I need to work on my wordy intros, but bear with me.
Part of the necessary evils of being a Lit student is I’ve had to sit in classes where many of my peers have been harsh in their assessments of contemporary stories. They prefer the timelessness of classical works, and they’ve been downright elitist as far as what constitutes a worthy story. As someone who touts tolerance and open-mindedness, it was easy for me to be self-righteous; I didn’t believe I was like my cohorts, or at least I tried not to be. Yes, I have favorite older published works, and I believe time will tell which works will endure as the best-written and most relevant to the human experience, but I’d cringe whenever I heard the terms “pot boiler” or “hack writer” used so loosely in reference to a body of work or an author, regardless of whether or not I liked said work or author.
Perhaps too idealistically, I believe writers in true artistic form pour their hearts and souls into what they craft and do so with vulnerability, as they believe their respective readers and the characters they bring to light deserve nothing but the utmost — their everything. I have worked with and befriended authors who have lost sleep, changed their academic and career goals, re-routed the direction of their lives for the sake of bringing words to the page. It’s an all-consuming passion, and it’s beautiful to witness, to take part in. I only wish I could be so gifted. As such, at least I can be respectful enough to acknowledge that writers full well realize the story and everything involved in bringing it to life is more than the finished product, whether or not the story is my thing. Writing for these artists is not a means to an end. As one of the writers I respect most once said, to write is to breathe. It is essential, and I won’t begrudge anyone their life force.
But then suddenly, a greyness crept in and covered it all, heavy, murky. The grey leeched the color out of creative writing’s inspirational process while it also exposed my false humility and self-righteous indignation, bringing into sharp relief my intolerance for, well, pot-boilers and hack writers.
Over the course of the last few months, as an incurable albeit very distracted Twilight derivative fiction devotee, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around how a particular work has gone from fanfic tabloid status — the kind of “inquiring minds wanna know” sensationalistic fodder which seemingly ensnares people with simple language, shock factor, and gratuituous kink — to NY Times Bestseller popular the world over. Alright, maybe the tabloid analogy is a bit extreme, since I have intelligent friends who’ve read this fic and enjoyed it. How about the Turkish Delight of the Twific world, hand prepared by Jadis the White Witch incarnate, served on a silver platter, or Grey as it were, with a generous side of a steaming hot sexy drink in a gaudy ornamented goblet? Who could resist such temptation when packaged thusly? I mean, Christ on a pogo stick, even friends of mine who aren’t regular readers of anything, let alone fanfic, have fallen for the hype. I vaguely recall NPR referring to this work as a trailblazer or paradigm shift or something to that effect. Who’d have thought that Master of the Universe by Snowqueens Ice Dragon, a popular Twilight fanfic of mediocre quality at best, would beguile the world as 50 Shades of Grey ? I am flabbergasted.
Before I’m branded as unfair or hypocritical or elitist because, on the face of it, I’m judging a work because I don’t “like it” — let me say my piece. Many readers hate MoTU or 50 or whatever the hell because it’s fanfic, pulled off the interwebs and changed only by the Search and Replace feature swapping Edward and Bella for Christian and Anastasia. I have complex thoughts on the pull-to-publish phenomenon which is a hotbed of dissension in itself, but that’s not quite the reason I can’t stand E.L. James, her work, or her publishers who encourage this “phenomenon.”
As a reader, I feel betrayed. Violated, even. Many people argue that it’s James’s right in a capitalist society to take her work, publish it, make money off of it. They say it doesn’t matter if the work is poorly written, or if the characters of her story belong to another author, or if her work is grossly misinformed and as a result misinforms as well — hell, it is fiction, right? Besides, we don’t know this person, so why take such personal offense to her success? Why should we care?
I care because in her pursuit of the bottom line, E.L. James and the publishers who endorse her work have successfully mocked and cheapened the art form I love so much, the craft I spend endless hours studying for and learning about, the writing process that I’ve seen work wonders, and they did this because Grey turns a fast buck. Grey’s a cash cow, a veritable whore more than ready and able to meet the demand of those who need to scratch an itch. “Loved 50? Need more Grey? Can’t get enough?! Well, there’s more and more and MOARRR!!! Novels two and three are at the ready, on sale now!”
It can be argued that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are blowhards who only care about turning a profit as well, but it goes without saying how their work has been a benefit to so many. That’s one of many differences between those guys and James. Once readers get past the first Grey book and the coating of sex juices loses its luster, reviews show that favor drops for the second and third books. Other than perhaps spicing up stagnated sex lives, I don’t know that there are other benefits to reading Grey. Benefits, heh. But even if Grey doesn’t maintain its popularity, the money’s already in the bank, and everyone’s sated and satisfied, right?
As an aside, let me just say here that I’m no St. Agnes of God, and that I’m not at all opposed to eroticism in literature. Matter of fact, I’ll be more than happy to point you out to well-written BDSM. Again, I’m all about the story.
So Grey is a means to an end. In making its way first through the fandom and then to the world at large, readers like myself became stepping stones toward wealth and fame by an author who didn’t even feel bothered to write well. Indeed, she was just giving the crowd what they wanted to see and hear, and of course sex sells. Pot boiler. Hack writer. Nothing new under the sun as she’s not the first to go this route, but what breaks my heart is that the Grey phenomenon leaves many well-deserving authors, derivative or published, questioning where they’ve gone wrong and what it is that James did “right.”
And so that’s why I don’t like Grey. That’s why I’m so judgmental when it comes down to it. When looking for a silver lining, I should be grateful that at least people are motivated to read and even write because of a book. Imagine that, someone doing fanfic of a fanfic. I just don’t care for how the process of hard work, doing research, loving your characters, and respecting your readers has been overshadowed by objectifying readers and stealing other characters in order to be “successful.” We already have enough of corruption everywhere else — music, sports, every day life — and it’s a sore disappointment, a goddamn shame really, that the one place I love to escape to is glaringly stained in Grey.
One of the most profound reviews of this crap I read so far. Thanks for taking the time to write it so neatly.
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