The fourth installment in the "Fifty Shades" series retells Ana Steele's and Christian Grey's love story - but this time from his perspective. What are millions of people learning from E. L. James?
On May 25, 2011, the British author E. L. James published the first volume of the sadomasochistic trilogy "Fifty Shades of Grey." All of a sudden, erotic literature became socially acceptable, especially for women. Females of all ages avidly read the books without feeling they had to keep them hidden under a pillow.
The plot is as deceivingly simple as a classic soap opera. On a literary level, it's just as sophisticated as a pulp romance. A cute student falls in love with a billionaire and gets caught in a weird sadomasochistic relationship where love also comes into play. The reader gradually discovers why Christian Grey is so deranged. Children are born, jealous people devise crimes, and in the end everything turns out fine.
It all takes place in abnormally luxurious surroundings - a fascinating world which distracts millions of "ordinary" women from everyday life.
The books sold over 70 million. The film (which premiered at the Berlinale this year) took over $500 million at the global box office. "Fifty Shades of Grey" sex toys - whips, chains, handcuffs and love beads - made sex shop sales flourish.
A look into the dark soul of Christian Grey
June 18 marks the release of a new book in the series: "Grey." It's a remix of the already well-known story, but from Christian Grey's perspective. The reader will get to discover how he developed his sadistic sexual preferences, how he really thinks and feels.
The German magazine "Focus" described the volume as a "world sensation." Grey fans were so eager they were literally counting the hours until they could get their hands on the book: There were several countdowns on Twitter.
These fans are probably female. Generally speaking, men have not developed a very strong interest in the trilogy. Sociologist Sven Lewandowski of the University of Würzburg has an explanation: "Men do not want to read a woman's interpretation of how male desire works."
The "Fifty Shades" books became widely known as "mommy porn." But what drives those "moms" and all those other women aged 20 to 60 to rush to the bookstores?
In an essay on the topic (in German, "Die neue Liebesordnung," or The New Love Rules), the Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz claims that the readers of "Shades of Grey" are not primarily into the sex scenes. Instead, for many women, the books are a type of self-help manual - a how-to guide giving instruction in how to overcome disparities in heterosexual relationships. The sadomasochistic sexual practices described serve as a metaphor for the way roles can be reversed, from dominance to submission, regardless of gender. For the author, women are interested in the question: "What can this story contribute to my own life?" The answer: certainly a few sex ideas to freshen up a relationship.
Sociologist Lewandowski also links the great success of "Shades of Grey" to gender identity: "Men who consume hardcore porn certainly don't have a problem with their masculinity, whereas when women are interested in porn, they no longer correspond to the image society expects from them. The 'Fifty Shades' books therefore provide a wonderful compromise: women are allowed to read porn, but in this form."
No new phenomenon
The hype surrounding "Fifty Shades of Grey" isn't new, says Sven Lewandowski: "Every ten years or so, a woman writes a porn book and everyone claims: 'Now the secret desires of women have been revealed.'" Such was the case with Charlotte Roche's "Wetlands" or Catherine Millet's sex biography "The Sexual Life of Catherine M." With the "Story of O," even the 1950s had their tale of female submission. These books got a lot of attention, and each time the hype vanished, a new one would show up.
One thing is clear: "Grey" is going to sell in the millions. Fans wouldn't want to miss the chance to gain insight into Christian Grey's feelings. Doing so, they'll relive the thrill of the sex scenes, the luxury, and the strange, passionate, painful and pleasurable love story - without the tension of the initial trilogy, as they already know how it all ends.