Channel 4 had a pop doco on the 50 Shades phenomenon. The show had a mixture of good and bad, as these things usually do. I’ve been fascinated by the hostile responses to the books (or their success, depending on how you look at it). I understand people who just don’t like to read about sex (well, I understand that they exist O.O even if I don’t understand why), I understand writers envious of their attention (especially since most folks tell me the writing isn’t all that much to envy — note to self: while some people enjoy beautiful writing, just about everyone gets hooked into a good story), but I’m particularly fascinated by the often vitriolic hatred (especially by men) who loudly say they wouldn’t sink so low as to actually read it, but hate everything it represents.
Quite a trick to hate something of which you’re ignorant: it makes me think of Lady Catherine de Burgh fuming at Elizabeth Bennett:
“…Though I know it must be a scandalous falsehood, though I would not injure him so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you.”
“If you believed it impossible to be true,” said Elizabeth, colouring with astonishment and disdain, “I wonder you took the trouble of coming so far.”
I haven’t figured out if it’s the horror of thinking of all those women pleasuring themselves with the reading of it or just considering it ‘beneath’ women to be thrilled by such ‘trash’ (one American guy on Twitter actually said it must be representative of the failings of British men. I told him that was a very interesting remark revealing deep seated fears of comparison. He didn’t respond X-D). There seems to be a lot of anxiety about the ERMAGAD women reading SEX aspect, but some of it is suspect, too.
You’ll never find so many feminists as the men who trash the book because it’s ‘degrading’ to women. If only they had as much concern about wage differentials (but now we’re really talking fantasies…)
The programme had writers, a few ‘personalities’ who were women and fortunately, a few professionals (i.e. doctors). It was really wonderful to have them dispel the persistent misunderstanding that people are drawn to BDSM (and the wide variety of practices that umbrella covers) because they are somehow ‘damaged’ or otherwise mentally unhealthy. They’re (gasp) just like other people. Best of all they had a nice regular couple in a D/s relationship. The downside was that they had ONE couple. Whenever you address a minority group with one example, it’s dodgy; I know friends who get really fed up with being asked as the ‘representative’ of their race in too many situations — as if we were each part of some monolithic tradition. Nonetheless, that they were sweet, affectionate to one another and cheery helped a bit to offset the popular picture. They also spoke with two professional doms, one male and one female, too.
One of the things that came through well is how much the books are fantasy (i.e. not for people knowledgeable about the BDSM at all). The D/s couple tutted about the abusive behaviour by Mr Grey. Writers spoke about the transparency of the female main character which allows anyone to enter the fantasy (her bland 22 year old virginity) which is all about eroticising the male. And as one said, taboo turns people on and what’s more taboo than the woman who’s totally taken care of by a man in unbelievable luxury. For the women who still get paid far less than men and generally work longer hours, an appealing fantasy indeed.
Things that irked: the utter invisibility of women’s words still. “No one had heard of her”: well, the thousands of Twilight fan fiction readers sure had. The way the single largest selling genre in the world (romance) doesn’t seem to exist in popular discourse (or best seller lists). We’re still the pink collar ghetto in this genre. In some ways–looking at the reactions on social media, not just in the headlines–its popularity has hardened contempt for romance and erotic romance in the mainstream. People are seeing dollar signs in their eyes and cranking out knock offs. Those of us who were here before and will be after, we just shrug and keep writing. And the totally creepy interview with James on the American programme 20/20, where the woman went on about the MONEY and the FAME — and James visibly recoiled. Sorry, it’s not everyone’s dream to be famous and we don’t all lust after solid gold rocket cars.
One final thing: conflating Rochester and Heathcliffe?! Come on! They are NOTHING alike, Channel 4. Know your Brontës! This aggression will not stand. #TeamRochester