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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fifty Shades of Great?


How does a book about BDSM become a pop-cultural phenomenon? Ryan Sheets tries to find the answer.  ♦ 
Three years ago my sister gave me a book to read. I glanced at the cover and saw only black and grey, an expensive tie hanging down the length of it; I immediately assumed it was a business drama. As I began reading, I started to suspect that my initial assumption was false Around the sixth chapter, I closed Fifty Shades of Grey and quit reading. My sister had played a cruel prank on me.
     Sixty million copies later, Fifty Shades of Grey has spawned a blockbuster film, two more movie deals, and a fan base that spreads far and wide. What is it about this series that inspires so many to band together and be so vocal about a book whose subject matter is so private?
     The answer may not be so complicated.
     Alone, many people become self-conscious and highly aware of other’s opinions. But as a group, a movement really, they feel empowered and safe to express themselves no matter what they are expressing. ContrarianVille, a website that analyzes behavioral economics, would place this under the heading of Mob Mentality. As author Mike Mask writes, “Mob mentality is caused in part by the concept of ‘social proof'’ which is the well-documented tendency of people to think (either consciously or unconsciously) that whatever behavior a number of other people are engaged in must be important and ‘right,’ and that a group of people engaging in a particular activity must collectively know more than us about that activity.” This certainly helps explain how a book whose subject matter might not be for everyone was suddenly being read by everyone . . . the crowd itself helped grow even bigger curious crowds, thinking that there must be something there if so many people had already been drawn to the book.
     Or perhaps what draws much of this curiosity isn't necessarily this expanding fan base in itself but the sometimes-raucous behavior exhibited by a select few toward the book, as seen during the recent release of the blockbuster adaptation and which was discussed by ET Online’s "Fifty Shades of Crazy" article. A group of women attending a showing of the film—at a theater that serves alcohol—became so rowdy that they began to vomit, and one even cut an irritated male viewer with a wine bottle. Other crazed events include a crowd of teenagers rioting after being denied entry, the Fifty Shades of Grey film being mistakenly shown in place of a Spongebob flick, and a woman in Mexico who proceeded to pleasure herself throughout the showing. Needless to say, the film has prompted some people to act in odd ways. Others, however, prefer to stick behind the anonymity of their tablets while they read, something that the e-book has allowed in recent years.
      Fifty Shades of Grey was the first e-book to ever sell a million copies on Amazon’s Kindle, beating records previously held by Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. A connection may exist between these staggering Kindle sales and the prevalence of Fifty Shades of Grey, but what reason could explain it? The Kindle not only offers a level of convenience via its instant downloading, but offers a sense of anonymity behind its screen. If there are readers out there who may still be uncomfortable with letting people know their reading interests, they can relax and enjoy their erotica from behind their tablet screens. With the cover of the book hidden it may be easier to conceal the fact that the reader is reading Fifty Shades of Grey, which may appeal to some who are self-conscious about people knowing their literary tastes.
       Although many people support the Fifty Shades of Grey series, recent news updates have shown us that there are some with much dislike for E.L. James’ work. Campaigners and religious groups have reached the forefront, protesting the abuse, BDSM depictions, and manipulation tactics utilized by Christian Grey, one of the novel’s main characters. Fifty Shades of Grey is Domestic Abuse, a specific group created to protest the book and film’s main subject matter, hopes to raise the public’s awareness about what is actually going on behind the Fifty Shades of Grey series. Natalie Collins, the campaign’s leader, claims that she isn’t bothered by the BDSM actions, but the controlling nature of the self-made playboy billionaire. Her campaign focuses on informing people of what domestic abuse actually looks like, as well as advocating to end the romanticization of sexual violence seen in James’ series.
     So what does the Fifty Shades of Grey movement mean? In a way, James has taken a topic otherwise swept under the rug and put it on display for all to see. This action has empowered some to embrace their inner goddess, as Anastasia Steele would call it, and show their support for the author’s courage and ability to bring such a unique story to the masses. And what could this mean for other aspiring writers, those that also find enjoyment in writing fan fiction, as James’s series itself was inspired by the vampire love story series Twilight? Maybe it means that more and more people will have a chance to get their work published, even if it is based off of a current publication that has already had success. And with the recent rise in self-publication, we can only hope that writers are getting their creative writing to those who want to read it, those who have something to gain from those author’s hard work. Only time will tell if this is just a simple anomaly or the start of something big.
  • About the Author
    Ryan Sheets was born just outside of Cleveland but then moved with his family to Hamburg, Germany for his dad’s moving career. After making his return home, he found he enjoyed many hobbies including golf, football, and most of all, creative writing. Ryan has a full length YA Urban Fantasy novel complete and hopes to seek publication at one point in his life.

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