Why the lust for bad porn?

JOSHUA DRUMMOND
Last updated 07:56 16/07/2012
Fifty Shades of Grey
What I wonder is: why does this kind of stuff appeal?

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Joshua Drummond

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That Fifty Shades of Grey novel sure is getting a lot of attention, isn't it? I've seen at least one news item relating to it every time I've clicked on a news site in the past few weeks. Apparently, the book is now outselling all other books in America combined.

I had a flick through it when I first spotted it on a casual browse through a local bookshop a couple of months back. They say never to judge a book by its cover, and this is probably good policy - I've read some amazing books with quite dramatically awful covers, like my old copy of Maurice Gee's Under The Mountain which pictured the main characters, Rachel and Theo, as hideous goblins possessing the power to distort the laws of perspective - but one look at the cover of Fifty Shades of Grey and I could tell it was going to be the next big thing.

So I opened the book. I shut the book, very quickly. My one superpower is the ability to unerringly flick straight to the naughty bit in any given book, and I had unwittingly utilised it once again. With great power, comes great responsibility. I had another, surreptitious peep, opening up to another set of pages entirely. It was a rather disturbingly naughtier bit. Intrigued, I put the book down and walked away quickly.

It's not that I've got anything against written porn - it must be the most benign form of porn in existence, as the only possible exploitation takes place in the minds of the author and the reader. But I did find it slightly disconcerting to find myself reading porn in a public place, surrounded by women (and they were all women) all eager to get their grubby mitts on the book themselves. I would have assumed that the internet would have rendered printed erotica obsolete by now, but no. It is selling like sexy hot cakes.

What I read of the book didn't really appeal, either aesthetically or pornographically. It might do if it wasn't hilariously unreadable. Here's an extract. It took me ages to find one that wasn't actually porn.

"Um. Actually, I mutter. If this guy is over thirty, then I'm a monkey's uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate."

So yeah, it's pretty awful. It's all like that, too. Just as a fun exercise, try and have your eyelids match your heart rate next time you're chatting to someone face-to-face. If you're lucky, they'll assume you're having a stroke and you'll get a free helicopter ride!

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Astute readers of the above extract may have noticed a certain resemblance to the literary stylings of Twilight. This is because Fifty Shades of Grey started life as Twilight fan-fiction, which I'm sure everyone already knows because every article about Fifty Shades of Grey mentions it.

Hey, wait, I can see a pattern here! I'm going to write fan-fiction of the fan-fiction and become a best-selling author and millionaire.

What I wonder is: why does this kind of stuff appeal? I don't mean "why does porn appeal" - that should be obvious - but why does badly written droning porn about weird boring people sell this well? Twilight was made of the same stuff. The only difference was that the characters never actually had sex, except (I am reliably informed) for a bit at the end where Bella and Edward boink so hard he knocks her out. It's not as though people aren't aware that the books are bad. Twilight has inspired legions of haters, and I expect Fifty Shades is already doing the same thing.

My theory is that it's the backlash itself that helps fuels these events. Take a book that's easy to read, if not exactly high literature, throw in a hook - vampires, wizards, implausibly multi-orgasmic sex, all of the above - somehow get it published (which, more and more, you do by putting something on the internet, waiting for enough confirmed downloads, and then quietly taking the evidence to a publisher) and wait for the banshee shriek of the literati backlash. This comes from respectable establishments like the New York Times, whose critics can't like anything that isn't post-modern dull-lit with no plot, no action, no characters and no life. Compared to the awful drudgery of much modern literature, Fifty Shades of Grey must seem like a breath of fresh BDSM air.

Joshua Drummond is a Hamilton freelance writer who enjoys participating in a good old-fashioned backlash.

- Waikato Times

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