Steam Press: 50 Shades of Stereotypes


Source: Mackenzie Broderick

The “Fifty Shades” book series brings up a number of interesting issues, including stereotypes.

Mackenzie Broderick, Columnist

Greetings, culture lovers!

This week (for those of you that managed to make it back), the Steam Press will dissect the intricate and nuanced characterization in E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades” trilogy — jokes! Today’s column will actually explore the instances in which James made the worst possible decisions while creating her supporting characters.

Exhibit A: José

José is instantly recognizable as the parallel to Jacob in “Twilight,” but somehow James did the impossible and created an even more vaguely-ethnic-yet-still-super-stereotypical character.

For starters, he’s madly in love with Ana. Naturally. He also has no other friends. At all. There is a brief mention of his family, but this pretense is quickly dropped as José fulfills his destiny of becoming the convenient Latino friend. He is a relatively benign character, but a trope nonetheless — the eager Latin lover.  Adding salt to the wound is the fact that although everyone else around him steadily works at their respective careers, he struggles as a photographer — because all brown people create art, naturally.

His heritage is illustrated by the frequent exclamations of ‘¡Dios mio!’ and ‘Ana, mi amor’ that pepper his sentences. Although this may be an appropriate indicator of a bilingual heritage in sitcoms and video games, literature is an art form. I’m pretty sure even Speedy Gonzales is a more culturally sensitive character than José.

Exhibit B: Ross

Unfortunately, James did not decide to turn Ana into a lesbian at the end of the third novel. And, perhaps even more unfortunately, she decided to break the heteronormative binary by instead introducing Ross.

For the first two books, it’s unclear if Christian Grey’s coworker is a man or a woman — finally, in the third book, Ana manages to look past Ross’s blinding LESBIANISM to recognize that they are, in fact, of the same gender. Her name doesn’t help matters, as James seems to be under the impression that women with manly names can’t possibly like men.

In fact, Ross (as Ana frequently notes) is almost always the only woman in the room not totally and utterly dazzled by Christian. But even if she is the lesbianist lesbian to ever lesbian, she still has the ability to at least recognize a yummy male specimen such as Christian Grey, much in the same way that straight women can gush about girl crushes. But apparently she can’t. Because, y’know, LESBIAN.

Now, it would be wrong to call James a racist or a bigot, when instead, her biggest crime is being monumentally clueless. After all, “Fifty Shades” is not meant to be read as a searing work of social justice. But the Steam Press went there, anyway. Join us next week as we continue to turn up the Steam!

Fascinated by my insight? Need more Steam in your life? Wondering how you, too, can attract uber-sexy billionaires? Follow me on Twitter — @badbroderick.