1st Aug 2012
Gina Goes Pop: Grey Is The New Black
In my first Gina Goes Pop column, I discussed the changing faces of the vampire. We took a literary journey from the very first vampires, symbolising sexually transmitted disease and the risk of rape in aristocratic society in the Romantic period, to the fear of sexual ambiguity and more sexually transmitted disease in the Victorian period.
We then looked at the sparkly, sensitive vampire, symbolising the anti-abortion, pro-marriage, pro-changing-everything-about-yourself-for-a-boy-you’ve-known-five-minutes brigade of the 21st century.
When Twilight hit the shelves and seemingly took over the world, a whole tsunami of vampire novels came crashing into the public eye. Some of them were re-released books that hadn’t been so successful before Twilight; some were brand spanking new novels. It seemed like the world had gone mad for blood suckers that didn’t suck blood.
As I’ve pointed out plenty of times before, vampires are nothing new, and have always had some level of popularity, whether within the mass public readership or in the confines of cult movements.
The novels known as True Blood were originally published starting in 2001, while Twilight was published in 2005. Despite the difference in publication date, the True Blood novels were re-released with new glossy black covers and white and red central images, much like the now infamous Stephanie Meyer novels.
It’s quite poetic that the new literary trend was sparked by Twilight. You’re probably sick of hearing about it now, but I am of course speaking about Fifty Shades of Grey. Apparently everyone’s gone all erotic, even more so than they ever went vampiric since it’s now turned in to one of the bestselling books of all time. Ever.
This piece of erotic narrative came into life as a Twilight fan-fiction piece called Master of the Universe. Names and certain details were changed to avoid copyright infringements but still. E. L. James gave Edward a whip and now everyone’s going mad for literary rumpy pumpy.
Caitlin Moran, one of my all time favourite feminists and pop culture masters, has stated that she doesn’t mind Fifty Shades because it will spark lots of new erotic novels as mainstream publishers develop quotas, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally get to read some quality erotica and everything will be right in the world (I’ve paraphrased a bit here).
Well, she’s not wrong. From tomorrow you’ll be able to download a new erotic novel to smuggle into your Kindle for the daily commute. Macmillan are publishing Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair, an erotic re-writing of the much adored British classic about the quiet and plain Jane and her violently passionate romance with one Mister Rochester.
I’ve read a pre-release of Jane Eyre Laid Bare and, y’know, it’s quite good. I’m not here to give you a review, but if you want an explicit version of Jane Eyre then this is probably this best thing for you.
It’s not as long as the original, the characters generally stay the same, and there’s a lot of sex. I am personally of the inclination that I’d rather decide for myself what happened behind closed doors, but it’s a pretty good book.
Erotica has been around as long as literature has, which is to say, forever. From the dirty poetry spoken aloud to large audiences in gritty gentlemen’s clubs, to the dusty top shelves of cooperate book stores. It’s only now, however, that the public is openly embracing literary pornography, especially pornography specifically aimed at a female audience.
Before Twilight came out, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to like vampires. I remember hiding the fact that I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer in school because people that admitted it were mercilessly mocked. Five years later and those that were doing the laughing were rushing to the shops to buy their Team Edward t-shirts.
It’s been the same with erotica. The erotic publishers Black Lace was founded in 1993 and was incredibly popular, selling over four million erotic titles every year they were in business.
However, within social situations, you were still unlikely to find a group of women happily discussing the content of their latest erotic read out of fear of being laughed at. Now those that did the laughing are openly cancelling plans for a night with Mister Grey.
Caitlin Moran talked about what we all really knew, that publishers will see this success and jump right on board that wagon in the hope that readers will spend their money on some of their erotic stories. It’s to be expected.
Some previously-released erotic literature has already had the Fifty Shades treatment, in the form of a new cover that looks suspiciously like the now-famous grey tie and glossy midnight blue background.
Take a peek at Amazon’s best selling fiction list. Wedged between the top three Fifty Shades, and a trilogy box set, is Bared to You by Sylvia Day, with a glossy black shoe adorning the cover rather than a tie. And the Kindle best selling list is even saucier thanks to the reduced prices and temptingly concealed nature a Kindle provides.
I disagree with the argument that it’s good to have a quota. While these popular novels were not going to win any literary awards and yet still sold incredibly well, that’s no reason to just publish any old rubbish. E L James got lucky, and good for her. But now it’s time to hunt out the gold in the stream of crap so that people can read genuinely brilliant literature that also features sex.
I have a feeling that, rather than erotica itself becoming the new got-to-be-read genre, it’ll be sexy re-writes, just like Fifty Shades of Grey. Sometimes the names will be changed, sometimes it’ll be an outright re-writing like Jane Eyre.
The thing is, to get people to pay for a book the story has to bring them in. If you want a quick fix, there is plenty of instant gratification on the internet that will feed even the most obscure fetishes, and it’s all for free.
By taking an already well established story such as Jane Eyre, you have an audience ready and waiting. Jane Eyre Laid Bare will draw in both the Fifty Shades fans and the Bronte fans alike.
So will any other kind of re-writing or fan fiction of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility…heck even classic novels that aren’t primarily based upon romance such as Dracula, Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes.
It can’t be said whether erotica is the new vampire novel just yet. But chances are when people are done with Fifty Shades, they’re going to want a new saucy tale to sink themselves in to.
Looking at the bestselling lists, publishers are already taking the steps to ensure that erotica takes the same journey as the vampire novels, as the growing e-market of erotic publishers grow, as do the re-release of older novels with new covers.
What will be the next big thing after Fifty Shades hysteria? It’s hard to tell. The common trend between all of these popular books are their happy endings. That suggests people are looking for pleasant escapism, so does that put dystopia off the table?
I have a feeling fantasy is about to have its day. More people than ever are throwing themselves in to the lands of war, mythical creatures, and fancy castles. Perhaps someone will write a shorter, easier-to-read version of Game of Thrones and stick on a happy ending. Who knows?
What classic novel would you like to see eroticised? Do you love the idea of a sexual re-writing, or do you prefer the power of the imagination? What do you think is going to be the next big thing?