A Brief Thought On This Whole EL James Matter

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So EL James held an Ask Me Anything on Twitter the other day.  It went about as predictably as Bill Cosby’s “Ask Me Anything” session went, which is to say full of angry accusations, snarkiness, and hostility.  Really, celebrities, you shoulda seen this coming.
Still, I view EL James in the same sense that I do Margaret Mitchell and”Gone With The Wind” in the sense that I’ve never read anything by either of them – I’ve just seen the immense cultural footprint that both of them have left behind.  And I’m not particularly thrilled by either: James’ modelling of abusive relationships as admirable (with the extra bonus of BDSM being framed as this thing that healthy people ultimately walk away from), Mitchell’s idolization of the Deep South and slave culture.
That said, I’m always shocked when people target the author as if they created this ugliness out of whole cloth.
Now, this isn’t to say that EL James and Margaret Mitchell aren’t responsible for glorifying bad things.  But plenty of people write novels that glorify bad things.  Hell, JG Ballard wrote a novel glorifying the sexiness of near-fatal car crashes and the people who get off on that. There’ve been a thousand bad fanfics dealing with abusive BDSM fantasies in one method or another. Most of these stories languish in obscurity, like most tales.
So when I see a big ugly phenomenon like this, I don’t see the author as being some all-powerful Evil, dictating cultural paradigms from on high:
I see them as accidentally tapping into a deep well of ugliness that people want to believe in.
And yeah, the author is culpable for polishing these turdy ideals to a glossy consumable shine, but ultimately this shit wouldn’t sell if people didn’t want it.
Talking about EL James like she single-handedly created bad BDSM, baffles me.  No.  She’s one of a hundred thousand fanfic writers who peddled fantasies – and something about this fantasy connected with millions of people who wanted this so badly that when they got it, they couldn’t stop thinking about it.
In that sense, I see the audience for this sort of thing like a vast field of dry grass – if EL James didn’t write a bad BDSM book to spark these shady desires, eventually some other schmuck would have done it.  If Margaret Mitchell didn’t write a paean to the Old South, well, there were enough other people writing potboilers that someone else would have stumbled across it eventually.
I look at these authors like I view Mike Huckabee – reprehensible, to be sure, but if dude had a heart attack then some other schmuck would hit the limelight, because some portions of America deeply want dippy fundie conservatism, and they’ll keep looking until they find someone who fulfills that need.
Which doesn’t make Mike Huckabee a great person, for fine-tuning his gay-bashing skills to such an extreme – but someone only becomes popular by people agreeing with them.
Mind you, not all people talk about EL James like she’s responsible – many correctly chastise her for indulging a harmful need.  But a lot of people attack her like somehow she made relationship abuse so compelling that she lured people, Pied Piper-style, into believing this is the way romance would be.  And admittedly, I haven’t read it – but judging from the ham-handed quality of the prose and characterization I’ve seen thus far, I think it’s highly unlikely that she converted people to this viewpoint via the quality of her words.
Truth is, some folks want to hear this shit.  And with millions of writers trying billions of stories, eventually one of them is going to catch that spark.
I guess you can only yell at one of them directly, but still.  They didn’t do this to anyone.
People chose to love it.

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