This is our truth, tell us yours
The news that the second episode of the Fifty Shades of Shite franchise has made it to the cinema screens prompted me to think about what’s wrong with it.
One of the things that came to mind as I reflected was about whether I’ve been fair to E L James. I’ve written parodies of Fifty Shades of Shite, and criticisms of her thinking, but there’s one thought that has plagued me this week.
What if we’re seeing Fifty Shades as something more than it is? The thought was prompted by J Robert Lennon’s review of Paul Auster’s new novel in the LRB; essentially the review concludes that Auster’s work is not a novel yet, but could be if edited.
In analyzing Fifty Shades, have I and others looked for something that isn’t there? Whether it is seen as a novel, a romance, a romantic novel or simply a modern day chapbook, the question has to be asked; is that what E L James intended?
Orwell, famously, wrote about good bad books. It’s a theme I’ve returned to repeatedly. The point about good bad books and bad,bad books (and Fifty Shades is definitely a bad bad book) is the degree of author intention. Genre writers, who repeatedly write good bad books are often hugely aware of what they’re doing, and approach their work as a craft. The hallmark of the writer of bad bad books is that they don’t realise quite how bad their work is. Sometimes it’s their world view that makes it a bad bad book, like the right wing, phallocentric idiocies that make the books of E E Doc Smith so risible. Sometimes however, a book may not be a bad bad book but a wicked book – John Norman’s Gor novels, the foundation texts of a particular kind of post modern rape fantasy for the alt right, are a good example. Norman was entirely aware that he was writing wicked books,and kept on doing it for political reasons as well as for his personal pleasure.
So has James written bad bad books, or wicked books? Bearing in mind that Fifty Shades started out as fan fiction, it’s probably the case that E L James has written bad bad books, not wicked books, but it’s something to reflect upon.
However, whether they’re bad bad books or wicked books,one thing is clear about Fifty Shades; they’re not about consensual BDSM, or safe and decent relationships.