I finally decided to upload the feature story on Fifty Shades of Grey that I had to do for my final project in my Advanced Reporting class last Spring Semester. This was done during the week of Thursday, May 10th, before the author E.L. James left to return to her home in the U.K. I hope you enjoy.
Beginning as a game of telephone between suburban housewives of New York, the popularity of the erogenous Fifty Shades trilogy by Erika James, better known as E.L. James, has spread across the nation like wildfire.
The craze of the suggestive literature started online with a majority of people purchasing the e-books, taking advantage of not being judged by the book’s cover.
Several months ago, printed versions of the series were exceedingly complicated to find. As reported by CBS New York’s Hazel Sanchez in March, copies were so scarce that a used book could be brought online for almost a thousand dollars.
In April the trilogy was reissued by Vintage Books, a division of Random House Publications. Last Tuesday, the publication announced over 10 million copies had been sold with daily reprints surpassing 900,000. These statistics made the series the most rapid selling in history.
Besides being acknowledged for topping the charts and as a three time New York Times bestseller, the fleshy Fifty has been the core of gossip among the masses and the central topic in network programming. In addition to becoming a parody on “Saturday Night Live,” the trilogy has been held responsible for reigniting the fire in relationships. However, with all the positive responses, the collection of novels received a great deal of criticism.
See SNL 50 Shades Parody below:
The saga began when, according to Entertainment Weekly, James, a pleasantly plump wife of a TV script writer and mother of two teenage boys from West London who fancies a smoke from time to time, grew tiresome of her job as a TV producer in January 2009 and searched for other outlets that could possibly bring her gratification.
Upon her pursuit for happiness, James discovered a fan fiction site dedicated to the celebrated “Twilight” vampire novel trilogy by Stephanie Myers, an author that James’ dedicates most of her stimulus for creativity.
Under the alias Snowqueens Icedragon, James, who never gives out her real age but owns up to being in her 40’s, started writing a thread on the fan fiction site named “Master of the Universe,” a tale similar to “Twilight” that mirrored its Washington state setting and main characters Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Soon the characters and story shifted to her own and James became the first time author of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the premiere book of her trilogy that was originally published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, a small Australian Press.
Bella and Edward from “Twilight”
Like Bella in “Twilight,” James’ leading lady, Anastasia Steele, is a pale brunette living chastely while her counterpart, Christian Grey, like Bella’s Edward, is a work of art. Grey is a 27 year old self made Seattle telecommunications tycoon while Steele, age 21, is a newly college graduate embarking on a liberal arts career.
While the “Twilight” lovers face a human vs. supernatural barrier, Steele and Grey encounter more of a realistic obstacle that becomes an ongoing strain in their relationship throughout the Fifty series. The hurdle they must jump is their difference in lifestyle.
As the pasty dark haired virgin lives a life of innocence, Grey introduces her to his world of BDSM, an acronym combining the words bondage and discipline (B/D), dominance and submission (D/S), and sadism and masochism (S/M).
After having Steele sign a contract agreement to be his weekend Submissive with guidelines they both must obey, Grey welcomes her into his “Red Room of Pain” crammed with chains, flogs, cuffs, whips, and other sexual instruments familiar to the BDSM community.
Due to its context, the trilogy has been classified by a majority as “mommy porn” and a unusual love story that is launched by a submission sex fantasy, making it an notorious topic with most media outlets and a concern to some specialists.
The rising phenomenon of the Fifty trilogy has caused a demand amongst experts and commentators to debate and ponder whether the literature surfaces an oppression notion or liberatory function.
In Entertainment Weekly, writer Lisa Schwarzhaum reported that Jill McDevitt, sexologist and owner of a West Chester, Pa., feminist sex shop named Feminique Boutique, believes the book parades an abusive relationship between Grey and Steele and illuminates an distorted image of the BDSM lifestyle.
”He tells her when to eat, he stalks her and goes into jealous rages every time she’s talking to her male friends. I’m like, that has nothing to do with BDSM,” said McDevitt. “That’s just a good old-fashioned abusive, controlling boyfriend”
Additionally, on the Today Show in March, Dr. Drew Pinsky, an American board-certified internist and addiction medicine specialist, furthered the abusive concept by suggesting the bondage, submission, and physical pain that Steele endures in Fifty depicts violence toward women.
“The swept away fantasy is common,” said Dr. Drew. “But it’s going beyond that into actual violence against women.”
Accompanying Dr. Drew on The Today Show was Dr. Logan Levkoff, a renowned sexologist and author of “How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex with You,” who confessed to reading the Fifty series in less than 48 hours. She found it complicated as a women and professional to see how the erotica endorses violence toward women.
“The girl [Steele] does have different control and senses, I want us to be clear,” said Dr. Levkoff in a way that anyone could detect her passion for the material. “This particular community has very orchestrated rules and negotiations. This is a romantic romanticized version of that. This is consensual. It doesn’t depict rape.”
See the discussion between Drew and Levkoff on The Today Show:
Dr. Drew and others alike may confuse James’ fictional work with the victimization of women because they have a rudimentary idea of the meaning of BDSM. They mistake the lifestyle for nothing other than pleasure for pain. However, the culture is more complex than that.
In one of her post for the Huffington Post online, Dr. Levkoff emphasized how BDSM focuses on the exploration of altered power dynamics, responses, and restrictions with plenty of discussion and planning before hand.
Granted she doesn’t want to be held accountable for it, Frances Bartkowski, a chairperson of the Department of English and a former director of Women and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, Newark campus, also intellectually defined BDSM.
“It strikes me as a set of practices that involve some people letting other people take charge and that can be done in a variety of ways,” said Bartkowski. “Whether we are talking about being confined either in certain kinds of clothing, in certain kinds of instruments, and other people having the permission to fine the pleasure in that difference of position.”
Contrary to what Dr. Drew may believe, according to cognoscenti like Dr. Levkoff and Barkowski, the submissive has an immense deal of authority.
“If you read the literature on S&M, the smartest people will tell you that it is really the submissive who is really in charge because they are the ones who set the limits of what they feel safe doing and having done to them,” said Barkowski. “They are the ones with the safe word when things are suppose to stop, and the other person is the one taking the instruction from the one who is supposedly submissive.”
This is made apparent in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first book of James’ trilogy, when the appendix of Grey’s contract agreement gives Steele the control to use safe words like “yellow” for caution and “red” for stop.
In Maureen Dowd ’s New York Times article, “She’s Fit to be Tied,” a Harvard educated dominatrix, who coined the name Jennifer Hunter, stressed that a good dominant knows that the submissive is really the governing partner.
“All a submissive woman has to do is relax and enjoy the ride while delicious sexual acts are visited upon her,” said Hunter. “She’s the star of the proceedings. Someone is ministering to her needs.”
Thus, to reiterate the issue that emerged, is this form of submission oppressing the female race? Similar to the question Savannah Guthrie of the “Today Show” asked, is this book taking the women’s movement backwards?
While Barkowski suggested that there is so much going on in the world that is taking women back that this BDSM loves story hardly seems like the place to start, Dr. Levkoff blatantly said “I don’t think it’s political.”
Even Laura Berman, a professional sex therapist, affirmed on the “Today Show” that in a new generation where women are more influential than ever before, the most common female fantasy is a submission or domination fantasy where they are taken out of there controlled environment.
“If we look at history we have the women’s movement which was really about empowering women not to be submissive to men anymore,” said Berman. “The glass ceiling has been broken. We have as much control as we want. What are we longing for? A little bodice ripping,” she continued with certainty.
Seconding Berman’s notion were women of Florida’s Boca Raton Book Club who also appeared on the “Today Show.”
“It’s nice for a man to take over in the bedroom than you having to please the man after you have just made dinner and did everything else,” said one Boca Ration member among a circle of her fellow book clubbers, glasses of white wine, and copies of the Fifty trilogy.
Along with prevailing women, there are equally career driven men who also yearn for that sense of acquiescence. After her presence on the “Today Show,” Dr. Levkoff accentuated in a blog post for the Huffington that the story of Fifty is only one depiction of a vast community and that there are many women in the lifestyle who dominant over men who are eager to submit with devotion.
Tracy Clark-Flory, a writer for the Salon, interviewed Mistress Shae Flanigan, a dominatrix of Los Angeles, Ca, whose clientele consist of prominent business men. She confirmed that, at times, these powerful men are looking for a quick leave from their entitlement that can only be provided by submission.
“They come to me to create an environment where they don’t need to think. Where they can trust me to keep them safe while I weave together an enticing, thrilling, euphoric and painful world where it is literally impossible to think,” said Flanigan. “BDSM is a hell of a lot more affordable of a vacation than the Bahamas, I promise you.”
Although the Fifty booksare causing great hoopla throughout the nation, some like Bartkowski don’t understand the hype since romance fiction is always based on submission and this form of erotica has already been achieved. During the discussion, Bartkowski brought and old story of dominant submissive relations to the forefront.
“There is a little history of controversial text, I’m thinking Story of O,” said Bartkowski. “It is classic story of a young woman in submission to powerful men.”
Story of O
In her article previously mentioned, while analyzing the Fifty trilogy, Dowd included a comparison to “Story of O.”
The erotic novel, written in France by Anne Desclos under the nom de plume of Pauline Reage and published in 1954, is about a stunning female fashion photographer named O who willingly enters the realm of submission and joyfully endures harsh sexual treatment by the authoritative Sir Stephen, O’s love interest, and his guests of other men of the crème de la crème.
Dowd reached further back in the historical archives and zoomed in on a 1740 novel written in two volumes by Samuel Richardson called “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded,” a story about a teenage servant girl, Pamela Andrews, and her aristocrat master, Mr. B, who becomes besotted with her. He keeps her captive in one of his estates. After numerous failed attempts to seduce and rape Andrews, Mr. B is overcome by her virtue and puts their different classes aside to take her hand in marriage.
Although dominant, Grey is not as overbearing as the monstrous men in “The Story of O” and “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded.” Characterizing him as a lover of Frank Sinatra and a believer in monogamy, James established a softer side of her grey eyed and copper haired Don Juan.
Since the dominant-submissive theme has circled around more than once in various novels, Bartkowski is baffled about the astonishment over Fifty and why it is receiving various backlash.
“I’m not sure that there is anything new there except that it has some more kinks I gather,” said Bartkowski. “If I had the book in my hand I guess I would ask why is this such a turn on? Is it the language?”
In Dowd’s opinion, James’ writing style lacks literary flair. Yet, the abundant electronic downloads and print sales of the trilogy has proven that the words or overly attractive to housewives and then some.
CBS New York news featured Michele Yogel, a mother of Westchester, NY, who admitted to being infatuated with the explicit linguistics of the book.
“Its the sex really,” said Michele Yogel. “Because I don’t think it’s the worlds best piece of literature but you start reading it and you can’t put it down..”
Housewives like Yogel praised Fifty’s obvious fictional sexuality, that is notched up to the level of whips and chains, for expanding the imagination that laid dormant in some women.
Dr. Levkoff is certain that the book has triggered women to step out of their comfort zones and explore fantasies that they wouldn’t actually do in real life.
Bartkowski suggested that the literature is a resource for women to have a healthy mental experience that is sexually vindicating.
“I think the people who are reading it are feeling somehow freed, if only in their fantasy life. That has been the work of sexual liberation whenever and where ever it appears,” said Bartkowski. “To let it out. Carrying it around leads to the things that do harm women. It is a channel for women’s fantasies.”
In addition to helping them flee away from their sexual inhibitions, housewives have been grateful to Fifty for enhancing the magic that occurs in the bedroom.
Hazel Sanchez of CBS New York discovered in March that suburban housewives, like blogger Stacy Geisinger of Westchester, praise the trilogy for saving their marriages.
Geisinger professed that a couple of her married friends actually went out to purchase the sex toys that are introduced in the book in an attempt to mimic the sex scenes.
“They went to buy the specific items that are used in the book and the store was sold out,” said Geisinger. “So its improving lives.”
The housewife displayed these frisky items on her blog, “Stacy Knows,” in a post entitled “Save Your Marriage: More Reasons to Read 50 Shades of Grey.”
So what did the first time author have to say about all the attention her literary work has received? Several weeks ago at her book signing at Barnes & Nobles in New York’s Union Square, James gave her reactions during a conversation with Dr. Levkoff in front of a live audience.
Upon entering the popular bookstore a curving line of people were on exhibition at the cash register awaiting to buy part of the Fifty trilogy or the entire series as their golden ticket to witness the author of the latest erotica in person. Whether it was a gift for Mother’s Day or for personal enjoyment, fans were spotted with a towering stack of Fifty with at least a maximum of six copies anticipating James’ signature.
It was a little after 7p.m.and the night was near. The top floor of B&N, where James and Dr. Levkoff would be speaking, was filled with an ocean of devotees eager to meet their beloved novelist.
When the acclaimed author and sexologist arrived, after posing for the press, the two sat before the crowd of hundreds and the conversation began.
With all that has transpired in the last few months, Dr. Levkoff was curious to know what has surprised the first time author the most.
James followed up Dr. Levkoff question with a glance toward the audience and simply answered in her British way, “This, hello everybody.” She continued uttering how she never expected to gain fame.
“I thought I was just writing this love story and here I am in New York in front of hundreds of people,” James said, attempting to speak amongst the cheering. “I really didn’t figure this at all. I’m just so grateful thank you, thank you.”
Along with Myers, James gave recognition to her play list she created called “Lets Write Sex” for motivating her to write the passionate love story. Shocking Dr. Levkoff and a number of members in the audience, James revealed that one of the songs on her play list was “Sexy” by the Black Eyed Peas.
“Sexy” by Black Eyed Peas:
While she believes her work creates a bond between the female race, James came clean that she didn’t quite understand why Fifty has been the center of so much polemics.
“I mean uh what can I say? I just really don’t get it,” said the puzzled author. “I wrote this little love story. For me I think what it is that it brings women together, that‘s what it does,” she continued, protecting her masterpiece.
Although the author feels she has completed the graphic romantic tale of Steele and Grey, her fans at B&N chanted for more.
Their wishes are in the midst of coming true since the next step is converting the story from print to film. Recently, James sold the movie rights to “Fifty Shades of Grey” to Universal and Focus Features for approximately $5 million.
While the glitz and glam of Tinsel Town can shift a person’s character, James made it apparent to Dr. Levkoff that it wouldn’t change her after expressing what she looked forward to doing once she returned home.
“I’m going to go home and do my laundry, shop with my children, and have sex with my husband,” she said shamelessly.
It is still up in the air whether or not James will continue her writing in the erotica realm. No matter what she decides, women believe her primary work has made an everlasting imprint on their lives. As a representative of her gender, Dr. Levkoff voiced her gratitude to James in the closing remarks of the conversation.
“You have inspired us. You have changed the way we see woman’s sexuality,” said Dr. Levkoff. “You have changed the public discourse and really acknowledged that we are all sexual beings regardless of what we do and who we do it with and I think it is about damn time so thank you.”
Dr. Levkoff’s genuine compliment was followed by a roar from the fanatic crowd and James took off her thick black framed glasses and removed the strand of brunette hair from her face to wipe her tears of joy away. Soon after, the book signing commenced.
See what fans had to say that day at the book signing about the novel being banned from libraries: