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Fifty Shades: a personal history

25 Feb

twilemons

Once Upon a Time the Twilight fan-fiction community was my happy place. Countless big name fics were updating weekly. Internet sites dedicated to Twi fanfic regularly reviewed stories, interviewed authors, held contests, and promoted charity drives. Lively discussions about the stories took place on forums, blogs, and Facebook pages. The community had it’s fair share of drama, don’t get me wrong, but there was an order to things- a balance. And the world kept spinning on, the way it was supposed to.

539960_419253714752072_100000023412-1Every once in awhile someone would come along and try to spoil my happy place by calling out the main fan-fiction hosting site on it’s Terms of Service regarding explicit adult content, causing some of my favorite stories to be yanked from the site. The authors would counteract this by creating their own blogs for the beloved stories and fans would flock there to read them, while waiting for the drama to die down on the main fanfic site and the rules to lax once again. The order and balance of things altered to accommodate- and the world kept spinning on.

There were so many stories to read, that Index sites started popping up to keep track of them all. Review blogs kept up to date on what was happening with the popular fics and their authors, and alternate fanfic hosting sites were created to better meet the needs of the Twilight community; bypassing the content guidelines issues- balance was restored and it was good.

I was a Twilight fanfic devotee, living and breathing the many forms of tumblr_lmov9uzO9P1qc2ir0o1_500-1Edward Cullen. He was one fictional person but many at the same time. He became my ideal and I loved him. I was learning so much about myself from reading the stories he took part in. The pop culture aspects were fun, the fanfiction-therepysocial and economic aspects were informative, the psychological aspects were vastly interesting, the intellectual and literary aspects were beneficial, and the sexual aspects were enlightening-especially for a shy yet strong willed “good girl” like me.

Soon a new story started to get a lot of buzz within the community. It was a BDSM fic called “Master of the Universe” (aka Fifty Shades of Grey). I steered clear of it at first because although I had read some BDSM themed stories previously, they weren’t really my thing. Fellow readers assured me that this story didn’t follow the classic “collared submissive” storyline, not really; it was more of a love story. Well, okay. I guess I can give it a go. I found rather quickly that I did indeed like the story. It was more about Edward’s (Christian) tortured past and whether or not love could save him. The Bella (Ana) character was curious about the taboo lifestyle but it was him that she was drawn to, him that she couldn’t resist. How far was she willing to go to win him-how much of herself was she willing to sacrifice to keep him? I was firmly on board and waited impatiently for weekly updates, along with everyone else. But towards the end of the story, suddenly previous chapters started disappearing and the window of time to read current chapters before they were no longer available, was getting smaller and smaller. Oh here we go with the Pull to Publish bullshit again!

Master of the Universe story banner

Master of the Universe story banner

Something that had been happening more and more within the fandom at that time was that authors of popular stories were trying to get published out there in the “real world”. At first it was a minor issue that didn’t really touch many but the authors themselves; going through the process of endless edits and revisions just to get a publisher to consider you was time consuming and not something that warranted removing the fic from public view until you were much further along in the process. But then Independent publishing companies, some with ties to the Twi fanfic community, started to appear. Now a fanfic author could get their story into print, with real pages in a book format or downloadable in E-Book form, with much more ease. Several of the older stories started disappearing because even though the authors had to revise and edit for copyright reasons, the stories were still similar enough to the original Twilight that the fanfics had to be removed from public view. What a bummer! On one hand, I was happy for the authors in their achievement, but on the other hand my happy place was getting smaller because of it.

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So when Master of the Universe seemed to be on it’s way to a similar fate, it should have just been bunched in with all of the other authors who were doing the same thing; but this time was a little different. This time there was very little revising and editing involved-with no traditional editor to answer to only proper names were switched out, some descriptive adjectives added and a few minor scenarios tweaked. The story itself was a good one but the writing could have benefited from an editor’s expertise. This didn’t matter all that much in it’s amateur fanfic form because the purpose of the fan-fiction world is to provide a safe haven of sorts, an atmosphere of learning and growing, in order to perfect one’s writing voice. But in this case, when a traditional publisher did come along they chose to keep the story in it’s rough form. This added an integrity angle to the ever growing issues surrounding the story’s journey into the real world. And an ethical one as well: because the storyline, no matter how far removed from vampires and werewolves, clearly still followed the plot path of Twilight. Fans started splitting down the middle- those who were loyal to the author and her story and thus willing to follow it where ever it ended up, and those who were loyal to the community and the spirit of what fanfic was supposed to be grounded in.

"classic" Twilight fanfiction stories

“classic” Twilight fanfiction stories

The Twilight community was dealing with it’s own issues and incidents of drama at the time, so if you happened to be involved in both communities, the burden was becoming a little too heavy to bear. One “Big Name” fanfic author had had enough, all the way around, and wanted out. This author chose to set the record straight on some things, go out in a blaze of glory, before she bowed out for good- and one of those things was sharing who she knew the writer of the Master of the Universe story, aka E.L.James, to really be. Her claims painted Ms. James as someone who didn’t care about the fanfic community where “Fifty” was born, didn’t understand how or why it worked, and had never been all that interested in trying to adapt-someone who had dreams of making it big and was using the fanfic community to get her there. The Big Name author chose to release private conversations between herself and E.L. to illustrate her claims. A shitty thing to do, some might say, but what those conversations showed was the last straw for many in the community. Where had my happy place gone? Was it all about money and fame now? Had it always been and I just didn’t realize it? The readers were sick of getting yo-yo-ed around and a big portion of them threw in the towel. The blogs dedicated to reviewing fanfic were focusing more and more on the flourishing YA genre in traditional publishing instead; it was safer and more readily available. The Index sites couldn’t keep up with the ever changing information that the Pull to Publish trend created: tracking down story locations, knowing which stories you were allowed to feature and which ones you weren’t, what the published stories and authors were now named, etc. etc. And a new normal, a new balance, was struggling to be found. It wasn’t my happy place anymore, and so I left.

fandom

I still read Twilight fanfiction from time to time. I enjoy my fanfic Edward too much to give him up completely! but I read completed stories only now, ones that fly under the radar and don’t have huge followings. I play it safe.

So when Fifty Shades of Grey took the world by storm,FF I struggled to keep my bitterness at bay. I did still love “Fifty”, even if he’d changed his name to Christian. It was odd seeing so many go ga-ga over him years after I did, to have them implore me to read the book and then watch them fidget as they try to explain it to me while skimming over the fact that it’s actually Erotica…I think a lot of people genuinely didn’t know that it was racy in content, until they read it. The word of mouth and promotion campaigns that I had seen conveniently left the Kink label out- ah, the world of marketing! I moved on to another fandom and my PDF copy of Master of the Universe got shoved into a folder and collected dust. Then “Fifty” signed on to become a movie star, accumulating new drama all his own- the politics of respecting women, misrepresentation of BDSM communities, the popularity of “Mommy Porn” and whether it should be shamed or celebrated, not to mention the general drama that happens behind the scenes on any movie set. But underneath it all, he was still Fifty-the one that had been the topic of many a discussion between my fanfic friends and I as we quoted him, photoshopped him, shared inside jokes about him; it was the same Fifty.

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In the end, I’ve had to let all that past history go. Did I really care about all the baggage that went with it anymore? Nah, not really. It was what it was in a time that has since passed for me, in a fandom I’m no longer involved in. The fanfic community didn’t fall apart because E.L.James decided to try and make a name for herself. Just like the Twilight community didn’t fold because “real life” Bella made some not-so-wise choices. Both communities were in the process of dismantling long before those incidents happened. I needed someone to blame though, so E.L.James stepped into that role for me. I’m over it now. It’s not so important to me how she got where she is. I’m finally willing to let the bitterness go and enjoy seeing Fifty have his moment a second time around, on a much larger scale this time. Do I want to see the movie? Hell yeah, that’s my Fifty up there on screen! And better yet, he now looks like Jamie Dornan- win/win!

So why hasn’t my bum been in one of those theater seats yet? Because “good girls” don’t watch skin flicks in public, they do it in the privacy of their own homes when no one is looking. Because just like the story was in it’s fanfic form, 390283574v4_225x225_Front_padToSquare-trueit’s dirty and it’s wrong, and it’s “fifty shades of fucked up”…which is what makes it all the more thrilling!

I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold out for the dvd, the anticipation is strong. So I might see it in the theater eventually-preferably alone and sitting towards the back. In the dark…

 

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5 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2015 in Books, Movies

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

5 responses to “Fifty Shades: a personal history

  1. Servetus

    February 25, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    This covers a ton of information I’ve been curious about for a while — thanks for writing it all down and sharing your thoughts. Lots to ponder here (and parallels to stuff that happens in “our” fandom, though not on the same scale).

    As someone who read these books after they were available to buy in Kindle (so very late, according to you), I’ve been frustrated that they quickly became so controversial that expressing any opinion about them at all that isn’t fairly polarized seems to shut down conversation. I enjoyed reading them, but didn’t love them; I was bothered by how the books handle gender issues but obviously not enough to stop reading them (similar to how I felt about Twilight, interestingly); I can understand that this is not a fair or sane description of BDSM but I’m not willing to make that into the reason for which I should pretend I didn’t enjoy reading them. (Then again I usually think that sex is discussing something metaphorical rather than real.)

    Like you, I really resent it when people swoop into a fandom, apparently from their very first step into it, for the purposes of cashing in on it somehow.

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    • KellyDS

      February 25, 2015 at 7:18 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in this little retelling or not but it’s been eating at me for weeks, like I couldn’t enjoy the promos surrounding the movie until I purged this past history and put it to rest. as I said, I like the story and I always have. one of my reservations way back when for this story stepping out of the fanfic world was that people would misunderstand and make it a flagship for much weightier things (which did happen and is happening again with the movie). that saddens me b/c I feel there are other aspects of the story that get lost in the shuffle among the “he’s an abusive monster/women who submit are weak/that’s not how BDSM really works” complaints. while those are issues that are bound to be raised in relation to the story, I don’t think they are representative of the trilogy as a whole. it’s more about his childhood and self-loathing, her insecurities and opposite parts of her ingrained personality warring against in each other. those are the parts that grabbed me, at least.

      the fandom history of it is hard to get past for those who saw it happen. anything that causes fissures in a community never really goes away, it may be put on a shelf and rarely looked at again but it’s always there, influencing everything that comes after :/

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  2. jholland

    February 25, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks for the history- really interesting stuff. I didn’t know anything about all that. I only read the first book, and while I could understand the draw, I’ve read better-written romantic erotica elsewhere, and you’re right… that’s basically what the book is. Fascinating how it went mainstream the way it did… I still don’t understand exactly how that happened. I’m like you, though. I do want to see it, but I’ll either sneak into some random weekday matinee or wait until I can stream it. And I’d probably skip it altogether if I didn’t find Jamie Dornan so sinister and attractive (huge fan of him in The Fall!) If the reviews on IMDB are anything to go by, it looks like if you liked the books, you’ll probably like the movie, but if you didn’t read the books or disliked them, you probably won’t like the movie. I’m pretty curious about it nevertheless (same as when the book first came out and became all the rage!)

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    • KellyDS

      February 25, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      I just discovered The Fall last weekend and I freakin love Jamie Dornan in it! (I’m probably going to write a post about that soon…) but as for the FSoG movie, I doubt I’d even be interested in seeing it if I wasn’t familiar with the story already (that’s a lie. his abs would have gotten my attention regardless, LOL!). I’m not sure why the books took off the way that they did. some speculate that they already had a huge following from their fanfic form, and when you add that to the know-how and connections that the author had in “the business” due to her husband being a scriptwriter or whatever, they were marketed well to a niche that needed filling (that sounded dirty somehow).

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      • jholland

        February 25, 2015 at 9:38 pm

        Yes… it really was brilliantly marketed. The tasteful cover, the interesting title. People who would normally either scorn the erotica genre or be too embarrassed or whatever suddenly had a taste of it and it was ok to read it because everybody was reading it! It’s pretty remarkable, really!

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