No, I Don't Want To Read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey'

I have this confession. A reader’s dirty secret if you will. Actually, come to think of it, I think it’s more of a confession of my teenage self that happens to relate directly to a lot of what I write about here: reading, books, geekiness and pop culture.

For a long time, longer than I’d care to admit actually, I’ve been a reader of fanfiction.

That’s right. I said it. I read fanfiction.

I also have fun reading things like “Democracy, English and the Wars Over Usage,” a 2001 Harper’s Magazine article by David Foster Wallace that was published his collection, Consider the Lobster.

What? You don’t like to read essays on etymology and arcane word usage on a Thursday night when you could be watching 30 Rock? What’s wrong with you?

Words are awesome.

But yeah, fanfiction. In case you aren’t familiar with it, fanfiction is basically what happens when someone creative falls in love with a story that someone else who is professionally creative thought up, published or produced, and put out into the world. That first creative person, the one who is not a professional, gets so attached to the characters, places and world that the professionally creative person put out into the world that they start making up stories of their own for those characters, places and world.

Sometimes they write them down.

Sometimes they put them up online.

And, as is the case with all bits of magical creativity put out there into the universe, some of them are really, really good, and some of them are really, really bad.

These creators of fanfiction, which is usually a written story by the way, are not compensated for their work. They get no royalties. They get nothing. And they frequently are smart enough to put disclaimers at the beginning of their stories that state that much so that the professionally creative person, or their legal representation, doesn’t come and sue them.

A lot of professional writers, producers, actors, and such are not only aware of the fact that fanfiction exists out there, they are actually okay with it – at least that’s what I’ve heard. It’s flattering to think that a character you put your heart and soul into has had such an impact on your audience that it has inspired their own creativity. In fact, I can only think of two or three professional writers out there who are vehemently against fan-created work surrounding their licensed characters. I don’t really understand it personally but whatever. I wasn’t terribly attached to the characters those writers put out there anyways.

I started reading fanfiction in high school. That’s right. I have been carrying around this dirty reading secret for more than a decade. And the only reason I am coming out with it now is because if one more person recommends 50 Shades of Grey to me, I’m actually going to punch them in the nose.

Not really. I am not a violent person.

Every time I walk into a bookstore, it assaults my eyes. It’s on every bestseller table in every store.

Why don’t I want to read it, you may be asking? I don’t want to read it because I already read it.

I read it before it was a New York Times bestseller. I read it before it was a self published novel. I read it back when it was fanfiction and the entire thing was white text on a black screen for hours worth of scrolling.

Yes, 50 Shades of Grey, the debut novel causing a scandal all over the world for its hypersexualized characters and sometimes taboo situations, started out as a long, multi-chaptered Twilight fanfiction that went by the name “Master of the Universe.”

From what I understand, the novelization has retained much of the very graphic sex scenes and domineering/innocent main characters that the fanfiction had, and that’s the real reason I have no desire to reread the book.

I recently confessed my love of romance novels and how much fun the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club hangout is, so it’s not that I’m objecting to really.

It’s the hype that I see as being for all the wrong reasons. The book has started conversation after conversation about women embracing their sexuality when it really should be examining the actual relationship that leads up to the sex that everyone in the media can’t seem to stop rehashing. The relationship in question happens to be alternative and rely heavily on the man’s domination of his submissive partner. The first time I read the story, that was the main function of the relationship: a domination/submission plot that revolved around the bedroom. Given the source material the fanfiction writer had taken her inspiration from, it showed both characters in a less than positive light. When she pulled it from the internet, made the necessary changes to make it “her own” and not plagiarism, it was not her focus to create stable, healthy characters with a balanced relationship that happened to enjoy this less-than-traditional relationship behind closed doors.

And those characters who have been written with little depth are what I object to now. They aren’t the kind of characters I want to look up to at all.

That’s the main reason for my protest whenever anyone brings it up in conversation. I can’t bring myself to read such a negative relationship right now. For crying out loud, I just finished Game of Thrones and the relationships throughout that were so twisted and messed up that I’m still recovering a week later. And it hurts my soul a little bit that everyone and their brother praises this book rather than thinking critically about it. I can’t help but agree with another HelloGiggles contributor that we need to be critically examining more of our entertainment.

My other reason for being angry at the mere mention of this book? Every time someone asks me, I feel this sick obligation to explain to them that I read it when it was fanfiction. And I can feel their judgement. Fanfiction was, and is, this great little community of writers who I had a lot of fun hanging out with on the internet.

Maybe I’m being selfish. Maybe I just don’t want to let anyone into my clubhouse. Maybe in six months I’ll be able to say, “Wow, it really is merrier now that we are more.” But somehow I doubt it. I feel like the floodgates have opened for ridicule, mockery and an influx of people who don’t really love a story enough that it could ruin their lives.

Maybe I should just mind my own business, but I feel like a part of the fanfiction Bandaids.

Woman Reading via ShutterStock

  • Liz Haebe

    I am just confused why it’s a novel when it was fanfic in the first place? I used to write fanfiction, and though it was so much fun, I would never, ever dream of putting it in a novel. It was what it was. But, I guess that’s me and that’s how it rolls. I don’t think you have to justify why you don’t want to read it, just like anyone who does read it needs to justify it. We all like what we like because we like it!

  • Stephanie Westley Gerow

    I also share your secret. I have always wished some people would publish theirs; you know the ones that are ten times better than the professional work by which they were inspired? And usually the way they write the characters is so completely different from the originals that I feel they’ve really made them their own. But that being said, I understand what you mean about not wanting to read fifty shades of grey. I’m just glad to know there are people like me out there! Thanks for confessing. P.S. I’ve started reading fictionpress instead: original works that you can either fall in love with or justifiably hate while being able to lay creative responsibility at the feet of the person who posted it on the site.

  • Jennifer Manchester Branton

    Thank you!!!! That is all.

  • Tami Patton

    no wonder the main character annoys me like bella did. my friend has me read what she’s reading (which has brought me to twilight, hunger games and now 50 shades). the same things that drove me nuts/made me roll my eyes are the same in both sets of trilogies…but that being said, I liked The Hunger Games, so she’s not always off.

  • Katy Wheeler

    I haven’t watched tv programs discussing the book, and I have not read any reviews or related articles. Until reading your post, I had no idea the book I vaguely remembered hearing something about was actually the published version of Master of the Universe! I understand your point of view of the characters entirely. Having followed the story on fanfiction until it was taken down, I have no desire to read it in this new form.

  • Christine Lazzari

    Amen. Everyone I’ve ever met talks about how this novel – and I use the term loosely – speaks to a woman’s power to embrace her sexuality and explore it. Those concepts are awesome. Right on, girls! This story, however, does not embody those concepts. This story is total smut – which I’m not chastising. But, for it to be the feminist movement’s new brochure is flat out baffling to me. It’s truly the story of a wealthy, power-hungry, screwed up man who intimidates, overpowers and convinces a dumbass niave girl into a frightening, uncomfortable, unbalanced sexual relationship. Yeah, she orgasms at his every touch — is that women’s lib part? I’m confused. Which portion of this poorly written story should I feel empowered by? And honestly, how many times can you read “Oh my!”

    I started reading the book during a lull in my iBook library about 2 months ago. It was mentioned casually on the radio. Cool, some easy chic lit to get me through my commute until I find something else. Next thing I know, I find out it’s erotica. Doing some research into why this would be mentioned on a radio show… I find out it’s fanfiction of Twilight. Now, I hated/loved Twilight. I didn’t really like the writing and the story after book 2 – what preggers? – was just silly. And Bella, good lord, how annoying. So, of course, I downloaded the whole Grey series. Maybe I just don’t get it….

  • Teresa Garrett

    Great article! I have no desire to read this trilogy and I have no desire to read “Twilight.” I don’t read fanfic because I’m usually too attached to characters to read them from the point of view of someone who was not the author/creator. But, I don’t think reading fanfic is a really dirty secret that you should be ashamed of or embarrassed about (if you are!).

    Also, the links in your article are all wonky — the html has an extra, plus a quotation mark at the end of the link. I figured out how to read the linked articles but thought you might want to fix them just in case others aren’t sure how to do that.

    Again, great article, it was fun to read your perspective on this!

  • Teresa Garrett

    Gah, I forgot to double space between my paragraphs! Sorry about that.

  • Traci Ford

    OMG I read Master of the Universe! Well, thanks for pointing that out. Now I can save the $25.99 (I still buy books) that I wasn’t going to spend on 50 SHADES OF GREY. Whew!

  • Alise Versella

    I absolutely love your article it was so insightful and I agreed with you one hundred percent! I also read your bio if you have learned anything more about the publishing world I would love to hear and share my own I recently went the self publishing route and that worked out pretty well for me if you’re interested :) I hope after reading your post more hello gigglers will read something more interesting perhaps some fanfiction which my best friend happened to write all the time :)

  • Katie Living Stone

    I don’t like reading fanfiction because then I’ll get confused what is “canon” and what isn’t. I used to read some about, oh, eight years ago.

  • Alyssa Bradley

    I love fanfic. As a kid I kept a “Narnian Journal” before I even knew fanfiction existed! (And by the way, I grew up and married Prince Caspian in my version!) Anyway…

    Everything I’ve heard/read about “50 Shades”, including the sample first chapter, makes me want to run the other direction. As usual, what people think is so “new and revolutionary” is really just the first popularity something like that has recieved. There are other, better written stories out there that explore the whole dom/sub relationship.

    On a side note… though my favorite is Harry Potter, Boondock Saints fanfiction is overall the best written I’ve run across. Perhaps it’s due to it having an older fanbase, but I’ve rarely run across a poorly written story in that community.

  • Leelee Ngwenya

    i also don’t want to read 50 shades of grey. like i might reconsider on my deathbed but not before.

  • Dana Anthony

    just wondering if any of you can recommend fanfiction for me to recommend to my friends who luvved this 50 shades thing and never heard of fanfiction? cause this isnt the kind I read/bookmark but I know there’s more of it out there…

  • Tiffany Reed

    I have the trilogy on my kindle, but I have yet to start reading it. I have far too many other things that I want to read first, I may never get to it. But, I think it’s great that you’re admitting that you write fanfiction, there are some amazing people on the internet who do just that. I, myself, starting writing fanfiction when I was about twelve. Since I have always wanted to be a writer, fanfiction kept me writing when the original thoughts wouldn’t come to the front of my mind, so it holds a special place in my heart.

  • Amber Neufeld

    You are so right! Any relationships we read about or watch on TV are models for those in our own lives, and if we revere these terrible ones, it’s no wonder that we keep having unhealthy relationships! And no worries on the fanfiction- I have read, written, and loved fanfiction for years! I, too, feel the ridicule and humiliation when I open up about that to people, but when I really think about it, why should I? It’s as much a part of me as the published works I’ve read! We should embrace this amazing part of our lives and not be ashamed of this fantastic community we have and some great writers and pieces of work!

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