. they are not erotica. the portrayal of the characters are horrendous! the male role being a result of abuse, the one dominant woman a child abuser and the submissive as a hopeless blithering idiot. We are not all crazy, abusive, abused, or idiots. it’s so frustrating to see this put the image of the lifestyle back 40 years. I have heard so many absurd opinions developing from these books. 

    here is a perspective on the series from my submissive. Yes she is mine I am her master but this is only because she allows me to be. we have developed a level of trust and comfort with each other that gives her confidence that I will be able to read her and know what she will and will not enjoy and when to stop or push harder. It is much deeper than what may seem like abuse. I do not and will never do anything she does not enjoy in some way or another.

    This book made me cry. Sob like a child, because it made me feel weak for being who I am. It caught me at the wrong moment, and poorly written and awful as this book may be, it touched a nerve that was already raw. I crumbled beneath the weight of the accusatory tone it uses…it made me question my own sanity and stability, because every kinky person in this book is f***** up some how. I know, I know, its just fantasy, I know its badly written, I know it shouldn’t have had that effect on me. But it did.I am a submissive woman. I submit because I love, because I need to. I submit because it thrills me to please my man. My Master. My lover, my best friend, my hero, my champion, my sadist, my Puppy (don’t ask ). I submit because it fulfills a basic instinct within me, because I love it, not because he needs me to (though that makes it SO much more fun!!). I submit because it turns me on and turns me up, because through my submission I have felt things I never would have felt otherwise. He has taken me to places I never knew existed, and if I had not submitted willingly and joyfully to his strength and his intelligence I would not have those experiences that I so very, deeply cherish. I do not give him this piece of myself because he needs me to, that would be the opposite of healthy. I give him this, because I need to.I am a masochist. I guess its how I’m wired; I was never beaten or abused as a child. Pain sets off my nerves in a way that no other touch can..some of the most powerful orgasms I have ever had came from no other sensation but pain. I love it. I grew up in a perfect home with a beautiful family, with parents who were wildly in love, with a backyard full of flowers and a mom who made breakfast every morning and a dad that made $180,000 a year; parents who took us places and who were always involved. There was nothing wanting. I never went hungry, I never, ever, ever got spanked or hit. And yet, even then I was as I am now. I remember as a very small child I would play little mental scenarios through my head when I was waiting to fall asleep, where I was the princess that had been kidnapped by so-and-so, and had been tied to such and such to wait for my hero to come save me…it wasn’t until much, much later, after discovering my sexuality, that I understood these fantasies I had had from such a young age. It is an intrinsic part of who I am. It is not a mental illness, it is not a result of being broken…exactly the opposite.I am not the product of abuse or a broken home. I am not confused about my sexuality. I am not a simpering twit. I have not been cajoled or forced or seduced into this lifestyle. I am here of my own free will, kneeling at his feet because I feel safe there, not because he forced me, not because I fear I will lose him if I didn’t.I think that is what bothers me the most…that she submits so she won’t lose him. How DARE they portray the most intimate, precious thing a person like me can give…their sexuality and their submission…as a bargaining tool? A chip to be bartered. I am here because it is natural and healthy and beautiful…so beautiful. My submission is the greatest gift I can give, because when I give my body, I also give my mind and soul…the whole of me is kneeling at his feet, not just my body. When I give him my submission, I give him my WHOLE BEING…and I cannot give more than that.There is nothing in the world like the catharsis of crying into my Master’s shoulder after a hard scene, his powerful arms around me, his hands in my hair, his body wrapped around mine. Nothing could ever be safer to me than being in his arms, especially after he hurts me. He hurts me because I need him to…and it hurts SO good. 

    I’m going to finish reading fifty shades for the sake of “knowing my enemy” so when it it comes up and some one who has no real clue about it throws a fit I can help them understand it is not as it is shown here. It is, in simplest terms, a different type of loving and wonderful relationship.

  • Jill

    I grew up in an LDS household that was extrememly sexually repressed. The mindset is that you should not have any sexual contact with a man until he is your husband. Although I did fall away from the church I held deeply to my desire to wait for sex until marriage. At the point that I chose to have sex, it was for all the wrong reasons. I’m 25 and I have been intimate with the same person for 9 years, but never quite felt comfortable with my sexuality. For me this book allowed me to identify myself as a submissive by choice. I sometimes didn’t feel comfortable with what I was doing with my partner mostly due to the fact that I felt guilty for it to feel good. I very much connect to the character of Ms. Steele in that way. What I took most from the books was that the submissive has the power. I have the power to enjoy my sexuality. If I want to have a brazilian wax I should do it so I can feel the added arousal, not because my partner finds it to be sexy. And to not feel guilt over intimacy with my partner, especially some incidences that are often thought to be kinky. It was refreshing to know that other women, enjoyed and fantasized about these things. Overall, I felt a larger connection to myself as well as the mass audience that was reading the book. A woman should never feel guilty for enjoying things that make her feel good.

    • Taboohunter

       That, ladies and gents, is what’s called the “power exchange”, and it’s about trust.

        One thing to keep in mind is that what’s kinky for one isn’t remotely close to kinky for another. 

         I do wonder how many women would be thinking “Yeah!  Tear him down!” if Christian were the billionaire submissive, and Ana being the Domme hausfrau?

    • http://www.angiesargenti.blogspot.com/ Angela R Sargenti

      I haven’t read these books, solely because everyone tells me how badly they are written, but I’m glad you took from them that it’s okay to be who you are.  It is.  And I don’t care who says differently.  I love to be spanked, quite hard at times, and it’s nothing to do with my husband controlling me, because I’m the one who brought it up in the first place.  You can’t help the way you were made, so rejoice in it.  Anyway, what’re you going to do for 20 or 30 years?  The missionary position?  Yawn.

  • J__o__h__n

    I think only a masochist would want to read poorly written garbage. 

    • Zing

      HA!….funny.

      • jimino

         Thankfully yours is short.

  • Bud Glory

    The soundest argument that was made on either side of this debate was made by the caller who called in around 11:30.  She made the argument that art influences the real world— our culture and our social attitudes— and this is not just some harmless fantasizing that lives only within these pages: It has real world ramifications.  Imagine how the behaviors of men in our society could change for the worse if they grow to believe that this kind of abuse is what women want out of their sexual relationships.  Imagine how that could influence the way men treat their partners.  Imagine how that could influence the behavior of a man who sees a woman walking down a dark street alone.  Imagine how it could influence a society that is already infested by acts of sexual brutality directed almost exclusively at women.  Imagine it.

    And to those of you who believe that Ana has some kind of power I ask you: Where is the power in being beaten?  That seems to me like the opposite of power.  What? because she wants to be treated like hell, somewhere deep inside of her, and because she finds someone who will do it, that’s empowerment?  Wouldn’t real power come from loving yourself so much and having so much self-esteem you wouldn’t want to be treated in such a horrific way?

    Oh, and about the guy who called near the end of the program and who was all for it: He sounds like a misogynistic dirtball who wants to create a girls gone wild society for his own selfish pleasure.  I know the type.  That’s who he is.

    Peace ya’ll!

    Bud Glory

    • J__o__h__n

      I have no desire to read these books but they should not be censored because of how someone might behave after he or she reads them. 

    • http://titsandvangogh.tumblr.com/ TitsAndVanGogh

      I agree with you that the book is harmful to the feminist movement, but not in the way you say, which is somewhat closed-minded. BDSM isn’t about self-loathing or owning people. You’re missing the point. The point isn’t that she likes being hit, the point is that she doesn’t think for herself. It’s exactly like Twilight. She surrenders to this very badly written character who just wants to fulfill his own fantasies.

      • Zing

         We still have a feminist movement…?  After Bill Clinton…?

        • http://titsandvangogh.tumblr.com/ TitsAndVanGogh

          We still have women, so, yes?

    • Taboohunter

       There are some people that are just wired differently. The best subs I’ve had, as a Dom, have been raised in good homes, with no trauma, and be it a smack on but butt, or something much more intense, they enjoyed the pain, even pleaded for it.  Also, there’s a place subs get to, “subspace”, which is the equal to an athlete being “in the zone” where sensation and experience take on a different, deeper, sometime darker, aspect.

       These are fictional characters, written as a fan of another poorly written series, by someone who has zero real life experience in the DS/BDSM world. The one thing she did get is that this was all consensual, and that’s the key thing in real life.

    • Lawrence

       Art influences the real world?

      OR does our millions of years of evolutionary instincts influence our behavior which in turn influences our art, society and culture?

      • Bachianaarmericana

        Of course art influences the real world.  And I’m obviously not claiming that evolutionary biology doesn’t.  Believe it or not, intellect and instinct are interconnected, at least in people possessing intellect.Bud Glory

    • nykohchyn

       Hi, Bud!
      I am a submissive woman and a masochist. I have always BEEN a submissive woman, its not something that has happened since 50 Shades. My boyfriend (I call him Master) and I are fairly prominent members of our local BDSM community. Your comment offends me a little. Okay, a LOT. I do not lack self esteem. I am a strong person, I adore the bejeezus out of myself. If anything, I feel that a “lack of self esteem” is the opposite of my problem. I know I’m awesome. I’ve been called a narcissist. :-) That said…

      There IS power in submission. There is more power in submission than anyone who hasn’t done it could ever know. Unlike the scenario presented in the books, the submissive in a healthy relationship dictates EVERYTHING. As a masochist I not only enjoy, but I NEED pain. Certain types of pain register in the pleasure centers of my brain as “sensual.” I can orgasm from a beating. Would you stop doing something that could give you an orgasm, if it was safe, sane, and consensual? I’m not going to. Its not the only way I can have an orgasm, I am wired the same way as any other woman in many ways, but I can do it that way *too*. That does not mean I lack self esteem, its the way I am wired. And because my relationship is HEALTHY, I decide not only what kind of pain but how much, be it physical or mental. If I say stop, for any reason, any reason ever, he stops, and immediately I am wrapped in his arms, safe from everything. I love and trust my Master not to harm me, to only hurt me in ways I want and need. Its a lot like riding a roller coaster…its “scary” and its an adrenalin rush and it may very well be overwhelming…but you know that you won’t get any lasting damage from it. You *know* you’re safe, so its fun to pretend you aren’t.

      People who know nothing about the Lifestyle (and it IS a lifestyle, I call him Master both in the bedroom and in daily life, and I constantly strive to serve and please him because I love him, and that is how I show love) and don’t want to know, should stay out of it. EL James has insulted many of us by making us look like mental patients. We are not broken. We do not all lack self esteem. Most of us love ourselves so much that we are willing to fly in the face of societal norms to do what makes us happy, regardless of what people like you think of us.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001306268747 Tiger Lee

        I think where nyko and Bud differ is that nyko is referencing her own consensual relationship, while Bud is referencing the book’s abusive relationship. The power that nyko enjoys in her consensual relationship is not the same power, or lack thereof, that someone would have in a nonconsensual or abusive relationship.

  • http://titsandvangogh.tumblr.com/ TitsAndVanGogh

    While listening to this piece, I didn’t hear one voice from the BDSM community. Instead there were people who had no experience with it other than reading the book and dissecting it. For people new to the community, this is dangerous. I am a male submissive, but also am sometimes dominant (we switch), and there are several problems with the dynamic the characters in 50 Shades of Grey have taken. First, a weak, poorly developed protagonist who just blindly follows her dominant’s will without even thinking. Christian Grey is a terrible dominant. D/s is about much more than being abusive, moody, and dishonest. A good dom needs to be honest, caring, and provide his submissive with the wherewithal to submit. In 50 Shades of Grey, it doesn’t even seem like Ana is into his fantasy. She just doesn’t want to lose him. He coerces her into it, which is not what you do if you actually care about someone. That is how people get hurt. If this book really is bringing BDSM into the mainstream, and people see Christian as a role model for a good dom, it is easy for people to get hurt. I love my domme. I feel safe with her and submit to her because I know she only does what’s best for me. Just be careful who you submit to. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. 

    • http://www.angiesargenti.blogspot.com/ Angiesargenti

      You are so right.  It’s only abuse if you don’t like it.  There are multitudes of people out there who want to be punished for their misdeeds, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It can be a very cleansing experience that helps you forget what’s wrong and move on.  It’s so much more than, “I’ll go along with this person’s stuff because I like them.”  That’s probably the worst reason in the world to do BDSM.

  • J__o__h__n

    Comments are not working for hour one’s show. 

  • Zing

     Well, you are what you are…

  • Aldeaquirion

    I am a public librarian and first found out about this trilogy from our senior citizen patrons months ago.   We’ve only just recently  begun to have twenty somethings asking for it.  While reading my own copy of the book 2 at the beach, I witnessed complete strangers flagging each other down to discuss these books.  My husband refuses to read them but my brother (not an avid reader) agreed to read certain passages his wife suggested.   I agree with many that they are not well written but it certainly is generating lots of discussion everywhere.

    aquirion  (http://bookmenus.blogspot.com/2012/05/fifty-shades-of-grey.html)

  • Ms Reason in Wisconsin

    I’d be more inclined to believe those who praise sexual submissiveness had I not just viewed a disturbing slideshow featured on this website:  
    http://stoppornculture.org/  (Look to the top of the page)  It’s pretty hard to get through. Quite an eye opener.  

    I’m not linking the silly “50 Shades” series with hard-core pornography. And, as a librarian, I would never tell other readers, librarians or booksellers what they should or shouldn’t read.  But I am saying that there is a very dark side to the submissive/dominant story. Reading about these acts in hack fiction may well indeed be harmless.  But when s/d behavior is promoted and glorified in the porn industry, terrible things happen. I have to ask: Whose glory? Where’s the glory in the images on these slides?  

    I only found the stoporn site by accident, by the way. It was at the bottom of this interesting description on Counterpunch of one feminist’s unfortunate experience with the Melissa Harris Perry Show on MSNBC.  http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/07/10/when-a-feminist-gets-bumped-for-a-pornographer/  I realize we’re only getting this one writer’s side of the stor here but, after reading it, I think somewhat less of Professor Perry than I did before.  

    • http://titsandvangogh.tumblr.com/ Guest

      First, I think you’re confusing a lifestyle with porn about that lifestyle. There’s porn about cars but you’re not trying to stop GM or classic car conventions, are you? Second, how is telling women to stop making porn more empowering for them? 

    • nykohchyn

      Can’t watch the slideshow because its a .flv file (who uses those, really?) but I’m a submissive and there is nothing “dark” about my sexuality….unless you count the times we do it with the lights off.

  • Maria Hunter72

    I have to say, I found the part of the show where Tom was reading a passage from the book enticing. Maybe he has found a new calling!

    • Bewitched

      I agree!  The books are drivel, but Tom’s incredible voice is the missing ingredient…

  • Karen in Valdese NC

    I’m trying to get through the third book and find myself thinking “oh, please, one of them sneezes and sex again!” It’s definitely Nora Roberts meets Penthouse Forum meets Harlequin Romance.  

  • Gregg

    I’ve gotta say, the comments are interesting today. To me, sex is much more than an act… but that’s just me. Whatever floats your boat is cool with me, just be careful. 

  • drbetty48

    As fun fantasy I think that reading Fifty Shades of Grey is harmless enough.  However, it is so badly written and based on such a derivative premise (“what would Bella do if there were no vampires? Who would she like?”) that it does not deserve such prominence.  Oh brave new world.  Congratulations to the author for joining the billionaire blockbuster club.  THe Internet changes anything.

  • Jan

    Although not well written, it’s a great love story, set with a very limited amount of sadism. . .Ana doesn’t want it, but indulges a very small bit to please Christian. . .and he backs off his life style to please her, because he “doesn’t want to lose her”.  I see the graphic sex as part of the character development on both sides. . .and is as Christian puts it, mostly vanilla. . .but, I don’t see it as mostly sexually deviant as many are harping.  It’s a fun read and at the end of the trilogy I felt very happy!

    • apaulished

      Exactly!!

  • Jocksito

    What happened to the United States ? There is apparently a fundamental need that remains unsatisfied; a nation that has replaced foreplay with Monday Night Football. Well written? What an insult to William Faulkner, Mark Twain or John Steinbeck. Erotic? Sorry, just well promoted. Have we become a race only satisfied by pre-digested sex and Jerry Springer? My wife and I cry for you — from Argentina where wine, a fireplace and a “mirada” do quite well after 35 years, thank you.

  • e5d8s9

    Hmm, I wonder if it would be as popular if the male character was a middle class office worker….

  • Ed

    To paraphrase Raymond Arroyo, why would educated women, who otherwise demand equal rights, accept mysogyny and even find it romantic?

    Our societys’ ills in many cases can be traced to a misuse of sexuality. The last thing we need is more books inciting us to further misuse of sexuality.

    • Lawrence

       Misuse of sexuality? Isn’t that being a bit judgemental?

      Who’s to say what is a misuse of sex? Have you read the latest research of women’s sex fantasies?

      Why shouldn’t they and everyone else derive maximum psychological and physical pleasure from sexual activities?

  • Elizabeth

    I’ll start by saying I haven’t read the book, I’m not submissive and I’m not part of the BDSM community.

    That said, I *am* a feminist, and I don’t see what the problem is.  My understanding of the feminist movement was that women were to be free to pursue whatever expression of sexuality they chose, just as they were to be free to pursue whatever careers they chose.

    As a point of fact, however, it seems many so-called feminists don’t believe in *actual* freedom — just freedom *they* think is appropriate.  If women want to read this and find this erotic, who cares?  If a woman finds being submissive fulfills her sexuality, again, who cares?  If we *do* start to try to shame limits upon them, then we’re imposing our own form of self-censorship.  Apparently, we’re no better than those we once claimed held us down, are we?  Talk about hypocrisy at its finest.

    Either we’re feminists who support women exploring whatever sexuality they choose, or we’re not feminists at all.

  • SHAMPOOTHIS

    LOVE THESE BOOKS BEST LOVE STORY I EVER READ..OH THAT MR GREY WE ALL SHOULD HAVE A MR GREY!!!!!!!!!

  • Laura Brammer

    I think these books are great.They give the quote “vanilla” sex people a broader horizion, more opprotunity to experience something new and fun. Gives the mind a little extra kick or excitement and amusement. The plot is good, the read is good. The imagination is even better. Those with a open mind ought to learn a few things.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/X7XO3E5EXECXAZ54AR2WDBKSV4 Denyse

    This says a lot that many didn’t want to hear: http://fantasy-pages.blogspot.ca/2012/07/fifty-shades-of-dark-realities.html

  • Rhonda

    And E.L. James is laughing all the way the way to the bank!  I’m so glad that women finally feel free to do and purchase what they want without needing to explain themselves to any of you.  Who are you to question anything I wish to do in the privacy of my bedroom or a red room of pain.  Get a life and stop talking about other peoples’ and what they’re reading…

  • Truebgood

    MOst people are focusing on the sex and not the rest of the book.  She is not submissive at all.  Mr. Grey is being more submissive than she is in this story because he gives in to her wishes more than she gives in to his.  This is an empowered woman who knows what she will and will not do for a man.  He is forever trying to change himself for her. If you leave the sex scenes out , you would see the love story that is there. I don’t usually read romance novels because they usually have no story line or are just plain sappy. this book is intrigueing. Ms. James is a great writer and very intuitive of what a many women want to fantasize about.

    • AnnMarie R.

      I’ve been saying this all along! I refrained from reading this book for a long time because all I kept hearing about was the sex parts and how great they were. Lol. But upon giving in and reading them, I fell in love with their relationship, and how she was changing him and she getting to know him. It’s a great series, definitely one I’d read again. Bravo, Ms. James.

  • Lawrence

    At least this book creates a forum for discussion. 

  • e5d8s9

    After reading the comments here it sounds like the book is standard female fantasy stuff: a really rich guy who’s open to being “improved” by the woman and then throw in some S&M.

  • goodchild

    I read 50 on saturday and all the way through was thinking “this is just 9 and a half weeks - she should be reported!”  they even had the ice cube schene and managed to fit the tantalising strawberry into a dream schene.  How has no-one picked this up!

  • http://twitter.com/angiesargenti Angela Sargenti

    Maybe she became a Fan Fic author because she doesn’t have that many ideas of her own. I’d love to meet her publicist, though.

  • http://twitter.com/angiesargenti Angela Sargenti

    I haven’t read it yet, and it’s so overhyped now I probably never will. I write in the BDSM genre, so none of this is new to me, anyway.
    “Working Out the Kinks”, kink for those with a short attention span.

  • Pingback: Shades of Grey Everywhere I Turn - The Fortuitous Housewife

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