There aren’t many people I know who have come away from reading 50 Shades of Grey feeling they have experienced a well-written, deeply thoughtful piece of literature. In fact, I’d go so far as to wager there hasn’t been a single reaction to the book that has praised its ability to deal with serious relationship issues in a considered and useful manner. Most reviews I have read of the thing from various bloggers and critics think it’s trite bullshit.
Apparently, though, it’s such incredibly popular trite bullshit that a women’s rights group in the UK have taken it upon themselves to tell us we must under no circumstances read it, as the idea that a young, naive woman can have a relationship with an older, controlling man is ‘dangerous‘. To ensure we aren’t exposed to any unseemly ideas, they will be holding 50 Shades of Grey bonfire on November 5th.
Newsflash, ladies: this makes you look insane. On par with Christian witch hunters, Nazis, Westborough Baptists, and those nut jobs in The Wicker Man. It does your cause absolutely no favours at all to react to an extremely offensive book in an extreme way.
First off, in a capitalist society you vote with your money. All cash flows to the same spot, whether it’s given in disgust or given out of love. While these women are shovelling books into a flaming inferno, EL James is probably on a yacht somewhere indulging in some bird’s nest encrusted truffle caviar at their expense. The publishers will print more copies and sell them to more bookshops and the whole awful cycle continues on for another week.
Second, one of the benefits of having a rich literary culture is that there isn’t a Little Red Book of Relationships. No single novel can tell everyone how to behave, which is lucky because 50 Shades is by no means the most degrading novel in the market.
There are numerous ideas about what a good relationship looks like out there on our bookshops’ shelves, and readers can indulge in reading about any number of them whenever they want. Just because you don’t agree with a certain idea doesn’t ever give you the right to dictate whether or not it can be expressed.
There is no denying 50 Shades has a central female character who is offensively terrible. I retch at the idea that there are people of either gender out there who believe that Anastasia can be a role model for the way to behave in a relationship, or in fact any situation. She is a vapid gaping hole of a person (which I suspect is sort of exactly the point), whose shortcomings as a believable human being are so plentiful it has taken some bloggers many, many incredibly abusive and hilarious posts to tease them all out. This is not because of her sexual preferences, it’s because she’s a caricature – a really, really, really annoying caricature – one the entire female gender would do well to distance itself from.
People need to stop having these conversations about whether the book is or isn’t offensive. It’s as pointless as discussing the artistic merit of a turd. The book is dreadful, and the characters in it are as deep as the paper their names are printed on. That’s all you need to know.