Friday, June 29, 2012

3 Reasons to Quit Hating on Fifty Shades

Everybody who reads erotica and romance knows that Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels are nothing new. The series is not ground-breaking. It's not some fresh piece of fiction. It's almost laughably poorly written. It has also sold about a brazillion copies, has been the subject of just as many blog posts and articles, and is the topic of hushed conversations by people who had no idea such ooh, scandalous sexual proclivities existed.

I read the first book and the second before giving up in disgust, and yet, I really can't begrudge the Fifty Shades series its success and its publicity. I'm tired of listening to people harsh on it. It has done some good, after all, and I'm willing to accentuate the positive (take that, middle school guidance counselor!).  It's done at least three things that are good enough to offset just how bad the series itself is.

#1. Women are Discovering Erotica

The multitudes of females who picked up Twilight were unlikely to stop being interested in paranormal romance after they had finished Breaking Dawn. If you loved Edward and Bella, how much more would you love Kate and Curran or Anita and Jean-Claude (and Richard and Nathaniel and Micah and...) or Rose and Dimitri? By the same token, are we seriously unhappy that legions of women are picking up a book about the sexytimes and loving it? No matter how terrible Fifty Shades is, it's just a gateway drug. I love being able to say to women, "Well, if you liked Fifty Shades of Grey, you are going to LOVE The Siren by Tiffany Reisz!" And it's true - The Siren is totally hot and it's beautifully written. If EL James's success gets Tiffany Reisz even a few readers, then I call that a win. There are a zillion amazing erotica books out there. I see no reason why they shouldn't all get a boost from women discovering the genre.

#2. Non-Vanilla Sex is Getting Mainstream Attention

Submissive Pictures
Here's a little anecdotal evidence: The guy I live with is pretty conservative, totally vanilla, and reads the Wallstreet Journal religiously. After reading an article about Fifty Shades in the WSJ, he said, "So, what's BDSM? Is it, like, the guy abuses the girl and she likes it?" (Unfortunately, he asked me this question in a busy restaurant just as I'd taken a drink of tea. I nearly expired on the spot.) We had a long conversation about how BDSM is a sort of a catch-all phrase that's often a misnomer. I told him that what Ana and Christian had was (sort of) a D/s relationship that included some bondage and punishment. I explained in detail what was going on with that, how it generally works, and that people who engage in such things are perfectly normal. He absorbed all of this information and asked me a million questions. Then he went and researched it on his own. It wasn't prurient interest, and he never acted judgy about it. He genuinely wanted to know how this strange new thing worked. I've had several such conversations with people. Fostering interest in the mechanics of unconventional sexual relationships is a Good Thing. (The people sitting at the table across from us at that restaurant had fostered a very real interest, as well. I think their ears grew three sizes as they tried to catch every word.)

#3. Women are Reading

There's no such thing as a bad book - I mean, unless it's The Necronomicon or something - and anything that encourages women to read is great. Whether they're picking up Fifty Shades of Grey or War and Peace or anything in between, these women are opening themselves up to different perspectives, they're using their imaginations, and they're acknowledging the value of other experiences by spending their time reading about them. This is no small thing. In an age where our entertainment is becoming more and more mindless and a Kardashian is more recognizable than Stephen Hawking, anything that gets people engaging their brains by reading the words on the page is a victory. Even if that interest in reading has humble beginnings, it can flower into a full-fledged passion. If a little poorly written heavy-breathing seduces us some new readers, I'll give it a pass.

Instead of bitching endlessly about what Fifty Shades does wrong, let's use it as a stepping stone to what its readers could be doing right. If you're tempted to kvetch about how it sucks when someone brings it up, don't. Instead say, "Well, if you thought that was great, you should check out <insert erotica author here>."  Or you can try, "Have you read any other similar books?  There's a lot out there, you know!" You could even guide them toward genre materials with a well-timed, "Have you read any Anya Bast? Jeweled is kind of like Fifty Shades but there's magic!" You and I know that Bast's work bears no resemblance to EL James's other than that they're both erotica, but if Fifty Shades is a person's only frame of reference and they loved the book, a little white lie to nudge them to the proper side of the Force is acceptable.

In short, I am asking you to use your powers for good. Fifty Shades is not great erotica but a lot of people don't know better. If you do, then it's incumbent upon you to educate, not just to hate.
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  1. Can't we do both? Have better taste, peoples!

    1. What I find is that a lot of these women don't know there IS better. This is the entry level for them. They think this is good because it's all they know. It's our job to guide them to the better stuff and help them develop that better taste.

      They're only an egg right now. We must help them grok the good stuff.

    2. I tend to think you're right (even if I don't like it), but I wonder if anyone's studied it. Do previously non readers who pick up Twilight actually go on to read more and better stuff?

  2. I have a fourth reason, which is that the news stories that talk about its fanfiction roots are introducing people who might otherwise know nothing about it to the idea of fanfiction, and fanfiction, with all its messy, terrible, sloppy, laughably bad, creative innovation, is glorious. I discovered fanfiction less than two years ago. I'd never even heard of it before then. If 50 Shades had come out then, I would have had no idea what the stories were talking about, but I would have been curious enough to have looked. I'm not sure what I would have discovered, or whether I would have fallen in love with it the same way, but if even .001% of 50 Shades readers discover the fun to be found in exploring their own creativity, it will have accomplished something wonderful.

  3. I'm with you! People really seem to get on their high horses about the series. I read the first book to see what all the fuss was about, but have also read much better erotica, although not the Siren, so thanks for the rec!

  4. "Women are reading."

    And if they were reading the Necronomicon, no doubt you'd say, "Well, at least their curiosity about religion has been piqued."

    Try a class in critical thinking, Brainiac.

    1. Even though he was a misogynist, my Intro to Critical Thinking professor would have laughed in your face at your weak and poorly structured argument. I suggest brushing up on the basics.

      Oh and one more thing, brainiac isn't capitalized, brainiac.