‘Fifty Shades of Grey’—F’ed up or phenomenon?
Published: Thursday, June 21, 2012
Updated: Friday, June 22, 2012 13:06
“Kiss me, damn it! I implore him, but I can’t move. I’m paralyzed with a strange, unfamiliar need, completely captivated by him…”
Anyone who has read the “Twilight” series or seen any of the movies would agree: this quote has an oddly familiar ring to it. A young girl mesmerized by a mysterious, handsome man, unable to breathe or even move in his presence, screams Bella Swan… But this passage isn’t from any of the "Twilight" books or even another series by Stephenie Meyer. So begins chapter four of former BBC television exec E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
If you’ve been living under a rock you probably missed SNL’s “Amazon Mother’s Day Ad,” which referenced the book’s unofficial “mommy porn” appeal. You probably also missed Ellen Degeneres balking at the graphic nature of the novel during her reading of the text. But how you have gone two whole months since the trilogy’s statewide release without hearing about the $5 million deal for the movie rights to the film—and Ian Somerhalder’s subsequent campaign for the part of controlling billionaire Christian Grey—is beyond me.
But if you haven’t heard any of this, I can’t very well go around pointing fingers because I myself knew very little about the series a little over a week ago… other than that it was sure to be an “interesting” read.
A couple of Thursdays ago, after casually flipping through my selection at Barnes & Noble, my mom was mortified I was choosing to read “something so, so Oh My God.” I shrugged and bought the first installment in James’ trilogy, paying careful attention to the B&N return policy. There was a chance it was going to be too much for me to handle, but being the cocky English major that I am, I figured that after reading Stieg Larsson’s rape scene in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and living to talk about it in front of 15 other students, there was very little an inexperienced author could write that would shock me.
And unfortunately, I was right.
After the amount of media attention devoted to “Fifty Shades,” I’ve got to say I was expecting something a bit darker. The story follows Anastasia Steele, a recent college graduate from Washington State (Forks, anyone?). In an unexpected turn of events, Miss Steele meets Christian Grey, a 27-year-old billionaire with an interesting secret (is he a vampire?). Like most love stories, Grey tells Steele he’s not right for her and tries to stay away (still sounding familiar?). But of course they’re drawn to each other, and despite Grey’s initial reservations, he decides he would like a relationship with Steele after all.
At this point, the book takes an interesting turn away from the “Twilight” similarities. Grey doesn’t want to date Steele, he wants to dominate her—as in start a BDSM relationship! Thus begins page after page of candid descriptions of consensual “vanilla”—and not-so-vanilla—sex. These blatantly sexual descriptions are what led Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin libraries to keep the book off their shelves—Florida finally lifted their ban in late May—though I’ve got to say there’s nothing described in James’ novel that couldn’t be found amongst the pages of Cosmo’s latest “Sex Issue.”
Basically, James’ book boils down to a kinky version of “Twilight”…which makes sense because—SURPRISE—the trilogy started out as "Twilight" fan-fiction. While reading, my subconscious was constantly bombarding me with the similarities between the two novels until a basic Google search turned up the truth: James based her book on Meyer’s. In addition to obvious similarities—Washington state setting, female lead’s divorced parents, innocent young girl who’s never been in love, dangerous male love interest—even the writing styles are similar. Where both “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades” lack any true literary merit—any sixth grader could read them both (I know, I’m cringing at the thought too)—they make up for it in suspense. The readers want to know if Edward will ever turn Bella into a vampire just like they wonder how innocent Anastasia Steele will deal with Christian Grey’s unorthodox sexual appetites.
“Fifty Shades” is a quick, easy read. Surprisingly, after 514 pages even the sex becomes so expected and described in such the same way that those portions can be skipped. But no one reads “Fifty Shades” to skip the sex. So why read it at all if it’s just “Twilight 2.0?”
“It’s a romantic fantasy story. That’s it. It’s just a fun read… Yes, it’s quite graphic, but when people fall in love they have sex. Well, actually, they have a lot of sex. In the beginning. So that’s what this is about. It’s for ordinary women who like some spicy sex,” said James in a late March issue of Entertainment Weekly.
With that said, I will commend James in one regard. Although she has written a romantic fantasy for ordinary women, Anastasia Steele is not as innocent and ordinary as Meyer’s Bella Swan. In Ana Steele, James has created a strong-willed individual who continues to fight Grey’s need to place her in a plastic bubble of protection. Where I frowned at Bella’s willingness to just give up every time Edward challenged their relationship, I found myself smiling and cheering Ana on every time she stood up to Grey.
So despite the hype, while addictively suspenseful, I’ve found “Fifty Shades” to be neither f’ed up nor a phenomenon—it’s just another overtly sexualized beach read that’s reached international fame through the media and a little book banning—nothing we haven’t seen before.
But don’t expect “Fifty Shades” to disappear anytime soon. Adapting the “erotic romance” into anything other than an NC-17 skin-flick will surely take some negotiating.