Okay. I've snapped. Actually, many regular visitors to this blog might well argue that I snapped long ago and they may very well be right. The truth is, the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena has never sat well with me and it probably never well. Anyway, the reason for my latest burst of anger on the subject has come from a shopping trip this afternoon at a popular shopping centre in the southern suburbs. Now, silly me though that it might be nice to walk to the bookstore and browse the new releases. And what do I get? This:
Fifty Shades of Grey. Three bays, filled from top to bottom with copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. And yes, that bottom poster on the right is also advertising Fifty Shades of Grey. All other new and popular releases by talented and well-respected authors such as Stephen King, Penny Vincenzi and Richelle Mead that would normally occupy this section of bookstore have been pushed a little further back inside the store. Now, don't get me wrong. First of all, I don't mind taking a couple of extra steps to find the books that I would actually like to read. I also understand completely why the store would merchandise their shelves this way. This bookstore is a business and the objective is to make money. Of course they are going to merchandise the books that are selling the most copies in the most prominent position within their store. They would be insane not to. The multiple copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels are not limited to only to bookstores. Downstairs at Big W, the merchandising is basically the same. Copies appear on a gondola close to the entrance, and typical of Big W, their display points out that their copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels are a couple of dollars cheaper than the ones being sold at Target. Inside the book department there are also copies of Destined to Play and Haven of Obedience, two novels which seem to be enjoying a greater degree of success thanks to the popularity of Fifty Shades. (For more on Destined to Play, you can read my review here.)
Anyway, all of this leads to one important question. Why the hell are these books so popular?
To recap my own thoughts on Fifty Shades, Ana is a dull heroine who allows herself to be bullied by a spectacularly good looking and rich control freak, occasionally making a few shallow attempts at standing up to him along the way. But because Ana loves him, he changes and they live happily ever after. Oh, and there are numerous kinky sex scenes, a few of which take place inside Christian's 'Red Room of Pain'. It's all mindless drivel, but the publisher is marketing the books as liberating, because apparently, all women find freedom by being repeatedly sexually abused and denied the right to make basic decisions about their lives </end sarcasm>.
The widespread popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has led to numerous articles in magazines, newspapers and online where various experts offer their views on the phenomenon. The most commonly held view is that the books have introduced women to erotic romance and that it is basically the female equivalent to porn. It's erotica written by women, for women. Women don't really want this kind of relationship in real life, an article in the August issue of the Australian Women's Weekly claims, but they might like to fantasize about one. Then there is the fact that between all of the ahem, kinky fuckery, in the book, there is an actual love story. The covers of the novels are fairly discreet, relying on symbolism rather than graphic images which have previously adorned the covers of erotic novels. (Read more here.)
So why does this bother me?
Let me digress. When I was in my early 20s, I started buying Cosmopolitan magazine every month. Cosmopolitan was great. There was fashion, celebrities and a lot of useful advice. Thanks to this magazine, I could learn what to wear, how to behave, find my ideal man and how to solve problems that I didn't even know I had. After a while, my self-esteem began to decrease. No matter what I did, I could never transform myself into the perfect female, the one who was going to have a high flying career, find my soulmate and look hot in a bikini. Every month, I was basically being sold the idea that my life was shit, but hey, this magazine would fix everything! Until the next issue came out and I would have to start again. I eventually stopped buying the magazine and low and behold, my life suddenly improved. I no longer had this massive drive to look and act like an idealized version of femininity. In fact, I've found that I rather enjoy wearing Doc Martin boots in favour of high heels, my favourite t-shirt has a pair of identical frog cakes on the front and I love Levis branded jeans. I wear fuck all make-up, have a strange sense of humour and enjoy discussing literature and the arts with my family and friends. In other words, I've found self-esteem and a massive amount of freedom by simply allowing myself to be just that. Myself. (And for the record, that aforementioned copy of the AWW was purchased by my mother. She loaned me the article when I mentioned this blog.)
So back to Fifty Shades. How does this relate to my experiences with a certain women's magazine? Fifty Shades is allowing women to express their sexuality. Really? Or is it just introducing them to problems they never knew they had?
Think about it.
Here is another note on the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. In my facebook news feed and on the pages of various book related groups of which I am a member, I've seen numerous updates from women stating that they have decided to read THE Fifty Shades of Grey, as if choosing to read a book is a daring, hardcore thing to do. Inevitably, someone else urges them on, someone else chimes that they have read it and loved it and another person debates whether they too should or should not read it. Are these women interested in discussing sexuality? Or are the simply reading the book because it seems daring and makes them feel a part of a special group?
I'll let you decide.
In the meantime, I've had enough of this nonsense and the constant insulting of my intelligence by claiming that this book is bold, insightful and revolutionary. Just like I retired from reading Cosmopolitan, I'm now retiring from the whole Fifty Shades phenomena. Frankly, there are better and more interesting things out there that I could be reading. And honestly, I'd rather follow my own instincts than what is currently popular.