So what is all of the hulabaloo surrounding the 50 Shades of Grey series? It’s being touted as Mommy Porn. Women are flocking to buy not only the first book but the whole trilogy at once, while keeping a close eye on the rumor mill leaking the possible portrayers of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.
I read the series in one week, yes, all three books, in just one week. I was pealed for hours at a time having difficulty putting it down at all. Flying through a book is not unlike me when I’m hooked, but it doesn’t happen often. This one, albeit a bit disturbing in the early chapters, made me curious to know what made Christian Grey tick and what made Anastasia wanting more. Most women would have bolted at the first sight of the contract, or at least when he began controlling her every contact, her career, even. But he was wounded; she wanted to save him, and she did!
So what’s the attraction, especially for the middle-aged mommy set? Is it that women want to be submissive deep down? Have we innately not changed over all these years?
While I think this message is certainly debatable, and the books even criticized for suggesting such… it certainly does raise some interesting questions: ones that I asked myself while reading. First, speaking as a woman in this very demographic, whose focus has been raising 3 three children, maintaining a home and working simultaneously for the past 21 years, I feel I have some authority on the topic. For myself, women in my position/ stage in life come to feel stuck, on autopilot, putting aside her relationship with a spouse (simply because she hasn’t the time to devote to it) and she forgets what it was that attracted her to him in the first place. Passion becomes lost in the appointments, and carpools, and laundry of life. 50 Shades is an escape– it’s a fantasy we can immerse ourselves in if only for a little while.
The submissive nature is not about a woman wanting to kneel down naked, face turned away (or blindfolded, even), before her lover, it’s about wanting not to think or plan or manage for a time being– a vacation of sorts. It’s about wanting to feel like the center of one person’s universe so wholly and completely that there is not room for doubt– the insatiable notion that one person wants and, more so, needs her so completely that he’d cease to exist in her absence. And since the honeymoon stage of the marriage has long since passed, a mere recollection of what used to be and can never be again, 50 Shades transports these women (myself included) to that place of transference, where one can reignite (if only internally or in the mind’s eye) those feelings again.
It wasn’t well written by literary standards, but it was well enough written for this series to make its mark as a phenomenon. Books are flying off the shelves. It isn’t uncommon for all three to not be available at once. Women are reading the books voraciously and often disguised. I’d lent the first in the series to a friend who put it in a paper bag to return it to me because she didn’t want anyone to know she had read it. Another friend had suggested I purchase it on my Ipad to allow me to read it in public “because you’re going to want to,” she urged.
So is it porn? Good question. I wouldn’t characterize it as such. Instead, I’d say it’s more erotic; it’s denoted as romance, suspense, erotica. Does it cross lines? Most, certainly; hence, the reason for its popularity. E.L. James, a British author, originally wrote this as a fan fiction story, and due to it’s overwhelming popularity, she eventually published it. I’d say that’s capitalism at its best. Porn, as defined by the dictionary, is any work (visual or written) meant to cause sexual arousal; whereas, erotica, is a literary work with an erotic theme. While, by definition, the two, are close. I’d argue 50 Shades as erotica because it’s a component of the story, not the whole of it. James oversteps THE line between the allusion of sex and sensuality and the detailed description of it, wherein lies its appeal. She dares to write what we, as readers, enjoy imagining by filling in the gaps in other romances. James is bold, not unlike Flaubert in Madame Bovary or Fowles’ French Lietenant’s Woman or Nabokov’s Lolita, or McNeil’s Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair, or Thompson’s Angel Heart: the list goes on. Tom Perotta, in Little Children, teeters on the line, but never crosses it so completely. While James does not have the cornerstone on erotic literature, she will be long remembered as this decade’s author of the revival of erotica.