Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Fifty Shades of Grey Phenomenon, Part 1

As I implied in my recent review of Jenny Trout's The Boss, I avoided reading Fifty Shades of Grey until I was finally able to one day admit to myself that I was in fact curious over seeing what the hype was about. I was already horrified by the atrocious writing and grammar in the excerpts I read, however, it really isn't fair to judge something unless you actually have given it a try.

So I did read the books and to be very frank, this was pretty much my expression after finishing the final sentence in the first Fifty Shades book:

It took me nearly a month to finish. Now mind you, I read Stephen King's "It", a 1000+ page book, cover to cover within a week. So that says something right there.

After struggling so much through the story I almost through the book across the room reading all three books, I came to the following conclusion: I could understand how fans of this series might find it entertaining or some kind of escape. After all, that is the very reason why many romance readers enjoy the genre. What I don't understand, though, is how this particular series was a phenomenon to the point where sexless marriages were supposedly being revived and women were "finding their sexuality again". While this in itself is not a bad thing (I also don't know what the situations of these women were, so it probably isn't fair for me to be too judgemental), I couldn't help feeling slightly disturbed and a little confused over the fact that this particular book series was doing it. Not only that, but also going beyond being a mere escape or fantasy. For some, it was becoming a way of life. Seriously?
My reason for asking is the simple fact that erotica is nothing new. In fact, it has been around in the form of literature and art for thousands of years (just google "Vintage Erotica", "The Kama Sutra" as only two examples of this). Contrary to what many Fifty Shades fans seem to want to believe (and a friend of mine who owns a bookstore also confirmed that many fans of the series do believe such a thing), erotica and BDSM were NOT invented by E.L. James. Even in times when society was (seemingly) outwardly repressed, many were getting their freak on (for shits and giggles and as an interesting side note, check out's 5 Ridiculous Sex Myths About History You Probably Believe ...yep, 'tis a sad day when a humor site tells more historical truths than the average "credible" source) and exhibitionists like the Marquis de Sade also existed. Even earlier were the exhibitionists of the Roman Empire. There was also fetish clothing and BDSM gear made in the 1920s (and probably earlier) along with the publishing of novels like Lady Chatterley's Lover (published in 1928), The Awakening (published in 1899), and The Story of O (published in 1954).
So despite all this and more, I have to sit and wonder why a Twilight alternative universe fanfiction turned somewhat naughty is being hailed as a pioneer of sorts when it really isn't? And I say 'somewhat' because the sex scenes that are supposed to be so groundbreaking were actually pretty tame with the exception of the infamous tampon scene (and to me, that particular scene came across as the author trying too hard to be 'shocking').

On another note, I have said before that I do agree with those who say that Fifty Shades not only misrepresents the BDSM scene, but romanticizes abusive relationships. I won't get into this too much (not this time, at least), because it has already been been well-said:

Jenny Trout
Alys B. Cohen
Fifty Shades of Abuse

In this second video, the reviewer also discusses the (mis)usage of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles in Fifty Shades which I will get into later in this post. I will also add as a side note that I normally do not condone the destroying of books, but I understand her rage here. This review apparently also had several FSOG fans severely butthurt. And any post, article, or video that leaves the bleeding hearts of the world butthurt always end up being my favorites.

I will also concur that when reading a story in which the man who is supposed to be the romantic hero is triggering memories of a previously bad and abusive relationship (which did happen to me as I read FSOG) definitely poses a problem. And when you see women everywhere are holding him as the ideal man? Even more troubling.

Anytime Fifty Shades of Grey is bought up, I often mention Jenny Trout's/Abigail Barnette's The Boss (along with her FSOG recaps which I think are spot on). What I like about this series is the fact that it challenges reader on many levels to step outside the box of what is considered 'acceptable' in a romance story or even erotica. And yes, some may find them uncomfortable to read. Do I enjoy everything about The Boss? No, but I think you'll have that with most forms of entertainment you consume. As I've stated before, The Boss offers a far more realistic vision of a BDSM relationship. It demonstrates the lifestyle as being one of respect and trust. It demonstrates that if you find someone who is new to the scene (as Ana is in Fifty Shades and Sophie is in The Boss), you slowly work them in to not only ensure their comfort but also determine what they are okay with and what they are not. Neil does this with Sophie (The Boss) and Christian fails to do this with Ana (Fifty Shades). Most importantly, you DO NOT abandon the submissive with no after care the way Christian does more than once with Ana.
I also took issue with Ana being held up as a 'strong woman' by readers and even the author herself (throughout the series, we are CONSTANTLY told how strong, beautiful, smart, courageous, etc Ana is) despite her actions completely contradicting that. Interestingly, I've actually read of stronger female characters in historical novels and novels written centuries ago.
Now, I've stated before my dislike of the misuse of classic novels in recent contemporary fiction in my essay on how Twilight and now the forthcoming After horribly misuses Wuthering Heights, one of my all time favorite books. Oh, the humanity. E.L. James also insists on doing this with Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I came across this pretty awesome comparison of Tess of the D'Urbervilles vs. Fifty Shades of Grey courtesy of the blog, Jane Eyre's Legacy:

What does Tess of the D'Urbervilles Have in Common with Fifty Shades?

Interesting quotes from that very blogpost: "The crucial different between the two texts is in the female’s response to intimidating behavior.Tess rebuffs Alec and only succumbs when the livelihood of her family is at stake. Anastasia succumbs because she falls for Christian’s intimidation tactics."

"Fifty Shades of Grey, whether we like it or not, through its phenomenal sales, shows us how intimidation and stalking have been normalized to such an extent that the extremes are now considered a sexual fantasy. We have come to the point where the same actions Alec D’Urberville perpetrated on Tess – stalking, intimidation, and coercion – are seen as romantic overtures."

Reading this also makes you wonder if perhaps those of centuries passed were more self aware than many of us in the 21st century. As far as I know, not many women were falling all over themselves to call Alec D'Urberville the 'ideal man' when Hardy's book came out in the 1800s.

There are many layers to the Fifty Shades phenomenon to explore and delving into them further just might be in store for future posts. :)

ONE LAST SIDE NOTE:  I am offering all three short stories in the Stories from Colony Drive series for free until November 5 on Smashwords (which offers a format for pretty much any type of pc or e-reader). You can already download The Cemetery by the Lake (Story #1) and Romancing Elena (Story # 3) free. In order to get Dusk to Dawn (Story #2) as a free download throughout this month, visit the story's page and enter the following coupon code at checkout:

And after you've read them, feel free to leave a review at Smashwords and/or on Goodreads, whether you loved them, sort of liked them, or they weren't your thing. :)
Thanks all!

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My stories, "The Cemetery by the Lake" and "Dusk to Dawn" are available at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK. More retailers will follow, but Smashwords is pretty compatible with most e-reader and PC formats.
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