July 4, 2012

QUESTION: A Growing Appetite for Porn?

Last week at Chapters, I saw a handful of women crowding a book display. They were standing and reading the novel Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James. Talking in hushed tones, they attracted the attention of a store employee, who came over and joined in the quiet discussion.  How much have you read? What did you think? Did the read this part? Have you read the last one? 

According to friends of mine, it's one of those books you can't put down, and then you want the second, and so on... "But it's not a book for discussion!" insists one friend. Well, then, what's it all about? It's all about sex. Or more specifically, BDSM. That one I had to look up, despite my "wordly" experience.  Bondage Dominance Sadism Masochism. OK, got it. I picked up the book, flipped through and started reading. My eyes went to the first line of dialogue: "Will you be hurting me tonight?", she asked. I put the book down.

This trilogy is a phenomenal success, similar to and surpassing Harry Potter.  It shot past 20 million books sold worldwide in just under 12 weeks.  Originating in Australia and published first as a web site series, it was rebranded (original title was "Master of the Universe") and released as an ebook trilogy.  It became the first ebook to reach 1,000,000 Kindle sales. Buyers are largely women, from teenagers upwards. And until you get past the cover, your first impression (a common trick) is that the author is a man, not a woman.

When I was a young gal, we read scores of Harlequin Romances.  Is this what true love feels like? We peeked at glossy Playboy magazines. Is this what men want? (The men reading are nodding.) We searched for clues everywhere, to satisfy our curiosity about love and intimacy. We were insatiable and malleable in our innocence. Of course, this was during the late 60s.  The sexual revolution was just beginning.

So I'm wondering...what does the success of this book say about us? Are we starving for soft porn? Are we that thrilled by the concept of being submissive to a dominant male? Critics insist that the topic is a dangerous and huge step backwards for gender equality. I'm inclined to agree, disinclined to judge, and I haven't read the book. What do you think? Is it just an appetite for new masturbation material? Are we generally unsatisfied with our sexual lives? Or is it just great writing in an unusual genre?

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