We had a very lively and interesting debate over the 50 Shades cultural “phenomena” on Friday. I’m deeply grateful for all those commenters who posted such thoughtful opinions, even those who didn’t agree with me. I actually am not afraid of people disagreeing with me and I have zero interest in my blog simply being an ideological echo chamber.
Yet, there are a few things I’ve “heard” in the comments or even on Facebook which leave me flummoxed and I believe these assertions call for a closer examination.
It’s ONLY a Story. It is FICTION. JUST a FANTASY.
One argument that baffled me was this idea that 50 Shades is just a book and only fantasy. I do not begrudge James her success nor am I lambasting anyone who likes the books. To each, his or her own. I never called for banning, burning or censoring.
Since I never read the book in totality, I never left a review. I also didn’t review the film because I am not a reviewer. I never commented on the quality of the prose, film, actors etc. etc. only the message.
And, as an abuse survivor and someone who has spent years working with battered women? I feel my opinion is more educated than, perhaps, many who finished the books. Grey exhibits all signs of a sociopath by Chapter Three (which is right about when I quit reading). More on sociopathy HERE.
I didn’t want to go there. Lived it. Don’t need to read it. I’ve also read many novels and watched many movies I would not recommend because I had to put down the book thirty pages in or walk out of the film in the first half hour.
In my opinion, that is as viable of an opinion as someone who gutted through all 90 minutes of Showgirls to know it was crap.
***If I were a reviewer then it would be my professional duty to formulate an opinion based on the entire body of work…because that would be my JOB.
Yet, the reason I did feel a need to discuss this work is because it has gone beyond being a book and has become a cultural force. With over 100 million legitimate copies in circulation (not counting for borrowed copies from friends and libraries, pirated copies or used purchases) that many books will make a societal impact by sheer volume.
It’s the equivalent of a literary comet strike.
Add in a possible hit movie? Could be an extinction event.
THIS was when I felt it necessary to step in and state my analysis and at least posit the hard questions.
Fiction is NEVER JUST a Story
To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?
To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.
It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).
During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.
Neil Postman, in his book “The Disappearance of Childhood” cites one of the first legal cases where an adult was censured for hurting a child. It was a woman who gathered orphans and fed them, but put out their eyes with knitting needles then planted them on the street to beg. Apparently, blind kids made more money.
When the woman was finally brought to court, she was not punished for cruelty, rather fined for “destruction of property.” In fact, animal rights organizations had been established a good ten years before anyone thought children might require similar protection.
A Christmas Carol was one of the many literary works that led to society establishing legal protection for children, which didn’t exist until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Oops, Did I Do THAT?
Sometimes the author even misses the mark. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to highlight wage slavery and the horrific treatment of immigrants in the Chicago meat-packing industry. The story, however, had a very different impact than the author intended.
Readers were horrified about the conditions of the FOOD. Public outrage and political pressure led to the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; the latter established the Bureau of Chemistry, which was renamed the Food and Drug Administration in 1930.
Sinclair later bemoaned that his work had ended up helping the very institutions he’d rightly demonized and issued that famous quote in the October, 1906 Cosmopolitan Magazine—“I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
Thus for us to say that fiction is only fantasy is to say that “Red Badge of Courage,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and others are equally fantastical and benign.
And before anyone says, “Well, E.L. James is certainly NOT a literary master and no one will hail this work as a classic” we are wise to appreciate a couple factors.
First, what we today view as a classic was often mass market pop fiction of its time. It’s often only in retrospect that we can witness how a novel, a play, a movie, a whatever, shifted the trajectory of a culture. Secondly, “literary classics” aren’t the only transformative works.
Star Trek only ran three seasons before being canceled in 1969, and yet I feel it did more to impact race relations and redefine women’s roles than any piece of legislation. Though as Trekkie, I FEEL Star Trek a classic, I have yet to see it on any syllabus at a university.
Additionally, Horror was once an extremely popular genre, giving us such classic tales as Frankenstein (which greatly impacted science) and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau where Moreau crafts humanoid-animal chimeras via vivisection. Yet, The Island of Dr. Moreau also addressed deeper issues of pain, cruelty, moral responsibility and scientific tampering with nature. It was instrumental in forming our modern scientific standards of ethics.
But, one movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre redefined what the public viewed as “horror” and almost single-handedly laid waste to the genre.
Granted, there were probably slasher flicks like this before TSM, much like there were rape fantasy books before FSoG. But THIS one was the one that HIT and served to alter the genre.
Soon, there were no longer “Horror” sections in bookstores because the silver screen gore porn (and public demand for these movies) had tainted the genre.
Horror stories then had to be hidden under such categories as Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, etc. so that these works could distance from the stain left from the plethora of slasher films that became so popular after Vietnam. Horror, as a genre, has never fully recovered since “horror stories” are too often held up next to Saw Part 15 or Friday the 13th Part 26.
How did this happen?
Follow the Money
If no one bothered with the early slasher flicks, Hollywood would have never bothered making more. They also wouldn’t have felt the need to keep upping the ante with every movie. More blood, guts, and shock. Soon we were anesthetized to suffering because it became all too common.
And, before anyone laughs, remember those early bad 50s horror movies scared the bejeezus out of people. Now? We laugh at giant spider puppets that, at one time, had people fleeing from the theater to calm down.
Tarzan was criticized because Tarzan and Jane were living in the jungle together without being married 😉 . Today, audiences would laugh at such a puritanical notion. Just watch HBO for an hour and tell me times haven’t changed.
But It’s So PRETTY, How Can it Be BAD?
How could it be harmful? Often some of the most dangerous substances don’t show consequences until later. It reminds me of the Radium Girls who painted watch dials with radioactive paint during WWI. The glowing paint was pretty and harmless and “cool.” Their employer told them they could just lick the end of their brushes as they worked, so surely it was harmless.
The women, thinking radium was safe, painted their nails and faces so they could glow in dark for their men at home. And they all died slow horrible deaths years later.
Ideas (books) can act similarly. They can seem no big deal until they are. AGAIN, I am NOT for censorship, only critical thinking. Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care 😉 .
The Coming Generation
As I stated in the last post, my concern is less for the older reader and more for the youth who will go see the movie. I am a social media expert and we have an entirely new generation that is completely immersed in multimedia.
Young people have all the impulses, hormones and emotions of an adult, but lack maturity, experience and a fully developed frontal cortex that governs critical thinking and discernment. They have a far more difficult time separating fantasy and reality.
Young people do a LOT of dumb stuff. Hey, I did. And as a teen I argued with my mother that Me So Horny was “just a song” and now as an adult, I can see why she sat down and had a LONG talk with me.
Teens or even tweens don’t see that sexting can come back to bite or that pic in lingerie on Tumblr might affect them getting into college.
My bigger concern is that, when we package sociopathy as “romance”? Sadists as Alpha male heroes? That is a confusing message (and a dangerous one) for everyone, but most especially for those still forming opinions and identities. In fact, I probably would have had NO problem with FSoG had it been in the genre of psychological thriller or horror. But slap “ROMANCE” on it? Whole ‘notha’ ballgame.
The Bottom Line
Read what you want to. Watch what you want to. I have an opinion, you have one. I’m never for censorship, EVER. But, I feel we have to at least own what we are doing as consumers, but most especially as writers. We cannot be Janus-faced over this. Either fiction is vital and transformative and matters…or it doesn’t.
History has proven we have almost no control over what will shape culture or even how it will shape it as The Jungle illustrates. We also have almost zero control over what will be considered a classic in fifty or a hundred years.
And if fiction is ONLY a story and has no power, then why should we care about literacy, libraries and freedom of speech? If fiction is only fantasy and doesn’t impact the world? Why bother? Why does it matter?
Food for thought 😉 .
What do you guys think? And again, I have no problem if anyone disagrees so long as we remain polite. Do you feel we can have our cake and eat it too? That as a culture we can contain the genie? Or do we have to choose? Either fiction is powerful or it isn’t? And if fiction doesn’t change the world, then why are we even doing this job?
Do you hope your characters and stories will create a better world? Challenge ideas? Reinforce what you think is good and noble? Topple what should be done away with? Do you think (as I do) that many people are unaware how powerful writers and artists actually are? That maybe even some writers fail to appreciate the influence they could one day wield?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.
As I was reading this post two things came to mind first, like you said, stories have around since cavemen could talk around the campfire. Even Jesus Christ knew the power of a good story when he told parables.
The second thing that comes to mind is what happened to a co-worker of mine after she read 50 shades. She and her husband tried something “kinky based on the book and she ended up in the emergency room and is off work for the rest of the week.
My boss and I were talking about the book. Both of us are avid readers but neither of us have any desire to read the book. I for one will not be abused for anyone’s pleasure.
If fiction did not matter, I would never have read. We slowly become what fills our mind, for better or worse. That makes faith, virtue, and every noble effort worthwhile, and every wasted moment a tragedy.
Fantastic post! FSoG has been all over my FB feed and I’ve been called judgemental because I refuse to read the book or see the movie based on what I’ve read in the media. I remember when 9 1/2 weeks came out. I watched the movie and enjoyed most of it right up until the part where I realized that his idea of romance was mental/emotional abuse and I was done.
And then there’s “Kingsman”. That was a horrible movie in it’s own right but I’ve seen very little about how violent and depraved it is. Oh well.
Back to Disney movies for me, I guess. 🙂
I am a published writer of fiction and write mostly for young people, including many in African countries. And my own guiding principle has always been that the stories I craft must have an inner authenticity. All must ring true, and there should (hopefully) be no trace of external manipulation. As you cite with the Dickens’ examples, such works show us human truths within a fictional context. Often this is the most effective and affective way of dealing with difficult human dilemmas. Even fantasy novels can do this if they are well crafted (Tolkien, Le Guin). As a great African saying goes: only stories can change the human heart. A story that can be dismissed as ‘just a story’ probably, I would suggest, does not contain much nourishment. Thank you for this interesting discussion.
I have to say I agree with you. As the mother of a teenage girl, I have spent a long time telling her what is acceptable behavior from a boy. I wouldn’t want to see someone physically abuse her anymoore than I want to see someone psychologically abuse her. Now, she will not be allowed, at least in my house, to see FOSG until she is older. This sadly doesn’t mean she won’t see it, nor does it mean she won’t know about it. I don’t think 18 is old enough to see it either. The hormones are still raging and yet teens are in that “invinceable” stage. Not to mention the affect it will have on young men. I really don’t like the message at all! It scares me for my daughter and all teenage girls. FOSG blurs the line of what is acceptable and when it is acceptable in a relationship.
Thanks for the space to rant!
Totally agree with this. Stories have power and influence (even fictional ones)…especially when they’re as popular as that one. Thinking otherwise shows a great lack of understanding. Thanks for continuing to try to educate people – keep on going!
And here I thought they had to first kill all the lawyers.
YES!!!! Thank you! That’s my biggest issue with the story. Thousands of women have read or will read this book and think this is a relationship to aspire to or that they want a man like Christian Grey. Ugh ugh ugh. Contract or no, he’s emotionally and mentally abusive, as well as physically so. And this is another example of the woman thinking she can change him. But he doesn’t change, she does by letting go of all her goals and ambitions and friends. It’s maddening. There are so many, many better examples of erotica that could’ve been shared and not this trainwreck of a relationship featuring an abusive male as the lead.
And as a bonus fast fact, I spent the weekend coordinating VDay events which work to end violence against women and girls. 1 in 3 women will still be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Globally that’s ONE BILLION women. … And here we are glamorizing abuse over Valentines. *sigh*
I have no desire to read the book or watch the movie. The premise alone is enough to resist it. I have a mother and three sisters, as well as, a host of nieces and female cousins. I would not want anything like this to happen to them, so why condone this type of behavior indirectly? I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks 🙂
Yet another outstanding article! I wholeheartedly agree about all of your points.
Personally, I’d have less of a problwm with 50 shades if it was marketed as Erotic suspense or something like that. But marketing this as romance and creating such a hype out of it, with young teenage girls in the target audience, I have every right to be upset.
Especially as a domestic abuse survivor who suffered terrible things as a domestic prisoner of such controlling, manipulating sociopathic men.
What I fear is, such literature painting a dominating, sociopathic bully as an alpha male hero is going to ruin the lives of many young and naive women. It’s so wrong in so many levels. It means we are living in a sick society and a corrupt culture.
A movie about a young and naive girl in an abusive relationship with a sadistic, dominating, controlling bully being released on the Valentine’s day as a ‘romantic love story’ makes me want to throw up. It’s just wrong, period. This is not romance. This is not a love story. It makes me feel like I am living in a dystopian society.
You know, I have stayed far away from 50 shades. It’s just one of those books that you have a gut feeling about. I needed to only lose half an hour of my life to determine Twilight was … off. And I think you put the name on it about 50 shades…it’s under romance.
Fantastic and, indeed, a thought-provoking topic. Thanks for sharing!
Hi. Based on what I have heard, I will not read the book or see the movie because I too have survived domestic violence. I think it is dangerous to portray a sicko like that as a hero. BUT, at least people are talking about the issue of domestic violence and we can’t have too much of that! For those who have daughters and sons this is a good opportunity to show them what this type of violence looks like! Myself, I am telling my own story in a fictional work with the hope that some woman who finds herself in a similar situation will know she is not alone and know how to find help. Yes fiction can and should be used for creating social change and justice.
I agree that many works of fiction carry a social message; some very entrenched to do so even as they appear mundane. Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm come to mind. Gulliver’s Travels cover a political message that in its true form might have been forbidden by the State.
I applaud your wonderfully crafted blog and I agree with much of what it says. I understand that mass media if having a physical as well as a mental effect on the minds of those that come behind us. I struggle with the possibility they will be totally swayed by a book and/or a movie that coats itself as romance while exploring the underbelly of sex and perversion.
I smile now had having first read Xaviera Hollander (spelling alert here) – The Happy Hooker. It was a most unusual (you may substitute ‘awful’ here) read; and I remember at the time, there was much to-do about how it would corrupt many.
I would hope that all the other guidance we give our young people can live up the an on sloth of one book in one period of time.
Then again I am not an expert of anything important. I have a hope and a faith that I have a greater impact on my children and grand-children than does one book.
Forgive me – the above posted before I could edit – and I am at a loss to find a way to do so now.
It’s a blog comment. We get it and since many people are trying to comment using smart phones? Others can get over typos. I’d rather hear your opinions and can and do correct anything egregious from my end 😉 .
I agree with you as well, Kristen. We have proven time and time again, on almost every level, that what we consume has a profound impact on our culture and on an individual existence. It could be an idea, a cultural paradigm, or something as simple as a meal. Our choices have consequence. Our art and our storytelling, fiction or no, matters. It reveals the hidden and blatantly obvious aspects to the cultural psyche. I’d like to believe that most writers are aware of this; are aware of the messages they are sending to current and future generations. It’s up to everyone to be mindful of what speaks to them, but when certain messages become homogenized and offered as the norm, they can have more insidious ramifications. Personally, I want the romance in my stories to be something to aspire to, something that enhances the characters, and the reader for having been party to their journey. Human connection isn’t frivolous, it’s never meaningless, so I wonder why it’s so easy to write off erotica and romance as unimportant these days if we aren’t already somehow devaluing ourselves.
I’ll go with the smart phone defense; although I don’t have one. 😉
What’s important about FsoG? The blowback. That shows caring critical viewers/readers exist with passion in our world. Passion for ideas, and ideals. The same passion that drove Dickens, the same passion that leads to social change. Thank you Kristen Lamb. As another woman who was raped, tortured, incested and witnessed a murder, yet who defies the term “survivor” because my life bounds with good health, warm love and great interest, I believe it vital to continually add voices to the growing chorus of women who refuse to be determined by the false images of the big screen lie.
I have so many mixed feeling about this book, I don’t have the interest in the topic, and so I had to force myself to read it. I probably will not watch it. But I see that many people do have that interest.
Does this perpetuate the ‘see it and do it?’
I don’t know. I liked chainsaw massacre, but I certainly don’t want to kill people. I liked ‘Pretty Woman’, I did not think it a good idea to go out and try being a hooker. So, what do we have?
A best seller!
I think that is what the writer had in mind.
And what a wonderful thing. A book that sells well and has the propensity to make lots of money.That is the plan.That is my plan.
I won’t sell my soul.
So that is where my mixed feeling is. I think some people will sell their soul and write anything for a dollar.
My favorite genre is horror/thriller/ crazy people who do terrible things. Do I do these things in real life? heck no, but I was always drawn to these type of books and movies. Hence, I have written two books, they are to do with children, killers, kidnappers and all the horrible things that can happen to orphans. But my writing is not x rated.
I skirt around sex. But I still make the point. I am not real graphic. But I help the imagine what I could write, but don’t.
That is where I think the problem lies.
Sorry, I went on and on, I still don’t think I know how I feel about it 50 shades.
Except for this: why on earth is this a fantasy to some women? Go figure.
I am a bit concerned over copycat behavior but probably more concerned over the broad strokes. I am not immune. I watch Discovery ID. Do I have a higher tolerance for gore than might be healthy? One could argue that. BUT, I at least have the conversations with Spawn. He LOVES zombies and NERF guns, but I need to make sure I am having the dialogue. That is ALL I am asking with FSoG or anything else. The second we dismiss it and aren’t cognizant it COULD affect us, THAT’s when we get in trouble. It’s like walking around natural gas and not thinking we need to wear a mask because we smell nothing wrong. Natural gas is great, powerful, lots of great applications….but RESPECT IT.
Yes, Kristen, you are so right, we don’t need anymore copycat behavior in this world. There are enough true stories of women that have overcome this type of behavior from men in their lives, and I wish they were the ones who wrote the books and led the sales numbers telling what it is really like.
Those are the stories that I like to read. I don’t have that story to tell, but I am sure my family (mother, father) who lived through the war and holocaust would throw FSoG in the trash, and say to me (if they were still alive): Hey, listen, here is a real story…and what a real woman wants.
And yes, the spawn always proofreads my stories too!She is a teacher of fifth-grade
students, and always lets me know what to take out or insert into a story!
Thank you for this. I was trying to explain to a friend of mine why FSoG wasn’t “just a book” and you have said much better than I could have.
Kristen, as always, another great post, couldn’t agree with your points more. I do think entertainment and literature can have a big cultural impact and shift our thinking – either in a good or bad way. Bad, in that it desensitizes; good in that it enlightens.
I have contemplated the bestselling phenomenons of “Twilight” and “Shades,” (which is derivative of “Twilight”) and can’t help but think there is some odd backlash against feminism. Decades ago, “The Cinderella Complex” questioned why women gravitated toward learned helplessness. I wonder if women haven’t over-bullied men, and in becoming anti-male, discovered that feminism has not made them happy. They’ve male-bashed and bossed around their husbands and rolled their eyes at coworkers in a contemptuous way. Maybe this behavior led women to overcompensate. Meaning, the pendulum swung to the other extreme, to the cartoonish, fairy tale fantasy of “Fifty Shades,” which de-humanizes both men and women. Christian Grey is authoritarian and seeks to dominate Ana – the opposite of the henpecked, emasculated male.
I go back to old films. I watched Hepburn and Tracy in “Adam’s Rib” and was awestruck by its contemporary message. Never once did Hepburn’s character back down, she asserted women’s rights and tried to argue against law – and in the end, Tracy’s character got her to realize this. Hepburn was evenly matched in the film. She was Tracy’s intellectual equal. He showed her she could be wrong and the relationship still remained intact. It had balance.
I don’t get that in “Shades.” Ana is naïve and wants to be “taught.” Forty years since women’s liberation, and Ana wants to be taught? Huh? Grey exhibits predatory, over-the-top behavior. In a romance, you’ll see the predatory alpha males, but they’re paired with a smart, capable female lead who sets him straight… and if the romance is fair, he provides her with insights, too. Paul Newman was predatory in the old film, “The Long Hot Summer,” but Joanne Woodward gave it right back to him. Or look at Doris Day’s character in “Pillow Talk,” which is still hilarious.
I don’t see that balance in “Shades.” Why?
Dr. Laura Berman said on “Oprah” in 2008, when we women treat our men like children, bossing them around in our homes, that we can no longer see them as sexually exciting, Interesting.
I also think there is a loneliness in women that does not jive with the self-empowerment messages. For decades, we’ve been told to be independent and be like men, and that we don’t need men.
My take? Men and women both need each other.
Iyanla Vanzant did a show featuring single women, many of whom were dissatisfied with the dating scene. Vanzant helped expose how unrealistic the women often were. It gets back to this fairy tale fantasy, which I think is destructive. It’s as if women expect men to earn six figures, drive an expensive car, wine and dine them, do all the housework, sprinkle rose petals on the bed… plus, worship them and obsess over them. “You’re the only one for me.” It’s what Christian Grey does in a creepier way, but women fans are so taken by his wealth, status and power, they can’t see the more disturbing underpinning of this story. A real-life Christian Grey would not be much fun or have the capacity for love. (con’t)
Yes, Hepburn and Tracy. But what about McClinock, where Wayne paddled O’Hara’s bottom because she wouldn’t stay under control? Robin, Prince of Thieves where the very capable Marian can only shriek to be rescued when she had managed to remain under control while all the men types were away defending Christianity. It’s been going on for such a long time
(con’t) I think some women are lonely and empty. Maybe they were raised on the Disney princess movies and think the fairy tale is real. They crave romance, and yet have mistaken instant hardcore sex and BDSM as a path to lasting love. They want a dark prince who cherishes them and believe they can reform such a man.
Feminism has been a great movement in our country, I don’t discount it. But most every social movement has unintended consequences. Being a feminist allows us to be independent and demand the same rights. That’s all great. But when we push too far, demand everything be perfect for us – and it’s not, we become unhappy.
I married a conservative, opinionated, strong guy. You’d think – traditional guy, feminist wife, are you kidding? Collision of two worlds, right?
We debate all the time. He can’t push me around and I can’t bully him. He excites me intellectually. I look forward to him coming home at night so we can discuss current events. I don’t see him as a prince, I see him as a man. He has his Achilles heel, as I have mine. I want to read about that type of romance, real ones that don’t have the insta-worship, that have repartee and sexual tension and heat. I want the exciting fireworks from those old movies, where women held their own with men.
Also, I think the simplicity of “Shades” reflects a downturn in literacy, hence its popularity. Sophisticated books aside, a lot of books are being written at the fifth-grader reading level. Plus, look at our gadgets, how spell-check can make us lazy. We don’t care about grammar or punctuation. Self-pubbed romances often capitalize on the breathless, insta-sex that leads to the undying romance. In real life? That likely won’t happen.
Read this calculating assessment by the “Shades” creators: “We worked to make this film accessible to the widest audience possible. The campaign was carefully crafted to highlight the quality of the production value and to heighten the romantic aspect of the storyline and the interpersonal relationship at its heart.”
From the Variety article — “Fifty Shades of Grey’s” opening weekend audience was predominantly older. 68% female, 52% Caucasian, 22% Hispanic and 15% African-American.
I saw a PBS “American Experience” about the early years of detecting poisons (both accidental in the workplace and deliberate by murderers) and proving it in court. I think it was called “The Poisoner’s Handbook.” They talked about radium. Apparently the girls painting the radium dials licked their brushes so they could get the finest point possible on the tip; it was very detailed work. The scientists of the time were finally able to prove the radium poisoning by testing the bones of one of the dead girls 20 years later – the bones were still radioactive.
Just a geeky aside. 😉
Bang on, Kristen, and isn’t this why we feel compelled to write? Whatever genre we ascribe to, we wish to make an impact, by highlighting a problem or solving a riddle. The raw underbelly of the beast is a sensitive place and most of us fear to touch it, lest it bite us back. Once our words leave us they can take on a life all their own.
In his poem, “In Memory Of W B Yeats”, Auden remarks that “poetry makes nothing happen”. Later in life he said that all his writing during the 30’s had not saved a single Jew.
I wouldn’t go as far as Auden does in dismissing the effect of writing on society. As you point out in your post, dictators believe literature matters, why else would they ban books critical of the regime, (the prohibition of Orwell’s work and that of Kafka by the Soviet Union and other Communist states springs to mind). Certainly political dissidents read Orwell and Kafka who exerted an influence on them which can not be discounted. However the economic inefficiencies of central planning and the ability of residents of Communist states to see (despite attempts to jam western media) images of consumer goods in the west did, almost certainly exert a greater influence on the populace than writers such as Kafka and Orwell. That is not to detract from either writer’s work, they are great authors. My point is to put things into a proper perspective which while acknowledging the role of literature does not overemphasise it’s importance.
Books can, and do shape minds. However, in many instances they can cement existing prejudices, (a liberal reading Mein Kampf is extremely unlikely to be converted from liberalism to National Socialism while an anti-Semite is highly likely to find validation for his repellent views in Hitler’s work). Many adherents of various forms of far-right political causes are, of course aware of Mein Kampf but few have actually read it.
So far as “50 Shades Of Grey” is concerned, I can’t see that rational well adjusted individuals are, overnight going to be transformed in to advocates for S and M. There is, of course the issue of, so far as is possible preventing young children from reading or seeing inappropriate material. This is, however an age old problem. I remember at school deliberately looking for “dam” and other, stronger swear words in the dictionary and, incidentally being most disappointed when failing to find them. Young people will kick against the traces and it is, ultimately a matter for parents to guide them and keep them safe. Kevin
My problem isn’t the sex. My problem is she did no research and inaccurately portrays her story as BDSM, which is is NOT and romance which is DEFINITELY is NOT. Also, the world is different from when we were kids. There is now YouTube, memes, social media and mass marketing. We now have blindfolded teddybears holding a riding crop. That didn’t happen when I was a kid. Also, if young people had to read a BOOK to be influenced, I’d be less concerned. Now? In a 90 minute movie?
And you make the point that literature can cement existing prejudices, but what about cementing an existing self-image? We are in a social epidemic of incest, child sexual abuse, rape and date rape. As much as 96% of our female prison population has been sexually abused. So a damaged young girl with Daddy Issues and low self-esteem reads a book that cements what her abusers already told her. She is an object and unworthy of protection and no doesn’t really mean no.
Then there is this notion of well-adjusted individuals. If sales of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds are any indicator, well-adjusted is not the cultural norm. We have a culture that has confused both sexes, the nature of love and expectations and now blurred the lines between predator and romantic interest.
But, as you said, the adults (parents) should be there to guide our youth. Problem is, they’d have to recognize it was a threat worthy of “guiding” in the first place. Therein lies the dilemma.
My mind is boggling at the thought of a blindfolded teddy bear holding a riding crop. Those are, I hope intended for adults. Indeed no sane adult would give one to a child. If owned by adults who find them amusing or derive other forms of pleasure from the bear then that is a matter of indifference to me. But children (obviously shouldn’t be given blindfolded bears. There are, as you say significant numbers of people who have suffered various kinds of abuse including, but not limited to incest. Today if a child tells an adult that he or she is being abused they are much more likely to be listened to and believed than was the case previously. Previously the reaction of many parents would have been along the lines of, “Uncle Jack couldn’t possibly do those things. Don’t ever tell such lies again” and the poor child would go away having been denied help from the very people (their parents) who should be assisting them. What I am saying is that there appears to be little 9(if any) evidence that abuse is more common today than it was in the past. The difference between yesteryear and today is that many (but not all) people are more willing to discuss the abuse they have suffered which is why the impression can be given that instances of abuse are more common than in the past. Witness the historic cases which are coming out now (Jimmy Savile in the UK and the jailing of the publicist Max Clifford). People take antidepressants for many and complex reasons. Merely because a person takes antidepressants doesn’t imply they are incapable of reading a book without being damaged in some manner by doing so. When “50 Shades” came out I had no intention of reading the novel. However I now feel that I should read it in order that I can comment with greater authority on it. Kevin
The problem is (and I can say this due to the nature of my degree and also my life experience) is that we have a multitude of social factors in play these days. First, higher divorce rates than ever. Secondly, single parenthood is far more socially acceptable and “Baby Mama” and “Baby Daddy” are now officially part of the lexicon. Thirdly, this means there are far more mixed households with “boyfriends/girlfriends” and stepparents who are less likely to be fettered by the idea of incest since one no longer even needs to be married to start a family (and I say this factually not judgmentally). There is more sexual abuse than ever simply because of the mass influx of those partners NOT blood related to the children in the household. There are far more absentee fathers than ever because the social stigma has been taken away. In 1950 if you got a woman pregnant, you likely would be run out of town.
Back when I worked in the paper industry, we had men on our line who had an average of 3-4 children all from different mothers and you can’t convince me they were 1) financially supporting them let alone 2) emotionally supporting them. This leaves and emotional vacuum, especially for girls. Girls grow up defining the male role by their fathers. Evidence to support that is now finally coming out after a handful of generations claimed men were little better than a paycheck and a sperm bank. They are finding that notion was GROTESQUELY flawed.
We are also seeing the disappearance of childhood and sexualization of children at far younger ages. Just TRY to buy clothes for a 6-year-old girl and the problem will become clear with sparkles, booty shorts and halter tops. We now even have the term TWEEN since the transitions we faced at SIXTEEN are now happening at ELEVEN.
And now that the movie has broken records, grossing almost $82 million in a weekend, we can expect MORE of this and Hollywood to push the envelope even farther. Thus in a generation, what will young women believe their role to be? What will be acceptable? Our generation created the true female action hero and this coming generation gets Ana.
Again, if this was labeled as psychological thriller? No problem from me. But they are defining a toxic and dangerous relationship as ROMANCE. Therein lies the profound danger.
That is tragic. And please, save your brain cells. We need good men now more than ever.
Kristen, where are the hard facts (evidence) that support your view that incest is more prevalent today (rather than more reported) than it was in the past? Divorce may be a better option than staying in an abusive relationship. For a child to see one partner in a relationship regularly abuse the other and sometimes the child also is (obviously) not beneficial to either the child or the person being abused. In such a situation the person being abused usually (but not always) a woman is better off out of that relationship as are her children. I agree with you that fathers/men do matter. A child brought up by 2 people who love one another will tend to thrive, however if the relationship is abusive divorce and/or separation is to the emotional benefit of the child and, of course the abused person. I understand from your earlier comments that you have suffered abuse, (I apologise profusely if I have got hold of the wrong end of the stick). Kevin
You know what? Go see the movie. It vexes me that you require statistics for what seems patently obvious, but I will oblige. From page 161 of the most recent report on Child Violence, “Children who do not live with both parents as well as children living in homes marked by parental discord, divorce, or domestic violence, have a higher risk of being sexually abused.” But feel free to go read it yourself. You can find the PDF HERE.
And might I ask: What difference does it make if it is more or less reported? Does reporting it make the damage is any less? So if a victim hides a rape/abuse he/she lives with a secret that eats away slowly at the self, but report it and CPS intervenes, arrests the abuser (who in a twisted way the victim STILL LOVES. IT is STILL Dad or Grandpa or Daddy Ted and now Mom is really pissed at victim for taking away the man she loves) and victim goes to court to help tear apart the family who often BLAMES the victim.
A victim who is likely from a lower socioeconomic bracket who is then handed an overworked State counselor ill-equipped to deal with that many cases of abuse effectively. And you can find that in the report. I don’t think I need a statistic to assert poor people experience more violence.
But then we have a movie that hones in on that weakness like blood in the water. Some like me will balk and stand up to it because we are in a better place. Others? They never got help and can’t decipher love from pain and control and now Hollywood is reinforcing this twisted definition by labeling FSoG as ROMANCE (instead of HORROR). Because these women (or men) haven’t had enough confusion about what love really is and haven’t already been told that no doesn’t really mean NO. They already believe they have no right to their bodies and now moviemakers are raking in the cash over the broken souls of victims who were already struggling to be taken seriously.
And with the rate of divorce at HALF of the population (the ones who bother even marrying)? How many of those will fit the bill for Page 161? Oh, and here is the American Psychiatric Association Link.
For the record, I do not make uneducated assertions, so there are your stats. Thank you very much for your comments.
Thank you for the links which I will check out. I didn’t say that you made assertions which are not backed up by facts. I asked for the evidence on which those assertions are based, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Where I to write an article on my site and make statements without making it clear from whence the facts to back them up came I would, personally have no issue with a reader asking me about my evidence. Seeing the movie for me would be pointless unless it contains audio description (I.E. voiceover describing what is happening during the silent parts of the film) as, being blind I am not able to see a television or movie screen. Abuse is a terrible thing. I give regularly to the National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children (A UK charity). I only wish I could do more to help. In my story, Samantha a young woman is drugged, date raped and then blackmailed into prostitution. I deliberately do not describe the rape in my book as I have no desire to titilate a certain kind of reader. Kevin
Since the post is about whether fiction is relevant and not a dissertation on the nature of abuse, those links seemed superfluous since I DID include 2 links (one with a step by step dissection of abuse in the book) and another from a psychiatrist talking about how this is abuse and not love and WHY. But you have your additional stats. Thanks.
“I am NOT for censorship, only critical thinking. Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care.”
Boy oh boy, Kristen, you nailed it with this post! Thank you for so clearly and thoroughly discussing and dissecting what has had me uneasy (at best) and concerned (or worse) about this . . . “Fad in Fiction?” I heard a young-woman-on-the-street interview about the movie last week. She said, “Oh, I guess we all fantasize about being swept off our feet by some glamorous guy. . . ” NOT!! For those of us who have more years of life behind us than in front of us, I suspect that most of us can verify that being “swept off your feet” is unsettling, upsetting, and can end up with you head over heels in ways that you don’t even want to consider! It is not about “Romance” or “Love.” It’s about control, and disrespect.
I wish you would send this to Letters to the Editors pages in the major newspapers in the country, so more people could be encouraged to THINK.
Thanks for your clarity. It will help me talk about it more intelligent ways.
Peggy, you said so eloquently what I could only mess up with my writing! Thank you!
The book is poorly written – but an example of aggressive targeted commercial advertising and a big publishing marketing plan. (No one will want to be old fashion and uncool – everyone will read this…sounds like high school all over again)
A culture’s/society’s art and literature does define them. It’s the only way future generations can “know” them.
I’m not giving money to ventures that encourage hurting others physically or mentally. And the risk I see is that this movie and book says to young watchers/readers this is all OK.
Sort of like the old “one toe over the curb didn’t hurt me despite what mom said, so a whole foot, then a step or two more into the street can’t possibly be as harmful as they say. So why stop here?”
Thus far we’ve focused on the impact this story has on young women and I among many have devoted opinions on that topic. In a nutshell, I agree with all you’ve said. What we’ve little touched on, though, is the impact on young men. You’re a mother with a son, Kristen. Imagine setting the book before him in his teen years and saying, “I loved this book. It was great fun. One day you’ll find a girl and have the opportunity to treat her like this.” You’re a responsible firearm owner and won’t allow him around weapons until he’s ready, but there’s no locking-up this story. It’s out there. I’m no advocate of book banning/burning, but I understand the impact fiction possesses. Words, ideas possess great power and those who don’t understand that are sadly ignorant.
I think I did more of that on Friday. I think it is utterly confusing and destructive for both sexes. Not to mention the legal ramifications ahead for victims of rape or abuse. It makes me shudder.
Yes, I recall you mentioning it last Friday. Sorry, I hope it didn’t seem I was criticizing. Your analysis and discussion has been first rate. I’d like to see an advocate of this book/movie hand it to their teenager and explain why they thought it was okay, why they stood in line for hours to see the movie. I already endured two daughters surviving their teenage years while one classmate after another became pregnant (starting in junior high) for reasons like “I didn’t think it could happen the first time” and “I thought he’d love me if we did it.” How is reasoning like that going to wrap its brain around 50 Shades? I see the attraction as a junior high-like attempt to fill a void, a void people should face in a healthy way.
Thanks Kristen for mentioning Star Trek. It doesn’t have to be a leather bound old tome with gold leaf edges to affect culture. ST was sometimes campy and sometimes corny, yet its cerebral messages stood out amidst the din of other media and has passed the test of time.
It’s not really copycat behavior that is the problem – it’s copycat thinking. Rape culture isn’t about specific acts of rape – it’s about that second word – culture.
Of course nobody here is advocating censorship. In a free society, the response to offensive speech is corrective speech.
Kristen, thanks for prompting one the most thoughtful discussions on this phenomena I’ve seen. “ffflip2014” brought up an essential question here—why on earth is this a fantasy to some women? Until we understand that I’m not sure how much difference our remarks are going to make to the fans of this twisted version of romance.
I have not seen the movie but I did read the first book out of curiosity. It didn’t have much of a titillation effect on me and the writing was so juvenile I couldn’t work up enough interest to read the rest of the trilogy.
I suspect a lot of this hoopla is just herd mentality combined with the fact that women that have so few outlets where they can go and be ‘naughty’ while remaining physically safe—even if their minds are in danger be turned into silly putty.
As a rape survivor and a physician, I can not hold the idea of pain, degradation, and bodily risk together in my head with the concept of love, romance, and fun sex. I get that for a lot of young women functioning in this world where expectations can be a confusing blur of ‘grays’ (yes I actually used that pun) can be tiring and sometimes a take-charge person is a comfort and a even a turn-on, but tying that to this creepy nonsense is beyond my understanding. Even folks who are truly into BDSM don’t seem to think much of the movie’s handling of the characters’ relationship.
Clearly fiction does matter, and E. L. James hit some cord that resonated with a lot a women. I just wish someone would explain to me what that cord is.
I wrote a humor post on this before FSoG went viral so to speak. Feminism is wonderful and I wouldn’t be where I am without a lot of women doing a lot of hard work. This said, while we’ve been given power and even the imperative to “conquer the world” we are still expected to be all things “woman” too. We must have immaculate homes, perfect kids, never gain weight, never age, still be able to wear skinny jeans after having babies, make all the decisions, pay the bills, make the money, smash the ceilings, do the laundry, keep Hubby interested, cook the meals, never let them see you sweat let alone cry…and it is very exhausting.
I know there are many times when I am just TIRED of being in charge ALL THE TIME. I want to be able to be weak and vulnerable in a culture that’s almost expressly forbidden it. Without healthy outlets for this desire to let go and just be vulnerable even for a moment? Darkness creeps in, offers a shill, and we greedily take it without thinking through the consequences.
Thank you so much for an excellent and evocative post. I agree with you that fiction is extremely important, influential, and powerful. Those who would say that any writing is “just” a book or a story do not understand the enormous influence of fiction on humanity. In “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien speaks to the importance of story–and fiction: “Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories ar for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” Stories and fiction bridge our differences and compel us to attempt to understand each other. Some are extraordinary; some are terrible. But it is in their writing, our reading, and our consideration of them that understanding can emerge.
Right on- enough said.
It’s unfortunate, it seems to me, that in discussions like this we get lost in the species and not the genus. My philosophy professor had it right (it seemed to me then and seems to me now) “Ideas and words have consequences. They are not neutral. They lead inexorably to conclusions.” So to dismiss something as “just fiction” is completely missing the point. I think Kristen is absolutely right, and, I for one, thank her for bringing up a “consequential” topic.
Thanks, Dennis 😀 . One doesn’t need bombs to destroy a culture when it can be rotted from the inside when ideas are left to run amok with no one to call foul.
I agree with you Kristen. I almost died in the hand of a violent sociopath… a woman ~ my landlady at the time ~ who wanted me to be more than a renter. When I said no, she entered in such a fury. She had many men and women in her nights… This said, I will surely not read this book as it will plunge me back in that few-years-ago-time. I am not prude but there is certain subjects that I consider not an adequate reading as it is disturbing and really give the wrong idea of real love.
But what I “fear” with this book/movie is the impact on men and boys. A little bit twisted from both brains neurones and hop we go… inspiration coming from the book… don’t take a lot to think that they can become machos or “alpha” males, isn’t it? As for women and young girls… I went for a while in an women abuse center following the attack (PTSD) and what I saw there was frightening… the fragility of many of those women, the uncertainty of their “power”, the almost inexisting confidence in their humanity… made me sad and I left perturbed.
As a writer, it made me think and it disturbed me a lot too. Such literature, put in the hands of unprepared and unmatured people could be sooooo dangerous. It is a time bomb that promote women as sexual slaves obedient to their masters and it could destroy lives… and no, I don’t think I am getting melodramatic. Like you said, Kristen, if it would have been classifed in a “restricted” category… well… it might have been ok but distributed at large, without restrictions, as a romance story, on Valentine day… nope… it is not OK.
E.L. James didn’t write Fifty Shades as some transformative/transgressive cultural statement, but its popularity forces it to have some impact on our culture, like it or not.
In fact, she really wrote it as Twlight fanfic, taking the Bella is Edward’s Doormat trope to its ultimate conclusion, and becoming Stephenie Meyer’s worst nightmare in the process. James made explicit what Meyer only implied, proving the urgency for all authors to consider how your work could be interpreted by another (no small consideration, given the popularity of fan fiction).
Whatever else you as an author do, you don’t want to make it easy for someone to change your work into the opposite of what you wished to represent. So now we have a chaste pro-life Mormon saga giving birth to a pornographic abuse fest, all because Edward Cullen was a grade A stalker. 😈
Not to say any author can think out every possible way someone else could baulderize their work, but at least try not to ‘feed the bears’.
I’ve always believed “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” The “50 Shades of Grey” book is hawked by a movie trailer depicting a college student indoctrinated into a loving relationship bound and whipped up in a torture chamber. Violence and abuse only are only magnified and glorified on the big screen.
Major kudos to you for having the courage and wisdom to discuss this book in the spotlight of its impact on our society.
Phenomenon is singular. (Latin) But it doesn’t spoil anything!
Sincerely, Wendy Reis Independent Freelance Editor Stratford ON Canada
I struggled which to use, since FSoG is coming from multiple fronts—print, audio, video and now blindfolded teddybears. Le sigh. So it is a singular phenomenon or a plural phenomena? Or just a hot mess? LOL. Thanks ((HUGS))
I think this book is a very big issue. A friend of my sister’s (who’s a teen) says she wants to go see the movie. She loved the book but doesn’t know why.
I think this is sad.
This girl lives in a not so nice house and has dated in some not so nice situations.
So here she is reading something that celebrates a not so nice atmosphere as something its not. If people would call a tree a tree, maybe she wouldn’t like it so much. Instead, all of her friends think its so romantic and sexy.
Well that’s just lovely.
So I suppose the issue isn’t the book. It’s that we’re calling it romantic and sweet and sexy when its practically rape (as my bdsm friends who are NOT teens assure me bdsm is all about consent and fun and submitting in a certain mind frame – and that 50 shades is not bdsm).
It just irritates me.
Plus, I believe there are a lot of books, including erotica, that deserve that kind of attention instead. You know, ones that don’t tell my neighborhood girl that she’s strong and sexy ONLY if she lets a guy dominate her.
Kristen, thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this post. If I had a dollar for every time I saw the “It’s just a STORY” line or variation thereof, I wouldn’t be having the money issues I’m having right now.
Kristen, what an intelligent post! Thank you for stating so well what I also believe. It’s scary to see how well FSOG is doing. And how confusing this must be for young people, men and women alike. I just heard on TV that France is allowing 12 year olds to watch the movie.
It’s surprising how popular the book and film have been since there’s been so much concern about rape on campus and the now notorious Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi (Canadian radio personality) scandals, where both men thought it was okay to overpower their dates and do what they wanted sexually. One used drugs, the other force.
The fact that so many women have bought the book and are flocking to the movies gives men a double message. What do women want? On one hand they yell rape and say no, and on the other hand, they seem titillated by the S & M, as portrayed in FSOG.
I read the book, because I wanted to see what the fuss was about. There are some erotic moments that would work well in any romance novel, but the problem is that what is portrayed is such an unequal relationship, one where dominance and the infliction of pain is part of the “whatever”making. It’s not lovemaking, as how can there be love when one of the lovers needs to inflict pain on the other?
Perhaps if the book hadn’t been so successful, there wouldn’t be the concern. And as you say, you’re not worrying about adults who can categorize it as what it is, porn that’s gone mainstream. But what’s at issue here, are the young women and men, who are still figuring out how they want to be sexually and what is expected of them.
As for “it’s just a book” or “just a film”, I agree that books have impact. We do learn from them. In fact, my latest blog post, The Hard Truth of Fiction, speaks to that.
I hope this isn’t the sign of the times, where too many believe that pain (inflicting and receiving) is part of a healthy sexual and loving relationship. It’s not what I grew up with or the kind of romance I’ve written. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll take my brand of lovemaking any day.
I had never heard of FSOG until I was watching an episode of Doctor Oz, and so many women were commenting on it I thought I’d go get a copy. I have to say I didn’t read the whole book, but being an inquisitive sort of person, I wanted to know how the messed up Grey and the ingenue Ana ended up, so I read about the whole story.
For me the sex was secondary, the characters were more important. It doesn’t take a psychiatry degree to see that Christian Grey and Ana are both messed up people. Grey has had an awful history of childhood abuse, the fact that E.L. James wrapped him up in such an attractive package is, for me, just the facade that needs digging past, he is damaged, he will damage, he doesn’t dare love, he doesn’t dare be vulnerable. As a past academic in the area of childhood abuse (and one who knows it personally) I know that, generally speaking, a boy with a history of childhood abuse will grow up and turn his anger outwards, in acts of violence towards others, whereas girls tend to turn their anger inwards towards themselves and struggle to really know their identity as independent women worthy of real love and care. Grey is such a character, and the sexual violence sickened me as well as, I have to confess, titillated me on a weird adult level.
For me what is more disturbing is the fact Ana is seen as a “rescuer” and SPOILER ALERT, does in fact “rescue” Grey at the end of the trilogy. I fully believe that damaged people are worthy of redemption, yes even the sociopaths, but only IF they want to change. Unfortunately, most sociopathic people don’t change and won’t change, but countless people are damaged themselves when they enter relationships to rescue the other. If I had a daughter I would want to discuss this book with them, because only by discussing things can we understand what the other may think. I would hate, simply hate it if any child of mine was even considering a relationship like the one portrayed in FSOG, but I have seen these relationships happen right before my eyes and it never, ever ends in redemption.
I just wanted to point out that believing we can “rescue” all people is one of the most unhealthy and skewed things we can ever do. If this book impacts on our society, I hope and pray it shows the preposterous notion that relationships based on anything but mutual respect and love are skewed and to avoided at all costs. By all means, have a great sex life, but be aware,trying to rescue the other is not a healthy relationship. For me the danger in the book is the redemption of Grey, too cliched, too dangerous, get out and stay out.
I think if Ana wanted to rescue damaged people, become a social worker, a psychologist, a counselor, a psychiatrist. THAT is what a healthy person who wants to save broken people do.
Food for thought indeed. I don’t agree with censorship either, but as you said, you have to worry or be concerned with what the movies and books are suggesting is acceptable behavior in the romance department. I, too, once thought stories like these could never happen in reality. One stalker ex later, I realize how important it is as women we speak up for others. And like you said, many literary works have championed issues that we as a society should have taken to heart much sooner. So sad.
I appreciate your thoughts on the book and the movie. I have not read the books nor seen the movie, and it will stay that way. I agree with your sentiments about fiction *overall,* but I take issue with the idea that “Either fiction is vital and transformative and matters…or it doesn’t.” I would argue that SOME fiction matters, but by no means ALL. “The Road Warrior” (movie) transformed the cinematic landscape, and it mattered. The legions of shoddy rip-offs that came in its wake will be lost in the trash heap of time. Some books matter; the majority don’t.
Bravo! You make your case.. Fiction does matter and it is often transformative. I read parts of 50 shades… couldnt finish…. tooo boring……didn’t get why it was so popular….. still don’t ….. beyond not caring to read about women in passive abusive situations, couldn’t see any compelling literary merit to story…. womenlivinglifeafter50.com
Kristen, thank you so much for these two thoughtful pieces on a matter so important. As the older end of the spectrum, I still worry about what I put into my head, see with my eyes and hear with my ears. I’m mindful and intentional. I’ll still sample “specimens” to understand what my younger friends, relatives, colleagues, and consumers are exploring or adopting. But there are limits. I downloaded Grey. I read the first few pages. I stopped. Sadly, the first reason was the writing. I just couldn’t continue reading the really bad eighth grade level prose. Second, no one is that stupid. The silly/sad girl was more repulsive to me than the abusive man. And third, with all the things in the world to spend my finite amount of reading time – this was a waste and worse, a squandering of my precious attention and attendance. I have been coarsened by many things I’ve personslly experienced and by many things I’ve read, watched, and heard. I regret many of the visions and notions in my head. If I could unsee or unknown them, I certainly would. To say this is just a book belies one’s own lack of self awareness. We are shaped and warped by that which we experience. Why volunteer to be less than what you could be by reading about abusive treatment – administered by one adult and solicited by the other?
(I wish I had your eloquence. Yes, I know – working on those thousand blog posts 😉 )
A smart author is very aware of the characters and storyline in light of the public reader and any chance of a movie from their work. Kids absorb what they read and see. There’s a reason why those R and X ratings are there, it’s not to be mean to the under 18 set who think they are 10 ft tall, bullet-proof, and sophisticated enough to handle what is being withheld from them.
Up until about 33 (I love Tolkien for putting this as the age of adulthood for Hobbits), teens and young adults are more open to suggestion and trying new things. That’s why the concept of “Jackass” and “The Smoking Gun presents the World’s Dumbest” are so popular. You can tell someone of that age over and over that it’s stupid to kick a guy in the cajones, but once these guys see it done, they have to come up with bigger, badder, and harder. And girls aren’t immune either, there’s just so much “dumb” that has to work itself out before the resulting adults take up the job and make sure there are more teens and young adults to explore the world. Smart parents know that their own kids will at least try some of the same things that they did when they were that age.
So we have a set of books and a movie that glorifies submission and abuse. Everyone on TV is talking about it, volumes are written. And when we start getting abuse victims in the hospital ERs and psych wards, it won’t be the book/movie that gets blamed; after all, “everyone knows it’s just fiction…” and no one really does those things.
My own question about this particular set of books and movie is, “What will E.L. do when her book leads to violence? Will she be willing to stand up and say I’m sorry? Or is this just about the money she has made and how popular she is?”
I think people are too quick to say that an emotionally & psychologically healthy adult isn’t going to go “oo, this looks good, I want this kind of relationship” just because they read a book or watched a movie.
That may be true, but in the first place, lots of people aren’t emotionally & psychologically healthy adults; and in the second place, stories tend to affect us on a subconscious level. It’s the normalizing of what is neither normal nor healthy that is dangerous.
I’ve heard of a university in Canada that combated unhealthy drinking behaviours in its student population by simply publicizing the statistical norm, rather than the perceived norm. E.g. “68% of students have not had an alcoholic drink in the last week” or something like that. This gave those who thought binge-drinking was “just what students do” a much-needed reality check. Perhaps we need something like that for sex ed?
Once again I am very amazed by your intelligent analysis. Kudos. I will say I have thought a bit about this. I was going to write thriller type books. I came up with devious things a psycho might do. Then I thought, “I’ll be giving them ideas.” That was the end of that genre for me. I refused to write something original about that.Time goes by, I notice a couple things. Columbine High School. The shooters were dressed like the characters in The Matrix. Over and over, kids see on TV and in movies that the person who pulls a gun gets instant power and respect. And in The Matrix, they look so cool with those black capes. What do we think is going to happen? One day, long after 9/11/11 my husband read a book by Tom Clancy about terrorists who hijacked a plane and ran it into the White House, something like that. I think the book was written in ’97. Of course, Clancy has international reach. I mean you have to think about what you are putting out there. Consumers like violence. I don’t, though. And there are other ways to make a living besides writing it.
I don’t understand why people need more money when they have millions. Why not just refuse to let the book be made into a movie? Of course you’d have to also set up multi generational estate control to make sure a lawyer doesn’t wait until the first generation dies to then pretend you agreed to sell something that you never agreed to do when you were competent. But I am digressing into elder abuse issues here.
Good for you for providing your amazing analysis. I’m going to read the article you linked to. I’ve been learning a lot, and thinking a lot. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I know what I’m not going to do.
Actually my biggest problem is not the book being written or the movie being made…it is the DEFINING it as ROMANCE. And thing is, in a thriller, bad guys get caught, die, or pay. In FSoG? She loves a psycho to change. That ain’t a realistic ending. In life, we DO find the Bin Ladens. In life? Anas end up in a body bag. a shelter or a psych ward.
Good distinction. Thank you!
That’s what I meant!
Thanks to Kristen for this blog. I have at least two concerns: 1) That 50 Shades of Gray is advertised as romance. We have struggled so long to get respect for the romance industry, and it seems FSOG is the only thing people talk about. The hard-working, real romance writers are ignored. 2) The sex and the relationship depicted in FSOG is NOT an example to be emulated, but the more it is read and talked about, the more it will seem like it is normal. As writers we do have the opportunity to show a better world, and we should.
Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
More on “50 Shades of Grey” courtesy Kristin Lamb…”To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?
To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.
It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm). During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.” Read on…this is an intelligent and incisive commentary…
I was profoundly shocked to learn the first child abuse cases were tried under the animal abuse laws. And it continues today.
Hit send too soon, sorry! I used you to help springboard some random thoughts: http://mona-karel.com/2015/02/17/it-all-matters/
You know, the problem of people believing in the monkey see, monkey do way of life has been around since the 80’s and I believe, even before that.
My mom was entertaining a very conservative lady one day, when I strolled into the room with my He-Man toys.
Conservative lady had a fit: How can my mother allow me to play with these things? I WILL end up murdering my brother by bashing his head in with a club or something.
My mother looked at me, looked at the lady and simply said” My children know the difference between real life and fantasy.”
And she was right. At a young age, I knew better than to go run about and clubbing my brothers and sister all random like.
And before we all go: But the He-Man cartoon was never violent! True. The cartoons were sanitised a lot.
However, the little comics you got with the toys not always that much. One issue depicted He-Man chained up and about to get his fabulous blonde hair scalped by way of blunt force trauma to the skull.
People should stop blaming media and entertainment for society’s ills, and rather look at the sanity levels of people committing these crimes and other heinous acts.
If a movie, book, or video game is enough to drive you over the edge and lead you to abuse women, children, and animals or send you over the deepend to go on a murdering rampage, I am sorry to say that I believe you to have had problems before you delved into Doom.
It’s actually been around for thousands of years. Humans have always dealt with mimesis since it is hardwired into the brain. But you are assuming that others are coming from the same healthy place. If media doesn’t matter why are their rampant eating disorders not only among girls but now young men? Why is the majority of the population on some kind of depression or anxiety medication? And those cartoons were important for shaping minds. Being from that same generation, I can attest that She-Ra was a FABULOUS role model and instrumental in shaping capable young women who, a generation before, wouldn’t have been trusted with a sword. We can’t take the good social changes without realizing we could have some bad.
Also, we are not looking at something as simple as A + B = C. We are looking at a slow fade. A long-term cultural erosion. But again, that is ONLY if we believe fiction matters, that it CAN change society. If it is inert? Then, no problem and then I can just say, “Well Star Wars didn’t matter and had nothing to do with forging the idea of a female action heroes we know and love today.”
Ugh. You make good points. And I find it hard to come up with a solid rebuttal to any of them.
I can say though that I am heading off to the doctor this afternoon to get myself some anxiety meds. 😛 Not because of your reply, but just to life in general.
The thing I am worried about though is that it seems we live in a world where being politically correct will trump creativity.
Will Freddy Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street still be the iconic villain, or will they have to re-write his child murdering ways to be more “child friendly” for the current generation?
In other words, de-claw him in a manner of speaking?
Hon, I am never for censoring. FSoG, had they placed it under General Fiction, Psychological Thriller, HORROR? Not a PEEP from me. But it was classified as a ROMANCE. That is like placing a box cutter and blades in the TOY aisle and making the box cutter PINK and BLUE so then it is FOR KIDS! NO. Keep FSoG, just stop calling it a ROMANCE. Call it what it is then handle with care.
Ahh! See now! Sorry. But I was a daft Evil Lord of Destruction. All I can say is GOTCHA NOW, Apologies for being daft.
Hi Kristen, what a thoughtful and insightful blog post – it has struck many chords with me! I posted an article about the 50 shades phenomena on fb recently not really knowing how it would be taken but I think it’s so important to say these things and also a challenge as a writer! Not saying that I have any kind of influence but if we write something for public consumption then we need to be responsible and have integrity. Because, yes I do want what I write to have impact and change the way my readers think about the world ? Thanks for a great post.
I am once again amazed at the depth of your knowledge and understanding.
Fiction definitely matters. I know some stories I’ve read have changed me. And personally, I will not read FSoG because I’ve seen extracts online and some of those extracts have made me feel sick.
I agree that stories aren’t inert. Stories are one of the ways we tell ourselves who we are–and they then help shape us, in good ways and bad.
But from the reviews of 50 Shades that I’ve read (and I haven’t seen the movie or read the book), it’s a gift to reviewers. Bad reviews are infinitely more fun to write than good ones, and boy are they letting loose. The Guardian asked a couple to review it. The man said he found the hardware store fascinating. The woman wanted to know who cleaned the room and noted that it was very orderly. Those were, apparently, the most interesting aspects of the movie. All fitting neatly into sex-role stereotypes, but great responses all the same.
A very interesting and thoughtful post. Concerning one of the questions, if fiction is just that, I don’t think it should be. I prefer reading a book that gets me thinking, and in some ways, challenge my perception of the World and people. In my opinion, it is not all about a direct change in a legal system (even though that is an added bonus), but I think if a writer can recognise injustice and other problematic areas to then transfer this into literature is very clever. That also includes philosophy too, for some of my favourite writers incorporated what they believed into their books.
Thus, this is why dictators burn the books and shoot the writers first, because most fiction is made up of theories, opinions, and some even contain revolutionary ideas which challenge the thoughts of others… it is inevitable that some will feel threatened or fearful of something different so then they seek to destroy it.
Of course though, that is just my opinion.
Yup. Okay, I happen to agree with you on the literary and social merits of 50 Shades but even if you were defending it and Atlas Shrugged in the same breath, I’d still agree that all this is is an opinion. There is and never should be a law that says you have to read an entire book to express an opinion about it. I read Twilight and started the second book in the series and put it down. It was boring and the messages about sexuality and the brains of girls are hideous. I love urban fantasy when it’s good but it can be really bad. Some people get up in arms in defense of Twilight and are angry that I dare to criticize it after having read only one and a third books. I only gave it that long because I didn’t happen to have a good book handy, my teenage niece loved the thing to distraction and I was intellectually curious.
I could never get through 50 Shades. It is one of the most boring things I have ever tried to read, frankly. Even more boring than Twilight. 😛 I know that may be a strange response, but that’s just me. I’m not you or anyone else. And I’m entitled to an opinion of boredom even without finishing the book. Yes, I also agree that given what I’ve read about the rest of the book, it has low social value. I don’t think it will destroy society or the minds of kids any more than Barbie dolls do (and I think they are detrimental) and I’m not into banning books but advertising laws may need some work to keep parents from having to fight a losing battle against things that really aren’t supposed to be advertised to young teens.
I never said ban it. I also never reviewed 50 Shades. The point of this post is DOES FICTION MATTER? THAT is the thesis, whether I read one book or ONE page, that doesn’t change the question. If fiction is inert? Ignore me. If it matters? Merely ponder/think about what you consume. And Barbie has done a fair share of damage but the fashion industry even more. Women are supposed to be forever young and fit and after 40?
Excellent post, Kristen. In the early 90s I wrote a book about violence for a series Rosen Publishing was doing called “Coping With”. The books are aimed for teens to help them deal with social issues they face. One of my books was Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and on Your Streets. When I interviewed a criminology professor, he pointed out the influence of all the violence kids are exposed to through film and television. He made some of the same comments as you have in your post as to how that desensitizes the young person and also said that it (the violence) can eventually be seen as normal.
Regarding Fifty Shades of Grey, I have not read the book, nor do I plan to see the movie, and I am sorely disappointed in the people behind the whole project who have put out such a dangerous message all for the sake of money. There are no more ethical lines in business or in what some people call art. Too bad.
I remain at a loss as to why this book series is such a huge phenomena. I picked up a copy when I thought I should check it out after hearing it blasted from every media outlet and from the mouths of almost everyone I knew. And like you, Kristen, I could only make it through the first few chapters. It was beyond awful and insulting to my intelligence! My first beef is that it was so poorly written (and that’s being kind.) But as I heard the story in its entirety, I felt sick. I completely agree with your opinion. I believe, especially for young woman, that it is damaging. It glorifies the age-old lie that a “good” woman can bring redemption to the “bad boy.” A very dangerous concept in the very least!
As you pointed out, with complete clarity, books can make a huge impact, both in individual minds and in society as a whole. With rape so prevalent on college campuses this book can have a very detrimental effect on men as well.
I’m sure James had no idea of the far reaching consequences when she wrote this story; nevertheless they are present. Shades, in both forms, book and film, will most likely cause harm to many women.
Reblogged this on Wirelezkid's Blog.
Thank you for writing this article.
I agree fiction is powerful and can have a great effect on society.
And I think we should thank the author of Fifty Shades of Gray (or is it Grey?) for providing us with this opportunity for a important discussion on anti-violence.
Reblogged this on Management Matters and commented:
Thought-provoking essay on the power of words. Kristin Lamb is herself a powerful writer. Enjoy!
Despite my own misgivings about these books and the film, I have to note that just about everyone that has commented has not read FSoG – neither have I! I do know one person who has read all three and can only repeat her observation that she didn’t think they were very good, and that she didn’t understand what all the fuss (publicity, film etc.) was about. I have also seen comments on FB from ex-pupils of mine (now married, with families) who went to see the film on Valentine’s Day and were disappointed, finding it neither erotic nor romantic. As you rightly point out, there have been stories in the past that caused controversy and scandal, that were outrageous, or offensive, but the biggest difference today is the widespread distribution of the material and the ease of access. We live in an age where something can be viral in a matter of hours, whereas in the past, even the Victorian era, distribution was slower and more limited.
It is interesting that this discussion should be so topical now when, here in the UK, sex and relationship education as a compulsory subject in primary schools has once again been raised in the on-going election jostling. As an ex-primary school teacher, it was my role to run these lessons for my class of 9-11 year olds, and self respect and respect for others, peer pressure and the true meaning of love were high on my agenda. Surely in today’s society this kind of education is pivotal in helping young people to make informed and balanced judgments about this kind of material?
The power of fiction, in my opinion, has never been stronger. We live in a society where long working hours, debt and social pressure lead more and more of us to search for escapism, and almost every form of entertainment has its roots in writing, and more to the point, fiction. Never underestimate the pen.
Fiction is never just a story. Wonderful piece – I agree with not perpetuating an abusive culture.
Dear Kristen Lamb,
I wholly agree with what you wrote on your blog about 50 shades. I don’t know what abuse you have gone through but I have also had a few bad experiences in my childhood. So I agree that for young people it could be very dangerous to watch the movie, they seem to be seeking for more kicks out of life and may even try to imitate GREY. My husband and I often comment on some movies they show on TV and switch channels, some are so violent with teenagers as MC, no wonder we hear of teens that gang up on kids or elderly. We believe, as you mentioned, that young people lack of maturity and experience and that’s why they get into trouble as we all did, but nowadays they get into worst trouble.They are highly influenced by the media.
Unfortunately I am still trying to figure out how to build my platform, your book seems interesting and I hope it is simple.I am not a media guru as they call you. In fact I’m 54 and have been living in Italy for the past 35 yrs and my English is not the best anymore. I have written my first book that will soon be published,as soon as I get it edited and proofread. Title: “Born to Please” , a fictionalized biography of my childhood, all names and places were changed of course. Well I hope you have a place in your hat for me. I would like to ask a question, being a newbie, I have no idea as to how the industry works yet, if I’m lucky and my name comes out of your hat, you critique the book before or after it has been published. Probably a stupid question but I’m learning by trial and error.
Best regards Eleanor Ann Peterson
Reblogged this on scribblings007.
Fiction changes so much and it starts debates. For instance the scene in Game of Thrones Season 4 where Cersei is raped and everyone, including the director, claimed it wasn’t.
It SO was. The scene in the book wasn’t, but the show? Totally rape and it was truly uncomfortable to watch.
It sparked a lot of debate over what is and what isn’t consent.
Thought provoking blog. The mention of dictators getting rid of writers first pulled a little string in my brains and though not really related to this topic as such it reminded me of a recent book I have read about World War 2. It was about the British secret service recruiting fiction writers because they had the wit and imagination to invent scenarios for spies and agents to scupper Hitler’s plans.
Dear Kristen, My heart goes out to you. At least in my day we had a huge segment of surrounding culture to support us, the “women’s movement” and local feminist organizations to share with like-minded people. You must sometimes feel like that proverbial “voice in the wilderness.” Keep talking. Some are listening.
it all matters because it all makes up life it is how we utilize it that matters
There’s an old saying in computer science: garbage in, garbage out. What we read, what we watch, affects our beliefs and desires, for better and for worse. That’s not to say that we are mere sponges, simply that we must be critical at all times. Thanks for the thoughtful posts on these matters, Kristen.
Reblogged this on justinterfa.
This is an old argument. We hear people decrying violence and sex on television. “It’s fine,” they say. “It doesn’t affect anyone.” Then, following the sex and violence that wasn’t affecting anyone were commercials paid for by companies that had some serious skin in the game. They paid real money to have the commercials aired, so they must have thought, for some reason, that the commercials could change the behavior of the people watching. So what is the difference between a commercial and a television show? How is it that one does nothing and the other does… something? Cognitive dissonance for the win. Repetition and exposure creates a hardening of the heart.
Perhaps fiction sometimes influences. Most fiction is on the great slag heap of adequateness, but the influential books? Are they written well? Is there something to quality, therefore influence?
I’ve said before. I would never have posted on FSoG had it not been made into a movie. Now we have something that has altered everything and is packaged in ways that make this dangerous content seem benign—I.e. blindfolded teddy bears for Valentines. And with over a 100 million copies in circulation? That has to affect someone.
Agree! Thank you for this!
Fiction is never just a story, and yet how much responsibility can an individual author take for ideas and social and cultural phenomenon that are explored in their work. I agree that the ‘romance’ genre being attached to this work is difficult to understand. An interesting dilemma.
When I was a youth minister, I would advise my students not to read certain books because it affected them negatively, as you said, because they weren’t mature enough to handle the content. (I tried to sound more eloquent when I told the students.) I had a parent challenge me one day because her daughter was having second thoughts about reading a particular book series. It was definitely a “teen fiction” book but one that had no business being in the teen section. I told this parent that as a “teen spiritual adviser” I had to give my thoughts on certain subject matters because if I ignore it appears I endorse it. I would not endorse a book with that subject matters (sexuality, violence, abuse, drug use, and even incest). I also explained that I did not order her not to read it (like you, Kristen, I’m against censorship), but merely suggested the students give it more thought. The student did and even found a better author to get involved with.
Thank you for this. It’s really opened my eyes. I admit, even though I didn’t know it until now, I was one of those people who thought “It’s just a book. What’s everyone so antsy about?” But this post made me realize I was wrong. I’m a writer myself, an author of over 20 books (romance & thriller), I should know the impact fiction has on society, as I try to impact my readers every time I sit down at my computer. The impact books had on me as a child is the reason why I began writing 10 years ago, because I knew how writers and stories can change the world.
I never read FSoG, but it was easy to dismiss it and any effect it could have because it’s just “a fantasy.” The way you explained our youth and the classics made me take a step back and really think about the literary world.
Food for thought, indeed. Great post!
I have to say that I completely agree. I have to admit I’ve been shocked at the sheer number of friends and family who have watched/read FSOG, enjoyed it, and then preemptively defended it on Facebook. These are people I have respect for and respect the opinions of. However, when I posted my personal opinion about the underlying message of the book and my overall concern with how it would affect our young readers, I was attacked by a few close friends.
“Maybe you should read it and learn to form your own opinions.”
First of all, I never form an opinion without feeling as though I have enough information to have the right to do so. I’m a very critical thinker. Second of all, you don’t have to read an entire book, especially one so poorly written, to know what it’s about. Third, I never said my opinion was the word of God. Like the rest of my friends I have the right to feel the way I do. This book has turned my normally smart, respectable friends into defensive jerks.
Anyway, sorry I went on a small tangent there. I’m just so happy to see someone forming the same opinion as I have and capable of posting an articulate argument that is less abrasive as most of the articles that simply bash the book/film.
Thank you for helping me better explain myself and my opinion. =)
If they truly believed it was harmless, they would feel no need to attack 😉 .
You’re right on, Kristen. We need to be careful what we write. We need to set an example to others, especially our youth.
If fiction was innocuous, why is it so popular? I agree with basically everything you’ve said here. The fact that fiction IS based on human life and experiences is the reason I don’t read horror/abuse, or watch it, nor can I read books that make me too uncomfortable. What I don’t like about “dismissing” fiction as not real, is the very real affect it has on society if it gets this big. I certainly hope we’re not in for even more safety issues for women. Rape is a sick (IMO) male fantasy. Any woman who has ever lived it knows it is certainly not theirs. Very informative post. Thank you.
Well this guy took it beyond fantasy: http://abc7.com/news/chicago-student-allegedly-raped-woman-while-recreating-50-shades-scenes/531401/ He raped a woman, claiming he was acting out a scene from 50 Shades. Knew it wouldn’t be long.
Your posts are always so interesting and they really make me think. I’ve been disapproving of this book since day 1, especially when I saw other teenage girls like myself reading it. My sister told me that, despite the sexual content, it was a good story. Not sure I believe that. And I scoffed at the idea of this becoming a classic until now. Your fact about The Jungle was fascinating and really, what IF this silly book becomes a classic? I don’t believe it has the hype that Twilight did, but it’s still an unpleasant idea that more books like this could come out as a result of its success. (I for one, wish Twilight wouldn’t get brought into the conversation. I think Twilight is a wonderful book, and should never be associated with this knock-off.)
I really like your POV, and I completely agree! Especially when you say that FSoG would make more sense as a horror
I think you are so right, Kristne. Fiction writing is a great responsibility and powerful writers should use their writings for good and not for evil; but they do seem to be very popular, like 50 Shades, and will buy the BMW’s many times over. Writers throughout history have created the cultural mores that people live by. We define what a villain and a hero is in every generation. The problem is there are many teens who don’t see the villainy in Christian Grey; he’s good looking, intelligent, rich and if you pay the asking price he will wisk you away into his “insane” world. I have heard so many young people refer to “50 Shades” as “a great love story.” Are they kidding? It’s a ‘Criminial Minds’ episode at best (like some have said). As a society; I’m afraid alot of young girls have lowered their standards and forgot to include being a “gentleman” as a pre-requisite for finding a partner to give their heart to. It makes me very sad and I feel very old-fashioned when I hear the young girls gush over someone like “Christian Grey”. Where are the mothers to teach their daughters they don’t have to lower their standards and its not just high hopes to have high standards? For my part, I want to inspire young people to rise above their own worlds and give them a deep desire to imitate the greatness in the characters I create in my books. As writers of YA fiction, I believe we are needed more than ever. (Writing with love and thank you for a powerful and articulate article.)
After reading your post I realized that all the women that I know that read and enjoyed FSoG and defend it as just a story have also voiced concerns on how women are portrayed in advertising (specifically around size, shape, and sexiness). What is advertising but the attempt to sell something by telling a story?