A week or two ago, my beloved Entertainment Weekly published a review of the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. And it wasn't just a short blurb. It was the main book review for the week. Which is a sticky wicket for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that this is a self-published book that took off through word of mouth and e-editions and now has garnered the author a multi-million-dollar deal through a real publisher and a multi-million-dollar option from a Hollywood studio.
I'm in a quandary about it. Aside from the money, there's the subject matter of the book. First of all, it's romance, which is to say, erotica, which is to say, pornography. I don't think I'm exaggerating. The EW review itself calls the book pornographic. (This is not to say that "romance" equates to "pornography" or even that what some call "erotica" is pornographic. Surely they are not the same thing.) (Except in this case.) The difficulty is that such a mainstream pop culture mag is admittedly now dealing in porn. (I know it's ironic that I called my own vindication of the EW "Pop Culture Porn." But I was using the term metaphorically. The porn in this book ain't a metaphor.)
Okay. So here's where I get judgmental if I haven't already. The rest of my resentment about this whole thing is that James's story began as Twilight fan fiction. I don't think there are any vampires or werewolves in Fifty Shades of Grey, but the characters did start out with the names Bella and Edward.
I know I'm a literary snob. I don't want to knock fan fiction, per se. People can write it; others can read it. But should we legitimize it in such a way that we'll pay millions of dollars for it? Should Stephenie Meyer be calling copyright foul?
I also understand the power of the fluke. Sometimes a Tim Tebow comes along and throws the football ball into the score zone and everyone's happy about it for a while. But when the new publication "will include the new copy edit," according to the publisher, the fluke is simply dolled up and called legit.
My real problem is that I can't decide if it's simple jealousy or just recurring frustration with the system. And I'm conflicted enough to wonder if my ranting here is just more publicity, more fuel for the fire, as it were. But still, here it is.
I know this is backlash, fanning the flames, as it were. I admit I haven't read this book and I never will. When the "People are People" video began it's rotation on MTV in 1985, I was sure Depeche Mode had suddenly sold out, even though their best albums were yet to come. Maybe I'm wrong and Fifty Shades of Grey will spawn Black Celebration and Violator, and twenty-five years from now some upstart artist will be compared to the great E L James. As if...