Monday, September 17, 2012

Shock Me. Are Women Today Bored With Sweet Romance?

Volume I of the Fifty Shades Trilogy
     In a recent email chat with my niece, she boasted she is reading during every spare moment, day and night. She proclaimed that she is absolutely enthralled with a trilogy of books she simply can not put down. I must admit to being a bit surprised, and delighted. After all, this is the niece who could barely sit still long enough to flip through a magazine in her teens, much less as a young wife and mother, free moments being few and far between. What could possibly have her reading with such gusto? I immediately thought of vampires, but she said no.

     Like thousands of other young women across the country, my niece is reading the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James. Admittedly, I've heard the buzz and the off color jokes on late night TV about these books, but really haven't given them much thought. In fact, until my niece's rave review I haven't had the slightest bit of interest. She peaked my curiosity. On her recommendation, I immediately went to and ordered not just the first book, but the three-volume set. 

1956 Shocker Peyton Place
by Grace Metalious
     I've always thought of myself as open minded and savvy to the ways of the world, but I have to tell you that for the first time in years, and barely a third of the way into Fifty Shades of Grey, I am stunned. This is not the juicy romance I was expecting. It is a frighteningly dark and dangerous tale of intimidation, the seduction of wealth and power, sadistic manipulation and domination. I'm shocked to think that this is what my sweet niece, and other young women like her find sexy and exciting. As I read on my instincts cried out to the innocent Anastasia Steele, "Run, Baby run!" I closed the book and tossed the entire collection aside as a pathetic waste of my time and money.

1963 book The Group  by Mary McCarthy was
considered so scandalous
it was banned in Australia
     What distresses me more than the content of these disturbing books is my concern for the emotional well-being of the young women who find something so dark, so enticing. Granted, when I was young the hot novels of time were certainly tame by comparison, but considered quite scandalous just the same. I do realize that the shock factor is relative to ever evolving social trends and morality of the moment. However, my alarm here is in regard to the dangerous allure and power of money, pain and humiliation these books romanticize. I don't find this sexy at all. I find it justifiable reason for worry. 

1966 book and movie 
Valley of the Dolls
by Jacqueline Susann
     Over lunch recently I asked a group of thirty-something career women what they thought about the Fifty Shades Trilogy. After a few giggles and blushing cheeks, one woman admitted that she didn't finish reading the first book because it made her uncomfortable. This is encouraging to me. The other two ladies confessed they read all three, but not so much because they found them stimulating. They were reading them because it is so much fun tweeting and chatting with their friends about the forbidden content. This too gives me hope. Discussion is a good thing. I remember girl talks with my friends when we read the eyebrow-raising books of our generation. All considered just as scandalous by our elders (It is truly unnerving to realize I am in the "elders" category now).

1971 buzz book
The Happy Hooker
by Xaviera Hollander
     None the less, I have to believe that by bringing up taboo topics, these books might actually help the reader make moral judgements in their own lives. Having discussions with friends about prohibited issues allows the opportunity to test the waters, to weigh the opinions of others, without having to take the actual plunge. If reading one of these books does nothing more than make one consider what their own action might be in a similar situation, then these books could be an important tool for teaching moral character. I certainly hope so.
1996 outrage book
Sex And The City
by Candace Bushnell
became the popular TV series
     For me, I suppose I have lived long enough to have learned my lessons, and have long since formed my opinions about right and wrong, as well as the importance of sexual dignity. I no longer find reading about the journey to get there entertaining. Still, I am glad to know younger generations are being shocked enough to read more, and that they are talking to each other about it. No matter what is being read, it is promising to know there is discussion, that there is something scandalous enough to warrant conversation among peers in this anything-goes world of ours.

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