It’s commonly claimed, “books are good for the soul”, but is that true in every case? The publication of the cult erotic novel 50 Shades Of Grey, has provoked controversial headlines , with a chain of libraries in the US banning it from their shelves after it has been dubbed “Mommy Porn” by critics. How can a series that started off as fan fiction end up turning out so controversial?
Originally a web- based erotica on a fan fiction site, Fifty shades of Grey, was released as an e- book and a print- on- demand paperback in May 2011. With restricted budgets the book was publicized solely through word of mouth recommendation and book blogs. The erotic nature of the book meant that said “word of mouth” soon created quite a big audience. The novel has been dubbed “Mommy Porn” after it was said the demographic of the book was married women over thirty. “The romance thriller is like Viagra for women, no prescription needed,” said Komo news.
A rise in “Mommy porn” and the genre of female erotica meant when the final installment of the “50 shades series” had been released in January of this year the American news networks were all over it. It was picked up by Vintage Books and re-released this April.
Brevard county library said, that the library “ isn’t in the business of collecting porn,” and this has caused reaction across the country. One resident posted a “tweet” on a social networking site that said:
Which is true? The Americans have since released headlines such as “50 shades of censorship”.
In the UK the view is very different. Ben Sanderson from the British Library said, “Its not up to us to judge, we provide a wide variety of books for our readers,” he continued to say, this also, “shows the controversial gap between cultures within the two countries”. Whilst some believe Breward county libraries refuses to stock 50 shades because it isn’t a “classic”, they still stock books such as, Kama Sutra, Fanny Hill, Fear of Flying, Tropic of Cancer and Lolita. Kathy Schweinsberg, library services director, excused these titles saying these, “books were written years ago and became classics because of the quality of the writing,” So now is it just a case of vintage reading? Wait until the book has become a “classic” and has racked up a couple of years, then the erotic images become invisible and the message changes? Or does society become more accepting?
Matthew Wheeler from the Chartered institute of library and information professionals said, “The UK doesn’t set up guidelines for the libraries on what they can and can’t stock. It is up to the individual library whether they feel the book is deemed suitable to their community. We can only remove a book, when it has been legally banned.”
The controversial headlines have been a talking point globally and have helped with the sales of the book. Jon Howells, National and regional press officer for Waterstones said that, “erotica novels don’t usually hit the headlines but this one has and if everyone’s enjoying it then great.” Although a ban has started to come into place in one state of America, Howells said, “the American rules are irrelevant, it wont effect the UK market and wont get banned in libraries just because it has in America.”
Others have added, that the book is sending out the wrong message because it is portraying behaviours that are a direct result of his childhood abuse and showing the relationship in a positive light. Dr John Bird from the national association for people abused in childhood says; “abuse shouldn’t be looked at light heartedly and certainly shouldn’t be praised.” He continued to say; “we often get adults ringing us who haven’t had treatment in the first instance, who now in their later lives are doing some quite self damaging things.” By creating a male character like Christian Grey, James is allowing the audience to forget the important issues of abuse and instead replace them with a positive view in the bedroom, because its sex he’s allowed to manipulate and abuse her?
Fifty Shades of grey has been compared to books such as “9 ½ Weeks” and “The Story Of O” in which the female characters are manipulated by the men into getting what they want during sex and sometimes abusing them.
Does this really reflect a shift in female attitudes? Although the book has been dubbed as a new radical form of feminism, one feminist blogger wrote, “there is nothing transgressive or feminist about BDSM erotica or sexual practices, the popularity of this new novel, as well as the Twilight series, show the way in which women cope with male violence and oppression by eroticizing male dominance.”
The book trilogy has been a success here and over the pond, holding all three top spots in the New York Times best- seller list and also in Waterstone’s bestseller list here. Howells said that the book was, “stocked all across the UK.” Also that the, “first week of sales it reached number one.” The book has been released for a month now.It will be interesting to see whether the ban spreads or whether ‘demand exceeds outcry’.