Now here’s a post I bet you didn’t see coming….
I’m sure most of you probably heard of this going down last week, and admittedly I went back and forth on whether to talk about it here. It got a lot of attention and debate in my social media channels, though, so I can’t help but think there’s still something to discuss there.
Last week E.L. James did a Twitter Q&A that quickly turned into a debacle, to put it mildly. You can read about it here (and about a billion other places), but basically the bulk of the questions were from people bashing her writing, questioning her motives and themes, and nine zillion variations on those themes.
I think it’s important to be honest here: I’m not a fan of E.L. James. I haven’t read her books, I have read excerpts, and from that I’ve gathered that I have no desire to read the books. I find the writing style beyond purple (Plum? Indigo? -Violet-Urple infinity?), the characters underdeveloped or B-movie quality, and I do believe that even though she had her story picked up from originating as fan fiction, it would have done her a lot of favors to research and adapt her work to fit in within the bdsm community as it really is. I definitely agree with a lot of the criticism of the book that it really pushes romanticized manipulation and blurs consent and a million other things. I’m not going to argue with any of that. I also feel that nothing she’s done is particularly new if you’ve been paying attention at any point in the past thirty years or so (Exit to Eden, the Beauty Series by Anne Rice, the movie Secretary. Honestly, my take on the whole franchise is I don’t care. I really don’t. Does it frustrate me that that’s popular and I’m working my tail off for every copy of my work that I sell? Sure, but I also don’t write in the same genre as Ms. James, so it’s me that needs to get the chip off my shoulder and get back to work.
To be fair, there are plenty of romance titles (especially e-titles) that are badly edited and poorly written (I’ve seen more than a few missing words in blurbs and featuring excerpts that I can’t even get through). There are a lot of romance and erotica titles that blur lines of consent – that’s been a growing issue in the genre for years. There are far more controversial trends in erotica than 50 Shades, and they sell. A lot. If you want your brain well and truly broken, here’s a Cracked article on the subject (just don’t say I didn’t warn you). There’s also the that fan fiction and the work that derives from it is written for different reasons than traditionally written fiction. You could argue that certain romance and erotica trends are a whole other type of writing, as well, honestly, which would put things in an interesting light in a discussion about fantasy vs. “responsible” art vs. free speech vs. consent and a million other things. Plus, there’s always something that a billion people going to latch onto because it happens at the right place and the right time and, for whatever reason, works for them.
I’m not going to do any of that, though. What I am going to say is that, admittedly, I was amused by the snarky twitter comments at first, until I got to thinking.
That could be me and any of my books. That could be any of my friends who are authors and their books. That could be any of my friends who are actors, singers, artists, producers, and on and on. I don’t even know what I would do if it was me in her shoes and something that I had poured my time and love into and had to sit there, sorting through so much ill will. That’s the thing. I may not like the books, but it takes time to write that much, and because it did start out as fanfic, I can guarantee that E.L. James must have some love for her stories. This isn’t someone slamming out 100 plus porn shorts for e-book audiences in a year to work the system and make money. This is something that has taken time and constant effort over and over, especially given all the different adaptations and side projects.
That, in fact, is not initials on a screen and a meme or a joke that people are being snide to, but an actual person getting attacked just because their work happened to do well. A friend of mine made the point online that he had no problem with people critiquing the writing, but this is a whole other ballgame.
Would people have acted this way if they had to go down to a store to say these things to someone’s face? Maybe, maybe not. I get we live in a different world and it’s a lot easier to sit behind a computer screen and say whatever you want, for whatever reason. I get it. Hell, as an author who isn’t doing nearly that well, I totally get people’s frustration with her success, plus I get the concern and anger over the exploitation of themes – though it could be argued that because of the book, topics of consent, relationships, and sexual practices are getting more of an actual space to be discussed.
Believe me, I’m not putting these things on a pedestal by any means, and it’s slightly amazing me that I’m defending her, but fair is fair. And she did not deserve to have to deal with that. Seriously, picture yourself at your graduation, wedding, birth of a child, finishing a thesis, any huge event or project that has taken a lot of time, effort, will, and feeling, and then picture thousands of people making jokes to your face and slamming you with hate comments.
It’s one thing to pick a work apart in articles and reviews, in debates and on panels. That’s totally fair. It’s also fair for people to showcase their concern via memes and other things going around because that is commentary about the actual work.
The moment it becomes not about the actual work in question, but about degrading the author/artist/creator – especially to their face – that’s a whole other ballgame.
It probably wasn’t the smartest PR move, and I can’t help but think that they had to expect this (all press is good press and all that), but still, it saddens me. I wonder if people would say things like that to Stephen King. God knows he’s amazing, but not all his work is gold. So would that same number of people show up and make those kind of comments to him if he did a Twitter Q&A?
It also concerns me that a lot of people passing the link around are saying that Ms. James “deserved this” and “It doesn’t matter, she’s rich off of this, she’s laughing all the way to the bank, that’s what she gets,” and other similar statements.
That wording is so uncannily close to victim blaming and slut shaming, I cannot even. Look, you can argue that the books may deserve harsh reviews, but no one deserves to be degraded, especially on a mass scale, especially in an artistic/creative context like this. You don’t have to agree with or like the books – I don’t – but it would never occur to me to go up to a person and say things like that to them, then blame them for having horrible stuff said to them. I mean she wrote a romance series, not Mein Kampf or the Necronomicon, for cryin’ out loud. I don’t care how much they make, what gender they are, there is a line between critiquing a work and making it personal for no real reason. That may make you feel better, to legitimize it with those terms, but that doesn’t make it right.
So what do you think? Does dislike of a work give people reason to attack or degrade the creator? Is there a point where it’s okay and a point it’s not? At what point does general dislike – even if it’s valid – cross over into bullying?