Filthy Shades Of Rich

Reading & Writing

I nicked that heading from mate Rick Drew, who points out an ‘article’ (i.e. reworked press release) in the Daily Mail mentioning that the combined total global sales of EL James’ porn trilogy is already 20 million. The books are now selling at a rate of one million paperbacks and ebooks per week. According to the Mail, James has the best-selling Kindle book of all time because women are too embarrassed to buy pornography in shops. I guess online porn hasn’t been invented in the Mail’s weird world.

Sales of the first – I have trouble typing the word ‘novel’ here, so let’s say ‘collection of short words’ – have overtaken the Harry Potter books and the Da Vinci Code. It’s easy to mock the former Twilight fan-fiction hack, so I’ll take that opportunity: Judging from her photo she has possibly been gender-reassigned, which places her in a good position to write about tying up submissive women. My two big problems aren’t related to James – which are not of interest to me, any more than a set of decent jump-leads are to James’ heroine, unless she eyes them with a view to being lashed to a post – but with the publishers.

There is a balancing line between art and commerce. The need to sell books has always been tempered by the desire to create excellence. There’s not a publishing house that doesn’t champion its stable of past great authors. But Mills & Boon is not a traditional publishing house. They don’t have a pedigree of excellence to worry about. They know they peddle wish-fulfilment trash for bored mums, and have now taken the inevitable step of moving into pornography.

So who will now ape them? The major publishing houses, who’ll want a slice of the action. How many professional writers are about to lose their contracts because some marketing chimp points out that major publishing houses should be hiring fans instead?

My other problem is that the ubiquity of the books can only make men think less of women, who are showing they crave domination over the exertion of independence and free will. Maybe my attitude is outdated, but having grown up in the era of Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer, it feels disappointingly retrograde.

The movie’s on its way of course. I’m hoping Kristen Stewart plays the lead.

28 comments on “Filthy Shades Of Rich”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Okay…
    E.L. James, “genger-reassigned” and Kristen Stewart used in a single post. You’ve been standing out on your roof waving a red flag, I see.
    Let me just open the storm celler door, put on my warden’s helmet, and lay in some extra rations and water. The Flying Googling Monkeys of Doom must already be airborne.
    Where was I?
    To me Ms. James appears like someone who has spent way too much time indoors chained to the overly-demanding keyboard typing and nervously snacking. Long periods spent typing can do that and the mind wanders, apparently into murky areas of abasement and a hunger for cash.
    I believe she’s exploiting the inclination of publishers to order up porn that degrades the female. (There seems to be a thrill factor for some readers in this.)
    This you’ll-do-it-or-you-die phenomenon must go back – at least – to the 50s and the long-running, still-going sexy French series of historical potboilers about Angelique (and the…).
    SOME readers appear to find forced-forbidden pleasures exciting. (Because it happens to a character not to them? And the character’s not to blame, so there’s no guilt or sin.)
    I hope some of your female readers will share their thoughts on the Grey series, whether the books have been read or not. (I can think of two I’d particularly like to hear from, but both of them have been missing of late.)

  2. Angelia says:

    Some of my friends are foaming at the mouth over this series, but unlike I am, they’re not doing so in disgust. One is re-reading it already because she just can’t let go. I’ve had that experience myself with many a read, but not with FSoG.

    I do want to clarify a couple of things before getting to the phenomenon these scribblings have become.

    First, proper BDSM is about consensual power exchange. It’s a psychological exercise, and only strong people with clear senses of self and respect for one another need apply. In the real BDSM world, men like Christian are despised, and submissives are warned to stay away from them. At best these men are clueless and don’t realize they’re behaving poorly; at worst, they’re psychopaths. Two people agreeing to play (it is serious, yes, but the term is “play”) must have power to exchange.

    Second, feminism and submission are not mutually exclusive. True, some feminists still maintain any submission is problematic, but many realize now that genuinely powerful women can relinquish their power for awhile with a trusted partner without giving up their strengths and senses of self-worth. Believe it or not, these powerful women actually find the experience itself empowering. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true nonetheless.

    Doing some reading into the real culture of BDSM will help illustrate how unlike James’s world the real world of BDSM is (and how concerned the real BDSM world is about this series and the misperceptions it’s causing).

    Even before this series, though, BDSM had hit the mainstream. The series seems to me to be an evolution of the Harlequin romance. Bodice-rippers now include handcuffs and floggers. I’m imagining Fabio on the cover, but instead of a pirate shirt, he’s wearing leather pants and holding a riding crop.

    Sensationalism sells, and in a world where Rule 34 thrives (pick anything, and you’ll find porn made about it), sexual sensationalism is a fast ticket to recognition, money, whatever.

    Add kinky sex to traditional romances novels, and of course some women are going to sit up and take notice. The old “surrender to me, my lovely, and let me show you what my manhood can do for you” becomes “you look beautiful on your knees! Now bend over, and don’t forget to safeword!”

    This, too, shall pass. Some publishers will make a lot of money from this newly-recognized cash cow. Eventually, though, the newness will wear off, the whipping benches will gather dust, and the undiscerning reading public will find some new sensationalism.

  3. Alan Morgan says:

    On the other hand it can’t hurt to wave a copy of Spanky at publishers again. You know what cover. ;0)

  4. FabienneT says:

    I had typed a long post about this, then thought – hang on a minute, this could get you in trouble. So I’ve deleted it.

    I think the whole thing is bloody hilarious. Haven’t read those books and won’t.
    Fans of this book should go to Torture Garden or Club Antichrist in London, but I doubt they would be daring enough!

    Angelia: spot on…

    And don’t get me started on feminists…

    Now, let’s talk about interesting books!

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    @ Angelia. Thank you. I have a niece who’s taken lots of gender studies, I’ll ask her as well.
    And I must say I, too, thought this business was probably an outgrowth of the Harleguin romance books. Harlequin romance, burrrr. (Those books – I believe – are in some way the equivalent of the thrillers for men in which impossible things are done with no consequences.)
    What I do personally find difficult to understand, though, is why people get into BDSM in the first place and why there needs to be power exchanges and submission? And safewords other than yes, please, no and don’t. And the ever wonderful: hey, let’s do that again.
    But what do I know. I’ve been married nearly half a century and you know how we were back then. We carried a torch, we carried a pedestal.

  6. snowy says:

    I was expecting a nice post about Eric Sykes, who has sadly died.

    Smutty little books have always been around, indeed the french have a phase for them that translates as “one handed literature”. Jackie Collins and that horsey woman made careers out of them.

    That this is a success is down to a freak alignment of disparate factors:

    Naughty book+Twiglet+e-readers+hype=£££

    (The rise of the e-reader means even those to shy to buy and read the physical book, can indulge.)

    There will be the usual slew of imitators, though in this case they might be of higher quality than the original, (a novelty in itself). As professional writers will earn a few pounds/dollars churning out similar pieces.

    It will burn out as fast as it came, I can hear the Bad Sex Prize Committee, unsheathing their Bics as I type. The ridicule will sink it and the only place you will see the books, will be in charity shops, by the yard.

    The film if ever made will star some desparate, fame hungry unknown, and fall from public awareness quicker than “Basic Instinct 2″ (I had to look that up honest).

    Angelia did the “heavy lifting” on this one so beautifully, there is little more to say.

    A few people made some big money, a lot of people spent a little money on trash. So the world turns, some profit might be invested in writers worth reading, stop laughing it could happen!

    I’m now going to cravenly duck out, before the Twihard rampage begins.

  7. BangBang says:

    I bought the new Ben Aaronovitch this week and the three ladies in front of me were all buying this book. The guy serving told me that 90% of the women he’d spoken to had no idea what the book was actually about. They were buying it simply because it was the current in-thing to do.

    Judging from comments on FB I think most of them think it’s a bit of a risqué laugh and that’s fair enough. I would hate to think that any young girl would take it anyway seriously. Then again I should just let people get on with it, most are smart enough to see it for what it is.

    It’s complicated though, isn’t it?!

    PS Oh man, are we going to have another Kristin write-in? I do hope so, I enjoyed the last one although poor Admin had to wade through the dross.

  8. Rob Nott says:

    I have to say that blog post doesn’t do you any credit, Chris. Whatever the merits of the book may or may not be (and I haven’t personally read it, so I can’t comment), I think we can all agree it was simply the work of an aspiring amateur writer who longed to see her name in print and who possibly hoped she might sell a few thousand copies, if she was lucky. I don’t think she could possibly have anticipated selling 20,000,000 units and counting and becoming the next J K Rowling. The fact that this has happened, through no particular evil machinations on her part, doesn’t really warrant condemnation since she’s guilty of nothing more than a) wanting to write, b) doing so, and c) wishing she could see her work in print. Everything else since then was simply a case of being extremely lucky and being in the right place at the right time. To post a picture of her and comment ‘Judging from her photo she has possibly been gender-reassigned, which places her in a good position to write about tying up submissive women,’ isn’t the sort of thing I’d expect to read from you. Think about it for a moment. Does she really deserve having the way she looks criticised by you just because a lot of people have decided to buy her book? What sort of point are you trying to make there? Do people have to be beautiful in order to have a book published? Has she actually done anything ‘bad’ to warrant that kind of personal attack? We seem to live in an age where people say abusive things on the internet that they would never say to another person face to face. I can think of a lot of people who I’d expect to post comments like that on the internet. You’re not one of them. Is that the sort of comment you’d say to her face if you met her through mutual friends at a literary event? If not, why say them here?

  9. Alan Morgan says:

    @FabienneT. All the people I knew that went to Torture Garden twenty odd years ago are now middle-aged mums. Not me, I went to nice, clean clubs like… well, Slimelight. Aho.

  10. Bob Low says:

    Before the angry swarm of Twihard drones swoop down in attack formation, I wonder if anyone can clear up the following. I keep reading that the’Fifty Shades of Grey’ books started as Twilight fan fiction-but aren’t the Twilight books written by some religious maniac to promote her views about the spiritual perils of sex out of holy wedlock? How did we get from there to sado-masochism? I’m sure Alan Morgan has a theory.

  11. BangBang says:

    I’m pretty sure that most of the fans of the ‘Books That Shall Not Be Named’ had any idea that the necrophilia and beastiality contained therein had anything to do with the author’s religious views.

    The fan-fiction sub-genre is an altogether different kettle of fish. Don’t go there Bob – it’s a different world! Just type Harry Potter fan fiction into Google and you’ll be transported!

  12. Angelia says:

    @Dan: Online, you can find far more detailed and far better worded descriptions of BDSM (and its hows and whys) than I can ever hope to provide. Try Jay Wiseman’s website for a start to see just how surprisingly pragmatic BDSM experts are in their explanations of things.

    I will say this re the appeal of BDSM and erotic pain: anyone who’s ever found a little thrill when having one’s hair tugged firmly or getting a spank on the bottom is experiencing the erotic pain – subtle though it is – that draws people to play. And BDSM needn’t include cats and cuffs. Tease and denial using only fingertips and a feather can produce quite a lot of erotic pain.

    Fingertips and a feather hardly translate well to sensationalist fiction, however, and seem so vanilla when compared to rope bondage that they’d never be considered suitable content. At least in the real world they’re more common.

    @Alan: Slimelight…oh please share what that is! I don’t really have to guess with Torture Garden and Club Antichrist, but Slimelight has so many delicious possibilities!

  13. snowy says:

    Vampire friends desire to lust – fang fang
    They fall on necks then fall in love – pang pang
    The Marquis de Sade was happy with a stroke of love
    Sherlock Holmes alone preferred a little toke of love

    Bang, bang, the mighty fall
    Bang, bang, when love has called

  14. J F Norris says:

    I love that this type of book is called “Mummy porn.” The best assessment of this ersatz erotica (I can’t call it porn it seems utterly tame compared to real porn) is written by Rowan Pelling and was published in the Telegraph online just yesterday. She tears it apart, explains why it appeals to the women who are buying it, and compares it to what real writing and real erotica is. The story in FIFTY SHADES… sounds like an utterly lame rip off of Adrian Lynne’s campy sex play film NINE AND A HALF WEEKS. Go read the article here.

    These women should VENUS IN FURS. That’s the real thing.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    @Snowy, I love your verse but I’m afraid I have to side with Rob Nott as I, too, am a little disappointed in this post. Everyone has little games they play in their imaginations, or so I am led to believe, and fiction is a way of stimulating those imaginary games. It has little to do with what one enjoys in real life, although it may indicate a sort of preference… Someone said that men are visually stimulated while women are more likely to be mentally stimulated with words. I think that’s why the bodice rippers did so well. I’m just speculating because I’ve never indulged in the bodice ripper thing.

  16. admin says:

    To Rob and Helen –
    I’m happy with complains about making a joke of James’ physical appearance for several reasons.
    1. It’s a standard British habit to pass personal remarks on people in the public arena – watch an episode of ‘Have I Got New For You’ some time, or read the excellent ‘City Of Laughter’.
    2. I didn’t say she was ugly (she’s got a very nice face), just that she looks like a bloke. Which she does.
    3. I was looking for a reason why the book (the first third of which I read – God help me) feels like it was written by a man parodying women’s fiction. Which it does.

  17. Rick D says:

    Well! That certainly stirred things up! Stay tuned for my self-published
    e-cook-book, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAVY.

  18. Rob Nott says:

    It is indeed a common feature of British TV shows like ‘Have I Got News For You’ for smug satirists to sit there laughing at the way people look, for no reason other than they’ve dared to enter the public consciousness and therefore they are now ‘fair game’. They do so knowing there’s no come back. I suspect the likes of Hislop and Merton would be a little more careful what they said to someone’s face in an inner city pub, because if they acted that way they would probably get their head kicked in. But live on TV they can say what they like knowing there’s very little come back. It is a feature of British society that I’m not too keen on to be honest. It strikes me as being a bit, well, cowardly. Let’s be honest – if James read that you thought she looked like a bloke, she’d probably feel very hurt. I imagine most women would feel hurt by something like that. Especially in this image conscious age (which is another subject entirely) She might even wonder why Chris Fowler hates her so much. Who knows, she might own a copy of Calabash, think it’s one of the best books ever, and be doubly hurt that you’re telling people she looks like a man in a dress. Imagine a popular writer had reviewed Roofworld when it came out, and in addition to not liking the book, that writer had made disparaging and offensive personal remarks about your sexuality. You’d rightly have thought that was out of order. Women would probably feel the same way if someone described them as looking like a bloke, especially if the comment has nothing to do with the fact they’ve written a book. Yes, it’s probably a rubbish book, but there are a lot of rubbish books out there. The sad fact is people want to read rubbish books, especially if other people are reading the same rubbish book and saying it’s great. There seems to be a herd mentality when it comes to popular taste. :)

  19. admin says:

    It’s not a herd mentality, Rb, it’s very carefully orchestrated – see new post. (I worked in this area for many years)

  20. FabienneT says:

    @Alan: oh yes, of course, I completely understand what you mean! People evolve with time, but at least these middle-aged mums have dared to explore something different at some point in their lives, I guess.
    It’s not the book itself I criticise, because I haven’t read it! It’s the moralistic debate surrounding it that I find sad, led by people who obviously haven’t got a clue about what they’re talking about and tuttut at people who don’t live their lives the same way as themselves!
    And the so-called feminist pack who jump on anything, I think they should let go a bit and be less judgemental! :-)

    The REAL debate is indeed what Chris is talking about: marketing-led super cynical publishing… The two blogs about the book are really well written. That’s what I like about this blog, intelligent insider (and often funny) thoughts!

  21. Vicki says:

    Hi, enter a librarian. I have read the book as I wanted to know what all the fuss is about. My opinion, it is dire. It is written as though for an illiterate teenager. Short sentences, words of one syllable, lots of Holy sh**! and Holy cr** ad nauseum.
    What it is doing is persuading lots of people who do not usually read books to do so. Good perhaps?
    What worries is if you spend some time looking at the reviews on Amazon for example many people reading it are it would seem semi literate.

    I also supect but may be wrong, that they are young. I do not like that this book is marketed as a post Twilight book. Twilight was clearly fantasy, i.e. vampires etc. This book is porn, boring porn and so repetitive, yes, she is consensual but much is made of her being a young student virgin, blah, blah, so how can that be consensual, she hasn’t a clue! Is there a danger to young people reading this book, probably not but as a feminist it makes my hair stand on end.

    This book reminds me of the sort of stories that used to be in Playboy in the early 70s. Young virgin, gets taught sex by knowing mature man…. and it is being read that way too. Cut to older man who returned a copy of said book to one of our libraries with post it notes in all the sex scenes with scores out of ten and additional notes and comments…….

  22. snowy says:

    @Helen I cannot claim the verse as mine, it’s from a very silly song released years ago. It was seeing the screen name BangBang and the teenage vamp connection that caused me to look it up and quote it.

    I must have got my cut and paste mixed up, (leaving me looking like Ogdens’ nut) because there was supposed to be a bit below citing the song as an example of the public latching on to a bit of trash and giving it more regard than it deserves (it got to No. 2 in the charts). But I can’t quite remember the post that I wrote. But it was something to the effect that, if the conditions are right, and if you are very lucky, you can sell any old tat.

    But on the upside, I saw for the very first time the promo clip that was produced for the song. It’s an extraordinary example of what used to be passed off as a “pop video”. It looks terrible by modern standards, but it now has a sort of kitsch charm.

  23. Dan Terrell says:

    Vicki – excellent tidbit.
    There are now two known librarians, a number of writers – in addition to Himself, artists, creative people of differing media, and skads of perceptive readers/viewers contributing to this blog. No wonder this is where good company and mostly polite comment abound.
    Is this a great blog or what?
    Okay here it gets briefly weird.
    A flashback to TV’s early BW days: “The next bowler up is Chris Foster. He’d been bowling well tonight. Please be quiet while he posts – bowls – ladies and gentlemen.” Pause. “Mr. Foster chalks his hands. He picks up his trademarked ball. He’s addessing the topic – sorry – alley, adjusts his position, takes a calming breath, steps forward and he smoothly Releases The Ball. There’s a Lot of spin on it this time! Oh boy, this could be… The ball’s running much too close to the leftside gutter.. this could be – NO! No! It’s hooking back in time and – It’s a Strike! Posts – pins, rather – are flying! A pin boy’s down, but he’s trying to wave he’s all right. And, yes, Foster finishes with another perfect set.” Pause. “More topic bowling from Flying Apes Alley in rural Kansas after a word from Lucky Strikes and Wicked Witch Waffles – better for America’s children than letting eating sugar shingles off her house.”

  24. Dan Terrell says:

    Spot the missing “them”?

  25. Helen Martin says:

    Of course I did, Dan. We obviously localise our imaginations since in that first sentence of your flashback I was envisaging a cricket player. It had to have been early black and white days to have had a pin boy (never girls) but I’ll bet they were bowling ten pins, whereas here it would more likely have been five pins.

  26. Dan Terrell says:

    That’s one of the reasons this blog is so interesting. Where we come from and live and how we use the English language really comes through. It gives an added and shifting dimension to what is written – where – and read – where.
    In Kansas, though, they might have been duck pins – shorter and with a rubber band around the fatter middle – although I was thinking ten pins.
    I once was hit by a ten pin in the shoulder while serving as a gratis pinboy in a church basement fund raiser. Wasn’t struck on the head, which some might instantly say: “Explains everything now, doesn’t it.” Still, it did hurt several days and I suppose my arm could have chipped, if not broken. At least I have since been able to claim: “I was struck by a strike.”

  27. Alan Morgan says:

    Yeah, you’re all just bitter that you didn’t see it coming and invest heavily in Anne Summers shares. Cheap nylon bondage gear for mediocre domination with chip fat lube is flying out the door. Across the country tele remotes are all mysteriously not working. Recent polls are showing that flacid orgasms are up by 83%. You’re all being very mean. It is getting people reading again – albeit the instructions on that wonky joke vibe that they got three years ago as a joke present from secret-Santa.

    Insert borrowed joke about mums turning up to shop at Iceland with a newly chipped tooth (here).

  28. Lulu says:

    My first thought when I saw the author’s photo, before I’d read a word, was that the photo was of a man in drag.

    So sue me.

    Perhaps the author’s real name is Rob Nott?

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