There is a lot of discussion about the book, and now film, 50 Shades Of Grey on various writer’s communities. The general consensus seems to be one of incomprehension. Stripped of the oft sparkling invective there are two points which seemed to be central to any discussion of the work:
- The events described therein are abusive, not romantic.
- The work itself is written in a stilted, unrealistic style.
I submit that it is the latter point that allows the work to be accessible despite the former point. The violence is, as it were, cartoon violence.
All of those books are very hard to read. They are gut-punches, books with a strong emotional impact that lasts long after the last page. And while all of those books are often discussed by critics and debated in Literature classes, none of them have had the mass appeal of the 50 Shades series.
Some stories, I believe, are best told badly.
Or perhaps I should say that some subjects are easier to deal with via a stylized, unrealistic aesthetic.
Recently I rewatched Raiders Of The Lost Ark–one of my favorite films from my youth–and I was struck by just how violent it is. Indiana Jones kills a lot of people in that movie–several times as many as Francis Dolarhyde kills in Red Dragon. The violence in Raiders is cartoon violence, however. It doesn’t have the emotional impact, and it is not intended to. The bad guys die neatly, shot off moving cars, and are gone, never to be seen again. There are no consequences because the audience doesn’t seem them as real people, just as “bad guys”.
In the same way I believe that the abuse in 50 Shades Of Grey is cartoon abuse. Christian and Anastasia aren’t mean to be real people–they are cartoons. Does the book promote abuse? I don’t think so–readers of the work know that none of this would work in the real world, just as they know that real world you can’t really cling to the outside of a submarine from Cairo to Sardinia.
Fantasies are often things that would be unhealthy and dangerous in the real world. Honestly, I don’t think that women who enjoy 50 Shades Of Grey are at any more risk of entering into an abusive relationship than men who enjoy Raiders Of The Lost Ark are of going on a shooting spree in a crowded bazaar.