Thursday, July 26, 2012

50 Shades of Regression

"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it."   ~ Anais Nin
I am joining the conversation about the Fifty Shades series by E.L. James very late in the game.  I heard about it when it first became a hit, but I rarely read erotica or romance and have no interest in BDSM, so I didn't think much of it.  But it keeps coming up in conversation, and the conversations held online (Facebook, GoodReads, etc.) tend to get pretty tense.  I'm honestly mystified at the controversy over this and I feel a bit like I should just let the whole thing die, but I keep thinking, "What is it that makes so many people obsessed with this series and yet a whole other group of people absolutely mortified by its popularity?"  The simplest explanation would be that the latter doesn't approve of the BDSM theme, but I have not found that to be the case.   


Fans of the book say that it is sexually liberating, has changed the way they view themselves for the better and is a fantastic Cinderella-type story.

I've read that some married couples feel that the book has allowed them to openly discuss sex.  I am glad that some people are benefiting like this from the book, but I'm surprised that they haven't discovered similar literature before.  Not to mention the wealth of sex books written for couples.


The objections range from use of the Thomas Hardy book Tess of the D'Ubervilles as a romantic device (a tragic story of a rape victim's life being ruined by everyone blaming her for the violence committed against her) to the protagonist of the story, Anastasia Steele, being a weak, not very bright character who lacks common sense and any self-respect.

There is also a lot of commentary about the writing: bad grammar, crap dialogue, clunky prose, etc.  
"...a tacky, badly written piece of erotica." ~ ShinyShiny 
"...a shallow, useless read.  It's repetitive beyond imagination."     ~ A Separate State of Mind
Then there are those in the BDSM community who don't believe the book represents a healthy BDSM relationship.  Some have even said that the relationship between the two characters is better categorized as abusive than a standard relationship involving BDSM. 
"BDSM is not domestic violence if both partners fully consent to it. ...An alpha can be an alpha without being an abuser.  Someone can assert themselves and be in control without having to control you."    ~ CoffeeAndProzac

Only 99 cents!
And by that, I mean the ugly truth (for me, at least).  I really wanted to be able to approach this in a neutral fashion.  I tried to think of positive things to say.  I thought I'd have a better understanding of why people love this series, but I don't.

Why do people find this so appealing?  Why is this so sexually provocative?  If you want a bodice-ripper, there are any number of Regency and Harlequin romances you could pick up at your local grocery store.  Some of them even offer the same story line (which I find a bit unfortunate).

I found the characters largely unlikable, with the exception of Ana's roommate, Kate, who seems perfectly nice, though the author seems determined that the reader should despise her.  I absolutely loathed Ana's personality in Fifty Shades of Grey.  She didn't seem to like herself very much and acted as if almost every woman she encountered was competition (even before she met Mr. Grey).  As for Christian Grey, I think he has some pretty serious and scary character flaws.  He strikes me as a possessive, controlling, manipulative snob.  

After reading the first book and all the reasons why people think I should love this book, I just don't get it.  It seems regressive to me, like we're trying to undo all the hard work of the generations of women before us.  Women who fought against the idea that females should be submissive, controlled, in need of being protected (even from themselves) and easily purchased with shiny things.  

One of the reviews I read, from Huffington Post, claims that this book does no harm, but I don't agree.  Maybe there's no harm in the first generation reading these books, hopefully knowing that it's just a story and they shouldn't base how they feel about themselves, sex, relationships or marriage on it.  But what about the next generation?  The popularity of this book is going to have an impact on young girls whether we like it or not.  Will this continue the idea that as girls, if we're innocent and naive and do whatever a guy wants (even when we don't want to), we can change those bad boys into the men we think they should be?  I'm not saying this book should be burned (lordy, no) and I really have no right to judge the people who enjoy this (I've certainly read enough trashy novels to recognize my own glass house), but I do find the popularity of this series troubling.  Say all you want that it is only entertainment and is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  I'd rather see the generations that come after me, both girls and boys, reading something by Suzanne Collins,  Rick Riordan or J.K. Rowling instead of Fifty Shades and Twilight (yup, I said it).  Books that are well-written and send a better message.  And as much as I enjoyed Twilight for its trashy teenage story (a guilty pleasure at the time), I find it disheartening that girls would choose to read that and fantasize about being Edward's weak, clumsy little Bella instead of dreaming of becoming someone like Rowling's Hermione Granger.

As far as books for adults, there is a long list of amazing writers out there.  Though I'm not a huge fan of erotica, I've long been aware of it and have to say that there is plenty of really excellent writing in that genre.  From Anais Nin to Anne Rice, there is a wealth of erotic literature available that is hotter with lovely prose and more titillating dialogue than E.L. James has ever contributed.    

If I am going to read erotica, I would much rather read an author who obviously respects her own sex and has a strong sense of self.  I leave you with another quote from the queen of literary erotica herself:
"I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman." ~ Anais Nin


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! And I should thank you for giving me the ultimate female role model while I'm at it.

    2. I think that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me;-)

  2. Forgot to include this great "list of smut" for those interested:

  3. amen sister! ps. i LOVE that anais nin quote! LOVE it. makes me think of "love me like a man" by bonnie raitt. sexy as...

    1. I haven't actually read a lot of her writing, just came across that quote and was awestruck by its perfection for this post. That was pretty forward thinking in her time...maybe in our time, as well.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Somehow Blogger published a duplicate, sorry!


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