A couple of weeks ago I listened to a radio talk show, Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. The show featured the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and I thought it was fascinating. I am just now finding the time to blog briefly about it. I recently posted on my interest in the reaction to this erotic trilogy. I have not read it myself but I eventually might. It is not the BDSM story that interests me. I have read that stuff before. What interests me is the massive success of the novels and what it says about culture, most especially the diversity of reactions to the best-selling books.
The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has now sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The film rights have already been purchased and speculation abounds regarding all aspects of the film. Public libraries, once banning the books, are placing them back on the shelves. And, of course, an entire consumer industry is now emerging because of the popularity of the erotic novels.
The radio program caught my attention because, once again, it was a conversation mostly among liberated women about the books and about feminine sexuality. The first-half of the show was an interesting dialog between the host and her two guests, a sexual researcher from Indiana University (why didn't I major in that in college instead of just fu#k!ng around?) and a writer for Salon. Both examined the phenomenon from a rather academic perspective, but the details they provided said a lot about the underlying erotic reality of American and Western culture. A basic conclusion that was agreed upon was that this is really a sexual re-telling of the classic "Beauty and the Beast" story line. The trilogy was referred to as a "bodice-ripper", a new term for me. I guess that shows how shallow my understanding of all this is.
What was especially fascinating to me was the second-half of the radio program when callers were taken. I guess the show must screen them to some extent and only allow the most diverse and intriguing on the air. The first caller was a female owner of two "women's novelty boutiques" who has "never seen anything like this" in terms of driving the sales of her merchandise. "We cannot keep these items on the shelves," she said, referring to items she carries that are mentioned in the novels or associated with BDSM. Great for business. She mentioned that she was seeing women coming into her stores that have been "way too shy" to enter in the past, buying items for themselves and their girlfriends.
An 80-year-old lady was the next caller. She "thoroughly enjoyed" and was "having a lot of fun" with the books, sharing them among her friends. "It is a love story and that's how I looked at it." This caller apparently connected with the "Beauty and the Beast" aspects of the story, a central element to their popularity according to the show's two "expert" guests.
Next, a gentleman phoned in wondering, "eroticism aside," what women are looking for who read these books and what they are needing in their intimate lives, whether it is escapism involving "bad-boy fixer-uppers" or if they need more than just compassion to "fix-up some deep flaw in their lives." Turns out there is quite a bit of research being done on this very topic. The complexity of the topic is related to such factors as where women are in their menstrual cycle and where they are in their age of life. One expert advised that people are very capable of separating their fantasy life from their real life and that most of what is "needed" here is probably just a form of entertainment.
A female caller followed this with the contention that the trilogy is important because it involves "a combination of desire and power" in terms of the Beauty taming the Beast. She felt that kind of power can be very attractive and alluring to women. Both experts agreed with this but they felt it is a bit more complex than that without really going into specifics.
Another female caller wondered that if the S&M taboo is now "exploded" what other taboos might be broken down next. The experts discussed the possibility of this popularity reflecting a breaking down of taboos in "open relationships" and certainly with "gay marriage" and other "non-traditional family formations." The experts felt this is actually a healthy thing for our society. One small example given was that women can now wear pants to work, which was not the case even 40 years ago. According to the experts that is representative of a change in sexuality.
The final caller was a practicing psychologist who shared her personal reaction to the book as well as how her patients are responding. She found the book "most disturbing" and felt "an experience of being tortured." It is "an erotic fairy-tale that plays on a lot of archetypal images." It affected her dreams and has negatively impacted many of her patients who have read it. The experts agree that the book is not without "a dark side" and "is powerful in that way." But, the experts do not see this trilogy as either good or bad. Different people will be affected by it different ways.
Well the entire radio program is indicative of this. From the psychologist who is affected by the book's "darkness" to the elderly woman who is "thoroughly enjoying" it, the diverse reactions and perspectives, for me, point to the actual diversity of human Being. It is a basic tenet of mine that "Diversity is natural and good." Diversity is one of humanity's most fundamental survival traits. Our biological diversity is reflected in cultural diversity, and both also reflect our individual diversity.
Some of the best indications of the nature of diversity are in how people react to controversial art or events. It is something I just wanted to note here in my blog. Both the erotic subject and the responses it evokes are something that can teach me and perhaps all of us if we are open to it.
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