I haven’t read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, so I can hardly call myself a fan. That said I am fascinated by its mainstream success. It’s not that erotic fiction hasn’t been successful in the past; just that it used to be read beneath the blankets and behind fake dust-jackets, not openly on public transport and in every workplace tea-room over lunch.
But if society in general and women in particular have become rather at home with the concept of nudity and erotica in fashion, be it in fashion editorial shoots, in ad campaigns or in fashion films, then isn’t it also natural that they’re more comfortable with erotic fiction? Actually it’s probably even safe to say that many girls in the internet age are so comfortable with all out porn that it can only make sense for erotic fiction to seem near mundane in comparison. It may not be a surprise to many, but the internet is filled with young girls gushing openly about their adoration of James Deen – a straight male porn star – in a not-dissimilar way to how teenage girls in the ’50s might have pinned posters of the original Dean to their bedroom walls.
Call it a gradual numbing of society to all things that were once taboo, but erotica is no longer something to read – or viewed – in the dark.
E.L James’ erotic trilogy was therefore born at the right time. The zeitgeist enabled it to be successful. But society’s acceptance of erotica isn’t the only factor at play, here. And it’s not James’ writing skills which, by many accounts, are far from being the trilogy’s main appeal.
On the face of it Fifty Shades Of Grey is about a woman’s submission to a dominating male, which might seem to run counter to how strong, independent 21st century women want to be perceived. But while I’d have to read the books myself to know for sure, it seems that there’s an ultimate romance to the story that draws women in. One review calls the alleged sadism in the book “truly soft”, theorising that it would not have found the same success if it bordered even close to describing the kind of treatment of women the Marquis De Sade was peddling. Apparently it’s the leading man’s ultimate gentility and shows of emotion, his human side, that not only sends women weak at the knees but makes the whole BDSM thing ok on a mainstream level. Rather than making Christian Grey a true misogynist, E.L James keeps the sex-to-romance ratio in balance.
As for what ripple effects the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy will create, they’re already being logged with interest.
Reports are that sex toy sales are already skyrocketing, whilst crafty women are also bolstering hardware store sales of rope (why pay more for the fancy sex-shop product?)
And while living out a BDSM fantasy with a partner is one thing, for the avid Fifty Shades reader who wants something more there are always guns for hire. Male escort services are also booming, reportedly owing a debt of gratitude to the books.
Hits to the website for maleescortsusa.com have increased by 50 percent since the book’s release, as have the numbers of escorts looking to sign up, according to a representative. Escort Pierce Urban has seen a similar increase in bookings, noting that clients are increasingly paying to fly him around the country. “And they’ve all read the book,” he said.
E.L James’ references to Tess of the d’Urbervilles – both woven into the fiction and cited as a source of inspiration for it – caused a 300 per cent increase in sales of the Thomas Hardy classic on Amazon (Guernica has a good read which compares the two novels here.)
In the fashion realm retailer Marc New York was the first to be widely recognised as tapping into the book’s success via a photo campaign (pictured above) they claim was directly “inspired by” the novels. Brooks Brothers have promoted a line of grey ties called, inventively, “Eight Shades of Grey Ties”.
But when it comes to fashion, it’ll be less about the obvious merchandising opportunities and more about the broader erotic themes pushing forwards. Take fetishwear as fashion. It wasn’t all that long ago that everything bondage and fetish – from studs and spikes to leather harnesses – had a massive mainstream fashion revival. None of that has gone away completely – rather the trend has softened and evolved over several years. Now, as all things old become new again, the erotica boom is likely to put fetish fashion back in the spotlight. Perhaps with a new dash of romance.
And when the trilogy inevitably hits cinema screens in a film version? Expect all of the above economic impacts to reach their climax (pun intended) – all over again.
Those who have read the books: of course the above is just one theory as to the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Does it romanticise its sexual themes? Are you influenced by the books? Feel free to comment or tweet us with your thoughts.