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HERAUSGEGEBEN VON WERNER D'INKA, BERTHOLD KOHLER, GÜNTHER NONNENMACHER, HOLGER STELTZNER
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F.A.Z.-Column by Emanuel Derman Fifty Shades of Blue

The erotic novel „Fifty Shades of Grey“ fascinates women and leaves men cold. It’s the same gender difference as in the style of personal ads.

© Kat Menschik Vergrößern

What better time than during the enforced idleness of a hurricane’s aftermath to ponder the peculiarities of women and men in the search for love?

A few weeks ago at a middle-aged dinner party I attended two very educated women raved about the intoxicating effects of reading Fifty Shades of Grey. „I came home every night and totally sunk into it,” said one, „Staying up late into each night until I finished all three volumes. I haven’t been that absorbed since I read Anna Karenina.”

Some peripherally related data: Here is a graph of the number of girls born in the USA with the given name ‘Amber’ since 1880.

Grafik / Grafik zur Kolumne von Emanuel Derman

Note the sudden flowering in 1944, when an American woman, Kathleen Winsor, wrote a massively popular book, Forever Amber, that era’s Fifty Shades. According to Wikipedia: „Forever Amber tells the story of orphaned Amber St. Clare, who makes her way up through the ranks of 17th century English society by sleeping with and/or marrying successively richer and more important men, while keeping her love for the one man she could never have. … Fourteen U.S. states banned the book as pornography.”

Question 1: Why did so many women start naming their daughters after the sleep-around heroine of what passed for pornography in 1944?

Now I had assumed that Fifty Shades was merely a bodice-ripping romance for women, that, like Amber, used … to indicate an interlude involving sexual acts, but my dinner acquaintances assured me it went into very explicit erotic detail.

„In that case,” said one of the ladies’ husbands, „if it’s explicit detail you like, why not simply look at porncentrum.com? There is stuff on the internet now, for free, with men and women doing things you can’t believe can be shown if you were a teenager in the 50s.”

„Ewww!” said the women in unison at the idea.

(Note: There is no porncentrum.com. I have changed the name of the real website to protect the guilty.)

Bound together

In the interests of accurate reporting, your intrepid and difficult-to-disgust columnist immersed himself in both Book 1 of the Fifty Shades trilogy and the porn website, to see if he could apprehend their charms.

Writing as a man, Fifty Shades leaves me by and large cold. It involves a young and initially virginal Anastasia Steele (cf. Amber St Claire) and the perverse, stunningly handsome and powerful businessman Christian Grey, bound together, so to speak, in a formal sado-masochistic relationship. Christian requires Anastasia to sign NDAs (nondisclosure agreements) regarding what she will allow him to do to her. Anastasia’s favorite phrase is „Holy Crap.” Please, give me Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary or Jeanne Moreau or Romy Schneider or Catherine Deneuve. Not someone who says “Holy Crap” and “Double Crap.” I must reluctantly confess to a mild interest in understanding how Christian got to be a pervert, but the rest is kind of boringly dirty, and also clearly meant for women.

The fun of porn

Question 2. Is it something about women that makes so many of them attracted to this best-selling novel featuring one particular peculiarity, bondage and sado-masochism?

As for porncentrum, your columnist (it sounds much nobler in the third person, no?) discovered that one can select videos from a broad variety of about thirty categories of tastes, many he actually hadn’t known existed. And, unlike Fifty Shades, all videos are free, often totally explicit, in full color and quite remarkable sound (sometimes marred, unfortunately, by the voice of the director positioning his cast of two or three).

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