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50 Shades of Paedo?

Sunday, August 19th, 2012 | Posted by Theo

fifty-shades-of-greyThere is fantasy and then there is fantasy that goes too far. While all of us would draw the line of what is acceptable fantasy and what is not in distinctly different places, I think most fans of the SF/F genre would agree that pedophile fantasies definitely cross that line. I’d also throw in elderly vampires that spend their days in high school and sparkle in the sun myself, but clearly millions of readers disagree.

So does 50 Shades of Grey go too far? Not on the surface, as according to its description it is little more than John Norman’s Gor brought back to Earth, minus the sword battles and the awesome tarn birds. And it’s not a question I can legitimately even try to answer, since I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, nor do I have any intention of doing so.

And while I am vaguely reminded of both the absurd Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter scares of the past, neither of which resulted in the impressionable youth of America disappearing in sewers or devoting their lives to the practice of black magick, this particular charge strikes me as rather more plausible because it relies upon such a very simple writer’s trick. To summarize, the idea is that while the protagonist of the 50 Shades books is nominally 21, the stated age is a deception because the character is actually much younger based upon how she is written throughout the books. In other words, the books don’t tell the story of an erotic seduction of an adult woman, to which few could reasonably object, but rather a child molester grooming a young victim. This is a little troubling, when one considers that the titles in the 50 Shades trilogy are presently the best-selling books in America.

I didn’t seek out 50 Shades of Grey. It was brought to my attention by a longtime friend who is also a clinical psychologist at a university. She’s a bit older than me. She grew up in the counter culture era and did her fair share of experimentation of all kinds. So she’s hardly a prude. What she today though is a mother and grandmother. And she’s smart. One of the things that fascinates her is this age of cultural phenomena. How due to technology things now spread so quickly throughout society and become the next big thing at an increasingly rapid pace. She says sometimes this phenomena is pretty much harmless, and other times it can be very damaging to kids and or adults who begin to emulate something out of a need to belong to the “next big thing”.

Her reaction to 50 Shades of Grey though was much more aggressively negative than anything I could recall her talking about before. It came up because I mentioned it to her offhand. I had seen a couple mentions of it on the news and knowing her interest in cultural trends, asked her about it. She stopped talking, looked right at me, and said the book was about pedophilia…. Its cover was a story of a young woman engaging is a very graphic sexual relationship with a somewhat older man. The problem for her, and it was a BIG PROBLEM, was that the narrator in the story, was in fact, an underage girl. My friend indicated, based on the use of language in the narration, that this girl was likely no more than 12 or 13 years of age.

Convincing? I leave it to those who have actually read the books to decide. But one thing does strike me as a little strange regardless of the truth of the matter. If 50 Shades of Grey is not about an underage girl, but a somewhat retarded and immature woman, isn’t making her the poster girl for female fantasy disturbingly similar to turning Raymond Babbitt of Rain Man into the star of an adult film?

9 Comments »

  1. The method employed to write the shades novels was first, fan fic. The author participated extensively in and contributed extensively as well to the fan fiction group(s?) for the Twilight books.

    Then, she ran the fan fic through an app that broke down the text(s)’ most popular tropes, expressions, events, the ones that most writers employed and readers responded to positively.

    Then she filed off, via another program all the Twilight signatures, and revised it for her Shades books.

    At least this is how I recall the journalism covering the books when they broke into English language / publishing news consciousness. I think I read this the first time last winter in the U.K. Guardian.

    Now I’ve not read neither the Twilight nor the Shades franchises’ novels, and cannot imagine why I ever would. But I do read all kinds of publishing news about writers and writing, reviews, interviews and so on. But this doesn’t mean I always remember all the details correctly.

    I should google and fact check, and I will, later. But right now, am still too groggy.

    Comment by C - Foxessa - August 19, 2012 12:13 pm

  2. Wow, one could write a taxonomy of logical fallacies based on that letter alone. The most obvious, of course, is the “appeal to authority” by the use of the apocryphal “smart” “psychologist” “friend” who is “not” a prude.

    However, it’s much simpler than poking fun at the logical fallacies. I haven’t personally read the books, and like the previous commenter have no plans too, but:

    (1) Everyone matures at different rates. If the letter writer hasn’t heard 25, 30, and even 40 year old people talk like teenagers, I really doubt that letter writer has ever been out in public.

    (2) The most likely explanation: Not a gifted writer. Again, I haven’t actually read the books, so I can’t comment personally, but writing dialogue that rings true is one of the most difficult parts of the writer’s craft.

    Frankly, if that psychologist actually exists, that psychologist is NOT smart.

    Comment by awsnyde - August 19, 2012 2:30 pm

  3. Yup, Twilight fanfic, I heard that too.

    so, definitely less than 21.

    Comment by Mary - August 19, 2012 3:53 pm

  4. @Mary: LOL.

    (Though realistically, if true that just shows how hard it is for an under-21 writer to write authentic sounding adult dialogue.)

    Comment by awsnyde - August 19, 2012 4:18 pm

  5. Seeing the protagonist as underage almost seems to be grasping for reasons to frown on the book. Hardly seems necessary.

    I have to say that I’m too bewildered by the phenomenon to adopt any kind of cogent critical opinion of it.
    Remember The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? How (literally) everybody on the planet was reading it and its sequels?
    Fifty Shades sold as many copies in three months as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo did in three years.
    This is the fastest selling book in history.
    Over ten million copies sold in print alone. And it is still going strong. Publishers are falling over themselves to find more like it.

    The sheer, staggering scope of the book’s popularity forces a level of consideration that I simply cannot provide.
    I really do not want to read too much into this, but what are we, as modern men and women, supposed to make of it?

    Comment by John Hocking - August 19, 2012 6:08 pm

  6. Mr. Hocking,

    This reason for the book’s popularity isn’t really that complicated. The books are socially acceptable porn that can be read on the subway or at the coffee shop. Of course it is popular. The deeper question is why is porn becoming more and more socially acceptable in the face of a growing body of evidence that it is harmful to individuals and society.

    Comment by Tyr - August 21, 2012 6:48 pm

  7. Sigh. There is no “growing body of evidence” that pornography is harmful to individuals and society. None whatsoever. The growing body of evidence is that censorship and sexual repression, in the U.S. based on illogical, Victorian-era pseudo-values, is what is harmful to individuals and society.

    But for further reading that completely destroys any arguments against pornography, read Nadine Strossen’s “Defending Pornography”, or “Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex” by Sallie Tisdale, which was an expansion of her article for Harper’s, “A Woman’s Taste for Pornography.”

    Comment by awsnyde - August 21, 2012 8:42 pm

  8. Tyr, I do not think that the fact that the book might be labeled “porn” is the point, nor is it the source of the book’s powerful allure.
    I’m certain you know that there are literally thousands of examples of far more explict material easily available. The fact that 50 Shades has some scenes that are sexually explicit diffferentiates it not at all from the mountains of erotic romance currently available.

    So what DOES differentiate it?

    In this book the female protagonist submits, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes joyfully, both physically and mentally to her lover, a handsome, dominant fellow who happens to be a billionaire businessman.
    It’s obvious to me that a book like this would find some enthusiastic readers. Erotic romance is a viable genre and just about every twist on modern sexuality is explored in one book or another. It’s the scope of this particular book’s success that stuns me.

    I’d like to credit the book’s popularity to something other than its content, I guess. And I can’t do it.

    There was no monstrous media-machine pumping images of the book’s cover onto our TV screens. And ‘bestseller syndrome’—where everybody is reading a book because, well, everybody else is reading it and we want to see what it’s all about and be able to talk about it around the water cooler at work— clearly plays a part, but this cannot have sustained 50 Shades for so long nor made it the international phenomenon that it has become and continues to be.

    Raised in the 60’s and 70’s, I was taught to believe that the basic scenario 50 Shades revolves around would lead women to recoil from the book– not make it into the biggest bestseller of the modern era.
    Is this the substance of secret desire for so many now? The forbidden fantasy that only now dare speak its name?
    How transporting to have an insanely wealthy businessman trying to control every aspect of your life!
    Is this interpretation wrong?
    I want it to be wrong.
    Ah well, if it is right perhaps this bold new Plutocrat-Submission Porn will provide good practice for our economic future.

    Comment by John Hocking - August 21, 2012 10:21 pm

  9. […] 50 shades of Paedo? […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Top 40 Black Gate Posts in August - September 30, 2012 1:33 am


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