Something struck me during all the coverage a certain book has been getting – to the point where I had to make words with my fingers about it, here. After all, it’s pretty apropos, considering. And by apropos, I probably mean something else altogether because I’m not quite sure if apropos is really the right word. Maybe I’m looking for more of a fitting or a salient, and should just go with them, instead.
Either way, I digress,
When what I really wanted to say was:
50 Shades of Grey? Is not really all that unconventional.
I mean, the news keeps saying it is. Mainstream sorts of people are discussing it in hushed tones, amazed that women like something so daring. But all that did was flag up (again) a major disconnect, for me, between the majority of people and the world of erotic romance.
Because in the world of erotic romance, 50 Shades isn’t unconventional at all. It isn’t even slightly risque, or a tiny bit daring. In fact, it slots right in like a nice oblong sort of thing into a kind of…awkward…diamond shaped hole? Or maybe a hole that sounds less as though I don’t know what vaginas really look like?
Or penises, for that matter, because seriously…oblong is what I come up with, when I’m trying to be coy? I don’t even know what I was thinking. Penises aren’t oblong! They’re more like…uh…um…they’re more like sausages, even though sausages don’t really go with the theme I’m trying for, here. Triangle, circle, square…sausage.
Yeah, you see – it doesn’t go. No kid is going to play with that toy set. Mostly I think they’ll just be confused, that in amongst their brightly coloured and perfectly symmetrical plastic shapes, there’s a mysterious sausage.
And to be honest, I know how they feel. Because I don’t know how a mysterious sausage got into this post, either. I can’t even remember what I was talking about, now – or at the very least I don’t know how to segue back into it. So I think I’ll just go with something awkward and laboured, like:
50 Shades isn’t a mysterious sausage. It’s a normal triangle. It’s the opposite of unconventional: it’s standard. Because let’s face it…femsub is hardly a new concept, in the world of erotic romance. And even if you’re thinking of the more wonktastical, cutting edge sort of femsub…well.
50 Shades ain’t it.
I mean, just look at some of the contents:
* Billionaire hero – arrogant, aloof, closed off. Sound familiar? It should. Harlequin has been featuring heroes like that for years. Nay – decades.
And then there’s the heroine:
* Timid, out of her depth, no idea she’s a submissive.
I mean, that’s almost every book Ellora’s Cave has ever put out. They’re the ones who broke ground with female characters like that. Hell, Black Lace broke ground with that type of heroine back in, like, 1993.
So what has made it so popular? Is it the Twilight connection? Certainly a lot has been made of it being Twilight for Moms, but then…isn’t Twilight already Twilight for Moms? That idea makes no sense for me anyway, because the book bears little resemblance to its source – to the point where it kind of irritates me that people moan about it being fanfiction.
It isn’t fanfiction. It’s just Robert Pattinson’s face pasted onto a hero’s, really, which is about the same thing that 90% of the authors I know do.
No, no, it’s not the Twilight thing. I think the classy covers and the air of respectability about them has more to do with its success, than Twilight, in all honesty. Which leads me to one other idea, that circles back around on what I was trying to say in the first place.
It’s not its unconventionality that has made it popular. I think it’s the very familiarity of it – a familiarity that’s now suddenly on the cusp of being acceptable, in the mainstream. I’ve certainly noticed that erotic romance is starting to crossover into just romance, now. Even the tamest of lines and labels are featuring books that have a higher sex content – something that would have been unthinkable, ten years ago. That’s why erotic romance as a genre was needed – to fill that gap in women’s reading.
And that’s what 50 Shades is doing now – only out in the open. Those crisp, clean, acceptable covers! The veneer of mainstream that’s already on them, with a connection to a “normal” book! And to top it off, the content is what women have been wanting to read (and have been reading all along, on the sly) all this time.
They’ve just been waiting for the Washington Post to catch up.
All of which is very heartening, in one way, to me. Erotic content is becoming acceptable, it’s becoming normal. People are starting to realise that women actually do have sexual fantasies and feelings, and want to explore them. I’m all for that!
But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that the truly wonktastic is being marginalised, yet again. In holding up 50 Shades as something new and surprising (when really it’s anything but), all those weird heroes and femdom heroines and strange stories about odd feelings get sidelined, yet again.
If 50 Shades is weird, I’m weirder. We’re weirder. And though I pretend otherwise and champion the strange and the odd, I do long for the day when that’s not the case. When my beta hero isn’t berated, for being a bit sad. When someone’s strong heroine isn’t criticised, for being just that.
When the truly unconventional is loved, as much as its opposite.