It is incredible how swiftly Fifty Shades has entered the public lexicon with barely an eyebrow lifted, whether it's a serious comment piece in the Daily Telegraph entitled, 'A government with 50 shades of grey would have the whip hand' or npower's energy-saving Twitter campaign, '50 Shades of Green'.
Personally, I hesitate to call this novel a 'literary' phenomenon but it is clearly an internet sensation with its explicit sexual/BDSM content, and is taking the world by storm. Such is the power of the media hype it has become an overnight hit with young women and even teenagers who are reading it quite openly with none of the embarrassment which would normally have accompanied such a book before, even including most of the Australian women's swimming team after discovering it in a service station on their way to the Games from Manchester, presumably alongside other novels and within sight of children.
It is extraordinary to see the amount of coverage in the media with big features showing an attractive middle-aged James and her husband in their middle class domestic setting, hardly oozing 'mummy porn'. It is not just James and her own perverse imagination which are subverting public morals so dramatically; it is the whole of the communications industry which is driving e marketing to an audience who have become gradually desensitised over time by films and TV programmes targeted often specifically at the 16-34 age group, and which increasingly feature sexually explicit material and bondage.
Sexually provocative music lyrics and videos by Madonna, Lady Gaga and Rihanna's S&M are popular with teens and children. Retailers of bondage gear are also making a killing it seems with reports that the book has led to a surge in the sale of whips, handcuffs and other instruments of torture.
This skilfully packaged book is marketed as liberating for women (trussed like a turkey liberating?), and female celebrities tell us "the obvious answer is that a large proportion of women are to some degree closet masochists" and that "It's fun - whatever turns you on". H
However, in reality it actually romanticises the dangerous patterns of an abusive relationship by teaching that controlling men are sexy and women secretly enjoy being hurt.
At a time when the NSPCC has been reporting on the growing problem of sexual violence in teenage relationships and particularly in gangs, the promotion of this book is particularly cynical and morally wrong. We should all be warning our young people about the very twisted and dangerous messages it contains, not lionizing it and selling it as harmless fun.
However much we are led to believe all the phoney hype, what is really behind the success is of course the usual culprit - sex sells: "In just four months, EL James has become Amazon.co.uk's biggest-selling author of all time...", said EU director of Kindle Gordon Willoughby, and according to Wikipedia, 31m copies have been sold worldwide, setting a record as the fastest selling paperback of all time.
According to the Sunday Times, the ebooks are available on amazon.co.uk, which allows anyone to upload a book and has no system for filtering out offensive material. 'Within minutes anyone can become an author using Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service and can even set their own price. Authors charging between 77p and £1.48 earn 35% royalty on every sale, while Amazon takes 65%. For ebooks priced £1.49 or more, authors receive 70% of the royalties." I'm no mathematician but there is an awful lot of money being made and simply by creating a demand with sex and hype.
No wonder Mills & Boon are in hot pursuit with a new series of 12 digital-only "racy reads" called... '12 Shades of Surrender' -how sad that it is the surrender of romance for licentiousness. Simultaneously, thanks to internet publishing, classics such as Pride & Prejudice are now being injected with sex scenes.
Amazon is a household name and, according to the Sunday Times, its 'content guidelines state: "We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts." However, a search for the word "pornography" on its website finds 727 ebooks."
So, in common with the ratcheting up of explicit violence in films and games in order to make ever larger profits, it is now deemed necessary by some powerful publishers of literature to push the envelope further and further and create demand by accepting evermore sexually explicit and risky content.
What boundaries there were are now so indistinct they have become practically invisible, and global businesses like Amazon are bulldozing the principles and values that have underpinned our civilisation. Appealing to natural curiosity and prurience will always guarantee a full net for those with the means to ensnare and exploit the rest of us on an industrial scale and our young people are the most vulnerable to this type of corruption; the unregulated internet has made it so much easier. We are already being primed for the spin-off film; what a gift to the porn industry.