Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Beware the Book Burner

Book Burners are rarely on the right side of history.  Authoritarian regimes, and the frightened call for books to be burns when they don't believe they can win against the ideas contained within the pages of a book.

It was therefore with a sense of alarm that I read last week of a bizarre campaign in Sunderland to ceremoniously burn copies of the bestselling fiction book, Fifty Shades of Grey.

According to the Sunderland Echo,  Clare Phillipson, director of the women’s refuge, today called for the trilogy – led by Fifty Shades of Grey – to be binned. “It’s absolutely disgusting,” she told the Echo. “It normalises abuse, degrades women and encourages sexual violence. “With it being in the media so much many men and women have rushed out to buy it, and many have come to me and told me how distressed they are by what’s written. “Passages in it are about women submitting to men, obeying their orders and violence being used in a sexual and erotic manner. It’s disgusting and sends out the wrong message.”

The Charity is collecting the books until November the 5th, when they will burn the books.

The following day, TV 'Agony Aunt', Denise Robertson waded in to the row.

According to the Echo, she said:  “I’m not surprised by the book’s success, but I just feel it’s terribly sad that people’s lives are so empty they’ve taken to going to buy a book that’s designed for titilation. I’m absolutely with Clare in getting people not buy the book. “Unfortunately, the more we talk about it, the more people will want to buy it probably.” She added: “It’s a horrible book. “I wish it had never been written. “It’s making S&M seem cool and dressing it up in frilly clothes, making it seem nice when it isn’t.

Let me begin by saying I've read the first book in the trilogy but not the others.  It took me around five times to get through the first few pages as it was so clunky, and badly written.  However, once past this, I flew through the book and did find it engaging, and enjoyable.  However, the book doesn't really understand BDSM.  It's depictions absurd and the longitudinal storyline (which I've not got to) that all you need is redemptive vanilla monogamy to be 'cured' of BDSM is rather silly, if not downright offensive to those who do engage in BDSM.

So, it's a pretty lousy but successful book.  That's not grounds for burning it.  If the book is so degrading to women, so utterly offensive; it's all the more puzzling that women are choosing to buy and enjoy all three novels (and other similar texts).

Robertson's assumption that S&M is not 'nice' is also bizarre and disturbing that a woman who has such a high-profile is choosing to display her ignorance.  I can recall This Morning (the show Robertson made her name on) promoting riding crops and fluffy handcuffs as part of a Valentines gift show a few years ago - surely behaviours which can fall within the boundaries of BDSM?

It's re-assuring to see from the comments on both stories that the public are far more 'switched on', and culturally aware than these two individuals, but any call for a public book burning should always be met with scepticism, if not all-out resistance.

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