50 Shades of Snobbishness

50 Shades of Grey book cover

It’s funny isn’t it? A glance at the average persons Facebook or Twitter feed over the last month, and it seems clear that everyone hates the movie adaptation of E.L. James’ bondage fantasy flick “Fifty Shades of Grey“.

Everyone that is, apart from the millions of moviegoers who have parted with over $150 million and counting of their own money in the US alone since its release.

The box-office gross figures on the Internet Movie Database are right below the current top-ranking review of the film, a one-star review that is simply titled “Oh this film was just DREADFUL!”

How do we square the contradictions here? We don’t need to, it’s actually a common attitude to popular art.

The one thing that’s more entertaining than enjoying a popular piece of art (be it a song, painting, movie or novel), is often to trash it. That’s very fashionable.

There are well-documented critical reviews of the “hack” Shakespeare or Dickens, and this criticism usually coincides with artists being at their peak, at their most popular.

Maybe some of these criticisms are valid, but it doesn’t really tell you much about the quality of the work, which was/is popular, and usually is very good.

So the “I’m oh-so fashionable” criticism descends into something more base: snobbishness. This is a trend that does on throughout popular culture, whether it’s the written work of E.L. James, the film adaption, or the work of Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling or any other successful writer.

It’s not hard to find old archives full of people explaining how the emergence of Bob Dylan or Elvis Presley was the beginning of the end for “good” or “proper” music. I think it’s wise to remember that they said the same of Frank Sinatra, or Miles Davies, or even Beethoven.

I’ll readily admit that E.L. James’ novels haven’t really appealed to me. But that’s just me, and, given the weight of enthusiasm and support (those sales numbers are very impressive), it’s clear that there’s a strong constituency that feels very differenly about her work. I admire their enthusiasm and respect their choices.

Because to dismiss her work basically because it’s become so popular, places critics onto the ash-heap of irrelevance.