Fifty Shades of Grey: A sidenote

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (2011)

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (2011)

I am fully aware that this post comes some time after Fifty Shades of Grey made its big splash.  But after stumbling upon a number of reviews and discussion on YouTube (while I was procrastinating writing my next review) I realised I needed to have a little rant.

A  disclaimer – I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey in full.  I fully intend to at some point, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t feel like spending money on the books at this point in time.  All my comments come from knowledge of the series based on the parts that I have read, as well as the numerous articles/video reviews/pop culture references that have been popping up over the last 18 months.

So, I’m sure everyone knows what these books are about.  Just in case you live under a rock – it’s a piece of B-grade Twilight fan-fiction that, in a bizarre twist of fate, got published and is selling like nobody’s business. It tells the story of Anastasia (aka Bella) who falls in love with a handsome but troubled CEO named Christian Grey.  She spends a lot of time biting her lip, chatting with her subconscious (not possible, does this girl suffer from a multiple personality disorder?) and having crazy BDSM adventures with Edward, sorry Christian.

Reactions to the series have varied of course.  Some people say that it’s the feminist book of our generation, teaching women to be open about their sexuality and their desires.  Others say that it spits in the face of feminism, teaching vulnerable female readers that it is okay to be abused and controlled by your sexual partner.  You get members of the BDSM community coming out to smash the series, saying it’s a terrible portrayal of their world.  You get members of the BDSM community singing its praises, saying Fifty Shades is making alternative sexual practices more widely acceptable.  You get people who do nothing but moan about the series outselling Harry Potter.  And of course, you get people who legitimately believe Fifty Shades is a stunning piece of fiction.

If you haven’t picked this up on my blog already, I’m a big supporter of being proud of the things you enjoy.  Even if society says they are not intellectual enough or too immature or should generally be filed in a deep, dark corner of your brain labelled ‘Guilty Pleasures.’ If you loved Fifty Shades, you shouldn’t feel ashamed – I would just encourage you to explore that genre further.

This leads to my one BIG problem with Fifty Shades of Grey.  That is, it’s incredibly poorly written in the most basic sense.  Spelling, grammar  continuity errors, repetition . . . basic stuff that should absolutely be picked up before a manuscript gets anywhere near a printing press (or an e-Book store in this case).  The fact that we are lowering our literary standards so far that a best-seller can be, well, complete shit,  really does alarms me.  Everyone should be exposed to wonderful, skilled authors in their lives, I just can’t emphasize how much that benefits you.  Books that  dumb readers down should not top best seller lists.  They belong in a rejection pile with a rejection letter – at least until a proof reader works the manuscript over and it resembles something that might pass a middle school creative writing assignment.  It’s frustrating that so many talented published (and unpublished) writers must struggle to complete with such  blatantly mediocre work.

In addition, the so-called ‘racy’ element that has generate so much publicity is juvenile,  unexciting and often plain ridiculous.  If you are going to be a best-selling erotic novel, you would think that the erotic parts would be a bit more . . . well, erotic. Critics fret about the impressionable little teenagers who are reading Fifty Shades simply to see what all the fuss is about, but I would guess that many of them have stumbled across stuff that is ten times dirtier and freely available on the internet.  I know I unwittingly have.  The internet is a truly frightening place people.

As for the people who  screech about how psychologically damaging  Anastasia and Christian’s relationship is, so what? I’m not claiming that it’s a healthy or advisable relationship to undertake.  But we have to remember, the whole she-bang stems from a woman’s fantasy – a FANTASY. Fantasies are crazy thoughts that fly around in your brain.  They are not rational, they are not sensible and they are not REAL. If I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be weird if I turned into a banana?’ that doesn’t mean someone might be slicing me up for their cereal the next morning.  Plenty of women fantasize about being submissive, about having a one night stand with a handsome stranger  etc. etc. but that does not mean they have any interest in doing so in real life.  If women want to read about a relationship that would be damaging, disturbing and unhealthy – that’s their prerogative and a lot of readers recognise that the relationship in Fifty Shades is exactly that.  I really don’t think the legions of lady readers out there are so impressionable that after consuming these books, their new life goal is to find a living, breathing Christian and become his sex slave.

I guess the main thing we have to to take from this is that women are interested in reading erotica and that you shouldn’t be ashamed of doing so if that’s your thing.  Popular culture has made men comsuming porn seem acceptable (or at least inevitable) and women should be able to be open and unashamed about their interest in that sort of thing as well.  I think it will be interesting to see if some really talented authors take advantage of the media frenzy and dive in.  Maybe we will have an erotic best-seller that actually deserves the title, rather than one that reflects the limited choice out there for women who want to explore the genre.

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