Fifty Shades of Grey Gloom

…depresses the heck out of me. My default rule is to refrain from making negative comments about books whose authors are still alive. I forget the circuitous chain of logic I employed to arrive at that conclusion. I had my reasons, I suppose. Anyway, I have to make an exception for the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, because it is a phenomenon, not a book. It’s more of a cultural event, a macro-comment on the sensibilities and tastes of our culture. A milestone on the road as Yeats’ rough beast slouches off toward Bethlehem.

Yes, I did read the first chapter sample available on Amazon (no, it does not contain any of the BDSM/erotica elements). The writing is dreary at best. Countless numbers of books overflow with dreary writing. That’s not the point. What’s important is that this book (which, for all intents and purposes, is merely a thin guise of plot and character crucified upon an ungainly superstructure of withered anti-love) enjoys the number one spot on the Amazon fiction chart. For weeks. Months. What does that mean about modern American culture? What does it mean when our culture celebrates a story that revolves around the destruction of love?

Ah, you say, but the story actually is about love. No, it isn’t. It only is if you’ve redefined love to fit some post-modern, progressive ideal of love that is based in narcissism.

It sounds like you’re being rather judgmental, you might then reply to me.

Yes, heavens above, yes, I am judging taste, ethics, virtue. So sue me, but it’s unavoidable. Do you think it’s possible to waltz through life without making value judgments? We all make value judgments, every day of the week. You might choose to ignore the fact that you’re making them, but that has no bearing on the reality that you are making them. Face up to it. Even if you sat in front of a TV all day long, eating snacks and existing in reality show solitude, you would still be making judgments on certain things (the nature of existence, the value of your life, the role of diligence, perseverance, hard work, etc–inaction is action, isn’t it?).

Rome was ultimately known by its circuses, not by its refinements and achievements. The artists and performers and musicians always lead the way. Down or up. Stasis does not exist. They are the cultural canaries in the coal mine. If you switch on your headlamp and shine the light over toward the bird’s perch to find a wizened little creature that resembles more of a buzzard than a canary, hunched over and glaring at you as if you were its lunch, then its time to consider whether or not you should be in the mine.

2 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey Gloom”

  1. I dunno. I guess I’ve never put enough value on popular tastes to be astonished by the fact that they’re really lousy, at times. I tend to be more surprised when something that shoots to immense popularity actually has something good about it. I totally agree that this is not a book, it’s a phenomenon. It’s popular because it’s popular, not because there’s anything remotely valuable about it. People read it because others are talking about it. This, too, shall pass…

    Maybe, to comfort yourself, you could read a few 18th-century gothic novels (“The Monk”, for example, is supposed to be really trashy), and then “Northanger Abbey” to remind yourself that between the time Austen wrote it to skewer the popular taste for gothic fiction, and the time is was printed 20 years later, the trend had abated so much that the book needed a foreword to explain the background to the readers. There really is nothing new under the sun.

    1. Yeah, this too shall pass. True, but the Fifty Shades things disturbs me because of the sheer enormity of it. How can that many people be buying into such a thing? It speaks volumes about the state of culture. Kind of unnerving…

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