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Is It OK to Like 50 Shades Of Grey?

It’s the question no one seems to know how to answer: is it OK to like 50 Shades of Grey?

50 Shades has suffered widespread condemnation and criticism for everything from its writing to its messages. It seems like everyone has an opinion―including us. So let’s distinguish it from a similar question: is 50 Shades of Grey good? The answer to that is difficult because, as with all fiction, the concept of good is subjective and it often depends on your experience of it rather than the text itself.

But no. No, it’s not. 50 Shades of Grey is not good.


Having established that the trilogy is not very good by most standards, and with the 50 Shades of Grey movie fast approaching, the more interesting question is now this: whether or not it’s ok to like it anyway.

50 Shades Of Bad

Much has been made of the writing of the books, the weird and clunky dialogue, the annoying ‘inner goddess’ that keeps making strange little cameos (and we hope to high heaven is not in the 50 Shades movie), and the fact it’s like a weaker version of Twilight, the books on which 50 Shades of Grey is loosely based. (Sir Salman Rushdie said of it “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It makes Twilight look like War and Peace.”)

vanillaThere’s also a weird conflict of critics, half of whom claim it’s too hardcore and the other half claiming it’s too vanilla. Either way, the critics hated it, and then they hated anyone who liked it. When James was given a prestigious award by a respected publishing institution, the New York Daily News ran a headline stating “Civilization Ends: E L James Named Publishers Weekly’s Person Of The Year”.

There are those more knowledgeable of BDSM than the books’ author E. L. James who claim that the relationship between the protagonists Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is abusive, that it’s not representative of a healthy BDSM relationship, and the Christian Grey is an awful role model.

So, not a good start if you’re trying to like it. But all’s not lost, and there are some positives…

bdsm trust

50 Shades Of Good

E. L. James is, as this writer can attest, having met her in London, a quiet, modest and sweet person, surprised and slightly embarrassed by the success of her work. It’s endearing, and no criticism should ever be directed at her character, especially because of how much the online reaction hurt her. She still talks about sex a little awkwardly: she didn’t expect the attention she got nor did she expect to become a multi-millionaire as a result. So when critics attack 50 Shadeawkwards, they should remember there is an unassuming human at the end of it all.

There’s no denying that, whatever your impressions of the text and of its faults, it has opened up a conversation about sex all over the world, from dentists’ waiting rooms to bar stools and pool halls. That can only be a good thing. Similarly, it may have made it easier for those who had feelings and desires similar to those described in 50 Shades but were afraid to express them to start exploring those parts of their identities.

It also brought to the mainstream the whole genre of erotic literature, which had long been established, and now many more talented erotic fiction writers are benefiting from the exposure as a result.

Are You Allowed To Like It?

Millions of people love it. Many love it and don’t realize it’s bad, many love it despite its badness, and many more still love it because of its badness. So there must be something to love, right?

Well frankly, it depends. There is certainly a moral question over the content, and your interpretation of the main love story between the protagonists is key. Many consider it so abusive that they will not allow themselves to like it on moral grounds. They’re a kind of 50 Shades conscientious objectors, and their arguments are strong and valid.

However, if you inteinstruction manualrpret it as E. L. James intended it―as nothing but fantasy―then everything changes. There is certainly controversy in the Shades trilogy. For those of us who are close to these trends, there is a lot to be angry about, to be worried about. Christian Grey is not a role model for a Dom.

But then, why should he be? What insecurity is it of ours that demands a literary character be a “good” role model? Is it because he’s in print? 50 Shades is not an instruction manual, nor as a work of fiction does it have any inherent moral obligation. It should stand alone, as any literary criticism is a projection of your own experience and no more or less valid than that of E. L. James. It’s one middle-aged woman’s inexperienced imagining of sexual dominance, and to criticize her for her fantasy is to criticize yourself for yours.

It is, quite simply, a work of literature. Actually, even that’s a stretch. It’s a fantasy, one person’s fantasy, and to run it down on the basis of its fantasy is to run down every singular work of fantasy ever composed. We don’t mean to make such towering comparisons, but Shakespeare had his detractors who hated The Tempest because its content was ‘too unrealistic’.

As long as 50 Shades of Grey is understood as fantasy, and as you recognize there are themes and interactions that are not positive, then yes, it’s ok to like it. And with luck, the 50 Shades movie will survive the critics’ axe longer than the books


About Donna Turner

Donna is a Volonté contributor and freelance writer who lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared in Psychology Today, Go! Magazine (Australia) and is regularly featured in the San Francisco Herald.

One comment

  1. This is a very nice perspective to the 50 shades theme. Can’t argue with the argumentation. However… the point is, to my mind, that the book and the movie have a tremendous impact, first and foremost on female imaginations. I am trying to figure that out and I understand that a strong male, financially secure, and one who is able to inject some thrill and excitement into life, generally and in the bedroom, well, all of that speaks to women’s minds. And it does speak to male minds too, because certainly very many of us many are very happy to build a strong position professionally, take our girlfriend on a joy ride and spank her when she is bratty (I am:). But 50 Shades apparently works very strongly on the imagination and may create a certain kind and level of expectations. Those who are into the scene and on the healthy side of it adhere to very clear principles, of mutual consent, above all. Now, the consent in the 50 Shades is ambiguous at best, isn’t it? The point is that BDSM is it is practices in real life is a little different from the it is depicted in the book/movie. But if a girl tries and she finds out that, well, it is all about consent and everything, power is not with the man but rather herself or at best it is exchanged, will that be as thrilling as her – book/movie substantiated – imagination of the game?

    I have read of a divorce somewhere in the UK I think, because the husband was not Greyish enough. There are different cultural trends strengthening the in wake of 50 shades, one being sugar daddy, and another one being the search for rich boyfriends, with monthly allowances paid to the girls, five star holidays, extravaganza gifts and fancy cars. Well, that’s nothing new, in the first place. And who am I to judge such trends? But if you ask me, it would be growing emptiness, and a negative impact of 50 shades, falling very far from the depth, intimacy and trust of a relationship with BBSM falavour.
    More specifically, men would not be happy being measured by the Grey yardstick, and I would certainly not like to be pushed into unclear consent, or any other edgy stuff, because a girl is enjoys feeling helpless and dependent like the Ana Steele, giving herself to the hands of a all-powerful guy, for the thrill of it. Let it stay only on paper or cinema screen.

    There is an interesting genders twist involved here, I think. Over the last decades women have been able to secure many social rights, especially in the west. I am signing into that with all my hands. But apparently, as result men have seen their position weakened, their masculinity eroding if not questioned. Now, apparently, with all their feminism women miss that strong male hand. 50 Shades may contribute to this even more negatively, because, well, if a guy is far from Christian Gray, what man is he? Looks like it is a new standard of a Prince, not with a white horse, but with a whole stable of half-a-million-dollar-babies, of which an Audi R8 is the cheapest.

    Concluding, I understand that now we need a lot of education, especially with regard to the BDSM part and the healthy relationships, looking for some thrills. I am far from eliminating any girl who has the whole trilogy on the shelf plus the movie DVD. But I would hope that she is mature enough not to be attached to it too much and ready for a serious conversation about it.

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