Why The #AskELJames Slaughter Was So Sh***y (nsfw)

Perhaps you’ve heard the hubbub on the Interwebs about the disastrous #AskELJames, a book promotion turned carnage.

E.L. James is the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, the story of shy, virginal Anastasia Steele, who meets and falls for billionaire Christian Grey. In a fucked up fantasy of possessiveness and bondage, these two are united in love. It’s a series that people passionately love or passionately hate.

James is releasing a new book, Grey, a re-telling of the story from the perspective of Christian Grey. #AskELJames was intended to be a forum for readers to ask the author questions. Instead, it was a slaughter.

On Monday I took some time to follow the hashtag. This is how most of it went down.

I laughed at many of the comments. I thought they were sarcastic and clever, and they validated my repugnance of these books.

But I also felt sick to my stomach. There was a lot of ugliness in that feed. There were some valid questions from critics about domestic violence, but mostly the questions came in the form of ridicule. I followed for about ten minutes before it got to be too much.

One blogger described it as “fascinating in the way that watching hyenas eat a sick lion is fascinating.”

I am anything but a fan of E.L. James. Reading just a few pages of the Amazon Kindle Sample made me want to gag. Criticism of her work is legit, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this popular series: glorification of abusive relationships, homophobia, mis-representation of BDSM culture, and atrocious writing.

All the same, James doesn’t deserve what she got on Monday.

Scathing reviews are one thing. Those are what they are, and there’s a place for constructive criticism. But some of the tweets were not constructive criticism. They were snarky comments made to cut another person down and give the tweeter attention in front of an audience. It felt like trashing James was done more for sport and less for valid criticism of her book.

Maybe that wasn’t the intention of the people posting, but that was the affect it created. A few snarky tweets aren’t all that harmful, but dozens of them generating every minute is. It creates a toxic environment where a productive conversation about these issues is hindered, because people want to see who can be the smartest smartass.

Those defending the slaughter have come up with all kinds of reasons justifying what happened.

“She’s glorifying abusive relationships.”
“She’s rich/popular/sold millions of books that were made into movies.”
“She wrote terrible books.”
“She doesn’t respond to criticism.”
“It’s Twitter. What did she expect?”

It sounds eerily like, “She was drunk/wearing a short skirt/out late at night/shouldn’t have been at that frat party.” The victim is responsible for putting herself in that situation, but the abusers aren’t held responsible for their part in it.

These are good excuses for constructive criticism and thoughtful debate, but they’re poor excuses for being a shitty human being. Just because we can say these shitty things doesn’t mean we should.

This is not a defense of James’ work. Writers are responsible for their work. Our stories matter. Our stories influence us and shape us. As a lifelong reader, I know how books can shape a person, because they have shaped me in untold ways.

If James’ work misrepresents a group or a lifestyle or a social ill, then she is responsible for taking that feedback and improving her work. Accepting that feedback is tough, but our stories affect people. As authors, we need to be mindful and thoughtful about how we portray groups of people and all their nuances, and we have to be prepared to explain why we do the things we do.

I’m arguing that people not be shitty human beings, and what happened on #AskELJames was shitty.

Check out, Online is IRL.
Understand Fifty Shades without actually reading it.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. tlclark says:

    when it comes to el james and the grey books, I am both a lover and a hater… the writing and overuse of certain descriptions did get on my nerves… still, it was the underlying story that I enjoyed… not knowing anything about the bdsm world, that aspect just felt a little over the top at times, but not like abuse to me… again, it may be my lack of knowledge… I accepted that anna could say no at anytime, and focused on learning more about what the inner workings of Christian.. I enjoy seeing the first book from his eyes… also felt that James had improved her writing skills some… still parts at bugged, but an improvement none the less… and I would love to see how she grows as a writer, by continuing Christian’s POV in books two and three…

    I think that the mob mentality to tear down a fellow human being has gotten out of control when it comes to el james… seems that some have even poured over her books digging for more and more to hate… personally, when I dislike a book to that degree, I put it down and move one… possibly put that author on my ‘avoid-at-all-costs list… I do not waste one moment of my time demeaning or ridiculing said author…

    your words were clear, concise, and in now way abusive… this is how we should treat those we share this earth with… especially fellow authors… writers need to band together, lifting and guiding when possible, and pointing out MS issues without rancor…

    these violent haters could take a leaf out of your book… no one says that you have to hold your opinion, no one says that you must give praise no matter what you think, and no one says that you need to contribute to the wealth of those you consider unworthy… but for the love of mud, give us your point of view without malicious verbal attacks… if I felt this strongly about the affect James’s word could have on the masses, I would not compound the issue with online verbal assault… showing my disapproval of one brand of assault by using another would make me feel like I had signed up for a new brand of hate group…

    1. wordsavant says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Tracey, about the books and about the criticism. “Mob mentality” is a great way of putting it. People are definitely entitled to their opinions, but this ganging up on one person – regardless of who they are – felt distasteful.

  2. Liberal Soul says:

    I am from the similar league of picking up the book and keeping it away for good. But again. If it’s up to me, I would never follow El or any hashtag that is related to her. Why? Well, because I am nit interested in her. Period.
    So once that’s settled we have to understand what’s heppning here on Twitter. Twitter has become th tool of the common man to bash out celebrities.
    We never had access to them. For first time in our human existence. People who are cebrated are within our reach and we are not mature enough to use the tool right. It frustration of centuries which is unfolding in front if our eyes. Nothing more.
    Wait few decades and then probably you can see intelligent conversations happening on Twitter. Until then. It would only be a sarcastic, cocky stream of people and nothing more.

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