50 Shade of WTF: Why America Is Reading Crappy Twilight Fan Fiction Erotica (And Loving It)

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James’ terrible book takes a young woman, Anastasia Steele (yes, that’s her name), who is confused and awkward and boring and sexually repressed, which is a fitting literary avatar for countless American women raised in the sexually repressed “flyover states” of my beloved Midwest, raised on a steady diet of Jesus and “keep your knees” together, yet there are still all these damn kids running around. Grey meets this young woman, plucks her out of her collegiate awkward obscurity, showers her in wealth and sexual pleasure by forcing it upon her, playing into America’s puritanical views of womanhood and sex (you’re not supposed to want it!), but giving those women who badly wanted it an out (well, he INSISTED on giving me these cars and orgasms! It would be RUDE not to just lie there and accept them!)

I mean, to get everything by doing absolutely nothing is the repressed American’s dream.


There was this time before the Internet that when someone wanted to watch Adult Videos they had to go to an “adult” bookstore and purchase it. In public. With credit cards or cash. And while some people did venture out to do this, many more did not because we live in “You can look but not touch” sexually repressed yet sex obsessed America. So you had a lot of people who never watched Adult Videos because they didn’t want to endure the shame of buying Adult Videos. But the internet – as the song from the musical Avenue Q goes – is for Adult Videos. And the internet was made for a trashy BDSM novel like “Fifty Shades.” Finally, mom could just download her kinks into an E-reader and NO ONE WOULD EVER KNOW. Just like dad and his secret download folder of nothing but Nicki Minaj butt photos and weird “Rule #34” pornography. Like blue people, Na-vi, Avatar Adult Videos. What this book has done is open up a world of literary erotica to women who’d been too shy to peruse the more salacious book aisle in Barnes & Noble and who shied away from the most tawdry Harlequin romance novel and dime store V.C. Andrews pulp fiction.

It appeals to the Middle-brow pop culture consumer.

The audience for “Fifty Shades” is pretty much the same audience who loved Young & the Restless, reality shows, crappy romance novels and epic relationships from literature, TV and film they could endlessly obsess over. They read the Twilight saga. They obsessed over Luke and Laura and Derek and Meredith. They were really into the film Titanic. “Fifty Shades” is for that middlebrow woman who loves these types of characters and stories and has been consuming them for years, but no one ever had the good sense to just turn it into something so explicit. James’ work started out as Twilight fan fiction, proving it’s an extension of those stories certain women love, but in a different, more visceral, perverted venue. Think of Twilight erotica turned into Fifty Shades as being like a chocolate and peanut butter cupcake, with fried bacon and salted peanuts in the whipped icing. It sounds totally wrong but I bet it tastes DELICIOUS. Like chicken fried in red velvet cupcake batter. Or a deep friend macaroni and cheese and bacon grilled cheese sandwich. You’re throwing up a little, but you’d totally eat that. You’d die of clogged arteries, but you’d be satisfied.

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