Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Fifty Shades of Grey

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.