Five theories to explain Fifty Shades of Grey success
Do women love porn anyway and just needed something stronger? Does it reflect a world still dominated by men?
THERE were desperate attempts all round this weekend to explain the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey following the news that the S&M "romance" had become the fast-selling paperback of all time. Why are so many women buying - and apparently enjoying – a book in which the young heroine, Anastasia, falls for an older man who wants to spank and whip her?
Theory No 1: public were ready for something stronger
Marina Warner, the feminist writer and academic, believes the book's appeal suggests people now find it difficult to feel aroused in an era when the media have made sex and nudity so commonplace. She told The Observer: "There has been a general unveiling of the body in our culture and there is a connection between prohibition and arousal. It is in some way linked to our feelings about the sacred and the profane."
Fiona Davis, a director of the Ann Summers sex shop chain, says Fifty Shades "just proves what we know to be true – that the UK loves sex and wants more. We think erotica has always been bubbling under the mainstream surface and actually it is incredibly popular."
Theory No 2: it's still a man's world
Forensic psychotherapist Estela Welldon, author of Mother, Madonna, Whore, the Idealization and Denigration of Motherhood, says she's appalled by the huge appeal of E L James's trilogy.
"It is a terrible turning back of the clock for a book like this to have such enormous success," she told The Observer. "It is as if women are now trying to apologise for the success they have had in a man's world."
Marina Warner touched on the same issue, citing the 1979 essay The Sadeian Woman in which author Angela Carter suggested that the 18th century erotic novelist Marquis de Sade – who gave us the word sadism - mirrored the male-dominated hierarchy of his times. "A book like Fifty Shades of Grey can collude with the status quo, where men are still largely in charge, even though it appears to be playful," said Warner.
Theory No 3: it's a book for non-readers
Every so often a series of novels comes along – Bridget Jones is a previous example – that are bought in their millions by non-readers. In an interview with the Sunday Mirror, E L James – real name Erika Leonard – said that during a recent PR trip to the United States many fans told her the Fifty Shades trilogy were the first books they had read in years.
"That was the most extraordinary thing – the people who said they hadn't read a book in five, ten, 20 years, and they've read all my books in a week. One woman said it really made her want to encourage her children to read books. Hopefully not these books though!"
Theory No 4: it's an erotic sex manual
Despite the brutality/aggression evident in Christian Grey's demands of Anastasia, many women have told Erika Leonard that the book has helped spice up their sex lives. "People have said that to me... literally ... thank you for spicing up my love life, thank you for letting me try new things, thank you for releasing my inner goddess."
Fiona Davis at Ann Summers claims the trilogy's popularity has led to a boom in the sale of sex toys and erotic literature, with readers lining up to buy sexual aids features in the books. "Sales of jiggle balls, for example, have risen by 200 per cent," says the Observer.
According to a survey conducted for Glamour magazine, 90 per cent of British women say they can be turned on by porn, with 37 per cent admitting to going online to look at erotic images. However, the survey does not specifically investigate S&M.
Theory No 5: it's a substitute for housework
Craig Brown, reviewing the book for the Daily Mail, noted that the "action" only starts on page 78 – and even then it's only a kiss. "I moan into his mouth," says Anastasia, "giving his tongue an opening. He takes full advantage, expertly exploring my mouth . . . "
Writes Brown: "To me, this sounds closer to dentistry, or to a particularly demanding form of washing up, than to erotica. This is one of a number of passages in Fifty Shades which suggest that the author, chained to her typewriter, hard at work pounding out the porn, is, somewhere in the back of her mind, secretly entertaining fantasies about getting on with housework." ·