Sunday, July 8, 2012

50 Shades of Scando

Hat tip to Grace for coining the cheeky phrase, for it is what echoed through my tired little brain on all 4 legs of last week's flights from Hades.

For not only was our 'wee hot man' (so dubbed by our charming Scottish co-worker) an utterly and unrepentant insomniac for 99% of our air travels, but every.single.woman. seated within a 50 mile radius on every one of our flights was reading some iteration of the infamous erotica (thriller? tome? epic?) ... and I started to feel like the one student who picked up the wrong course outline back in September and was on a different reading list.

Confession: I have no idea the premise of the "50 Shades" series, other than a very vague impression of something involving repressive sexual tension and a male protagonist who doesn't like to be touched. (So I guess it's Twilight for the over 40 set?)  So, don't be surprised if I veer from this post to consult the google for more info on what the heezy these books are about and why they're so hot right now.

But I'll take a stab at it.

In a culture like our sex-saturated and Puritanically-rooted modern day America, it doesn't take a far stretch of the imagination to see why perfectly reasonable and moderately well-adjusted adults might be enticed to purchase, read, and verbally vomit enthralled enthusiasm for some poorly-written British soft porn in literary form.

Thank you, Facebook.

But more to the point, thank you, twisted and repressed 'liberation sexuality,' which somehow simultaneously renders millions of men impotent, millions of women anorgasmic, and millions of readers eager to lap up juicy details of some frigid old dude spanking his handcuffed younger flame. And we swoon over this?

Truth is, our sexual identity as a culture is so profoundly broken that it makes perfectly good sense that '50 Shades' would A. Sell spectacularly well and B. Induce ironic conversations on sex and intimacy between strangers that they are otherwise incapable of having with their actual sexual partners in real life.

Go figure.

When pornography invades a relationship or, at a broader level, a cultural ethos, and becomes perfectly acceptable as the new normal, real live intimacy dies. We spend so much time and energy as a culture talking about sex and how to improve it, how to deepen ones physical enjoyment, connect more deeply on an emotional level with one's partner(s, achieve multiple orgasms and get a body like Katy Perry's in order to win the affections of the most perfect man, that we don't actually have much time to enjoy authentic intimacy. Quite frankly, most of us have no idea what the hell that actually is.

When perfect strangers can titter over pages of sex scenes between fictional characters while passing the time between airport layovers, but they are incapable of having satisfying sex with their spouses or - worse - are unable to hang on to spouses, then Houston, we have a problem.

The scariest run-in I've had with Christian Grey to date was in a little snack and magazine store in the Charlotte airport (where I was secretly hoping to run into Emily Maynard, but I digress) where a mother(?), step mom(?), guardian-esque figure of authority(?) was waiting in line with a booty-short-clad teenage girl who apparently studied dictation under the auspicious tutelage of Lauren Conrad ala "The Hills."

I turned my eavesdropping ears in their direction at the first mention of '50.' After all, I'd sat beside no fewer than 14 women all reading the book during my travels that week (and spent an unfortunate 3.25 hours beside one woman who was on the final installment of the trilogy and was actually absent-mindedly running her fingers along her cleavage area while sighing occasionally as she flipped the pages. So.Very.Awkward.

So I tuned in to the mother and child reunion only to hear a super depressing back and forth where Mom (or whomever) was schooling daughter on the finer qualities of the tales.

Mom: Oh you have to read these...your dad has them on his Kindle, (um, he does? WTF?) you should ask him to borrow it when he's done.

Girl: Omgawd everyone is like obsessed with Christian. Teeheehee...all my girlfriends want to find a guy like him!

Mom: Well it isn't hard to see why...seriously you have got to read the books!

Girl: It's like all over Facebook how hot they are...everyone is obsessed with them...all my girlfriends are like in love.

Mom: OMG you HAVE to read them. Let's get your dad to give you the Kindle for the next leg of the flight.

Girl: (pointing to shelf) Holy sh*t there's the new (Tucker Max) book 'A$$holes Finish First' ... mom you have to read that it's sooooo funny.

End scene.

And end Western Civilization, if the above exchange is any indication of how we're doing in the culture and morals department.

I managed not to vomit or confront the conversing duo, but only thanks to extreme exhaustion and the heat emanating from the tiny man strapped Ergo-style to my chest. But their words stayed with me. And they are troubling. And I think, an indicator of the real fallout from our pornified, sexually 'progressive' and permissive culture.

What we're witnessing here, people, is the death of intimacy. Ironically and irrefutably manifested in a cultural obsession with pornography. But what we're missing here is the point: no amount of titillation or exposure or oversharing can ever - ever - replace the deeply satisfying interpersonal communion we were created for. And the more we seek to expose and consume in the name of sexual satisfaction, the further we move from the truth of it, and from any measure of real happiness in that arena.

I've been meditating on this quote from Pope Benedict (you know, that repressive old man in Rome) recently and I think it fits perfectly the topic at hand:

"The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for were made for greatness."

True, no?


  1. Great post. Someone recommended those books to me, and despite my generally decent knowledge of popular culture, I had no idea what they were. Until I went on Amazon to read the synopsis and review. I was completely shocked that anyone would want to read these books. The subject matter was horrifying, for all the reasons you listed and then some. I just don't get it.

  2. I am always surprised and scandalized to find out how many women have fallen for this craze ... it boggles the mind.

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  4. What horrifies me is how ladies find it perfectly acceptable to casually bring this up and ask if you'd read it etc. It creeps a person out! Strangers asking if you read porn? Wouldn't that usually get a person arrested? Or imagine a plane-ful of men reading Playboy! It's creepy and invasive.

  5. Hey Jenny! I haven't commented in awhile as I am usually on my mobile device... (You're in my prayers, as always, btw) but I am so glad that you wrote this! If I have another friend tell me that I HAVE to read these books I am going to shove pencils into my ears and pierce my eardrums.

  6. This phenomenon has baffled me to no end. Before these books, no one I know would ever own up to reading erotica. But, I digress.

    I don't find it surprising that they've reeled people in, but what does astound me is how everyone is raving about one of the most poorly written books I've ever had the urge to download a sample of. In an effort to see what the hub bub was about, I grabbed the sample from Amazon and was bored out of my mind by the sixth grade level writing (Even the author admitted she didn't think it was that good).

    I'm not a fan of erotica, but if people are gonna rave about it, at least give credit to erotica authors that can actually write. I've never seen so many horrible reviews on Amazon.

    But, I agree, we've definitely over-sexualized ourselves to the point that youngsters don't know what they're reading is total crap...sigh.

  7. I heart that B16 quote something fierce. Fierce!

  8. So over 50. Also over my friends convincing me that it is the same as the Harry Potter series (with its evil magic) and Twilight. I cannot seem to convince them it is pornography. But you hit the nail on the head. B/c none of my friends who read 50 have satisfying sex lives. I am going to use that the next time they try to pull off my medieval chastity belt.


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