Please Shut the Fuck Up: 50 Shades of Grey Does NOT Spell the Demise of Humanity

25 July 2014 by 36 Comments

In case you’ve been living under a rock, 50 Shades of Grey by E.L James is this book that’s, well, kind of popular and it has this movie coming out now based on the book. Cool, huh? With much fanfare, the trailer for said movie came out today and was met with a variety of responses by the audience when it was posted over on the Book Riot Facebook page.

“… a travesty.”

Hmm. Okay.

“Downfall of literature.”

I admit to never having read 50 Shades of Grey, but have skimmed it a bit and have talked to people who did. Admittedly, many people do say that it’s poorly written and from what I’ve seen I’d agree, so I’ll let this one slide.

“…has further lowered my faith in human intelligence.” 

Wow. Well, okay. I suppose it has to do with books, which has to do with intelligence, so maybe if I put this square thing in this round hole? Maybe? Anyways…

“These books made me lose my faith in humanity.” 

Uuuuuuuuuuum, what? Hold the fucking phone here.

So, I get that sometimes we talk about our “faith in humanity” in a kind of knee-jerk reaction. But really? You know what makes me lose (or rather, lower) my faith in humanity?

Hitler.

The modern military-industrial complex.

Genocide.

But, a three-book series about a BDSM relationship between a young college graduate and powerful business man? Not. So. Much.

All glibness aside, 50 Shades of Grey is a force of a book. It’s in the top ten best-selling books of all time. It’s sold over 100 million (MILLION) copies. I haven’t read the series, but know many people that have. I know many people who enjoyed reading it. There’s obviously a lot of market power here and, understandably, that doesn’t sit too well with everybody.

As noted, I’ve heard criticisms that it’s poorly written. Lots of internal monologue, etc. That’s a fair criticism. There are people who have (justly) criticized it for its portrayal of an unhealthy sadomasochist relationship. There are people who have (justly) criticized it for its portrayal of a young women being sexually dominated by an older man.

But all of these criticisms together DO NOT make up for a blanket statement that a three-book series has made you LOSE YOUR FAITH IN HUMANITY.

For all of us, please shut the fuck up. 

Look, I know it’s hard when people don’t like the same things you like. I know it’s hard when you feel so much smarter and well-read than your average bear. But, you know what else is also hard? Having people so doggedly put down and denigrate that thing you loved without at least mentioning valid reasons for doing so (see above).

I read fantasy and sci-fi a lot. I know that there will be bashers of any genre fiction just because that’s what some people do. I’ve dealt with stereotypes already, but I’ve never had to claim responsibility for loving a thing that is bringing about the destruction of the entire human race.

JonStewartUgh

Get a grip people. It’s (just) art.

And, well, if we’re going to call a spade for a spade, it’s also pornography: “material containing the explicit description or display of sexual activity.” And it’s totally cool that it is that thing.

Now, follow me here. Do you know just how many people view online porn movies/photos/etc.? We’ve got estimates that there are 450 million unique monthly visitors to porn sites every month. 450 million. Over four TIMES the amount of people every single month than who have bought 50 Shades of Grey since the time it has been printed.

For the majority of us, do we really feel like the online porn industry is RUINING OUR FAITH IN HUMANITY?

No. (Well, maybe some of the porn stuff in the deep dark bottom of the internet…). Overall, we enjoy it. We go and read and view what we like. You know who does think the online porn industry is ruining humanity? Evangelicals.

All I’m saying readers is that you’re starting to sound a lot like extreme Evangelicals.

Lucille-is-judging-you-gif-arrested-development-21743891-500-289

Don’t do it.

Walk away slowly.

Let the so-called “mom porn” book industry (a term that is incredibly condescending in itself) have some fun between the (book) sheets.

Stop your damn man-splaining about what we’re supposed to think about this piece.

If you don’t want to read the book or watch the movie, don’t. Hell, maybe you should try out the audio version–I hear it’s even better narrated by Gilbert Gottfriend (*snort giggles*–sorry I had to put this link in here somewhere because it is really hilarious).

When it comes down to it, 100 million people have actively chosen to spend money on a book and spend time reading a book.

THAT gives me quite a bit of faith in humanity.

Nikki

Nikki is a freelance writer who talks about booksluttery during the day, food at night as a contributing editor at FoodRiot.com, and combines both over at her blog, BookPairing.com. You can find her random dog photos, squees, and rants on Twitter @nnsteele.

36 thoughts on “Please Shut the Fuck Up: 50 Shades of Grey Does NOT Spell the Demise of Humanity

    • *fist pump

      A friend also made the good point that if we expect too much out of (L)iterature, we run the dangerous risk of damaging it somehow as well, of not allowing it to showcase life in any real way.

      • Expectations kill literature (and Literature). One of the best parts of really stunning literature is seeing how it innovates–if we have to write it to form every time, nobody will ever innovate.

        Of course, the trade-off is opening everything up, wide, so that you get things that you wonder how the hell it ever got published, much less *so* *popular*. But it’s nothing to do with me, so why should I worry over it? I give it a quizzical look and move on.

  1. People read for many reasons. Reading for pleasure involves, you know, pleasure sometimes. Yes, I have some critiques for 50 Shades, but they’re not critiques that don’t apply to a hell of a lot of other bestsellers, most movies involving romance, and almost every mainstream portrayal of the kink community ever. And I am firmly convinced that a large part of the horrified response to the book stems from the fact that 50 Shades is dirty. Which is fucking fine. It is okay to read a book that gives you scandalous thoughts and feelings and ideas, even if it’s not a great book in any other regard. That is a worthy reason to read. The End.

    My objection to it is identical to my objection to Twilight: it’s a) about a relationship with a deeply unhealthy power dynamic and b) the author sited at least one of the characters within an actual, existing community she knows nothing about and which already suffers from undue levels of stereotyping and uninformed codswallop.

    But it’s not going to Ruin Books. Nothing can Ruin Books. If it could, they’d be long gone long ago. See, I’m pretty sure people read 50 Shades for very different reasons than they read Fine Litterachore — mostly, I suspect, they read it because it gives them the delightful tingly feeling that informed my reading, say, Anne Rice, or Henry Miller’s dollar-a-page 1930s smut. Which is, as I said, extremely fucking fine, and anyone who thinks the enjoyment of a tasty piece of trashy (or even not trashy!) erotica somehow interferes with your intellect really doesn’t get how intellect works. The reason that *I’m* not reading it myself is simply that I was lucky to discover many years ago that there is an almost endless supply of slightly-better-written smut elsewhere.

    • And consider also how the talk about 50 Shades has perhaps made it easier for other people to talk against those stereotypes and do so in a larger public forum because of the success of the books. The book has problems, let’s talk about those. Let’s not make blanket statements that don’t add anything relevant to the discussion.

      Exaaactly. And many of those people who first read 50 Shades probably found their way to some of the better-written smut and continued the fun times. That’s awesome.

  2. It’s a fantasy that turns out well for the woman involved. that’s why it’s a “fantasy.” Just as a million he-man adventure fantasies end up well for the he-man hero instead of like, in real life, with his guts spattered all over some barren desert and his dysfunctional abandoned children – lovers – pets starving to death or being murdered by his enemies.

  3. I love it how the same culture that is increasingly celebrating geekery still judges other people based on their tastes in literature. There’s really no good reason to judge people for reading viral pop lit. In my experience, these people usually are the ones who don’t read very often, and these books are their gateway into the beautiful world of escape that this community–the readers and writers of this blog–enjoys. Rather than telling them their book sucks, you should tell them, “Oh, hey! I read too!” and then talk about a book you liked. Sneaky Fucker style.

    • Not so sure, about this appealing to people who don’t read a lot. There are a ton of people out there reading self-published erotica and romance. It’s huge. These readers are voracious. But some of them may have narrow parameters that don’t just include which sexual acts are acceptable, but may also include specific formula e.g. the man must have a dark secret — a wound from his past — which the woman must fix, so they can live happily ever after.

      • Yeah, some people like to read whatever they get their hands on, but eventually they’ll find that book that’s so good, it ruins all the shitty ones for them. We all go through our phases.

  4. *pictures Gilbert Gottfried reading FSoG in his most Iago-the-parrot-y voice . . . pictures actual Iago the parrot reading FSoG . . . dies laughing*

    Thank you for that. It was truly a great way to go ;-)

  5. We can agree to disagree on this one.

    It’s okay if you call me evangelical. I make no apologies for my faith. Maybe my beliefs impact my views on this series of books, or maybe it’s that I’m a parent. I have no issues with folks reading these books. My issue is that they are a thing in the first place.

    I have two problems with FSOG. One, it’s fan-fiction, so it feels a little to me like theft. Two, it does feel like a sign of the times that a series of this nature is a part of pop-culture and that even middle-schoolers know exactly what the books are about.
    Am I anti-sex? Not at all. Am I tired a culture in which we’re inundated with sexual messages? Yeah, kind of. I would like to have better boundaries.

    NOW GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU DARNED KIDS!

    • Thank you for a really respectful disagreement on a post. That can be a bit rare on the Interwebz, so I appreciate it. :D

      As for your points, I do get that this is a thing that is progressing our perhaps overly sexual culture. Absolutely. But, isn’t the problem with the overly sexual culture itself and not the book that one woman wrote?

      I think my original point still stands that shaming somebody for reading something they enjoyed isn’t necessarily the answer. Having a frank discussion about where and when these books should be discussed (ie: maybe not around middle schoolers) is more in order. People should be allowed to enjoy the things they enjoy as long as doing so doesn’t hurt somebody else or infringe on another person’s choices.

      And as for the fan-fiction, I’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. :) Fan-fiction in and of itself may be a form of copying, but when it’s used to create another original work of art that has some merit of its own, I don’t see that as a problem. I see writing in itself is a form of mimicking earlier forms and stories and adapting them to your current circumstances. I don’t think that devalues it.

      • I don’t believe in shaming people for what they read. In that respect we are in total agreement. And I agree that the acceptance of FSOG is a symptom and not the problem. But I think that’s at the root when some people say they’ve lost their faith in humanity.

        The fan-fic thing will always stick in my craw. And that’s not a euphemism… :D

  6. It’s poorly written, sure, but the fact that many people out there calling out bad writing? Good thing.

    Yeah, it’s porn, but it’s socially acceptable porn, complete with a plot and characters. Good thing.

    Porn moving into the mainstream isn’t so bad, provided it doesn’t bring the misogyny and irresponsibility with it. It’s adult entertainment, for adults only, and that’s okay.

    • Absolutely, on all of these points. If you see the previous comment, there is something to be said for limiting access enough so that parents can choose if their own children should be able to access something like this. But when it stays in the realm of adults, I certainly don’t see a problem.

  7. I read it, and I thought it was crap. But I have plenty of friends that get off on it, and I’m not going to judge them for it, cos their kinks aren’t mine.

    • Yarp. I chose not to read it because I had recommendations from other people whose reading choices I trust on better erotica. I read that instead. *shrugs* That doesn’t necessarily mean that other people can’t enjoy it.

  8. No fan of 50 Shades for a number of reasons — but this post is spot on. “Mommy porn” IS condescending. I couldn’t get past about 35% when I attempted. For me it was the cutsey-factor and too much unbelievable stuff. (A 21 year old college student virgin who doesn’t know how to use email and is completely oblivious to social media.) Plus if I’m going to read erotica, then I’d like the sexy-times to come a bit earlier. (I never made it to the red room of pain.) Also there were too many writing quirks that could have been edited out but weren’t. However, clearly the book connected with readers (and with fantasies that make some uncomfortable). A lot of the blowback is not about “a woman being dominated” but really about women choosing to read an explicit, trashy book and not apologize for it, and maybe just maybe about a bestseller coming out of nowhere and not out of a major publishing house.

    • “A lot of the blowback is not about “a woman being dominated” but really about women choosing to read an explicit, trashy book and not apologize for it, and maybe just maybe about a bestseller coming out of nowhere and not out of a major publishing house.”

      Yep. I think this is the real underlying issue with these books, honestly. It’s as if we’re okay with somebody viewing/reading porn/erotica as much as they please behind closed doors, but when somebody is reading it across from us on the bus, it crosses a line. Why? Have you seen modern advertising? Doesn’t some of that get dangerously close to porn?

  9. I haven’t read 50 SoG, mostly because the whole Bella/Edward dynamic was really depressing to me. But I think the point about women not apologizing is accurate. There’s a really great academic essay collection called “The Oprah Affect”* from SUNY press that really opened my eyes about the ways popular lit, especially popular books beloved by women, have often been lambasted as trashy, overly emotional, cheap, etc. Going all the way back to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and continuing through the whole Jonathan Franzen-Oprah situation, books for women get labeled this way. Relating to a book emotionally (seeing yourself in characters, feeling attached/attracted) has historically been viewed as both typically feminine and inferior to analyzing a text dispassionately.

    From a publishing perspective, it seems silly to discourage readers from having an emotional relationship with a book, yet there is this tension surrounding fandom that suggests emotional investment is silly or shameful.

    *It has a godawful cover, but if you can get over that, the essays are fantastic.

  10. I tried reading the first book and got extremely offended by how the main character drinks her “tea”, and refused to read a word past that. (Yes, my reasoning is a little ridiculous. I am not sorry.) Honestly when I see 50sog I just think of all the decent fanfiction I’ve read and wished that those pieces were the ones that got picked up by a publisher instead.

  11. What really makes me lose faith in humanity is how much precious energy goes into writing long essays in blogs or on Tumblr or elsewhere about all the things people don’t like and why they don’t like them. I mean, not exclusively but especially, with Fifty Shades, I saw rants of epic proportion and the essence of all of them was just “I don’t like the books”. I’ve read some by Internet trolls, some by self-proclaimed BDSM ‘experts’, some by educated people, and they were all the same. And none of them changed anything about the popularity of those books. I mean, do people even realize how much good they could have done, how much positivity they could have spread if they’d used the 20-30 minutes it took them to write their rant to write about something they LIKE? Or something important and motivational?

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