While I have yet to and probably will never see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie nor read the books that inspired it, I am happy it has been written, has become popular, has been made into a movie, and has changed what is and isn’t taboo for the public to have a conversation about.
Literature is reflective of the society it is written in and can often point out uncomfortable truths about the world around us. Is Fifty Shades of Grey literature? I don’t want to get into that debate. I know the grammar is awful and it started off as Twilight fan fiction, but I’m not the ultimate authority on what and what isn’t literature nor do I know what future generations will think is great literature from our time.
What I do know is that Fifty Shades of Grey has started multiple conversations throughout multiple news sources, on multiple blogs, and even on multiple people’s Facebook pages related to women’s rights, affirmative consent versus coerced consent, BDSM, capitalism, and pornography. If Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t around, would these conversations be happening in the open? Would our society be looking at these issues?
I, at first, was wary of clicking on articles related to Fifty Shades of Grey because I had no interest in the story, but when I noticed a trend of critical societal examination in the titles, I started to click on articles and I was happily surprised.
On of the first articles I looked at was Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades by Emma Green from TheAtlantic.Com. Green exposes the world of BDSM, the core of rules and consent present in the community, and looks at places where Fifty Shades of Grey gets it wrong. BDSM has been a taboo subject and members of the BDSM community are often misdiagnosed by the general public as having issues, much like Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey does. Green shows that is not the case in her rather lengthy but well written piece.
The next article I read was centered around Kindle and the e-book world, called The Fifty Shades of Grey Paradox by Neil Richards from Slate.Com. Part of the reason Fifty Shades of Grey did so well is the fact that it was available as an e-book which people could read privately, without fear of someone seeing them with the novel and judging them. The paradox comes from the fact that companies like Amazon.Com have that private information and know who has read and hasn’t read books like Fifty Shades of Grey. While e-books give readers privacy from onlookers, it exposes them in the digital world to the companies they purchase books from.
Another critical look at Fifty Shades of Grey comes from Truthdig.Org and Chris Hedges, called ‘Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like’. Hedges looks at the pornographic nature of Fifty Shades of Grey and how the abuse of women is celebrated in a hyper-masculine and hyper-capitalistic world within the book and novel. Hedges sees this as women destroying themselves and buying into male fantasy of objectifying women, since the author of the book, the writer of the screenplay, the director, and the studio executive that bought the rights to the movie were all women.
Anne Helen Petersen of Buzzfeed.Com doesn’t agree with Hedges, though. In her piece, The Sly Capitalist Seduction Of “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” she talks about the main character, Anna, and how she buys into the seduction of capitalism and male domination at first, but the end of the movie (SPOILERS if you care about such things) shows Anna’s rejection of the lifestyle because she leaves Mr. Grey and that world behind. Petersen points out the attraction of such a world – thinking can be really hard, and having someone else do the mundane aspects of life for you – and make you extremely comfortable and rich while he does it – is appealing to many women who struggle day-to-day with finances, children, and just living within their means. But Anna’s rejection shows agency and choice are more appealing than male domination and capitalist goods, at least in Petersen’s opinion.
Sometimes a book isn’t about the story, or the grammar, or its popularity, but rather about the conversations it gets started and what parts of the world around us it inspires us to take a closer look at. Fifty Shades of Grey is that kind of book. And I, for one, am glad it’s been the starting point of so many conversations.
You can follow Amanda on Twitter @ThePandaBard, on Pinterest @ThePandaBard, or on Medium @ThePandaBard. You can also find her research on Academia.Edu at Cpp.Academia.Edu/MandaRiggle.