I think Fifty Shades of Grey is appalling. It is a wound in the world of the printed word: a great and greedy black hole swallowing up attention from anything that is unfortunate enough to gravitate near it.
I dislike not just the novel itself, but its origins, the publishing culture that birthed it, its marketing, and the waves of apparently titillated housewives it has stirred, who knowingly snigger and raise their eyebrows at each other over cappuccinos and book-club muffins that are as dry as their own sex lives.
While Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the book we deserve, it might be the book we need right now. This article is an attempt to look at a glass half-full rather than half-empty. Even if that glass is half-full of Ipecac.
Fifty Shades is a paradox in print, and it’s in that paradox where we may draw some comfort.
It’s sold over 20 million copies, yet everyone know’s it’s awful. Terrible (and often hilariously honest) reviews have only fuelled it’s sales, as people have bought it just to read how banal and poorly written it is.
It has become a cultural in-joke, a bestselling gag gift, that we all – whether writer or reader, celebrity or layman, rich or poor – can collectively point and laugh at, like someone who forgot to take the right clothes to the gym and ended up working out on the cross-trainer in assless chaps and a ball-gag.
Here’s the thing though: it’s so widely-read, and so universally recognised as atrocious, that as a result, millions of people have at once been exposed to ‘bad writing’ in what can best be described as a mass cultural inoculation against poor taste. Millions of people have picked up this book expecting a 21st century Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and instead found the equivalent of the soft-core fantasies of a lab chimp whose entire visual experience has been a constant Clockwork Orange-style bombardment of Cinemax movies.
They have learned, first hand, what bad writing is. And once you can spot it, you can avoid it.
When you look at it like that suddenly what once was a blight on bookstore shelves becomes the literary equivalent of a polio vaccination: unpleasant but ultimately an experience for the greater good. An experience that some people have already been making productive use of.
Silver Lining To A Grey Cloud
They say disasters bring out the best in people. Though a disaster of words rather than bricks or ash, this is no different. Fifty Shades of Grey has indirectly sparked an interest in writing among some of the more proactive portions of its readership, both in erotic and non-erotic fiction.
Not because it has inspired them, but because so many of the people who have picked it up have thought: ‘I can write better than this.’ And they’ve stuck to their words and tried.
What’s better than people being disgusted by how bad something is? People actually being motivated to do something about it.
Even among those who’ve not read it, but have had to deal with the cognitive dissonance of an awful book spanking the competition in the sales charts, there’s been a trail of thought that has resulted in the question ‘Well, if this can get published, why can’t I?’. I know this to be a fact because I know several people who are doing just that and writing their own erotic stories because they can do it better. We’ll be meeting one or two of them in an article in a couple of day’s time.
People who have held their writing ambitions under the covers for fear that they weren’t good enough to write have been motivated by the outrageous success of something that doesn’t deserve to be successful. And if you think you can write better than a published book, why wouldn’t you be motivated to give it a go?
It’s not the most noble or generous reason, and some may say it’s a touch naïve, but as far as I can see it’s as good as any other. People are trying to write well. That’s no bad thing.
Inspired By Bad Writing
It’s a sad fact, but it’s not always the good books that ignite our passions and stir a desire in us to create. Even if a bad book gets more people writing, and trying to write better, then that’s surely something to be thankful for. It’s no excuse for bad books to exist, but it softens the blow that they were created in the first place.
What do you think about the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Robert Smedley is a TV Reviewer and Writer. When not staring at moving images or being creative with ink, he can be found at any bar that serves a good martini.