Fifty shades of fantasy
Despite the mass hysteria surrounding mainstream erotica novel Fifty Shades of Grey, the expectations of romantic and sexual relationships do not appear to be changed among many of the series’ readers.
The erotic novel follows the relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and young business magnate Christian Grey. It is known for its explicit sexual scenes involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (also known as BDSM).
The book is just one in a trilogy, followed by the books Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
University of Calgary instructor of gender and sexuality, and popular culture, Dawn Johnson, said that thanks to the wildly popular erotica series authored by E.L. James, there will most likely be an influx of material published and made more easily available in this genre. However, she doesn’t think that will necessarily mean the readership will experience that same influx.
So if the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is not going to spawn the next genre craze the way the Twilight series did with vampires, then what brought readers to Fifty Shades in the first place? The answer might be pure curiosity.
Helen Moffat, a 39-year-old administrator, felt that reading the book gives the reader a chance to immerse themselves in a world that they can’t explore in reality.
“[It gives readers] that subtle sense of being adventurous and cosmopolitan and sexy – in a way that most of us never actually will – but without any inherent risks or having to examine or alter any current values that might prevent us from living such a lifestyle,“ Moffat said.
Twenty-year-old ACAD student Evi Jay said the book should not encourage change in what couples do or perceptions of what they do. Jay said the relationship between the two characters is unrealistic to begin with because, “the book starts with him basically wanting her to sign a contract to be his sub. Relationships do not start that way.”
Johnson felt that Fifty Shades could have an impact on women’s expectations of relationships, but she said that there is a certain level of concern with women’s popular fiction as a whole, not just with this particular book.
“So much of women’s popular fiction paints these really narrow pictures of what a relationship should look like. For a long time it has been that fantasy of the night in shining armour who is going to whisk us away and solve all of our problems and frankly [Fifty Shades of Grey] is just a new variation on that,” she said.
That being said, Johnson believes the content of this particular book has its own concerns.
“It is what some might consider a violent or abusive relationship … So I think if people are reading the book and thinking, ‘Oh, this is what romance and sex looks like,’ with an uncritical eye that is really problematic.”
Moffat said that beyond some unusual sexual techniques described within the book that might get some women thinking, it isn’t going to affect the idea of relationships as a whole.
“My evaluation of romances didn’t change, I just learned some new ways of spending time within them,” she said.
Despite the racy trilogy’s success, Moffat feels that the genre of erotic fiction is not about to take off and have such a great influence on current popular culture like other best-selling books in the past have because, “It isn’t a gateway novel into erotica or anything.”
“Unless another novel gains this level of attention people will just go back to reading what they normally would,” she said.
Johnson said that any form of popular culture – including erotic fiction – should not be censored, but rather read and thought about critically.
“I don’t think that we need to censor fantasy. For us to say that only certain fantasies are appropriate or that certain kinds of erotica can be out there, I think that is not a productive response either.”