Fifty Shades retains the heteronormativity of mainstream popular romance. Its obsession with consumption, money, legal contracts, brands, physical self-improvement, and self-investment are so pervasive that it transcends the traditional capitalist novel form and becomes a truly neoliberal work. Ana’s social and sexual fears reflect those of neoliberal women. Ana’s status as a young, conventionally attractive virgin marks her out as a fresh commodity in the sexual marketplace. She is, therefore, constantly aware of the work required to maintain her desirability, demonstrating Rosalind Gill’s concept of the makeover paradigm in which women are expected to aspire toward passivity while improving their bodies and minds for winning a sexual competition. Left to herself, Ana is largely indifferent to food and exercise until Christian makes it clear that he expects her to conform to his definitions of health and attractiveness. Ana evolves from a timid, insecure girl into a well-groomed, stylish woman worthy of the megabillionaire husband she acquires. Her reward is not increased self-confidence. Instead, success consists of appreciating and consuming the goods and services Christian makes available. Ana learns to wear high heels, becomes considerably leaner and fitter, has her hair styled, and has pedicures and manicures. She even shaves her pubic hair because Christian wants her to. Even the high cultural sphere, traditionally kept separate from mass culture, is not immune to the discourse of self-investment. Ana’s burgeoning taste in mainstream classical music reduces autonomous pieces of art to an index of readily acquisitioned taste.
Byrne, A. J. and Fleming, S. (2018), Sex Sells (Out): Neoliberalism and Erotic Fan Fiction. J Pop Cult. . doi:10.1111/jpcu.12680
New paper out this week, looking at some of the more commercial and commercialised sides of fan fiction, including Fifty Shades and sites like Literotica.