Where do you draw the line between art and pornography?
It's a timely question, given the news of London's National Gallery of Art hosting an exhibit that includes viewing nude women through peepholes. But it's also timely given that one of today's most popular beach reads for women is Fifty Shades of Grey—the three-volume series of S&M erotic literature that has received as wide-ranging reactions as Dr. Drew's dismissing it as "rape fantasies" and nearly everyone else approving it in the name of female sexual expression.
It's consensual, say 50 Shades fans. What difference does it make if it's between a naive, young virgin and a much-older, wealthier, and powerful man; if he has the right to beat her; or if her own sexual expression is limited to the confines of his strict preferences, including down to the very detail that she can hardly climax without his saying so.
It's dark, yes, but so was the similarly popular Twilight series, and the similarities are abundant. Both appeal to adolescent fantasies. Both involve a handsome man with a mysterious past playing a melancholic piano. Both of these men are intrigued with the female protagonist, no matter how little merit there is to say for herself in the story.
But is it art? Is it worthwhile literature? Fortunately the author E.L. James' writing is so poor that, at least this time, we have an easy answer.
Photograph courtesy of Ciera Holzenthal on Flickr.