50 Shades of Grey: Porn for the 99%

While everyone’s chuckling behind their hands at the poor, sad stay at home moms who allegedly fueled the success of 50 Shades of Grey, these giddy arbiters of fine taste and judgment are missing a much more obvious explanation for the book’s popularity.

The book isn’t just mommy porn, it’s consumerism porn for all the people who feel wronged by the current economy and need to live lavish sex lives vicariously through James’s poorly-written leads. Trust me on this.

Anastasia Steele — and I cannot begin to express to you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes at that name — is the ultimate representation of starry-eyed innocence. She’s a virgin, yes, but she’s also a recent University graduate. As such, she should feel like she has the whole world in front of her but, like so many recent graduates, she is instead entering an uncertain and frightening job market. Eternal cliche that she is, Anastasia wants to move from her small Washington town to Seattle and work at a publishing house, so she and her best friend get internships. While it’s not stated whether these are paid or unpaid, I would assume that two girls with BAs from a low-level school probably wouldn’t be paid for their time and effort right out of the gate.

But apart from her ambitions or intelligence — both of which are vouched for by the author, but neither of which are evident in the text itself — Anastasia is the definition of average. Average looks, average talents, average intelligence and average wealth. So what makes the narrative of this book so intriguing for so many women is the idea that someone so thoroughly ordinary could be swept up on a white horse by a man who can buy anything, do anything and will make all of her decisions for her. It’s the figure of Christian that sets this book apart from the Harlequin romance novels crammed into supermarket checkout aisles. The white knight isn’t exotic and foreign, nor is he a farmhand here to teach a city girl about a simpler kind of life. Bartenders, cowboys and boys from the wrong side of the tracks who take you away from your hum-drum life and show you some excitement are normally the figures of fantasy and romance. But when your hum-drum life is a little less certain, and a little more desperate, the figure of the ideal man changes. It’s not the sex that makes 50 Shades of Grey so inviting, it’s the desire on the part of the reader to return to this state of adolescence through a philanthropic super-lover who can hold up a golden umbrella and ride out the story economy with you.*

Christian Grey’s particular kink — S&M — is also important to this sense of childlike security. He tells Ana (there — that’s better) when to eat, what to wear, where to go and occasionally rewards her with the kind of orgasms only seen in Penthouse Forum — if she’s “been good.” Perhaps more important is the fact that a kink like S&M (or at least Christian’s version of it) can only be achieved through consumerism. He has an entire room dedicated to his fetish, complete with expensive furniture and objects made specifically for S&M-related activities. There are no cheap and easy rolls in the hay — every sexual encounter is underlined by a corporate-style business agreement and involves shiny new equipment. There’s an uncomfortably Brave New World-esque feeling to this idea that even sex requires a plethora of accessories to be truly satisfying. And that idea is catching on. Rope sales have apparently skyrocketed, as have visits from normal-looking folks to sex shops (because apparently only real freaks went before), and of course the book itself hasn’t wavered from its top spot on the New York Times list.

So, no — the blame for the furor surrounding 50 Shades of Grey can’t be heaped on the shoulders of repressed housewives. Instead, its success is more closely linked to the kind of people who are — guiltily or not — addicted to the goings-on of the many Kardashians or any the Real Housewives of wherever. It is, put quite simply, consumerism porn — not mommy porn.

*Please forgive the awful alliteration, metaphors and adjectives — I spent way too long with this book.

11 thoughts on “50 Shades of Grey: Porn for the 99%

  1. NP! I figured you didn’t mean it that way, but like you just said the critics seem to be inferring, this seems like a sort of dangerous stereotype… Insulting to say the least 😉 I would bet that this book should more aptly be blamed on all the publicity they gave it in the first place. Now INTELLIGENT people (like you) are slogging through it just to see what all the fuss is about…and then they have the nerve to blame “simple women.”

    • But even more intelligent women like you are staying far away.

      Either way, when something gets this much hype people have got to stop kidding themsevles — everyone and their dog is reading it. I do love how “bad” writing by women is trash that ought to be lit on fire and removed from the annals of time, but the Grishams and Pattersons of the world are treated as tradesman who have a place — just not a very distinguished one — at the table.

  2. Great insight on the puzzling popularity of this series…although I was hoping for a few ridiculous quotations, haha.
    I think you raised an interesting point about “stay at home moms” – this demographic gets “blamed” for a lot of things in North American culture. I don’t think even teenagers get derided for their taste as much as they do. Economically speaking, I guess it makes sense to think of your target market in these kind of demographical terms, but it’s always made me uncomfortable how the media etc. will snobbishly dismiss the intelligence of a huge and incredibly varied group of people.

    I think this has little do with “taste” and lot to do with the tendency to ignore the labour of women and view SAHMs as a bunch of lazy, desperate idiots. I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that being a “stay at home mom” is a full time job for most mothers – none of this 9 to 5 bullshit. It’s a very small majority of very wealthy mothers who don’t constantly, and I imagine most of them are otherwise busily engaged in volunteer activities, etc. The stay at home mom that the media imagines is the core audience of 50 Shades is a fiction.

    Anyway, thanks for the great writing, as always.

    • Ha. I know, I know. I’m tempted to do another Hilarious Quotes post, but I feel cheap and slimy for having written this many articles about this book to begin with. The SAHM thing is baffling because there is this assumption that only one kind of woman becomes one — which is an even stranger and less likely theory in our current economic reality where many people (and not just women) are getting laid off and have a hard time finding a job, or just choose to take time to raise their children or tend to their home rather than enter the capital W “Workplace.”

      That said, I think the group that deserves to be derided is not the figure of the bible-toting, simple-minded stay-at-home mom, but rather these self-declared intellectuals who have no desire to critically analyze or investigate the reason for a phenomenon. And, like it or not, this book is just that: it’s an event. It’s something to be studied. It’s easy to laugh at it. It’s easy to dismiss it. But it’s far more interesting and worthwhile to try to understand it.

      Thanks for the compliment — and for reading!

    • I really should have qualified that statement and/or made it clearer that I was joking. I have all the respect in the world for women who stay at home and essentially work as a childcare worker, housekeeper and personal shopper — on top of usually pursuing some other ambition like writing. A lot of snide people are calling 50 Shades “mommy porn” and blaming its success on SAHMs, which I simply meant to say was unfair, and almost certainly not true, given how well it’s sold.

  3. “While everyone’s chuckling behind their hands at the poor, sad stay at home moms who allegedly fueled the success of 50 Shades of Grey, ”
    Please, let’s not blame SAHM’s for this piece of shit’s sales popularity… O.O I would NEVER read this tripe, let alone BUY it!

      • Mmmm…. not I. Most of the SAHMs I know are too busy to watch excessive amounts of TV anyhow. (I HATE soaps and shit.) Plus I’m more of a videogame and Stephen King freak. Wonder what kind of books my kid will read (HINT: (Not Twilight or 50 Shades…LOL)

      • Sorry, I really should’ve made those comments clearer. I have no issue or disdain for SAHMs, and I have no doubt that they are not all Maury-watching potato-chip-munchers, but the critics of 50 Shades essentially claim otherwise and smug reviewers seem to love blaming this book on “simple women,” which is ridiculous for a lot of reasons.

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