One Shade of Grey
An in-progress complete annotation of Fifty Shades of Grey.
I love you.
Mail it to the author when you’re done.
You’re my new hero.
no shut up i want a copy of this i will pay you oh my god
I read more of the book than I ever have before in this post. So perfect. I especially love the “Yes I am [gay]. Book over.”, the red flag drawing, and the safeword rage.
This is quite funny, and it made me laugh. However….
I feel rotten for the author. All she did was write a story. Just like many of us write stories. She got lucky, and someone paid her, and it got published, and gained notoriety, but…. If someone made these kinds of comments on AO3, for example, they’d be an unmitigated asshole, right? ’You don’t like it, you don’t read it,” kind of thing, yeah? Ripping the author to shreds seems… unnecessarily hurtful: she’s no different than you or I.
Now, if you want to go to town on the publisher/editor, that seems like a more viable target.
I just read this and think… what if this were MY first published work? How would this make me feel? Frankly, I’d never want to write again. I’d be too terrified.
Oh my, I have lots of complex reactions to this. Primarily disagreement: if you accept money for your work (and I don’t suppose EL James was coerced into that) then you enter a different arena. People are effectively buying a stake in your work and consequently they feel entitled to comment.
The same applies to my self-published literary BDSM novel London Leather, which has a fraction of the readers, but has some decidedly vitriolic troll-scented reviews among the genuine ones (good and bad). Those hurt, of course, but they don’t put me off, because they’re inevitable.
I do think this author is considerably different to me, and to most of the writers I respect, professional or otherwise. She’s crapping on BDSM practitioners from what appears to be a position of near-total ignorance, not to mention on feminism and general human good sense (see the examples highlighted in the original post). I spent four years writing London Leather and a much longer time building up the experiences first hand.
That’s not *everything*, of course; just because Book X had a lot more work put into it than Book Y doesn’t actually mean Book Y is better, and people are free to like or hate whichever book they like or hate in spite of the popular opinion of it, and considerations of basic decency do indeed mean that critiques that boil down to ‘EL James is a bitch’ are not helpful.
But. If someone made comments like that on AO3/ff.net, then unless it was a super-popular BNF work (as the fic behind 50 Shades was) , they would be commenting on a piece of work with a relatively modest power to influence the world. Whereas 50 Shades has vast and noxious power in that respect; it’s actually having a significant effect on contemporary ideas of sexuality. So a totally different power dynamic. I’d have a bit more sympathy if this was a badfic by a teenager that had been picked up by a publisher; I think teenagers should have a free pass to explore ideas without getting stomped on. But EJ James is hardly a kid.
We really do need to fight back against this thing in whatever way is possible, and I think humour at the expense of the text is actually the best way, because it diffuses the power of the text to shame gay people/kinky lifestylers/whoever is being ineptly co-opted on the page in question.
Which does, however, bring us to the point of how 50 Shades got into that position. I do very much agree that it would be better to look at the state of publishing rather than just sticking at ‘EL James: bad writer’. Going by my own experience within publishing, what is likely to have happened (correct me, anyone who knows better) is that the small publishing house that acquired it as a fanfic would have left it almost as-is because they wanted the many people who had made the fic such a big deal in Twilight fandom to still like it. Then Random got it, and they wanted to keep those fans too, so they made a conscious editorial decision not to heavily copy edit it, fuelled also by the fact that leaving it alone would be free, while editing would cost money. Instead they spent money and brain time on those clever front covers. And from their perspective they did it absolutely, stunningly right.
How do we change the perspectives of the publishing industry to run after quality with the same vigour as sales figures? Man, impossible question. I try to have both in my little editorial corner. But if that’s ever to happen we certainly need to make a loud noise that demonstrates there’s quite a lot of us out here with a hunger for non-nonsense.
‘You don’t like it, you don’t read it’ – fair enough, until the thing in question has become an unavoidable cultural touchstone. And I’d add ‘You don’t want people to dislike it, you don’t publish it.’
I’m unmoved by the idea of EL James never publishing anything again. She was sloppy and I know so many professional and amateur authors who work so very hard. And if all she can write is shit like this, then the world has quite enough of it already. If she *can* actually do better, and wants to improve in a technical/literary/moral [delete according to your tastes] sense, then the hurtful side of the storm around her is as likely to motivate her to try rather than give up.
Tl;dr People remain at least partly responsible for their own actions, even if they didn’t foresee the extent of their influence. That includes adults who choose to include offensive stereotypes and misinformation in their fics.