‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ pushes the wrong buttons

Posted: June 01, 2012

I’M NOT SOMEONE you’d normally peg as a freeloader. I never take a second newspaper from the honor box. I return that extra item the sales clerk has inadvertently dropped into my shopping bag. I refuse to hoard sugar packets from the condiments bar at Starbucks. This isn’t because I’m an excessively ethical person. It’s more that I’ve perfected one, and only one, of my church’s traditions: guilt. From the moment I emerged wet from the baptismal font, I’ve been acutely aware of that all-seeing, all-knowing, all tongue-clucking deity above.

But every so often, I slip. So it was that last week, I violated the Barnes and Noble code of ethics when I read part of a book without buying it. To make matters worse, I didn’t even order a latte to reserve some café real estate. I simply picked the book off of the shelf and huddled in a corner for the fifteen or so minutes it took to discover that I’d sold my immortal soul to read poorly written trash.

I am, of course, referring to that cultural phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey. This is the first volume in a trite and tasteless trilogy that appeals to middle-aged women (my demographic) who might be feeling that lust has passed them by. E.L. James (I’d use a pseudonym, too) has written the compelling story of the "unworldly, innocent" literature student Anastasia, who becomes involved with a "beautiful, brilliant and intimidating man" named Christian who (you guessed it) is "tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control."

So, as I said, it took exactly fifteen minutes for me to realize that I shouldn’t be wasting a trip to the confessional on pulp fiction for the hot-flash crowd when I could be cheating with a real classic, like Jane Eyre.

Come to think of it, gentle reader, this book and its equally lurid sequels are just a low-rent version of Charlotte Bronte’s literary gem in which the naïve young Jane becomes captivated by the "beautiful, brilliant and intimidating" Rochester who is "tormented by .?.?." Yup, you know the drill.

You might be saying that it’s wrong of me to ridicule a book I haven’t even read all the way through, much less purchased. But my cursory review of the 514 pages convinced me that unless I wanted to cry my eyes out laughing, I shouldn’t be wasting any more time on a book that ends with this paragraph:

I fall onto my bed, shoes and all, and howl. The pain is indescribable .?.?. physical, mental .?.?. metaphysical .?.?. It is everywhere, seeping into the marrow of my bones.”

Actually, that pretty much describes how I felt after a few minutes with Anastasia and Christian.

It’s not just the fact that I can’t stand turgid prose. It’s more that this piece-of-lit and its sequels are so obviously aimed at exploiting my demographic: women who are presumably old enough to be the heroine’s mother (or well-preserved grandmother) and who are, also presumably, in desperate need of a relevance boost. You can hear the author thinking, as the sweet sounds of ‘ca-ching’ fill her ears, that this is exactly how to exploit 40-, 50- and 60-year-old women who need to get those juices flowing again. Because, of course, pink porn is a lot cheaper than hormone therapy.

It also annoys me that this trilogy is being marketed as a source of "female empowerment." Sado-masochism is a felony when it results in abused and battered women, but apparently it’s a form of seduction for the menopausal set. Having worked with victims of domestic abuse, I’m not exactly thrilled to see a book on S?&?M climbing the charts.

It’s not that I’m a prude. I actually am rather puritanical compared with the rest of my contemporaries, at least the ones who aren’t covered head to toe in a burqa. But that’s not why I have a problem with this literary fraud.

It used to be that you needed real talent to be published. While some authors of the past were able to get themselves a book deal because of connections, the vast majority made it on merit alone. In a country that produced Theodore Dreiser, John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams and (a nod to the ladies) Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy and Zora Neal Hurston, it’s sad that a glorified blog-writer with elementary writing skills and a flair for the prurient becomes a publishing phenomenon.

Sure doesn’t say much about the women, does it? Word to the wise, my menopausal sisters: Download a Bronte to your Kindle. Because men don’t make passes at girls who read asses.  n

Christine Flowers is a lawyer. Send email to cflowers1961@gmail.com and read her blog at philly.com/FlowersShow

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