Love it or loathe it, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve most probably encountered the S&M-flavoured love story that has become synonymous with the 50 Shades trilogy. Having sold over 36 million copies worldwide, it has become one of the fastest selling literary series in recent years.
Written by E.L. James, the 50 Shades trilogy has been adapted for the big screen and the final instalment of the series, 50 Shades Freed, has just been released in cinemas. Regardless of what you think about it, it has become the unwitting zeitgeist of a generation and has been referenced in everything from SNL sketches and viral Internet parodies, to risqué marketing gimmicks and has even been credited with boosting sex toy sales.
Fifty Shades of Problematic
Since its first publication in 2011, people have been tying themselves up in knots over everything from the book’s terrible writing to the dull and inspired cast that headlines its cinematic adaption. Film and literary critics absolutely detest the bad writing and we can’t blame them. Even a quick glance at a few paragraphs or watching the sparse, forced dialogue unfold on the screen will have you cringing unwillingly. The lead female character is reviled by feminists, who feel that she is a pitiful representation of a modern woman, and is spineless and devoid of personality.
The BDSM community feels that it unfairly portrays their lifestyle. While domestic abuse awareness activists feel that it dangerously misrepresents controlling behaviour such as stalking and threats as signs of true affection and love. Whichever side of the matter you find yourself on, it cannot be denied that that the 50 Shades trilogy has placed itself squarely into the mainstream with its own brand of soft-core, semi violent kink.
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Why Has It Become So Popular
When the first book in the trilogy was released, 50 Shades of Grey, the world was in the grips of Twilight. Young adult fiction was making waves, so much so that it hurtled over the age gap and became a firm favourite with soccer-moms and moderately conservative, middle-aged women. So it should come as no surprise that the 50 Shades series was the more polished version (if you can believe that) of the author’s attempt at Twilight fan-fiction. The timing was right for a book of this nature to captivate the world’s attention.
Another obvious indicator as to why this erotica lite became so wildly popular is because, well, sex sells. Think of it as the updated version of Mills & Boons, just with questionable grammar and more raunchy sex scenes. Women were desperate to live out and explore their sexual fantasies in between the pages of the books. It was one of the first instances in mainstream culture, where the story focussed predominantly on female desire and fulfilment. A strong contrast when considering that the dominant model for mainstream erotica and pornography largely centred on men and their needs.
Romance fiction and erotica have always been popular but the 50 Shades phenomenon somehow became part of pop culture. And although its love story falls very short of being the romantic ideal that you should base your relationship on, it has brought a pseudo female-centric take on sex and domination to the fore.