When I first heard about the craze of 50 Shades, I was intrigued. As I understood it, James was blazing a new trail, moving readers from the traditional romance to a steamier and more erotic form of literature. It brought back memories of Madonna and the cone bra. These are the shocking moments where pop culture can change and shape a future generation. But the more I heard about the characters and plot of the stories, the more certain I was that I didn't ever want to read them. It's not the erotica that is a problem for me. It's the general idea of what sounds like a one-sided relationship between two characters.
She is a working class woman; he is a billionaire. While I don't have a problem with the romance stories of characters from opposite sides of the tracks, does it seem tedious that the one with the upper hand seems to so very often be the man? It was one of the reasons that Pretty in Pink is my least favorite John Hughes film. Yes, this is the feminist in me speaking. I understand that men traditionally make more money than women in our society. Blah blah blah. Without getting political, this concept of a female protagonist suddenly having an epiphany that she is worthy of a billionaire seems so ridiculously irrelevant to me. It seems to point to a sign of the times, sadly. When did romance become less about love and chemistry and more about becoming spontaneously and filthily rich?
He likes to be sexually dominant; she lacks experience and sounds meek and docile. At the risk of sounding like a prude, there's nothing hot about this scenario. I like my female leads to have spine. Gumption. Piss and vinegar. Another author once said that her protagonists have to have "a little Buffy" in them. Yes, please!
After pages and pages and pages and pages of the details of their seemingly one-sided relationship, we learn that he has issues. No kidding? He's a broken man. Cue sympathetic sighs here. And she's exactly what he needs to fix himself. I don't buy it. I am a romantic at heart. But I'm also fairly cynical. Broken people don't get fixed by human doormats. That's what therapists are for.
Again, please let me repeat that this is NOT intended as a review of James's trilogy. I have not read any of the three books and am in no way qualified to write a review. I simply don't think the trilogy is for me. Thousands of readers, however, have fallen in love with her books and characters. So in spite of my own rigid, personal opinions, Ms. James has gotten it right. And much more importantly, she developed her own formula to get it right.
THE VASTLY LARGER PROBLEM...
Author after author after author continues to mimic the 50 Shades Formula of the poor woman being swept off of her feet by the beautiful billionaire, both of whom eventually realize that they are incomplete without the other. Could someone at least mix it up a little and make the billionaire the woman? She could come in and do the financial rescuing, too, to mix things up a little. And if she happens to slay a demon or two along the way, great!
I suppose the real problem stems from our society wanting to ride out the waves of financial success that have been built by the trailblazers. J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, and E.L. James all come to mind as having created recent trends that countless others then try to mimic, with hopes of equally great success. But isn't it even more important to remember that these authors developed an original concept and ran with it? (This is what makes them trailblazers!) Sure, breaking out involves risk. But I, for one, am finding that creativity and originality are becoming rarer and more valuable commodities these days. And they are absolutely necessary when working in the arts.
So if you truly are interested in creating a brand for yourself, I think it is critical to first develop your own unique formula. Do something different. Be original.