What if Fifty Shades of Grey had been based on a different book?

So, I've been thinking. (I know, I know. Always dangerous.)

But. I've been thinking.

I've been thinking a lot about cultural dialogue. I've been thinking about how image—image as in celebrity—affects perception, and how it affects the direction, the tone, and the depth of conversation. Conversation at media outlets, on social media, across fandom, in person.

It's pretty common knowledge that Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fanfiction.

My understanding is that the chain of events—and do feel free to correct me if I'm missing something crucial—went something like this:

  1. Fifty Shades was originally posted online as a Twilight fanfiction serial called Master of the Universe
  2. It was eventually picked up by Random House, who stated that Fifty Shades was a "distinctly separate piece of work" from Master of the Universe, which, when originally picked up for publication by Writers Coffee Shop—the history is pretty convoluted—was "lightly rewritten to take out any references to Twilight characters and situations". 
    1. Note: Dear Author ran the two through a few comparison engines and found that Master of the Universe and Fifty Shades had an 89% similarity.
    2. Note: In doing a chapter-by-chapter analysis, this blogger makes note of a LOT of similarities between Twilight and Fifty Shades.
  3. The book went on to sell a bajillion copies; the movie has done incredibly well at the box office.

Criticism/questions about the book's origins are generally met with the same few responses:

  1. They're totally different things. (See Random House; lots of fans, many who are fans of both).
  2. Stephenie Meyer doesn't mind, so why should we? (See how often this Stephenie Meyer quote is cited: "“I haven’t read it. I mean, that’s really not my genre, not my thing,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve heard about it; I haven’t really gotten into it that much. Good on her — she’s doing well. That’s great!”")
  3. Twilight was derivative dreck, so who cares? (See pretty much any conversation about this at Goodreads.)


With that in mind, how do you think the conversation would have gone if all of that had happened, but with another book as the inspiration? 

If it'd been another book—a DIFFERENT best-selling phenomenon with a huge fanbase—that had inspired a piece of fanfic, erotic or not? A piece of fanfic that had then been picked up by a traditional publisher, scrubbed of direct references to the original, and then published as an original piece of writing?

Like, say... The Fault in Our Stars?

What would the conversation look like then?

I'm not trying to pick on John Green here. Or the Fault in Our Stars. Or Twilight. Or, for that matter, Fifty Shades of Grey. But I very much think that if the Fifty Shades story had played out the same way, but with a different origin, that the dialogue surrounding it would have been extremely, EXTREMELY different. And that is interesting to me.

And kind of disheartening?

All of this thought, as you may have guessed, has come about because I've been continuing to think about the conversation—or, let's face it, the lack thereof—surrounding the John Green/DFTBA/quote saga. While I was working on this post, this tweet came through my feed:

And it pretty much puts all of my feelings about this into a nutshell.

It bothers me that when something controversial happens—or when someone makes a mistake, even—cultural response depends more on the WHO than the WHAT.

BooksLeila Roy4 Comments