If you’ve at all been paying attention to popular culture in America, you know that there’s quite the media-fest over America’s second-most popular book, entitled Fifty Shades Of Grey. It’s only behind The Hunger Gamesin terms of overall downloads and purchases, but this book is getting a LOT more publicity, both positive and negative, than The Hunger Games has.
Why? Well, that’s easy. It’s because it’s about sex.
The controversy about this book centers around BDSM themes, and apparently all the cool celebrities are willing to come out and embrace their taboo side, showing themselves to be the rebels that they are by admitting in public that they read this book and they liked it. (I can’t wait for that to be a Katy Perry parody video, Key Of Awesome.) Of course, it’s not really terribly shocking to hear 35 year-old actresses are reading this book while their kids play on the beach, and when it’s the second most popular book in the nation, you’re not really shocking anyone with how open and different you are. But, I digress.
Dubbed “mommy porn”, people who disagree with the popularity of this book have mentioned it’s a sign that our culture has gone so far left that things that were once secret fetishes are now acceptable in mainstream pop culture. I have two observations to make on that front: 1) Have any of these people ever SEEN a Lady Gaga video?, and 2) That’s what you get when you want Mitt Romney to run your country. Put Bill Clinton back in office, and watch how quickly everything goes back into the closet, and society becomes secretly hedonistic but outwardly judgmental again.
I haven’t read this book, and I’m not sure I’m planning on doing so, but I do have to say that I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. “Mommy porn” has existed since the development of the printing press, and rose to popularity in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s with the development of the “romance novel” genre. I don’t read romance novels, but that’s not to say I’ve never read one. The plots of many of them are about as thin and predictable as any porn movie around, and are just a device to make the “romance” (i.e. sex) scenes flow together in a cohesive way.
Romance novels have been as acceptable as Playboy magazine for a long time. The fact that “mommy porn” is popular shouldn’t shock anyone. What appears to be shocking is the idea that not all women are busy fantasizing about romance, hearts, flowers, and happily ever after.
As it turns out, some women are busy fantasizing about whips and chains.
This shouldn’t be news to anyone. The popular plot devices in romance novels are mainstream, “vanilla” allusions to the world of dominance and submission. When you’re reading about the beautiful, half-naked damsel in distress being rescued by the overly masculine hero she hates through most of the book, the undertones are not Cinderella-related. And the reason “Twilight” made vampires decidedly unsexy for anyone over the age of 16 is because women don’t have vampire fetishes involving skinny, pale, glittery Englishmen asking “Is this really OK with you?”. BDSM-themes have been woven into “mommy porn” for a long time. Sometimes, a book is well-written enough that the story and the underlying BDSM themes appeal to both genders, which is why Anne Rice sold so many books. The link between the iconic vampire-figure and submission/dominance themes isn’t even thinly disguised, which is why books about vampires have been part of popular culture for centuries.
Even as far back as the days of the Marquis de Sade, who has penned some stuff that would turn the most open-minded of people into those capable of judgment and repulsion, women were reading “smuggled” copies of the stories under their embroidery. In fact, history has shown one of the reasons women of the aristocracy were not taught to read or to be educated in many societies, in many points in history, was the fear that knowledge would make them “worldly”. The sooner a beautiful, unmarried girl gets her hands on the exploits of the Marquis de Sade, the less likely she is to be content with the 60 year-old suitor the patriarchy has chosen for her, and the more likely she is to start experimenting with the alpha males in her social circle.
None of these attempts to keep “mommy porn” from corrupting women have ever worked. In fact, since almost the beginning of time, passing around something secret and scandalous between women is the number one way to make it the most popular thing EVER. Have you ever given a woman you know something really juicy and said “Don’t show this to anyone”, and believed that would be the end result?
Yeah. I didn’t think so.
Which, of course, brings me back to “Fifty Shades Of Grey” and the revelation that when it comes to sexuality, women are turned on by “kinky stuff” just as much as men. It’s culturally acceptable that women read “romance novels” and men watch porn. But, as soon as we, as a society, start addressing the idea that sex is a little more inventive, creative, and psychologically interesting than we’re willing to discuss openly, everyone starts getting really uncomfortable.
I’m willing to bet there’s not one thing in this book that shocks me. I’m also willing to bet it doesn’t teach me anything new. Granted, I may not be the best example of a person who needs to become more open-minded about these things, but I’m hardly an anomaly, or even the world’s most open-minded person. Which brings me to the point of the post: Is it this book that’s shocking and controversial, or is just the fact that someone dared to write it and make it mainstream that’s causing a fuss?
There’s really little that shocks me about people and their sexual proclivities, and for the most part, if you’re not harming other people and your choices aren’t affecting my life, I don’t really care what’s going on in your bedroom. However, I’m the type of person who is far less interested in what people do in their private lives than why they do it, and on a fundamental level, what that reveals aboutwho someone really is. Because of that, I highly enjoyed this psychologically insightful and analytical article entitled The Psychological Underpinnings Of Dominance And Submission”
If psychology doesn’t really intrigue you, or everything you know about BDSM, you read from reading “Fifty Shades Of Grey”you’ll likely find it a little tedious, but if you’re like me, and endlessly fascinated by insight into human behaviour, it’ll leave you thinking.
If you really want to start thinking about the relationship between human psychology, love, dominance, submission, and emotional vulnerability, may I recommend Paulo Coelho’s “Eleven Minutes”? In my opinion, it’s a book that every person who has ever felt physically or emotionally bonded to another person should read. Someone once important to me gave it to me many years ago, and I still think it’s one of the best books in existence.
And, feel free to leave a comment on Facebook or drop me an e-mail…is “Fifty Shades Of Grey” worth reading, or just a slightly-left-of-center romance novel? Some people have told me that the main character in the book is basically a carbon copy of Bella from “Twilight”, only instead of doing a lot of whining and striking emo poses, she experiments with sex. Frankly, I hate Bella from “Twilight”, and if I ever see a film adaptation of this book starring Kristen Stewart, I may attempt to slash my wrists with my Kindle.
So, please…don’t lead me astray. Will I make it through 50 pages of this book without wanting to do physical harm to imaginary characters?
On the other hand, this particular set of imaginary characters may enjoy the attempt far too much.
I suspect that if this is the second most popular book in America right now, I’m wasting my potential writing this blog about it, rather than spending my time writing a kick-ass book.