I am always very, very late to adopt a trend.
I’m afraid that I’ll hop on board the train, only to find the trend is over and now I’m hopelessly SO 2000-late.
This goes for fashion. Hair. Makeup. Books.
I’ve been watching the whole 50 Shades of Grey discussion with a mix of perplexedness (is that a word?) and amusement.
A few months back, I couldn’t be on Facebook or Twitter without hearing rave reviews of 50 Shades.
“It’s so hot!”
“OMG I stayed up all night reading the first book, I couldn’t put it down!”
“Who should play Christian Grey in the movie?”
Anybody who WAS somebody was reading it (I am clearly not somebody).
Now that the fangirls have had their say, it seems the literati have now amassed themselves and are determined to sway public sentiment against the book.
All over Facebook, I’m seeing people absolutely eviscerate 50 Shades of Grey.
“This is the worst crap since Twilight.”
“How many times does Ana say “Oh, My?”
“The sex scenes are vapid, not sexy.”
“You are an illiterate slob who is contributing to the dumbing-down of American literature if you even consider buying this book.”
It’s like our collective literary fate teeters in the balance on this book about dominant-submissive relationships. Certain doom awaits.
Anybody who IS somebody is badmouthing this book.
After seeing both sides of this polarizing debate, I decided to pick up the first book in the trilogy to see what the hubbub is all about.
I’m a solid “meh” after reading 2/3 of it. Poor writing? Yes. An unbelievable plot? Yeah. There are some interesting parts – I don’t know a whole bunch about the whole dominant-submissive thing, so it’s been somewhat informative, even if fictional.
I wouldn’t tell anybody they HAVE to read it. But I don’t feel the need to bash it, either.
Because here’s the deal. It’s well-marketed mediocrity.
And well-marketed mediocrity has a place in every single part of our culture.
We can dine at the French Laundry in Napa, or we can partake in a Whopper Jr. at Burger King. Burger King is pretty mediocre. But they market well, and they fill a space for a certain kind of consumer.
We can shop at Neiman Marcus for designer fashion. Or we can go to Forever 21 and buy the cheaply made knockoff version of that same outfit. Forever 21 is pretty average. But not everybody can afford Neiman Marcus and besides, I personally enjoy believing that I will, in fact, be Forever 21.
And so it goes with literature.
We can read Toni Morrison or Henry James or Poe, if that’s what gets you going. Or we can read 50 Shades of Grey, because maybe we just don’t want to think all that hard about symbolism and allegory and plot. Maybe we just want to escape into a different world and not care for one minute about being intellectual.
I’m fairly certain that amongst the critics of 50 Shades of Grey are folks who have, at one time or another, eaten Burger King or shopped at Forever 21. Are they dooming fashion and food to its least common denominator?
There has always been, and always will be, a place for mediocrity in our culture…there is even a place for downright craptastic.
But if a product is marketed correctly and fulfills a consumer need, it’s all good in my book.
I used to get upset when I’d see someone who I thought was just a mediocre blogger become dizzyingly successful. Now, I applaud her ability to market herself and know her consumer.
Because not everybody can be Heather Armstrong.
And so I say, leave 50 Shades of Grey alone.
If it ires you that poorly-written novels are successful? Go drown your sorrows in a Whopper with cheese. And remember: before there was 50 Shades of Grey, there were decades of Harlequin romance novels.