When we look back on the summer of 2012, I suspect that one unique trend may set it apart from years past. This year, two of the biggest phenomena have been driven by their distinctive appeal to feminine sexuality. Of course I’m talking about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, the bestselling erotic novels by E.L. James, and “Magic Mike,” last weekend’s #2 movie which prominently features Channing Tatum as a male stripper. (You might also add HBO’s new series, “Girls,” to this list—but I won’t, since the buzz surrounding it seems to be waning a bit.)
This is not a treatise on moral decline—nor will it be. You won’t get that from me. I just find it curious, as a writer who closely follows pop-culture trends. I simply can’t recall another instance in which American women have gone so gaga over such highly-sexualized material. The “Sex and the City” craze of the late Nineties bears some similarity, but the series strikes me as a little more plot-heavy and character-driven than either of our present day examples.
Last Friday, when “Magic Mike” hit theaters, was like a National Girls Night Out. It’s almost certain that you know women who were talking about it, the Internet was abuzz with Channing Tatum chatter, and more than a few of my Facebook friends were bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t get tickets to sold-out showings. It was as though an actual all-male revue had come to town; the excitement was palpable, and no one was pretending to be interested in the storyline. I was shocked to find out that attendance wasn’t strong enough for a box-office win.
“Fifty Shades of Grey,” in my experience, has been a slightly different phenomenon. It has been a little more secretive—a whispered fad. I only know of a few indiscreet friends who have read it, though I suspect that many more might have it hidden under their mattress. More than 10 million copies have been sold worldwide. In the UK, “Fifty Shades” broke the record for the fastest-selling paperback of all time—beating out the “Harry Potter” series.
With sales like that, it’s almost inconceivable that you don’t see more women reading it on street corners, or in airports, in doctor’s offices or on the beach. Before E.L. James was named among Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World,” you might have seen it more frequently. But, as the novel’s reputation has grown—and its heavy-handed overtones of bondage and S&M have become common knowledge—reading “Fifty Shades” poolside will certainly draw some unwanted snickers.
By almost all accounts, the “Fifty Shades” trilogy is not particularly well-written—but then again, if well-written’s what you’re looking for, you’d probably opt for Shakespeare. Talks have already begun surrounding an upcoming “Fifty Shades” movie. In fact, it might actually improve upon the novels. Angelina Jolie has expressed interest in directing it, Bret Easton Ellis has offered to write the screenplay, and Ryan Gosling is reportedly the first choice to play the male lead, Christian Grey.
If a movie ever hits theaters, it will be fascinating to see if all of the closeted “Fifty Shades” readers come forth with the same enthusiasm that we saw over “Magic Mike.”
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 07/05/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.