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Opinions of Friday, 30 August 2013

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

Fifty Shades of ...

Fifty Shades of ... Holy Fuck!

Yes, this article is about E. L. James’ trilogy about kinky sex. It is not about the NPP’s Supreme Court petition. It is not about Akufo-Addo or Mahama or anything some Ghanaian politician has said or done. You may want to move on to another article if that is what you want...

But what am I doing writing about this for ghanaweb? What do ghanaweb visitors care about a series of books that is porn for elderly ladies (the so-called mommy porn)? How many of us Ghanaians care about what Christian Grey does to Anastacia Steele as he punishes her just for smirking by tying her up with that flying tie and teasing her with his expert hands until she detonates in multiple orgasms? Holy shit!

I admit it. I read all three volumes of the book. 1,500 pages of holy crap! I read it on my kindle so those sitting around me on the train won’t know what I am reading. Everybody is reading it or has read it. The women I know have read it – mature women with grown up children. Most of them like it. A few hate it. I was drawn to it by the hullabaloo. I told myself I would read just the first volume to see what it’s all about. I ended up reading all three volumes including the long epilogue at the end of the third book that started re-telling the story from the guy’s point of view. Holy Moses!

I gave myself other reasons for reading it. It is simply interesting to study the book as a phenomenon – how a badly written series of books, meant initially for the internet, becomes a multi-million dollar seller. The series would simply not have been the success it is without the internet. I found myself curious, too, about finding out what, really, kicks women sexually. You would think at my age, I would know that. I bet you, I don’t. I don’t think you know either!

Since I wanted to share this with my fellow Ghanaians, I tried to find out how the books are doing in the motherland. From what I hear there is really not much discussion of them in Ghana. That is not surprising. In Ghana, we don’t discuss books much outside a closed circle of academicians. But the phenomenon surrounding the trilogy cannot have escaped home based Ghanaians – even those who don’t read books. Joyfm entertainment news mentioned the fact of E. L. James becoming a millionaire and recently carried a report about the filming and wondered who would play the major roles – Grey and Steele. But I guess even the reporters may not have read the books they were talking about.

Our youngsters in the universities are the most likely to want to read the books and I have it on authority that pirated eBook versions are circulating among some of them. They read it on their laptops rather than eBook readers. Of course, the Chrife girls (and boys?) won’t touch them with a cassava stick. Good girls don’t read dirty books. Only middle aged housewives do! I guess SSS students may also want to read them. The story is one that will certainly titillate the imaginations of young teenage boys anxious about their budding sexuality. Have we not all felt like that at that age?

Since the books are not widely read in Ghana, our religious and moral policemen are not at arms against them. It is unlikely that the Christian right wing in Ghana made up of the orthodox clergy and the numerous semi-literate pastors and prophets, who hardly understand what they read of the Bible, and all the other puritanical killjoys, will read the books and take up arms against them to “protect” Ghanaian youth. No calls have been heard to ban the books in Ghana – an effort that will, anyway, be completely fruitless. But when the film comes out next year, be sure Ghanaians are going to watch it and distribute pirated versions. It is easier to watch films than read the books on which they are based.

On ghanaweb, I am going to miss the voices of some of the brilliant girls who used to come here but have gone away. I am thinking of Lola Washington DC, Nana Amma Twum-Baah, esi begyina, Araba Banoa (?), Daavi, Ms D., and a few others. What will they say about all the fifty shades in which Mr. Grey comes and how will they, personally, relate to them? I will miss their comments.

So what is all this about fucking Grey? This is a very corny story. The girl is 21 and a virgin before the first sex act in the book. She is newly graduated from a US university. The boy is 27, extremely handsome, tall, well-trained and a billionaire businessman who doesn’t seem to be working much in the story since he is spending so much time with the girl. And for good measure, he plays the piano like a concert pianist and speaks fluent French. This guy seems to have a perpetual erection and the girl easily has multiple orgasms each one more intense than the one that went before it. They screw after every 30 pages throughout the book. They do it everywhere: in the elevator, on aeroplanes, in the office, in the bathroom, you name it. The man is a “sexpert” who knows how to tease a girl so she can come several times. Holy fuck!

Much of the sex is vanilla sex but the man is not very “normal” and dabbles in BDSM. The sex in the books only reaches the nether regions of BDSM and never gets into the red regions. This is because the virginal heroine would not go so far. But she has had a taste for kinky sex, and gradually likes what she gets after hating the first spankings on the bare buttocks. Wow! Since it is supposed to be a romance/erotica, this long story has a happy ending. There is a wedding where the heroine marries the hero. She weans him off kinky sex. They have two kids and live happily ever after. Holy crap!

The story is boring in many parts. It’s all held together by frequent and graphic descriptions of sex. The story line is not strong. The language is bad. The whole book is hastily edited. It is set in the USA but the writer doesn’t probably know much about that country and has characters moving easily between cities that are extremely far apart. There are many unlikely events.

But those who love the books don’t care a whit about these shortcomings. Most males hate it. Even women are sharply divided over it. Many cannot read beyond the first few pages. But there are millions of women who simply adore the story. And they are not all just simple housewives. Some are university professors of literature itself! They have built a thriving literary discourse around the book. And I guess some adult males are reading it too but won’t admit to it. They are all enough to make the writer a millionaire. As I write, more than 75 million copies of the books have been sold, half of these in the USA alone. It has been translated into several languages. It has topped many national bestseller lists including the prestigious New York Times bestseller list. E. L. James recently took the number one position on Forbes Magazine’s Highest Paid Authors List surpassing Stephen King, Danielle Steel and J.K. Rowling. Holy hell!

What are these female readers so elated about? Many of them have been reading romance novels for years. But they have had to hide to do that. Now, E. L. James has succeeded in bringing such literature out of the closet into the open. And they are thankful to her for it. The book is very easy to read. It is nothing like Naomi Wolf ruminating about the complex relationship of the vagina with female consciousness and creativity or some theory-suffused academic treatise on female sexuality.

And so, is that how women really want to be loved and screwed? The man must be attractive and very rich. He must have a dark side which the woman can cure him of. And he must love them and be possessive of them. He must give them freedom but still be in control at all times. Meanwhile, the woman herself needs not be that beautiful, rich or brainy. But the man still wants her despite all the other, more beautiful women, who may be easily available for him. And, oh, every woman really loves a little “kinky fuckery” at times... You name it. Christian has it. To top it all, he is not afraid to make a lasting commitment. Christian Grey is the kind of man who gives women all that they ever wanted and exposes them to things they didn’t know even existed! One female writer puts it most succinctly: “Christian Grey is all of our fantasies wrapped into one”. Holy cow!

If women can’t get such a man, nothing prevents them from dreaming about him. What does it matter that in the end, they will get back to their ordinary lives with their boring husbands who can hardly manage one erection? Perhaps men should read it to add a little kick to their bored marriages?

Reading the literature around the success of the series, one repeatedly hears writers celebrating the fact that James has made erotica into a billion dollar industry. Erotica has been around for a long time but has been hidden. Today, even reputable publishers are willing to publish such literature and reputable bookshops to display them upfront. The women justify the book on other grounds too. They say men enjoy porn (videos, magazines) and sometimes choose these over their wives. Why shouldn’t women also choose erotica over their men? Ana achieves the ultimate female fantasy – to be able to change her man! What woman will not give an arm to be able to do that?

The book’s female detractors complain that Ana has orgasms too easily. Not every woman does and certainly not as a virgin having her first sex. They say 75 per cent of women do not experience orgasm through intercourse alone as the book seems to depict. Why does Anna enjoy exclusively penetrative sex which many women do not? Then what is all this that she has to “cure” the man of a disease when kinky sex is supposed to be a normal way some people express their sexual satisfaction as long as it is consensual and involves no lasting injuries? Real life practitioners of kinky sex and BDSM rail against the book arguing that it doesn’t portray what they actually do and that essential elements of their lifestyles were not depicted in the book. These people are also angry that Christian’s turn to kinky sex is because of his difficult childhood and his being seduced by an adult dominant female when he was just a teen-aged boy.

There is also, at least in the US, a discussion that centres on both Ana and Christian being black. For a black Ana to work there must first be an admittance that black American women are into more than just vanilla sex and “plain-Jane desire”, as the expression goes. Then it will also have to deal with a black man who is a high achiever, well educated and not a drug addicted prison inmate. Other questions include if a young white American billionaire will be attracted to a black girl or if one can even imagine a young black American billionaire! The trilogy would never have succeeded if Ana were black! A black female commentator put it this way: “Would a black Mr. Grey still make the majority of female readers moist down there and ready to get on their knees in a play dungeon?” And the sad answer is a resounding NO! Holy cow!

And where are all those girls on ghanaweb to give me the answers?

NB: All the swear words used in this article are taken directly from the books here they occur several times. Please, don’t blame me for them...

Kofi Amenyo (