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I apologize for being the 50th person you’ve heard mention Fifty Shades of Grey today — although Utah is one of the states which, according to a national survey, is the least likely to read or like the series. So maybe you’re one of the lucky few who hasn’t heard of it yet. If you have, I’m sorry to add to your probable frustration at so much attention being paid to the literary equivalent of used Kleenex.
If you don’t know what it is, maybe you should stop reading now, because I don’t want your faith in humanity or, worse, literature to die needlessly. But if you’re a masochist who wants to know what all the hype is about . . . Fifty Shades of Grey was originally written and published as BDSM erotica about Twilight‘s Edward and Bella on www.fanfiction.net by British housewife E.L. James. Erotic fanfiction for Twilight and any other franchise is a dime a dozen online, but for some reason this one was particularly popular and a legitimate publisher offered to sell it if James would change the names and, presumably, remove all mentions of vampirism. It is now the fastest-selling paperback of all time, having outstripped Harry Potter.
Think about that. The fastest-selling book in this world is Twilight-based pornography. Masochists — YOU’RE WELCOME.
I haven’t read the books in their entirety, but I’ve read more than 50 pages of hilariously bad excerpts from them, so I’m pretty familiar with the plot and writing style. I could rant forever about the fact that fanfiction — something that, by definition, you are acknowledging as not your creative property when you e-publish it — is making someone, and now people who write fanfiction about her fanfiction (true story), millions. I could whine about the writing itself having less literary value than what a baboon in heat would punch out in a text message. I could criticize James’ delicious hypocrisy at threatening to sue fans who throw Grey-themed parties because “you can’t just hijack someone else’s work.”
But I won’t, because there’s actually something worse about the phenomenon than all that.
The romantic antihero of the books is Edward . . . I mean, Christian Grey . . . I mean, Edward, a handsome millionaire who recruits a naive, virginal student journalist as his sex slave. Literally, he wants her to sign a contract making her his sexual property. The girl, Anastasia Steele (because that is a plausible name that a real girl would have), is intrigued by this tortured soul and thinks it’s hot to be submissive to him not only in the bedroom, but in all aspects of her life.
Now, some people do enjoy consensual, harmless dom-sub roleplay. But what’s portrayed in the books goes far beyond that. Whenever Ana thinks she has displeased Christian, she’s genuinely afraid. She pleads with him not to spank her in public for minor slip-ups. He has complete control over where she goes and who she talks to. And women the world over are taking to their Facebook pages to declare they wish their husbands were like Christian Grey.
I’m sorry, but that is not OK.
What people read and enjoy is their business. Like the books if you want to. Heck, you can like books advocating for nuclear holocausts if you want to. But when you knowingly spread the stereotype that women think being abused and controlled is sexy, you’ve crossed a line. Mark my words that there are creeps out there taking notice. If nothing else, think about the message it sends to victims of abusive relationships. There’s nothing exciting or sexy about their daily struggle, and it’s trivializing their experiences to go around swooning that there is.
And if you doubt James’ books are portraying anything of the sort, try talking to a victim. When it comes to abusive relationships, dream guy Christian wrote the book.