Fifty Shades of Grey Was Banned
… in Brazil, and for the wrong reasons, if you ask me. A while ago, a judge ruled that Brazilian bookstores could continue to sell the “racy” trilogy, which rocketed to bestseller fame, if they were sealed and placed out of reach of minors.
Now, I’ve got a couple of problems with the Fifty Shades series anyway – namely that the author wrote it as Twilight fanfiction, then filed off the serial numbers and called it original, and now has the gall to tell other people that they can’t do the same with her work (this, ladies and gents, is hypocrisy 101). I also speculate on the actual quality of the writing – Twilight was poorly written, so how much better written can this fanfic be? (And I’m not knocking fanfic; I myself have written fanfic, and also porn, and I know a lot of what is popular is dreck, so quality-of-writing is often a moot point – but one I like to belabor anyway). The other issue I have with the Fifty Shades series is that it’s a pretty problematic portrayal of sexuality and subversive sexual kink; the hero’s predilection for S&M and bondage is considered a “problem” and it can only be “solved” by the heroine. That’s definitely not acceptance or even attempting to reach an understanding of the mentality of someone who enjoys that kind of sex: It’s demonization of the kink, and it paints those who find sexual pleasure in these acts as deviants and people who are “sick” and need to be “helped.” Okay, sure, that’s a trope of romance novels, but isn’t that also the exact mentality that was applied to homosexuals in the 1970s? Yeah, it is, and the mentality was problematic then because it caused a lot of people needless harm and suffering because of their sexual preferences. The same is true of how S&M and bondage gets played out in the mainstream, and Fifty Shades just perpetuates that. I’m not saying it’s the only piece of pop culture to be guilty of this – most certainly not, and the author’s views are likely informed by pop culture’s portrayal to begin with. I’m singling it out because the series has been absolutely newsworthy and prolific for the past few years, which puts it into the mainstream and the public eye.
So, why am I upset it got banned? Oh, well, I’m not really upset that it got banned – if there’s a book that deserves burning this modern day, this is probably it (and that coming from someone who is anti-censorship). I disagree with the reasons the judge has given for the ruling, because it shows that we’re censoring stuff for all the wrong reasons.
Why do I say that? Well, because the judge’s ruling clearly indicates two things: Porn for women is still “taboo,” as is anything that might depict women enjoying sex, and it also indicates that the type of sex that these books portray – however poorly they portray it and however problematic the presentation – is considered “taboo.” It means that open female sexuality and S&M and bondage are things that are not “normal.” They should be kept out of the reach of youth because they will “corrupt” their supposed “innocence.”
This does two things. One, it creates a desire in the children this ruling is trying to protect. Human beings are nothing if not fickle: If someone says we can’t or shouldn’t do something, we automatically want to do that thing, just to spite them. This is especially true of children, and if you tell them something is “for adults” or “grown-up stuff,” their natural curiosity increases ten-fold. They don’t like being told they can’t see it and they definitely are interested in what the grown-ups can look at but they can’t. I’m by no means advocating giving children an all-access pass to porn or violence; they are children, and such things can leave a lasting scar on their psyches and harm their development. I’m just saying that saying “no! Don’t look!!!” makes them want to look, when maybe they didn’t care before, or makes them want to look even more than they did before.
The other thing this does is vilify the sexualities that are portrayed in the books. As I said, the books already do a pretty good job of demonizing the sexual kinks (even if they are hot, they are portrayed as abnormal and they’re definitely considered a problem in the series), but the ruling here indicates that this is something that shouldn’t be out in the open – it must be sealed and placed up high, out of reach, out of sight. The people who read this should be ashamed to do so, and they should conceal it from their friends and families, and they definitely should not enjoy reading about the sex acts performed within. Pornography is shameful. That’s the message being conveyed here, and although I know there are people who agree with this stance – pornography is shameful and degrading because the people who are involved are essentially prostitutes, and subsequently objectified, and no longer seen as human beings in the eyes of the viewers – this also says “sex acts are shameful.”
So yes, there are reasons to exercise some censorship. There are definitely reasons to ban the Fifty Shades series.
But this particular reason is not one of them.