Fifty Shades of Perspective

Over at the New Statesmen, Laurie Penny writes in defense of Fifty Shades of Grey, and gets it all wrong:

When you get down to it, the problem most people seem to have with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it’s for girls. Even worse – it’s “mommy porn”, porn for mommies, for older women to read and get excited about, and that dangerous nonsense really needs to be stopped right now. Everyone knows that the only women who are allowed to actually have sexuality are slender, high-breasted twenty-one year old virgins – rather like, it has to be said, the heroine of “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

My problem with Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t that it’s “Badly written,” which Laurie Penny claims is just code for “popular with women.” My problem with the book is that it’s actually badly written. The prose is bland. The characters are sketchy. The plot is a hackneyed hash of cliches and recycled tropes the author doesn’t understand, just apes because that is what the manual on how to write a story told her needed to happen in Act 3. And to defend it’s popularity on feminist grounds, because it’s a vehicle for discussing women’s sexuality and porn in public, is sophomore feminism at it’s worst.

Almost as absurd is the claim that it’s porn, and so shouldn’t be judged on its literary merits, but it’s erotic value. I’ve read letters to Penthouse that were better written and had more evocative prose than Fifty Shades of Grey. It fails as both a novel and as erotica!

The only only reason the book is popular is because of a secondary social effect: it allows timid, mainstream readers to feel transgressive. The same house fraus who feel a rush reading this watered down tripe, wouldn’t be caught dead reading The Story of O or Venus in Furs, because those books make the reader relate to people who have real kinks, and not because they are damaged, and in need of some virgin redeemer to teach them how to love. It’s because those characters find fulfillment in their kinky, sweaty, dark and forbidden lusts. And they make the reader feel as if they might as well. That’s the thrill of reading erotica. The thrill Fifty Shades of Grey fails to provide in any way.

Link via Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing.