Fifty Shades of Judgment
What an interesting trend the "Fifty Shades" phenomenon has become! It makes me smile for a number of reasons. First, I actually enjoyed the books. Second, I am excited that a no-name erotica writer can make it to the NYT Bestsellers List. Third, I think it is great that, when confronted with a little bit of kink, mainstream America eats it up. At a time of really repressive social conservatism, we need something like Fifty Shades to balance things out.
Recently, though, I have noticed that it is hard to start a conversation about any sort of fiction without having people bring up the Fifty Shades trilogy in a negative way. "It's got no plot!" "It's demeaning to women!" "It's not well-written!" "It teaches a bad lesson!"
It sounds more like a discussion about a presidential campaign strategy than in does a simple romance trilogy!
It's interesting that the majority of those who complain about these books claim they have never actually read them. They've read excerpts and reviews, but not the actual books.
It may be that they shouldn't read the books.
Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are erotic romance novels with a BDSM theme. Not everyone enjoys the romance genre, and BDSM is not for everyone.
But I do wonder why people who are not interested in the subject matter so vehemently decry these particular books.
It irritates me. I don't ever watch football. I think it is boring. But I understand that others don't agree with me, and that I really don't know what I am talking about when it comes to professional sports. So, I refrain from talking about what I don't know about. For me, it is a point of courtesy.
I think part of the desire to trash these books is the tendency for intellectual people to avoid anything that is popular. The masses are asses, and many things that appeal to the mainstream don't appeal to those with more sophisticated tastes.
It is also true that, in a technical sense, the Fifty Shades trilogy is not well-written. But neither is any Nora Roberts book, and you don't see people ranting about her.
I love Nora Roberts, but her style would make my English teacher cringe. Her point of view slips between characters in a matter of sentences. She randomly inserts the omniscient point of view; a device truly out of favor amongst modern novelists and editors. She repeats phrases regularly. She sprinkles her pages with em dashes as if they were Mrs. Dash.
Beyond that, there is only a fine line separating the romance of Nora Roberts from the erotica of EL James. Both are very spicy writers.
When we talk about escapist fiction, how much do readers really care about proper form? We want a story that engages us. We want to care about the characters. We want to find out what happens next. Personally, I think that any writer who can do that is a good writer, no matter what rules they break. Make me believe! Make me turn the pages! Make me sad when I've come to the last page.
In the past week I have heard so much misinformation about the Fifty Shades stories that I feel someone who has actually read the books needs to clear up the misunderstandings. And so, please enjoy a little Q & A in response to the statements I am hearing about these books from people who have never actually read them.
Q. Does the Fifty Shades trilogy have a plot?
A. Yes. It is the love story of a man who suffers from haphephobia and a woman who has never found romantic love necessary. Both are survivors of childhood abuse and neglect. Both have found ways to be successful despite these difficulties. Neither has ever before experienced real romantic love.
Q. Does the dominant male abuse the female in this story?
A. No. The female refuses to become his sub, even though she loves him. Furthermore, dom/sub relationships do not tend to be abusive. In these sorts of relationships, it is the sub who has all the power, not the dom.
Q. How well do these stories reflect the values and practices of the BDSM community?
A. There could be a lot of argument here - probably because there are a lot of different values and practices within that community. And, I don't claim to be an expert on this particular topic. The values of which I am aware (the stop word invokes an immediate stop, the sub is in the power position, and it is more about exploring pleasure than it is about inflicting pain) seem to be accurately described in the book.
Q. Are the characters realistic?
A. Probably not, but since when did fictitious characters need to be? I found enough realism in all the main characters that I was able to identify with them, and care what happened to them.
Q. Do these books promote abuse against women?
A. Um, no. If they promote anything, they promote the concept that a woman can remain strong in her convictions and do what is right for her, no matter how wealthy and attractive a man might be, or how much the woman might want to have a relationship with him.
A. Do people really have "playrooms" in their homes (i.e. the "Red Room of Pain")?
Q. Yes. It would seem that some people do.
Q. Do these books encourage deviant sexuality?
A. These books may spark the imagination and encourage people to more fully explore their sexuality.
Q. Is that a bad thing?
The bottom line is this. Some people read Penthouse for the articles. Some people read erotic novels because they enjoy a good romance story. Fiction can be a mindless entertainment, but what's wrong with that?
Romantic fiction isn't for everyone. Erotica isn't for everyone. BDSM certainly isn't for everyone. But, at sales of more than 51 million copies for the first book alone, these books are definitely for someone! So why judge? Let's celebrate the fact that, in a diverse world, there really is something for everyone!