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Tag Archives: Erotica

Let me confess; I’ve not read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by British author EL James, and I don’t intend to.

Nevertheless, I’m extremely pleased she’s risen to the top of US Bestseller lists with her trilogy, originally released by a small Australian e-publisher. I suspect she might be a lot more literary than her success displays, but has evidently pitched her ‘Fan-Fic’ novels to provide a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. As a TV executive she must have an intelligent grasp of how money is made in mass-markets.

I’m really not a ‘Fan’. Fan-Fic is openly derivative, and demands that authors adopt the writing style of another writer’s original, without falling straight into the black-hole of parody or pastiche. There’s nothing wrong with pastiche; Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Pistache’ is a fine example of the art. There are many more, including accomplished exercises in completing authors’ unfinished work, or continuing a series after the progenitor has died.

I also dislike pulp genre fiction with its stylistic clichés, plotline memes and targeted unoriginality. This isn’t to say that many ‘great’ literary novels haven’t been dubbed genre fiction, whilst not actually suffering from the flaws of the category. There are, for instance, many Sci-Fi titles, since it’s a perfect structure by which to explore utopian or dystopian scenarios, set either on a future Earth or some imaginary planet of another star. Most of the mechanical bits are merely incorporated to lend some credibility to a tale which demands the readers’ suspension of disbelief. Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ for example.

If you consult a list of the world’s highest grossing authors, up there with Shakespeare and Tolstoy are Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland. I’ve read Blyton, but not Cartland. It’s not that I’m a snob, but I prefer stories about sexual love not to cop-out with ellipses when I get to the sticky bits. I prefer erotica to say something about people and their unexpurgated inner motives and behaviour. I don’t simply want to hear that X inserted Tab A into Y’s Slot B and instant satisfaction was delivered. I want to know the whys, hows and the effect on their lives as a result of all the beastliness.

Speaking of beastliness, I understand that Fifty Shades of Grey features themes of ‘BDSM’ as an undercurrent of the leitmotiv of Vampirism. Although the views of actual Vampires have not, so far as I’m aware, been expressed, I also hear that ‘serious lifestyle BDSM practitioners’ consider the BDSM aspects of the trilogy to be disappointingly flawed. Maybe it’s the author’s British reserve? Has she written scenes that would best be filmed as ‘Carry On Spanking’? Or is it the same type of disappointment that trainspotters feel, reading the Thirty Nine Steps, when they find there’s not enough detail about the locomotive that hauled Hannay halfway across the Forth Bridge?

There is a pruriently coy tone to polite mainstream conversations when it’s suggested that women fantasise about dominant males, being tied up and spanked, and even raped. Psychologists rush to the media to assure us fantasies of these types are entirely ‘normal’, and no woman desires actual rape. Sexual games of dominance (of both genders) bondage, and consensual ‘Sado-Masochism’ are far more widespread in respectable bedrooms all over the developed world than we like to pretend.

It’s been suggested the growing prevalence of e-readers has fostered a huge growth in the market for womens’ pornography. No longer must copies of ‘The Story of O’ or Anais Nin’s short stories be hidden behind the detergent box or in her bedside cupboard drawer. She can read them on the train on the way to work, and no-one will guess the reason for her Mona Lisa smile.

Perhaps this is not quite a symptom of the moral collapse of the West, but a positive step towards defusing the bomb of sexuality. There is, however, a long journey ahead before men and women are going to be honest with each other; before we reach an open understanding that women who fantasise aren’t ‘gagging for it’, and that sometimes perfectly virile men long for appreciation, gentleness and affection rather than a demand for athletic performance ‘in the sack’.

The cosy myths of virility and femininity are well past their deflower-by date. Without sexualising children, we need to stop building their expectations of sexuality into forbidden, must-have prizes of adult freedom and admit that the whole experience has many more than fifty shades of grey in the ‘how was it for you’ spectrum.

At its best, it can be sublime; an almost sacred, divine union of two (or more) people sharing the experience on a total physical, emotional, and spiritual level, but at its worst, it can be soul destroying, painful, heartbreaking and destructive. Like any spectrum of human activities, it seems to follow a bell-curve, with the majority of examples falling around the middle; that’s where adjectives such as; nice, OK, alright, pleasant and satisfactory pivot around ‘neutral’ towards acceptable, uncomfortable, unimpressive, a nuisance and disappointing.

I want people to enjoy good sex, much as I’d like them to eat good food. So long as they think, in the words of Anthony Worrall Thompson; “It’s all good!” they’re going to feel they aren’t doing it right. Like food, I tend to believe it’s better natural: nothing added and ‘nowt taken out’. I don’t object to adding a little spice, now and then, but I can’t live on nothing but hot curry, and variety itself is said to be the spice of life. I’m also prepared to accept that for those with self-raising problems a little blue chemical additive might be justified, but I’d prefer not to have added flavourings, and I’d rather the wholemeal approach would come back into fashion, so that hair would be left where it grows naturally. It might be a little bit of hypocritical sophistry, but I’m in favour of the additive of a little contraception, adjusted to taste.

When it comes to being ‘natural’ we might learn from the Bonobos, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. They are relaxed about sex and it seems to make them happy, but men might not like to know that they are a female dominated species.

The distinction between pornography and erotica ought to be that pornography encourages people selfishly to gratify their own desires, whilst erotica persuades people to share: giving pleasure to others, which is socially constructive; if you sweep away moral judgements based on paternity, property, materialism, ownership and jealousy. If men did what women wanted, they might just find that, as the ‘inferior’ gender, they’d be a lot happier. Just like male Bonobos.

I suspect that EL James does not write, by this distinction, pornography. I’d like to imagine she might the Jane the Baptist of progress in the evolution of human civilisation. We need high quality erotica, in all fields of the arts, although I’m not sure what erotic music would sound like. So it’s good that we can’t pretend that women are exactly how men would like to imagine them, and it’s time that publishers began to take erotic writing seriously as a valid literary form.

Just recently I have come across several cases in which people have tried to sell creative work they produced, both visual art, and pieces of ‘erotic’ writing, and have been refused hosting by the sites on which they were trying to sell. Paypal policies were quoted as one of the reasons for this, although the people concerned claimed they did not believe they had infringed Terms and Conditions.

Banks worldwide are now working towards direct payment using cellphones, principally because they want the business they see being taken from them by Paypal and other ‘secure’ payment systems. Maybe that will allow you to take payment with less high-minded interference.

Some national and state governments are actively legislating against particular products and services, as well as media, on a wide range of grounds, and are effectively banning and censoring all sorts of material and media. If someone prints tee-shirts with a slogan which incites hatred on racial or religious grounds, for example, in some territories everybody involved in the chain from originator, through manufacturer, distributor, payment facilitator to the end-customer can find themselves being prosecuted, convicted and fined or imprisoned.

So it may be that banks won’t cooperate either.

It is reasonable to expect anybody who finds themselves at risk, through ‘regulatory’ issues like these, to impose Terms and Conditions as a defence against prosecution, and to demonstrate that they exercise ‘due diligence’ in enforcing them. When they refuse to provide their service to a vendor, it is not they who are banning or censoring the item being sold; it is the regulatory system within which they operate.

If I wrote a book on slaughtering animals and cooking their meat, I would consider it reasonable that no organisation owned by Jains (vegetarians) would wish to have anything to do with my ‘product’. That is a principled choice.

Corporate entities tend to have one principle:- make as much money as possible, don’t get prosecuted, fined or jailed, don’t offend any significant percentage of your market. They really don’t mind about moral or ethical issues unless they affect the ‘bottom line’.

The justification for refusing to handle anything is based on trying to ‘please’ the greatest possible number of people. Even governments argue that they legislate in order to protect the people, and if the majority of the electorate raise no objection to ‘tightening’ of laws that are supposed to reflect the ‘moral’ attitudes of their electorate/subjects, then it is assumed that they give their assent to abide by those laws.

The problem arises when the behaviour of significant numbers of the population defies the laws they have ‘approved’. Psychologists have frequently observed that the majority of women enjoy fantasising about rape; many are aroused by spanking and that incest fantasies are by no means uncommon. Whilst noting that actual rape and incest are likely to be socially destructive, the experience of reading, seeing representations in art and movies and other means of running imaginary scenarios can be cathartic and has positive effect on people who find these fantasies attractive.. There are counter arguments, naturally, and some people argue that playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ encourages some players to act out in reality the excesses that most people ‘get out of their system’ merely by playing the game. They might also argue that some people, reading about a serial killer, will then go out and do likewise. Which is true.

When it comes to sex, there is a huge amount of hypocrisy. Even the leaders of ‘puritanical’ repressive organisations have been exposed as enthusiasts for the types of sexual activities against which they preach most vehemently. Ordinary folks would like to do many things that they are often seen to say ought not to be permitted.

Sexual liberty is a major problem. Many people are frightened of being judged ‘immoral’ if they aren’t seen to support censure of things they’d privately like to do. This does not mean that their desires are ‘right’ – it just means that society fails to be honest about those desires, and to deal with them.

Paedophiles, for example are hardly likely to campaign for sexual relationships between adults and children to become socially permissible. Just where does Nabokov fit in here? Does Lolita ‘corrupt and deprave’, or does it enable people to think more deeply about Humbert Humbert’s actions and psychological state? It is hardly likely to turn people into paedophiles.

When it comes to painting, drawing, sculpture, literature and movies ‘challenging’ sexual material is often defended on the basis that it is art, but this defence is unlikely to succeed in the case of genre pulp fiction. Many representations of sexuality across the whole spectrum have no more claim to artistic substance and merit than pulp westerns, low grade science fiction, cheap crime thrillers or Barbara Cartland’s romances.

I am opposed to censorship on principle. It is not the books which commit crimes (although some current self-published e-books do not stand as shining examples of grammar, spelling and the writers’ craft) but people. Perhaps some people will read ‘The Story of O’ and never be able to rid their psyche of desire they were previously unaware they possessed.

It takes effort to publish anything. If you actually break the law by producing material banned by law in the country in which you publish, then you must face the consequences,regardless of whether or not the state were wrong to create such a law.

If you publish trash, then it is unlikely to have a tremendous impact. If you publish something of literary merit, that explores things about life that will enrich readers’ understanding of themselves and other people, then in any reasonable country you ought to be immune from prosecution.

But we do not live in a reasonable world. Social attitudes need to change; we need people to be more honest about the bits of themselves which aren’t as ‘nice’ as we want to be thought to be. Populations need to object if they find themselves being confined by laws they secretly break daily.

In a book about the life of Emmanuelle Arsan there is little parable about her return to Paris after her husband left a diplomatic mission. On previous visits to Paris she had often joined a stream of traffic driving the wrong way along a one-way street (big enough to allow two way traffic) to shorten her route. The street passed a Gendarmerie (Police station), but the police always ignored the lawbreakers; there were too many to challenge. She was surprised to find on this occasion that the signs had been removed and the one-way restriction abandoned. Surprised, she parked at the Gendarmerie and asked the policeman at the front desk why they had finally allowed two way traffic. The Gendarme replied; “every day we had to sit here and watch so many people disobeying the law. The law was stupid, and it made us look even more stupid, so we had it taken away.”

Society will remain fundamentally sick unless we get repressive legislation taken away, but that means getting public opinion on ‘our’ side first.