Less than 50 thoughts on 50 Shades

The announcement of casting for the “50 Shades of Grey” film prompted me to start reading the series again.  I’ve read all three books once, but it’s been a year and a half and I read them fast the first time. I remember absolutely loving them the first time through, and I wanted to see if I would enjoy them as much again.  I also have the hindsight perspective of all the controversy that surrounded them.  Not everyone saw these books the same way I did.  

As someone who is trying to write a romance novel, I have been fascinated with the over-the-top popularity of the books.  The researcher in me wants to pick them apart, dissect each character and chapter and find the magic formula that made these specific books top the charts to a whole new extreme. 

My theory goes something like this:  it was a combination of factors, both the books themselves and the time when they were released that created the firestorm.  

I do think that there is a really sweet love story there that appealed to romance readers.  But there have been billions of love stories before this one. 

I think the BDSM aspect played a part in their popularity.  The author, E.L. James, admits that she wrote these as her midlife crisis.  It doesn’t sound like she built her own ‘red room of pain’, but she explored the idea of a looking at sex and sexuality in a different way.  Like billions of other midlife baby boomers she had reached the point where sex was no longer about making babies and she had a deep relationship with her partner that could withstand a little spice.  So, I can add midlife sexual curiosity to the mix of reasons for meteoric popularity. 

Then there is the media.  Having studied media in college, I am fascinated by the effect the internet is having on mainstream media (stay with me, I’m not on a tangent here, I swear.)  There is no way the newscasts of my youth would have covered this book, I don’t care how many copies were sold.  But now with the boundaries being pushed by unregulated cable and online shows, the networks pounced on the chance to dance around the ever-popular and titillating topic of sex.  The media was ripe to add their push to the growing popularity.

Finally, I think E.L. James hit on a fantasy that resonates with women, more than any of us in a post-feminist world would care to admit.  No, it’s not being tied up or spanked.  (Although I’m sure that rings quite a few bells.)  It’s having a man take care of us.  As I reread, I can’t help but sigh and turn pea green with jealousy when he does all the work to create some super fantastic dates.  I keep thinking of that stupid commercial jingle that defined our attitudes growing up:  I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man.  Ummm, did we fail to notice that we are doing all the work in that scenario?  Cause that’s what billions of us are doing.  There is nothing sexier (and more loving) than your man taking the time to create a date that doesn’t let you forget you are a woman.  Christian Grey plans dates (OK, he plans to tie her up, but he plans!)  And he is beyond attentive on all of those dates.  (That definitely rang my bell.)

For the record, I am excited about the movie. Charlie Hunnam might not be who came to mind for me when I was reading the books, but I have faith in E.L. James’ stamp of approval, the director and Charlie’s sexiness. What about you?  Excited about the movie? Read the books?  And if you would rate them high enough for a reread, why? 

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