Eat, Screw, Love: 50 Shades of Grey Is "Mommy Porn" You Don't Have to Hide

Categories: Pop Culture

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50 Shades of Grey. We're doing this crap now, apparently.

Let's talk about 50 Shades of Grey. Everyone else is. And by "everyone," I mean middle-aged ladies getting re-blonded in the nicer salons of Manhattan's Upper East Side (according to a friend who tweeted me about overheard conversations there), girlfriend book clubs on the Right and Left Coasts (and some in between), a panel of female fans of the book on HLN's Dr. Drew talk show, ditto The Today Show and NPR, mommy-bloggers around the globe and, as of this week, all the major movie studios in Hollywood.

Written by a London TV executive named E.L. James, 50 Shades of Grey started as a self-published piece of e-book erotica, dubbed "mommy porn" by its readers. An Australian publisher put it online and 250,000 downloads later (erotica being safer to read on a Kindle than in paperback), the first of a trilogy by the author has become "Twilight for grown-ups." New York publisher Vintage bought the American publishing rights to it last week for a seven-figure advance. They're rushing it into print, with 750,000 copies due in bookstores April 17.

It's a word-of-mouth phenomenon, all right, pushed to the top of the pop culture buzz-o-sphere by women readers turned on by the mildly racy BDSM encounters between 50 Shades' two lead characters. They are: Anastasia Steele, a 22-year-old virginal college student in the Pacific Northwest; and Christian Grey, a 27-year-old billionaire industrialist with a deep streak of bedroom kinkery. She visits his office to interview him for the college paper (he's an alumnus) and he's deeply attracted to the dark-haired beauty who trips and falls onto his office's plush pile carpet.

Precisely 85 pages into the book, Christian at last deflowers Anastasia. (E.L. James believes in protracted verbal foreplay.) The author is a careful, if inelegant writer. In the de-virginizing scene, Christian explores Anastasia's nethers gently with his fingers, then "kneels up and pulls a condom over his considerable length" before doing the deed.

Among words not used in the book: penis, vagina, cock and pussy. Genitals are simply referred to as his or her "sex." Descriptions are both breathless and clunky: "He's going to kiss me there! I know it! And part of me is glorying in anticipation."

Anastasia's reaction to everything Christian does, whether running her bath water or using her as his sexual finger puppet, is either "holy crap" or "holy shit." By comparison, Lady Chatterley is the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey.

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50 Shades author E. L. James
Secrecy may be the secret to 50 Shades' success so far. Readers don't want to admit they've read it, but they can't wait to share it with their galpals.

The way women whisper about the book's sex scenes, Christian Grey is the Marquis de Sade preying on Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. But the book is mostly talk, not action, and about as racy as an episode of Showtime's Gigolos. Christian has an S&M playroom in his spectacular home, but while he threatens painful punishments on the naïve-but-willing Anastasia (he's had her sign a contract about what she will and won't do as his sexual submissive), all she ever suffers is a couple of light swats with a cat o'nine tails and a spanking or two before some mind-blowing sexytime.

On his prime time panel discussion of the book, Dr. Drew Pinsky, who said he wanted a refund for the hours he spent reading 50 Shades cover to cover, classified the treatment of Anastasia as "abusive" and uttered stern warnings about women getting caught up in fantasies about being dominated by a sexual sadist. But he missed the point, as his wife of 20 years, Susan, on the show that night as a fan of the book, kept trying to tell him.

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Dr. Drew in the grey tie. (It looks tan here, but trust us on this one.)
The book actually keeps its female protagonist in charge of everything that happens in the bedroom. She has the power. The couple in 50 Shades only pretends to be slave and master. Anastasia is actually the one setting the rules (she renegotiates the sex contract on just about every page) and Christian accedes to all her wishes. Christian's basically a nice guy (though, as Dr. Drew would put it, he has "childhood chaos" issues) and he respects Anastasia for her wit and intellect. For all his slick authoritarian posing, he's sensitive in the extreme and not stingy about lavishing attention and gifts. (I thought the hottest scene was when he gave Ana a brand new two-door Audi, but that says everything about my fantasy life.)

James isn't a great writer, littering 50 Shades with too-obvious allusions to Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The e-book is replete with terrible punctuation (two and sometimes three spaces after each sentence fill the paragraphs with visual potholes, which I hope the editors at Vintage will remedy) and though her characters are supposed to be Americans, they use British-isms like "amongst" and feeling "at sea" instead of just "confused." Christian threatens to give Ana a "good hiding." As literature, it's less polished than a Danielle Steel romance. "My subconscious sneers," Ana thinks to herself at one point. And how does it do that exactly?

With the big publishing deal already done, movie studios piled on this week to compete for film rights to 50 Shades of Grey. According to the Los Angeles Times, top execs from Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Fox 2000, Universal and Paramount made elaborate presentations to E.L. James and her literary agent, Valerie Hoskins. They all want to make the winning deal for turning the trilogy into a series of movies. Paramount, according to one source quoted in the Times, put female execs on video, raving about the novels. Warner Bros. production president Greg Silverman went after the movie rights after personal endorsements of the books from his wife and her mother.

The movie studios seem to be slotting the 50 Shades audience as a slightly older version of the Twilight demographic; both appeal to female fans in love with a story of forbidden romance. It's Pretty Woman without the hooker connotations. It's 9-1/2 Weeks with Armie Hammer instead of Mickey Rourke.

There's one scene in the book that finds Anastasia knotted to the bedposts with one of Christian's gray silk ties. Fans of 50 Shades, perhaps living out some bedroom fantasies of their own, have made the ties best sellers, according to the UK paper The Daily Mail. They give them to their husbands and boyfriends - their own little private message.

On a recent visit to CNN's studios in Los Angeles, I spotted Dr. Drew in the makeup room, donning just such a gray silk tie before he went on his HLN show. "Secret code to 50 Shades fans?" I asked him. Nope, he said. His wife asked him to wear it.

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18 comments
mach5555
mach5555

Her "subconscious  sneers" because she speaks about the two facets of her persona: her subconscious and her "inner goddess", both which are usually at odds with each other. To make that comment would seem to indicate that you either did not read the trilogy, or that you simply did not "get it".

Goldiemalt
Goldiemalt

I almost stopped reading it after page 45, I think. My son called and asked me what I was doing. I said reading. He asked "what"? I said 50 shades of Grey. I 60. I had him in '83. He said " Oh, that's a good book". His girl friend had read it. As I read further I was aghast at the fact that my son knew about the book! Questions? Was he aware of the comtents? I certainly wasn't! Good Lord how will I explain it to him?... At 60? However, I was intrigued . Omg I certainly can't explain that toy son. I have had a life that I have always believed no one would believe was true. Just ordered the next book. On Kindle. Hope the third has a good ending. My life certainly has no uncertainty

Jenny
Jenny

I loved it.. The whole trilogy became my "me time"

Orlyfrank
Orlyfrank

Another example of cliched proletarian 'literature' catering to the undereducated ,conventional housewives of suburbia. Mediocrity does indeed rule. 

briebo1
briebo1

This story is on a whole different plane than 9-1/2 Weeks or Secretary. Yes the woman is introduced to sex, she is a virgin, at certain times some would call it kinky sex, but this is not a story about a man guiding a woman into a sexual awakening or saving her from herself through BDSM. This story is about a woman saving a man. Very different. This story is about a man into BDSM due to emotional issues, and how a woman brings him out of that to enjoy sex as lovemaking and not a form of control in order to distance oneself. This story actually turns the cliche of BDSM romances on it's head and fulfills the Pretty Woman fantasy of getting through to an emotionally scarred individual softened by a love he develops for a woman and how she changes him. This story is very typical as to what tugs at women's heartstrings, and very atypical in its use of BDSM in a story line. I think from all the press this book has been getting if it is made into a movie men will be a little disappointed that this is really nothing more than a cheesy Pretty Woman fantasy and not proof that women actually all secretly are panting over a realization that we all want BDSM in our bedrooms.

Mgw250
Mgw250

Like the movie The Pet or Secretary with similar themes.

WTF
WTF

This series was badly written TWILIGHT fanfiction and now it's on the way to become a badly done movie. WTF.

Bookiereader1
Bookiereader1

I have read all three books and I do agree they are not the best books ever written but  a great escape which is what we could all use right now -- I read a simular 'naughty tale' called Loving David that I enjoyed as well.  As a overworked stressed out working mom, I need a  vacation from my reality- books like these are just the ticket

Ann
Ann

I'm one of the moms who really like this book—and I'm not sure you've captured what's so compelling about it. Plus you have a few of the important facts wrong: Anastasia doesn't end up signing the contract—and that's really the whole point of tension between Ana and Christian: How much of his "lifestyle" is he willing to give up for her and how much of it is she willing to indulge in for him? It's a true romance with some good sex scenes that women enjoy reading specifically because they're not too crass. While it's not a fine piece of literature, it's written well enough that it's relatable and we become emotionally invested in the characters.

PatrickDeidre30
PatrickDeidre30

Ṁy frienď'ś śtep-ṀotĥeŔ ṁakeś $81 an ĥour on tĥe coṀputeŔ. Śĥe ĥaś been out of Work for 8 ṁontĥś but laśt ṁontĥ ĥeŔ incoṀe Waś $8830 juśt WoŔking on tĥe coṀputer for a feW ĥourś. Ŕeaď ṁore on tĥiŚ Web śite... LazyCash1.com

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

The author's scarf in the photo kinda takes on a new dimension, after you hear what's in the book.

Attention Ms James hubby/bf...I think someone's a bit frustrated...

that girl
that girl

"50 Shades of Grey started as a self-published piece of e-book erotica"

Actually, it started out as Twilight fan fiction. So it literally is Twilight for grown ups, as it is being coined.

NatWu
NatWu

"Amongst" is a commonly used word amongst us proles. 

Battybagshot
Battybagshot

I'm a housewife in suburbia, and I wouldn't touch this trash with a 10 foot pole. All of the women I know reading this series work full time jobs.

Pgarrison1
Pgarrison1

You are100% correct! I dont get why everyone keeps talking about the sex as if that's what this book is all about? It's not. It's the love story between Christian and Anastasia. That's what makes this book so good. If all women wanted was to read some porn, they could find that anywhere.

briebo1
briebo1

Thank you! Why is it that detractors are criticizing this book because of the contract, when the driving force of conflict in the book is that she will not and does not sign it. It makes no sense. People are making it sound like a book about a girl who is taken advantage of in sick ways and lured into sexual depravity, when the story is actually about a girl pulling a man out of sexual depravity. Not that there is anything depraved about some blindfolds and spanking, but that is not the depravity the hero is pulled out of, and the heroin is hero's savior not his victim.

that girl
that girl

And don't tell me it has no similarities to Twilight. If that was the case, then all these media outlets who don't seem to know the true origins would not immediately run to coining it as Twilight for adults.

that girl
that girl

Actually, it's a love story between Bella and Edward. Cause you know, it was Twilight fan fiction first. Which is my biggest problem with it all. 

And the author didn't even have enough respect for her readers to take this fan fiction (which as free) and do a proper edit or anything really more the CTRL+F and replace Edward with Christian and Bella with Anastasia. Then to have the nerve to charge upwards of $30-$40 for the series for something that if you google MOTU right now, you can read. For free.

How does THAT not piss you off? How do you not feel duped?

And what a horrible precedence this book is setting. Take poorly written fan fiction (which is in all technicalities, illegal to post even if the author looks the other way), turn it into a poorly written book and then reward the author for it all with multi-million dollar contracts and movie deals. 

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