Perusing Poetics: 50 Shades of the Sublime and Other Stupid Trends

Before you freak out: yes, I’m going to be mentioning 50 Shades of Grey in this post. No, it’s not because I like it. Get ready.

BUT FIRST, time for my poetical entrance into this topic. This week, one of the readings was from On the Sublime by this Greek guy named Longinus. (This is hopefully the last Greek guy I will be blogging about.) What he actually means about the definition of the sublime is something I’m still not 100% clear on (I’m like somewhere between 70-80) but where I am up to speed is what is NOT sublime. Specifically, this quote:

“All these ugly and parasitical growths arise in literature from a single cause, that pursuit of novelty in the expression of ideas which may be regarded as the fashionable craze of the day.”*

Ugly and parasitical growths coming from stupid, crazy trends? Of course I’m thinking 50 Shades of Grey.

To be fair, I’ve never read these. I’ve read sections online. I’ve watched the movie trailer. I’ve read the criticism. I’m on Tumblr. I’m not sad that I’ve never read these, and I never plan to. I DO know, however, that the author got her original idea from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and this is actually a really bad riff off that.

I hate to agree with Plato, but this kind of imitation is really annoying. What’s ever worse is that it’s something that I, as a reader of primarily YA, have to deal with ALL THE TIME. One of my most popular blog posts was actually on this, specifically about the amount of love triangles that popped up after Twilight (otherwise apparently known as the root of all evil).

Okay, that last parenthetical statement is a lie. Twilight did cause a lot of crap to come out onto the market, but it’s hardly the only one. How many wizarding school books followed Harry Potter? Did you, like me, get hellishly sick of dystopians after The Hunger Games? And yes, of course, there were all those vampire books that erupted after Twilight. More than any other genre, YA is full to the brim of trends that produce a handful of good gems around a bunch of hastily and/or badly filler.

Where I have to disagree with Longinus, though, is his use of the phrase “a single cause.” For him, I admit, this was probably true: writers followed the examples of other popular texts because they, too, wanted to be popular and “fashionable.” These days, the attempt to be “fashionable” is a side note. After all, if we wanted our literature to be “fashionable,” 50 Shades of Grey wouldn’t exist.

The push towards trends in YA has nothing to be with anything else but money. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight–they’ve made a lot of people very rich. These books have ranged the spectrum to books written exceedingly well to flat and dead inside (I’m looking at you, Twilight). There literally isn’t one particular thing that has worked as a formula to create the huge fan bases around these books, so the book world is constantly scrambling. Trends you see on the shelves now were decided months or even a year ago by publishers trying to create the next big cash cow.

Again, I’m not going to say that everything inside a trend is terrible. Some of them are really, really good books that deserve to be published on their own merit, and there are books being published against the trends. (I even wrote a post about love triangles done right for those curious.) This is a large, generalized observation that is, unfortunately, true more often than not. (And I haven’t even touched the trends of book covers. “Girl in dress” or “half close up of girl’s face” anyone?)

I guess the reason it makes me so angry is because I feel like there are certain books that have love triangles shoehorned in or otherwise being forced into a “trendy” mold that actually does their book a disservice. There are also books I’ve read where I wish the editors had taken a bit more time with them, at least, instead of shoving them out while the subject matter is hot. Also, as a writer of YA, I want to feel like my book(s) could be published someday because they are good, not because I magically managed to line up with tomorrow’s trend.

50 Shades of Grey just makes me angry because it exists.

Have you noticed the latest trend in YA literature? Or has “trending” created a certain kind of book or trope you can’t read anymore? Let me know!

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2 thoughts on “Perusing Poetics: 50 Shades of the Sublime and Other Stupid Trends

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