Blog Post no.2: Fifty Shades of CENSORED


1.) Perhaps you’ve heard of the relatively recent #1 New York Times Bestselling book by the name of Fifty Shades of Grey, following suit with Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed to complete an allegedly titillating (not to mention popular) trilogy. I first caught wind of the erotic literary phenomenon a couple years back when someone I worked with asked me what I was reading. I handed her my copy of Story of the Eye, a pornographic novella written by the French author Georges Bataille in 1928. My coworker opened to a random page where the narrator is jerking himself off, and then proceeds to have sex with his lover beside the corpse of a girl who was previously the teenage couple’s concubine. “Have you ever heard of Fifty Shades of Grey?” She asked, “It’s like, huge right now.”

I hadn’t heard of it. She said I should read it.

To this day I still have not read Fifty Shades of Grey or any of the other books in the series. It’s not because I think I’m too cool or anything like that, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I haven’t taken the initiative. Because of my ignorance, all I know about the trilogy is what I’ve heard by word-of-mouth, YouTube videos, and online articles/reviews. My interest in the novels from a censorship standpoint, I confess, began a couple months back during spring semester when I was taking a Self Defense class for women. A lot of people in that class (including the instructor) always seemed to be up in arms about these damn books. In fact, it dominated much of the class discussion—and it was heated discussion! They kept saying things like, “It’s a horrible influence on girls and women alike”, “The writing sucks”, and “It ought to be banned everywhere”. They also unanimously expressed that they believed the author, E.L. James, was nothing short of a monster that will be responsible for an influx of both emotionally and sexually abusive relationships over the course of the next decade. The instructor of the class seemed to endorse this viewpoint and invited everyone to attend a lecture/discussion that was being peddled around campuses to raise awareness about the evils of Fifty Shades of Grey. The following email was sent to the entire class one day:

Here is the information about the Brown Bag lecture/discussion/talk (?) tomorrow. You can attend this session as a make-up for missing a class. Just let me know if you attend so I can give you credit.
Wednesday 2/13/13 11:30am -1:00pm (Campbell Hall Room 230)
Amy Bonomi, MPH, PhD, Lauren Altenburger, Nicole Walton
“Double Crap!” Abuse and Harmed Identity in Fifty Shades of Grey

(I was unable to attend the discussion due to a schedule conflict, but truth be told, I was a bit conflicted as to whether or not I would’ve wanted to attend anyway. ) ???

As I read over this week’s blog prompt, I was reminded of the whole anti-Fifty Shades of Grey attitude espoused by the majority of my Self Defense class, and I wondered to myself, “Has the series faced any other back-lash?”

Turns out it has! As you can see, I found a whole slew of video clips and articles chronicling the enormous demand for the books, as well as the bans that have taken place at certain libraries in the United States. According to one very informative (and very recent) article by the Huffington Post, “Libraries in Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida have all either declined to order the book or pulled it from shelves. Other states may soon follow.” (Lush)
That’s right, in 2013.
Interestingly enough, the banning of the series has been most notorious in Florida libraries, occurring in more than a few counties, including Collier in the southwest portion of the state. I’m perhaps more disappointed than I am surprised.

So why is this trilogy, which apparently has everyone and their mom drooling after it, being banned?

Fifty Shades has, by and large, been labeled as pornographic and deviant. It graphically chronicles the sexual relationship between a young woman recently graduated from college and a suave, money-bags business man of sorts with an affinity for *BDSM activity. Apparently there is lots of sex. Lots of kinky sex, at that.

2.) Because I have not personally read the Fifty Shades of Grey series, I feel that I can evaluate this situation somewhat objectively:
-Censorship of these books is justified when you consider the fact that it is very feasible one could wind up in the hands of an adolescent, or worse—a young child. I mean, I know I encountered a pornographic novel or two at my public library before I turned 18. I’m not a parent myself so it’s hard for me to say how I really feel on the issue, but I can imagine I’d feel a little uncomfortable if my 8-year-old came home clutching a copy with their bookmark stuck in the middle. Oh, the awkward questions that might ensue! Another issue I’ve heard my peers express concern over is the possible negative impact the books could have on young women and their self-esteem. The heroine of the series has been accused of being hopelessly passive and allowing a man to control her life in an unhealthy way. Some readers may not be able to discern this for themselves, meaning they might perceive it as normal behavior and seek to emulate this behavior (including the sexual behavior) in their own lives/intimate relations.
-Censorship of the Fifty Shades series is not justified because it infringes on the rights of citizens who wish to read the novels as well as the artistic rights of E.L. James, the author. Although I came close, ironically I never actually spoke out in my Self-defense class about how their agenda to put an end to these books bothered me. I guess I felt my opinion would be unpopular, and in turn, I might be resented for it. I didn’t want a classmate to *accidentally* punch me in the face when I held their target for them, you know? But seriously, if I had felt a little more comfortable, I would have raised my hand and said something of this nature:
“Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve never read Fifty Shades of Grey so I’m probably not as informed as you all are, but my instinct is that it’s not my place, and it’s not right to tell E.L. James what topics she can or cannot write about. She obviously wrote these books for a reason, and for some reason a lot of people are devouring them. I can take your guys’ word that they’re poorly written, and that there may be some criticisms to be made of the material, but just because I disagree does not necessarily mean it should be banned entirely”.
Yeah, I probably would not have put it exactly like that as we were in the process of doing planks, but you get the gist.

-I believe that all artists and/or performers have the right to express themselves in such a way that is not influenced, moderated, or infringed upon by some outside force other than the muse, the inspiration, or the idea itself. My one condition is that, in the process of this expression, others are not physically harmed. Which is to say that I don’t think it is okay for a painter to sacrifice his neighbors in order to paint with their fresh blood (he could just as easily use his own blood). I realize that’s a really bad example.

– I believe that all artists and/or performers have the responsibility to tell the truth. When I say the truth, I don’t mean that their work has to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It doesn’t even have to be the truth (in the literal sense of the word) at all. I just mean that the truth needs to be true to the artist’s intent…and that’s it’s everything the artist did or (in some cases) didn’t want it to be.


Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? If so, what input can you give, and did you like the book(s)? Do you find it offensive? If you haven’t read the book(s), what is your perception of the series? Like, specifically, what words come to mind? In your opinion, are libraries in Florida and others states justified in banning the book? Are you surprised by it? Also, what flaws do you find in my personal definitions of an artist’s rights/responsibilities? Do you disagree with me?

Now that I have written this blog post, I think I am going to go ahead and read the books. All this controversy has got me straight up curious!


5 thoughts on “Blog Post no.2: Fifty Shades of CENSORED

  1. I love the topic you chose, I would have never thought to choose this book! Although I did not read the series, I know Fifty Shades of Grey got a lot of bad press because of its racy topics. I am an avid Cosmopolitan reader, so a book series like fifty shades of grey does not shock me in any way. I think that this series is genius; it was a bestseller world wide for a reason. When asked what words come to mind, I think of obviously the word “sex”. Sex is the reason the book is censored and such a controversy. To add to the words that come to mind, I think of grey, females, and orgasm. I feel if a library decides to ban a book such as fifty shades of grey series, which is on the bestsellers list, it only hurts the library sales and costumers. The fact libraries can ban a book is outrageous to me, isn’t the whole idea to make money? Libraries should make these books that are in high demand on the shelves and disregard how they feel about it. Lastly, I completely agree with your view about an artists rights and responsibilities. Artists should have the right to portray themselves as much as they want. Pro-choice is my view on censorship within artists.

  2. I haven’t read the books but after hearing this story when it first broke I picked up a copy. I skipped ahead to the sex parts because honestly who wants to read about someone taking finals. Even the sex got boring. I managed to read like 5 chapters before I just gave up.
    I still don’t think that book should be banned though. there are multiple ways to get around a child checking out the book (parents needs to accompany them at the time of checkout, no one under 17, etc.) and for them to just ban it for everyone is really unfair.
    But in a way maybe banning the book was a good thing for the publisher/author, now everyone has to go and buy a copy instead of just borrowing and recycling the copy.

  3. I have not read any of the books. However, it seems like the problem people are having is not even the presence of sex scenes or pornographic materials. There are thousands (if not millions?) of books out there that have had sex scenes that are probably more detailed, or more numerous than the Shades series. My perception is that the main objection is the way it portrays male/female relationships. Now, because I have not read the book(s), I can’t say whether there is a solid case for this, but my understanding from your post and what I’ve heard is that it could possibly suggest that women should be submissive to men in an incredibly unhealthy way, both physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’m sure this was not the author’s intent, but I can imagine that this could be an unwanted side effect of the novels. I mean, in some of my comm classes, we’ve discussed the roles of sex in advertisements and their influence on the self-perception of both men and women, and the perception people have of relationships. And those are just 30 second television ad spots with much less context and substance than these books! Whether or not people recognize it, I imagine that these books, and any other kind of media/entertainment (whether “good” or “bad”), play a role in our perception of ourselves and the world around us. I think that when these things are considered, the argument FOR censorship is a little more justified, even if you still don’t completely agree with it.

  4. I’ve not read the books, I just think it’s nice that people are reading. The subject matter isn’t particularly shocking to me. I think the 50 Shades phenomenon is a much larger-scale version of the trend that followed the movie “Secretary”. It presents something dark in a palatable form so people can have discussions about it in public. I don’t don’t think any discussions should be taboo.
    The censorship of books, however, is something that turns my stomach. Books are a particularly powerful medium because of the time investment in reading them. There are no written words that should be banned from library shelves. In an ideal library, there should be plenty of things I don’t want to read because they are offensive or of no interest to me. The idea that these books are smut and the Jackie Collins books that line the shelves of my local library are somehow less so, is ridiculous.
    Even if the books promote abusive relationships, no one is forcing this message on the public. A library’s ownership of a book does not constitute an endorsement of the ideas within the book. If that was the standard, libraries would be tiny. Just because a library owns a copy of “It” doesn’t mean that the library endorses killer clowns. Buffoonery.

    Banned books get even more attention, and from what I hear from friends who have read this book, more attention on fifty shades is unwarranted.

  5. Admittedly, I have read and loved all of these books. Sort of like a guilty pleasure type of thing, you could say?? I read them strictly for entertainment and took them at face value exactly as such. I never really looked too deep into the actual conclusions about relationship abuse, that people can, and seemingly have drawn from this novel. To be honest, I didn’t even consider these viewpoints until you mentioned them; I guess people could be alarmed about this book falling into the wrong hands while advocating for female submissiveness and abusive dominance within a relationship?

    However, where do we draw the line for author’s being able to publish books like these for the audiences enjoyment while trying not to influence some readers who may not be able to differentiate between what is reality and what is simply the story lines they are reading in novels.I understand that BDSM and unequal relationships occur in real life where one partner has more power than the other, but this is obviously a novel meant to entertain. These things aren’t brought up, or so I think, with the intent to hurt others. Also, when it comes to BDSM, I thought that was a mutual agreement between two consenting adults and it includes very strict rules to help protect each individual involved? So if this is the case I don’t necessarily agree with these books promoting violence against women or anyone.

    So I say let it be up to each individual whether or not they will seek out this book without all the road blocks that it might entail. I just feel it creates even more curiosity about the book when people aren’t able to find it in the library. Maybe books like these will help the topic of sex of all kinds not be so taboo??

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