PORN REBORN: Fifty shades of Grey, E.L. James and the new era of social ignorance

August 22, 2012 OPINION/NEWS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve seen it dog eared and well worn on a bedside night stand,  also posing as a harmless paper back on a kitchen table already  littered with crayons and assorted coloring books and once peeking out from a handbag carried by a high school girl on summer vacation.  Everyone with an internet or television connection has at least heard of  the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and the subsequent trilogy that was its evolution.

 The skeleton of the story is trite, the premise so sexist it is almost a joke if not for the dark path down which it travels: Young virginal girl meets and is seduced by a slightly older wealthy young man who gradually turns her into a submissive sex slave replete with physical violence that leaves her bloody and demoralized.This is more the stuff of a horror story than a tale of an erotic romance. Not since the Twilight frenzy have we been so inundated with photos of  cover art, hyped up interviews with a flavor of the month author and the eventual film adaptation that promises print titillation brought to life in all its deviant glory. The result? A descent into a dark and brutal age in publishing, the likes of which has never been seen.  The fact that this book has outsold Harry Potter is disturbing for many reasons but ultimately not a complete surprise to any writer who has been paying attention to trends in the book  business. This fact should urge many people, both readers and writers alike,  to sit up very straight to take serious notice of  a  sinister bent within publishing.  Something subversive and poison is very methodically and surreptitiously eroding values our society has spent hundreds of years developing and protecting such as human equality, freedom from abuse and awareness. Not only that, it is doing so  with our permission very efficiently and we are paying them for it!

For some time we have been on a regressive and oppressive downward spiral toward an ignorance that is no longer about lack of opportunity or education but is instead  a conscious choice based on the lure of greed, lust, power and the embracing of the lowest common superficial denominator. In this age of advanced technology and access to endless sources of  information we should be advancing but actually,  we are rapidly becoming knuckle dragging  illiterates who worship at the altar of the new god: Economics.  Money and the quest for a quick fix dictate nearly everything we experience. As this rampaging monster takes control, the arts have been completely corrupted by the notion that if it panders to the peccadilloes of a distorted minority, then the result is meaningful, inspired and artistic. At the risk of bursting this unrealistic bubble it has to be said loudly: It isn’t. It isn’t literature, art or even a good story.  Books such as Fifty Shades of Grey are nothing more than porn reborn  lacking only a cheesy sound track and a back  room from which to be sold by a shifty guy with dirty fingernails.  These  are vacuous and badly written depictions of some sort of demeaning sexual activity disguised as literature. This type of sordid squandering of a perfectly good basic vocabulary that E.L. James and her ilk possess and  employ is certainly not what literary legends such as D.H. Lawrence, Henry James or  Anaïs Nin had in mind for the future of erotic literature. To consider it possible that these three  would laugh Fifty Shades into the trash can is an understatement.

It doesn’t matter if people buy this tripe or not, the fact still remains that it just shouldn’t be published or marketed as anything but what it is: pornography, and violent pornography at that. To promote it as a legitimate novel is to blaze a trail for the dumbing down of a society already struggling with social wear and tear.  Although much money will indeed be made, eventually the appetite for these empty mental calories will dry up, but the damage left in the wake will take years to repair, if it can be fully repaired at all.  The slick marketing campaigns that have made a mockery of the art of writing are merely the beginning of a despicable precedent that is transforming prose and story telling into something akin to grunting on paper and nothing of artistic merit can be salvaged from that sort of primal fumbling with words.

Society has undergone a great many changes within the past three hundred years with the abolition of slavery, the advent of equality for women and the protection of children as well as the push for racial understanding. People have suffered and died for these ideals and it would appear their deaths were futile, their struggles fruitless. Perhaps we should ask ourselves how a book that  promotes and describes  the abuse of a woman in graphic and lurid detail has become so popular with a generation that has enjoyed the hard won freedom and social tolerance that those deaths and struggles earned? How is it that  we are at the vanguard of a socially progressive new era yet are unable to step  out of the gutter?  We have perfected emotional stupidity and we are chronic non thinkers. We text in idiot speak, we rely on calculators to count our pennies and we  spell check so often that even the best news outlets are riddled with grammatical mistakes, rendering them nearly unreadable. We no longer think for ourselves or make decisions based on any complex thought life.  The consequences are obvious: increased acceptance of previously abhorrent behavior such as rape, violence and abuse that is sold to us by those in the business of selling snake oil to a sick society.

Another more serious factor is this: what becomes of the young women  who are infecting their minds and sensibilities with the notion that wealthy men who abuse women are sexy and that being dominated is the new cool as touted by E.L. James and her publisher? Whether they want to acknowledge this truth or not, young girls are reading Fifty Shades of Grey and their perceptions of self as well as their feminine values are being distorted and warped. Where is the accountability in all this and why are so few people within the industry feeling discomfort about the lack? This is not a matter of political correctness, but rather one of social responsibility, just as the issue of an epidemic of eating disorders promoted by the fashion industry was and still is being monitored. Additionally disturbing is the intimation that somehow because this was written by a woman, it is seen as not only harmless but a revelation of part of the feminine sexual mystique. This is a  dangerous perception that only adds gasoline to the fire of acceptance of violence against women. Because it was created by a woman and bought by women in droves it is now being widely accepted as a sanctioning of sexual abuse. You won’t  find any survivors of rape lauding this book, E.L James or her publisher for what is correctly perceived as an insult to their suffering and a dispicable backward step in the fight against violence and sexual assault.  If we delve into the female authorship of Fifty Shades of Grey,  a questioning of  the previously held feminist belief that our enemy is wearing a male face must be done. It is clear that a patriarchal society is not a woman’s only foe, but in truth it is other women such as E.L. James and those who purchase her book who would like to keep us all chained to oppression and marginalization. 

 A society fully devoid of boundaries and  soaked in the indifference created by desensitization may as well drag its knuckles back into the caves and be done with it. But don’t tell me or any other free thinking person that Fifty Shades of Grey et al are anything but a money machine that has no long term vested interest in a healthy society filled with hope when in fact it is a very short term hungry mouth that will devour not only the money you spend for this book but also your ability to stop your common sense from being swallowed along with your  knowledge of right and wrong.  Somewhere there is a nefarious snake oil salesmen getting richer and laughing at the ease with which he has picked your pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Val B. Russell is the managing editor of Tuck Magazine, as well as a freelance writer, novelist and Pushcart nominated poet.

 

6 Comments

  1. Pat Wood September 13, at 18:37

    I had almost forgotten I was a feminist until this book received its hype into the foreground of the book world. Is this really the legacy we want for our daughters and grand daughters? Throughout the ages, women have fought for independence and self respect. Did the 60's never happen? Did all those women who burnt bras, threw themselves under horses, campaigned down the ages, work for nothing? I cannot quite believe that sensible modern women in the Western world, who have the freedom of choice, freedom denied to many women in other countries, would give this book house room, let alone buy it. I have to confess I have not read it, only reviews such as your own. And I have no intention of reading it. I will not line the pocket of someone who promotes violence against women. I have read the Stieg Larsson trilogy, which I think is a brilliant read and does not condone the violence against women in the way that Ms James has chosen to do. In a world bent on profit at any price, her fortune comes dear.

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  2. Selma August 23, at 11:06

    When this book was published the ghosts of suffragettes past drove a van bedecked with loudspeakers through every major town in the world proclaiming:'Feminism is dead.' It is shocking to me that a woman wrote such an incredibly misogynistic book. I am angered and saddened by it in equal measure. My friends and I initially made fun of the book, convinced no one would buy it, but its success has made us all feel a little despairing. Even under the guise of fiction, it is confronting to see a woman being treated as a subordinate, to be punished, to be powerless. Upon reading this book one can't help but be reminded of political platforms currently being presented around the world that are very anti-women with their suggestion that abortion and free contraception should be outlawed and that you can't get pregant from being raped. It's terrifying. I think that the world's gone mad - that's the only justification I can come up with for the success of this book. A somber and doleful thing to contemplate.

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  3. Debbie August 22, at 14:53

    Wonderfully written. I have many (facebook) friends, who have read or are reading this trilogy....... most of their comments are in the veins of "getting just a little bit turned on". Really???? Wow, women are taking this as "Fantasy Novella" Um yeah, 1 step forward, 2 steps back.

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  4. Richard Fenwick August 22, at 14:09

    You've hit it well here, Val. I always wonder how it is such a large population of readers (in this case women, as I understand it) can buy into a book that glorifies their own descent. Too many women - over a span of too many years - have worked hard to move their cause forward. This is a step in the wrong direction, and I will always wonder how these very readers would have reacted to this obnoxious violence had a man written the book.

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  5. Anne Bradshaw August 22, at 11:06

    Thanks for this well-written and thought-provoking piece - I think you have said it all, Val. I am still reeling with shock at the 'success' this book has had, and continues to have. At first I believed it was just clever marketing, but that alone can't explain such a long-term phenomenon, and the fact that it remains in the bestseller list week after week after week is quite depressing. If it's just an ironic kind of 'backlash' against the freedoms women have fought for so long to have, then I still think it's a shame. What a sad way to use those freedoms: instead of finding something new and different to say about female sexuality and relationships we find ourselves back in the same old 'innocent virgin meets older guy with hang-up' kind of scenario; instead of finding new and exciting ways to explore a world in which women are finally being accepted on equal terms, we are back in the same old same old woman as sex object/victim tropes. I recently read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson - a male writer. As an antidote to the kind of shallow, pseudo-sophisticated, fake glamourised tosh of Fifty Shades, it worked like a treat; as a piece of pro-feminism writing it pulls no punches. Larsson writes about BDSM too - and he displays more humanity and sympathy to women than E. L. James ever does. Plus, he writes a darn sight better than she does too. Violence is bad. If it's used it should show the consequences, and not be dressed up and glossed over, tweaking the same sad old cliches to try and make them look like they're something new and different, exciting, forbidden, and wrapped up a consumer culture of wealth and glamour. Instead, why not look at what they really are: just tired old ghosts from the past, whipped into service to sell us something we decided we actually didn't want a long time ago. I just can't help wondering: When are we going to wake up?

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    • Administrator August 22, at 11:34

      Thank you Anne for articulating so eloquently the dilemma women still face. I have been thinking a great deal about feminism and why it is no longer a progressive movement and perhaps now the real enemy we face is within us. There are women who stuck in a mode of self loathing and to whom abuse is a justification of that poor self image. Perhaps we are now at the summit of a higher mountain that is less about gender and more about humanity as a whole and the health of society. If we are to look at this from that perspective we can then address why it is that entire groups of people, both female and male are gorging on violence. Your mention of Stieg Larsson and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is very pertinent to this discussion as it shows that perhaps the women's movement is actually the human movement and the message has gotten through to men. As for E.L. James, to call her a traitor to her own gender is not extreme and although she is indeed now wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, no amount of money will buy her a clear conscience or self respect as a woman.

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