Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Fifty Shades of Phenom


No, I haven't read it. It is, one hears, a woman's book, after all; and it's sort of sordid too, I hear. People call it "mommy porn." The "eeeuuuwww" factor is sky high when an old fart like me sneaks a peak at its reportedly steamy pages, and I'm enough of an old-fashioned Calvinist to think that it's not good for the soul--mine at least. 

But I may well be the only reader on the planet that hasn't read it. Walk through an airport--any airport--and a thousand copies of Fifty Shades spill out from the bookstores. It's a publishing phenomenon like no other.  In a day when the lamentations of every last publisher sound almost biblical, Random House, who published Fifty Shades of Gray, gave every last employee (you read that right!) a $5000 bonus last Christmas, largely because they didn't know what the heck to do with all the jack that hot item brought their way. The blessings of bondage at Christmas. Imagine that.  No, don't.

It's become (drum roll), a cultural icon, which is to say an artifact of our place and time that is so completely ubiquitous that it's become vastly more than it is.  It's already a museum piece like, for instance, the name Archie Bunker. 

Fifty Shades of Gray is as universally known as well, anything.  In America today, there are a thousand puns on Fifty Shades (Fifty Shades of Earl Gray--erotic tea) because that dirty rotten book (read jealousy there too, by the way) has long ago achieved celebrity status.  Fifty Shades is the Kim Kardashian of American bookstores. 

The truth is, we can parody it because it is so widely heralded, so universally well known. In a culture that worships personal choice, that nurtures that worship with all the individuality a personal computer can roll out, a culture where surfing long ago left the beach, something--anything--that can so universalize American experience is extremely, almost impossibly, rare.  And this is mommy porn. Go figure.

Woe and woe and woe.  It's a good thing my mother doesn't know about Fifty Shades or she'd have even greater reason to believe that the end is upon us.

I don't think I need to say what's obvious--Fifty Shades evidences our incredible affluence, our fashionable decadence, our insatiable lusts, and our immeasurable worship of nothing less than personal freedom.

Updike insisted decades ago that Americans worship sex more devotedly than God--there's nothing new here, really.  Still, when s and m goes viral, it's news.  

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Not everything I've read or watched has been unsoiled. All of Disney is not Disney.

Still, you can't help but remember that when the founders bestowed upon us this altogether unknown form of government called "democracy," they knew dang well it was a great experiment, a risk, a challenge, maybe even a pipe dream--this bizarre notion that ordinary potato eaters like you and me don't need a fiery despot to lay down the law on what's right and good and lovely but can actually--listen to this!--govern themselves. Who woulda' thunk it?

Fifty shades of doubt, saith the Calvinist. 

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