Study­ing a grey area

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIELLE STREET

IT MIGHT not be ev­ery­one’s cup of tea but erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey is cer­tainly a con­ver­sa­tion starter.

At least that’s what AUT psy­chol­ogy hon­ours stu­dent Emma Grif­fiths is bank­ing on as she un­der­takes a study to see what het­ero­sex­ual women think of the topselling book and its se­quels.

Ms Grif­fiths is con­duct­ing in­ter­views with women who have read some or all of the Fifty Shades tril­ogy.

‘‘I wanted to do fo­cus group re­search and be in­ter­ac­tive and ac­tu­ally speak to peo­ple about it and have their opin­ions, not just have my study aca­dem­i­cally based,’’ she says.

The project was con­ceived by psy­chol­ogy lec­turer Pan­tea Farvid, whose re­search in­ter­ests in­clude ex­am­in­ing the in­ter­sec­tion of gen­der, sex­u­al­ity, power, cul­ture and iden­tity.

It is part of a broader study into the books which is be­ing over­seen by Dr Farvid.

Both be­lieve it may be the first study of its kind into the pop­u­lar nov­els, which have at­tracted a mixed crit­i­cal re­sponse.

‘‘It’s help­ing us un­der­stand the Fifty Shades phe­nom­ena,’’ Dr Farvid says.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously it’s a very pop­u­lar text and there has been so much de­bate and controversy about it in pop­u­lar cul­ture and the me­dia.

‘‘So I’ve been in­ter­ested for a lit­tle while in ac­tu­ally look­ing at the con­tent in great depth and talk­ing to peo­ple about how they’ve en­gaged with it.’’

The Fifty Shades tril­ogy is writ­ten by E L James and has re­port­edly sold more than 70 mil­lion copies world­wide.

The first in­stal­ment tells the story of a vir­ginal young woman who meets an ex­tremely wealthy en­tre­pre­neur.

Dr Farvid says the be­hav­iours de­scribed in the novel may have shocked or in­trigued some readers, but the book es­sen­tially leans on ar­che­typal char­ac­ters and sto­ry­lines.

‘‘I think one of the rea­sons why it sold so widely is be­cause it ac­tu­ally took on the old-fash­ioned ro­mance nar­ra­tive and tweaked it,’’ she says.

‘‘The older, trou­bled, strong, silent man who meets the pure, lovely, naive girl and they be­come in­ter­ested in each other.

‘‘They go through tur­bu­lence, and they don’t know how to solve it.

‘‘It’s sim­i­lar to things like Mills & Boon, the stuff that has been mar­keted to women for years.

‘‘But the added bondage and kink made it ap­pear tit­il­lat­ing and ex­cit­ing.’’

Dr Farvid says there has been some aca­demic dis­cus­sion about the books but not with the ac­tual readers.

She says the fo­cus groups ad­dress ques­tions such as: What kind of mes­sages did readers get? What did they think of those mes­sages? Is it a big in­flu­ence, or it is just disposable fan­tasy fiveminute read and then they don’t think about it again?

‘‘It’s get­ting to the nit­tygritty of what th­ese rep­re­sen­ta­tions mean and ex­am­in­ing how the rep­re­sen­ta­tions are taken up or re­jected by Farvid says.

‘‘They are cer­tainly not harm­less, but also prob­a­bly not as harm­ful as some peo­ple are hav­ing the moral out­rage about.

‘‘I think it’s a bit more nu­anced than that.’’

Ms Grif­fiths had to read the tril­ogy as part of her re­search and says there is an as­sump­tion that be­cause the char­ac­ters are adults the dy­nam­ics of their re­la­tion­ship is ac­cept­able.

‘‘I don’t re­ally think that it’s that black and white,’’ she says.

‘‘I’m not that say­ing it’s hor­ri­ble, but there is more greyscale in it and you’ve got to have a bit of de­bate around it.’’

readers,’’ Dr

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