This ties in to the current ATBF, I guess, but it’s not about violence or ratings. I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days, sparked partially by the discussion I referenced on Tara Marie’s blog about boundaries and genre, Jordan Summers’s “sick of sex” post at RTB, and a couple of books that I’ve read. What’s the point you step away from a book, and say: that’s enough?
I’ve realized what my step-back trigger is: vulgarity. I might finish a book after hitting that instant of recognition, but I’ll never be invested in the characters again.
Now, I’m not talking about swearing. I’m not talking about vulgar words — I love those, I love the language in just about all of its forms.
I’m talking about characters that I consider vulgar. Characters that I wouldn’t want to hold a conversation with — and if I did, I’d probably walk away feeling icky, and maybe coated with a bit of slime. Actions that just make me think, My god, is this really supposed to be human? Are these characters or cariacatures? I feel like I’ve delved into a porno and/or vat of tasteless drunk fuckfaces, rejects from the adult film industry. (And if you’ve seen some of those actors, you know that’s baaaaaaad.)
And I know how subjective that is. For many people, “tasteless drunk fuckfaces” probably oversteps their bounds of taste, and pushes me into vulgarity.
I do find that the vulgarity is most obvious in sex scenes. Perhaps because everything else is stripped away, and it’s raw and open? And, again, I’m not talking about the language. I have read scenes where the hero is talking about the heroine’s pussy or cunt, and it’s the hottest, sexiest thing in the world.
But I’ve also read it — practically the SAME dialogue — when it just makes me feel like the characters aren’t really there, just going through the motions, the words coming out of their mouths like streams of jizz splattering against a TV screen. Like I — the reader — am the only one there, because the characters are so paper-thin and their characterization in the scene (sometimes in the book) so non-existent, it really is just Tab B Slot A and it’s offensive and tasteless to think that’s all I need to be involved in a story. It’s not, and I don’t like that.
But it’s not always in sex scenes. Sometimes it’s just the way a hero talks to the heroine, a smarmy little comment or innuendo that’s supposed to heighten tension but that really just makes me think: Jesus, is this guy an idiot? Is the heroine? Was that supposed to be funny/sexy? It wasn’t, it was ICK, and now I’ve lost a lot of interest in the story. Or a while back, I read a scene between a couple of women (all characters from earlier in the series, along with the current heroine) and they are discussing their sex lives, and making little jokes, and that’s fine…but then it goes on, and on, and it’s pretty much ALL they talk about, and they don’t even talk about it in interesting ways (like, referencing anything outside of themselves and bringing it back together to their own situation in a way that clicks, no, it’s all there in your face like they CAN’T) and I think: fuck me, is this all there is to these characters? Comparisons of dick size and who-did-whom and supposedly witty innuendo and sly references to previous books? Is it supposed to be Sex in the City? Because it’s not, and it’s annoying, and please tell me you have something to occupy your brains except SEX, and I fucking HATED Carrie Bradshaw anyway.
But you know what? I hated Carrie, but I never thought she was vulgar. I hated the “I can’t help but wonder…” thing she did every episode, it was stupid…but she was thinking about stuff. All related to sex, in some way, and relationships and romance…but she was thinking.
And after writing this, I’m realizing: that’s what I consider vulgar. I can’t define it, it’s more like a “I know when I see it” thing, but I’m pretty certain that it originates from a feeling that a) the characters don’t have anything in them except sex or b) whoever published/wrote the story thinks that’s all that I have in me.