Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Obscenity


 by Daddy X

It isn’t difficult to write a story that would be deemed obscene. Whether romance or erotica, we’re bound to offend someone. There are those who think sex shouldn’t be written about at all. Or taught about, or explained, or talked about or thought about. Or indulged in any way simply for pleasure. There are people who believe sex is for procreation only and that we should repress or at least be ashamed of our natural urges. That we should believe a perfect God, in creating His masterpiece, made something unacceptable to do with His alleged masterpiece. Something to be covered up. An embarrassment. Hence the fig leaf in the garden. We have to wonder if sexuality was God’s intention or a grave mistake. Is this God a sadistic trickster? Either that or a ham-fisted fuck-up.

In parts of the world, it has become tradition to mutilate the female body to mold basic humanity into something perceived more acceptable—and then presented as dogma. Like their all-powerful, all-knowing God couldn’t quite get it right.

Of course, the woman is then relegated to an incidental means, a subordinate receptacle for male desire and vehicle of reproduction— an unfeeling, ignored, debased partner in an act that should ideally be reciprocal. Revile a woman’s gratification. Make female orgasm impossible. That’s the real obscenity. How male dominated religion and custom has bastardized our natural way of being.

Okay. Sorry. Got a little carried away ranty. That last bit wasn’t going to be part of this post. But what’s been said should be said more often, at least until this line of thinking evolves into regretful history. So it stays in. The recent backslide toward more fundamentalist (read fabricated, coerced, unrealistic, unsubstantiated) thinking could set humankind back ages.

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Whew! Got that out. After that diversion, let’s move on to the original gist of this post. Obscenity. How writers shape the acceptable from the unacceptable. Which is a big part of what authors do, whether we write about sex, murder, kidnapping, cowboys, aliens, vampires or corporate raiders. Bad guys and good guys. And women of all persuasions.

In fact, I often use such criteria when assessing elements of an erotic book: Did it accomplish the job the author intended, even if I am not personally aroused by the sex? (boner?) How close would this come to a mainstream work meant for the erotica-novice? (Eeek!) Could this pass in ‘mixed’ company? (Whatever that means any more, but we’re talking sheer numbers here. Readers.). Could this piece convert a prude to a devotee? Does it arouse while it informs?

Of course we’re not attempting to change any of the constipated minds referred to in the beginning of this post. But what about mainstream, intellegent folk? Can ordinary readers’ preconceptions be manipulated if not fundamentally changed by our delivery?

Why did “Shades” do so well? Did it dumb down or simplify a phenomenon? Did it expose to fresh air a lifestyle that’s historically been kept behind doors, giving it a shot at a breath of life?  Would the kink hold its appeal for a large swath of the population? Even without the cultural forces lined up against it? Rebelling against convention has its own seductions.

Did “Shades” represent the real deal? What percentage of readers were convinced? Did it minimize the authenticity of those in the lifestyle?

Finally, how did James accomplish what she did literarily? Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t read much of “Shades”. Didn’t hold my interest. Didn’t seem genuine, almost written for young adults. But, as one of the editors at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, I’ve read a fair amount of erotica. Perhaps to uninitiated readers, what I find arousing would put others running from the room.

Still and all, James sold a lot of books. Was it a case of the content having universal appeal? Timing? Some have suggested the success was due only to James’ promotional prowess.

Or did she shape the prose of the story, a perceived obscenity, rendering it acceptable to a greater reading public?  

Could be the answer to popularity is—whether or not we are able to make the ‘obscene’ not so.

It is, at least, an admirable goal.



4 comments:

  1. James had seized on an existing phenomenon by writing fanfic for Stephanie Meyers's Twilight series. As I heard it, Shades was original written as a vampire erotic romance riffing on characters from Twilight, and her piece was so successful in that community that she "filed off the ID numbers" and turned it into Shades. Her audience was already so large that the book took off, even though some people into fanfic berated her for being so crass as to charge for her work. I think fanfic is the root of our current wave of readers who don't think they should have to pay for books. In any case, her audience was already so wide that people were reading and talking about her book so much that it became acceptable reading for "soccer moms" (a dreadful term) and a meme so prevalent that I saw the book used as a gag gift at a bridal shower where most of the family members were conservatively religious. I expect the younger ones had read it, but the point of it was as a joke. People don't mind paying for joke material.

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  2. "Could be the answer to popularity is—whether or not we are able to make the ‘obscene’ not so."

    I have often thought that this is the explanation for Fifty Shades. I think it domesticated titillation, put it into a known rom com format that made the titillation feel acceptable.

    As for your rant, seconded.

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  3. I'll tell you one thing, Daddy... We've got a lot of used bookstores around here, and copies of the Shades trilogy are a dime a dozen. Okay, so that means somebody did pay full price for the books originally, but suggests that there were very few people for whom the series was a keeper...

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  4. How to make something once considered obscene acceptable to a large audience - that is the question. I have noticed that fanfic (written & read by a certain niche community) has produced writing that spills out into the mainstream -- such as m/m erotic romance (shades of Kirk/Spock). That seems to happen with other niche trends too, such as the gay porn (his own term) of John Preston influencing Anne Rice in the 1970s,and then she produced the phenomenon of Interview with the Vampire (a kind of FSOG in its time, but much more original and better-written).

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