As those who know me can attest to, I can be a bit of a book snob (I’ve been in a Jane Austen club—let’s just leave it at that). And yet, against my usual resistances (and scholarly impulses) I have fallen prey to pop cultural fare such as the Twilight series (see previous post confessions-twilight-junkie). After the latest young adult mania of the Hunger Games trilogy, I fully intended to return to my usual snobbish ways and focus on books of higher literary merit.
And then came Fifty Shades of Grey. I deliberately limited my knowledge of this newest phenomenon to reviews in newspapers and idle talk show chatter, trying not to get sucked in to the latest pop cultural abyss. But of course, my curiosity got the best of me. Once I started reading the first book, I couldn’t put it down.
And just like that, I became seduced by the latest pop cultural trilogy that has become a New York Times bestseller. Once I opened myself up to the possibility of reading Fifty Shades, co-conspirators were wielding one of the three books from the series everywhere I went—status updates on social networking sites, encouraging reviews from my sister (I think her exact words were, “my inner teenager loved it”), former peers from graduate school, random strangers on lounge chairs at the pool and on the bus. Fifty Shades of something was accompanying so many women during their day to day activities.
Why are a generation of some of the most educated, free thinking, independent women responding in droves to such low brow, and yet, undeniably entertaining (and often titillating) books? It is no secret that the books aren’t well written. And even the sadistic/masochism aspect to the book that gets the most media attention isn’t nearly as depraved or pathological as it could be. And yet, we have been seduced. Women are responding to this trilogy and have catapulted it into a sensation that will come to fruition on the big screen.
Do we secretly want to be told what to do by our lovers? Be swept up by enigmatic and rich men whose pocketbooks (and perhaps even stalker-esque slash borderline obsessive attachments to us) have no limits? Do we want to be fully possessed in our romantic relationships? Do women harbor a secret desire to be spanked (or worse) in bed?
And then it hit me—the psychologist and feminist in me may be overanalyzing the mania for this book and lending a depth to its source that just isn’t there.
The simple reason behind the Fifty Shades mania is this: escapism. Christian Grey is clearly a fictitious exaggeration—from his unlimited financial resources (and generosity) to his physical beauty that is unparalleled and breathtaking to his insatiable sexual prowess and competence. In other words, Grey is pure fantasy. To snuggle in bed (or at the beach, etc.) with Fifty Shades is to escape any semblance of our present reality as women, and in particular, take flight from our own romantic dramas. This escapism is particularly appealing for modern women today who are living increasingly complicated lives marked by constant multi-tasking and seemingly endless pressures and demands.
So pick up the book ladies (and gentlemen, if you dare), and try not to over-think it. After all, that’s what I’m here for.
Copyright 2012 Azadeh Aalai