The Fifty Shades Dilemma: It Is All Our Fault


So something pretty terrible has started happening to me recently, and when I was asked if I wanted to do another guest post for Bad Books Good Times (cheers guys!) I decided that this would be a pretty good chance to get all these confusing emotions out.

By now, I’m pretty sure everyone is sick to death of Fifty Shades of Grey. Matt and Ariel certainly are. I am, and I’m not even reading the stupid things, I’m just reading a blog about reading the stupid things.

But I have, nobly, been keeping up the good fight anyway. I am a student of literature! There are so many great books in the world! It is basically our responsibility to warn people away from being sucked in by this nightmare. Besides, everyone is acting like erotica has only just been invented. But Mills & Boon has been around for decades, Lady Chatterly’s Lover was first published in 1928, the ancient Greeks weren’t shy about it at all, and there are Paleolithic cave paintings which are positively filthy. So pointing out to everyone you know that EL James doesn’t even write good erotica seems like a pretty decent way to pass the time.

Also, doing dramatic readings for your friends in the middle of a bookshop and watching their horrified reactions is kind of hilarious too.

But I’ve started noticing disastrous consequences. Despite reading a passage aloud in Waterstones during which Ana referred to Christian as “Mr Orgasmic” and my friends promptly vomited everywhere, a few days later I received a Facebook message from one of them, excitedly announcing that she had bought the books (and continued to want to vomit everywhere). It happened again with an entirely different set of friends. One day we were laughing about how Jose totally isn’t Jacob. The next it was “But it only cost me £9 to download all three onto my Kindle! And I kind of got really into them!”

I was appalled.

Instead of dissuading all my friends from falling into the trap, I seemed to be actively pushing them towards it.

Not even Admiral Ackbar could warn them now.

There are many articles all over the internet trying to explain why Fifty Shades has become so popular so quickly. Some theories include:

  1. The ebook form which meant it could be bought and read without anyone ever knowing (this may have been true at first, but now the paperbacks are everywhere and no on seems bothered about reading it in public AT ALL).
  2. It is a slower build up than most pornography, so women respond to it better (thank you, internet, for telling women what we want).
  3. It helps to articulate previously unexpressed female fantasies (okay. I am all for women being able to explore their sexuality freely and openly. Obviously, that is not a bad thing. But see above, re: not the invention of erotica. Maybe studying an arts subject at a liberal university makes me totally biased, but come on, this is not the first time female sexuality has ever been discussed. I mean, did no one listen to Rihanna’s S&M? It’s right there in the name, you guys!)
  4. The recession means that cheap, escapist novels are more popular than ever (after all, reading about wealthy businessmen who casually own helicopters certainly makes me feel better about my life!)
  5. The most obvious, and probably the most true: no one will shut up about it.

And it’s this last one that got me thinking. I am absolutely complicit in that reason. I am writing a blog post about it. Right now. That is what I am doing. I am adding to the 88,800,000 results which turn up when you google “why is Fifty Shades of Grey so popular?” Of course my friends went out and bought it! They want to be part of the discussion too! Not being able to talk about Fifty Shades of Grey is probably now an official handicap during conversations at parties. Or at work. Or on the bus.

Plus, as this blog and my bookshop readings prove, making fun of things is hugely entertaining. It’s an easy way to get a laugh, and it indulges that part of you that likes to feel smarter than everybody else (although it just occurred to me that “indulging the dark secret parts of your psyche” is another alleged reason the series is so popular, so if our making fun of it does just that, we are actually proving it’s own intentions true, just not in the way it expected. Balls.)

In conclusion, based on pretty much no evidence at all, the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is all my fault. It is all of our faults for talking about it in the first place. The more we talk about it, the more the entire phenomenon spreads. The more we retweet jokes by 50 Sheds of Grey, the more people wonder what all the fuss is about. And the more people wonder that, the more it outsells Harry Potter.

I’m not saying we should stop doing those things. Making fun of Fifty Shades of Grey is basically an entire sub-genre of comedy now, one that I don’t really want to give up. There are just so many good jokes to make.

I just hope we can all live with the consequences.

Yes. This is a Fifty Shades cufflink. Whatever point I was trying to make, it has now been made.







  1. Citizen Pain Reply

    I don’t think anyone can deny that Fifty Shades of Grey was intended almost entirely for women. Not saying that there is anything wrong with that, but repressed female sexuality seems to be what sells best these days (Fucking Twilight). Im not going to say I know much about the female psyche (who does amirite?) but Ive never met a man who has read this book. Sexual rerpression is such an easy target, if James explored any other niche she would not have been anywhere near as successful.

    On a slightly unrelated note, has anyone else noticed that most of the bestselling series’ in the last decade have been highly feminine? Twilight and Fifty Shades are obvious, but I believe Harry Potter and Hunger Games also fit into that category. I’m no statistician, just callin em as I sees em. I might be entirely off base on this presumption, but I find it interesting.

  2. otheramyadams Post authorReply

    Women are certainly a huge market in this case, and I don’t actually think it’s a bad thing that women (and men, and whoever) are able to use the book to talk more openly about their sexuality or their desires – after all, porn targeted towards men has been easily accessible and even socially acceptable (to a degree) for years, so “women’s porn” featuring heavily in the media and discussed openly is actually a really good thing. Feminism, yo! It is just a shame that 50 Shades is so … you know … terrible.

    As for the second point, I wouldn’t say all bestsellers are feminine, plenty of guys read the Hunger Games (and probably also Twilight/50 Shades, they just might not admit it. You know, unless they’re Matt) and I think the Harry Potter audience was pretty even. All depends on your definition of “feminine” I suppose …

    • Indie Reply

      On the other hand, for me this blog is all the 50 Shades of Grey related literature I’ll ever need and definitely means I’ll never be reading the book, even ironically.


  3. Citizen Pain Reply

    Ive never found erotic fictio to be a bad thing, but it does seem like porn for women (in this case atleast). I just find it funny how repressed people can be that they find a poorly written and unrealistic “novel” erotic.

    Fair points, and as Ive said im no expert on the matter, they are just observations. With that said, Ive met far more women who are into Harry Potter, and the story has a feminine twinge to it. I havent read much of the books, but Ive seen the movies, and they clearly lean towards women. Not a bad thing at all, just an observation. The romance in the films are hilarious, its as if the men are there to look good and put up with Hermione’s bullshit. Im sure the books are different, but im just making conversation.

    I’m more of a movie-type than reader, so I dont have much to work with when debating literature, but I like discussing the matter.

    • spiffymcpantsman Reply

      I’m going to disagree with the “Harry Potter has a feminine twinge to it” part of your comment because what the fuck?

      I have no idea what your definition of “feminine” is supposed to be. It’s not like the films have a vagina or anything. The only observations of yours you’ve actually written here of the series’ “feminine twinge” is that “the men are there to look good and put up with Hermione’s bullshit”. Having bullshit is far from a strictly female characteristic.

      I’m not saying this to start an argument. Instead, my intention is to suggest that if you’re going to call things as you see them, you should maybe look at them. Your “feminine” observations don’t really observe anything, neither feminine nor otherwise, and come rather close to being offensive, which I don’t believe was your intention, so I’m just asking for some more mindfulness.

      • CitizenPain Reply

        As Ive said, personal observation. I’m not trying to offend or say anything noteworthy, just making simple conversation. I did not define my terms well enough, you are correct about that. The Hermione comment was the only example I could give off hand. By “feminine twinge” I meant that I could tell that the book was written by a woman and contains elements that I believe appeal to the woman-folk. Im not saying Rowling was trying to strictly appeal to women, or that her books have no appeal to men. It was light observation and if you disagree there is nothing wrong with that. If you or others are offended, I apologize, but I fail to see how such a statement seems absurd on the comments of a comedic blog.

        • spiffymcpantsman Reply

          That’s a better definition, and I thank you for listening to me. I realize I’m not exactly speaking from a pedestal as a comedic blogger, but even the comics and the lighthearted need to consider what the words they’re using mean.

    • CitizenPain Reply

      You a made a fair point. I am not one to argue when I have been bested on definitions. I just wanted to spice things up today. Just being edgy bro, it’s the internet after all.

      • CitizenPain Reply

        Shit replied in the wrong field. That was intended for the post above.

  4. Orangeban Reply

    I was reading this, thinking, “Huh, I’ve not seen that much of 50 Shades around, maybe it’s popularity is an American thing?”

    Then bam, I go to WHSmith and what do I see? Entire wall of 50 Shades books, in the best sellers section. I get home, and what advert does Spotify keep playing? An audio book version of 50 Shades (which is really weird actually, it goes “Take Mr Grey to bed with you, take Mr Grey shopping with you, take Mr Grey in the car with you,” which always makes me shiver in horror.

    • spiffymcpantsman Reply

      I’ve seen Fifty Shades all over bookstores in England and America. Strangely, the only place where I couldn’t find the first book was in any airports.
      Those are the most terrifying adverts ever.

      • otheramyadams Post authorReply

        Yup, I’m English and they’re everywhere. They’re all anyone talks about. Even people I’ve never met before. (This may also be my fault for always bringing them up.)

        And my God, I have never heard anything so scary in my life.

  5. Amy Reply

    Such a good post! I keep thinking, the only reason I read it (only the first one, mind you – I couldn’t bring myself to do any more… and they tell me it gets better… Still, nope) is because I wondered what the hype was about. And I too have perpetuated the hype by enjoying the humour and telling people, “NO! You mustn’t!” which of course only makes them want to more.
    I just can’t get over the fact that real, serious money is going to be spent making this shit into a movie. It brings me out in a cold sweat just thinking about it – there’s so much talk already you know it’s going to be a box office smash and that’s just a sign there’s something so very, very wrong with the world.

    Also, fyi, Australia has been infected too.

    • spiffymcpantsman Reply

      the number of times I’ve heard a conversation like
      “Fifty Shades of Grey was horrible”
      “but the sequels get so much better!”
      is a depressingly high number

    • otheramyadams Post authorReply

      Ha, thank you! Since writing this I have had yet another person actually encouraged by rants to start reading, but they do reaffirm the “worst book ever” conclusion. Last update I got was “every other sentence has become ‘I moan’!”

      Although I’m kind of excited to make fun of the movie too.

      My sympathies for Australia.

  6. Turtle Reply

    I can proudly say that I never contributed to that horrible woman’s pocketbook. I borrowed the e-book and gave it back as quickly as possible. I still have to read the last one… gag me. I’d rather read these blogs. Much more amusing.

  7. Irish Skye Reply

    Nope nope nope…not gonna do it! I will stick to historical romances by Bertrice Small and other romance novelists. I can get badly written, badly researched, and just plain fucked up erotica on the web for free, thankyouverymuch! No WAY am I going to give this woman a single cent of my hard-earned money. I will just read the ever-so-amusingly-written posts to this blog and thank my lucky stars that Ariel and Matt are being kind enough to suffer for the rest of us. For they so love the world of that they have given their peace of mind and sanity, that whosoever reads of their blog instead of these books shall not have their brain cells perish, but shalt have everlasting love for TRUE literature. 🙂


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