How ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Misrepresents Fanfiction

Fifty Shades of Grey
Source: Vintage Books

Most people in the general mainstream of pop-culture aren’t terribly aware of the fanfiction culture that exists on the Internet. It’s not something that gets vaulted into our consciousness all that often unless you actively go in search of it, and more often than not its the work of amateurs who are simply fans wishing to express themselves. It’s not inherently good or bad, but at the same time fanfiction plays an integral role in the respective fandoms of each of its stories.

Sometimes though, a monster is born, and in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, we had just that. What many may not know about the hit series of novels by E.L. James, is that Fifty Shades began as Twilight fanfiction before evolving into the lucrative franchise we know it to be today. Those familiar with this story have come associate that corner of the Internet with poorly written romance targeted toward lonely housewives, and it’s no wonder. The mainstream’s only real exposure to the fanfiction community consists of a poorly written series of novels centered around the shamelessly erotic adventures of two Edward-and-Bella-esque lovers. But the community that actually exists has been woefully misrepresented., the home for a majority of the web’s titular content, houses millions of stories penned by ordinary people. Spanning every fandom from Harry Potter to Sherlock, it’s an outlet for aspiring writers and wish-fulfillment for even the most iconic of characters from TV and movies. Some are odd romance stories that devise new pairings for their respective fandoms. Other still are patently bonkers tales that are as entertaining as they are insane. Take for example the one where Bill Nye fights Barney the Purple Dinosaur. This stands up against the more straightforward series of tales that ask what would happen if a particular Game of Thrones character had never died. So why has Fifty Shades of Grey become the representative of the fanfiction culture? Well for one, it’s the only real mainstream exposure the community has. A casual passerby may hear “Fifty Shades started as Twilight fanfiction,” and knowing nothing else about it, would assume that it’s all the same. It’s an unfortunate parallel that’s been drawn, as well as one that doesn’t even begin to dig in to what the richly creative community actually is.

Among the veritable millions of stories that exist on, there are always going to the Fifty Shades-esque trashy romance pieces; these people aren’t professional writers, and as such editorial standards don’t necessarily exist (or if they do, they’re not enforced). But that doesn’t take away from the value these stories possess. E.L. James is merely one writer who struck gold, if anything showing the power of fanfiction to resonate with a wide audience (no matter how poorly written and constructed). There are countless others out there putting out stories daily that most of us will likely never see.

That being so, there’s no reason for us to make Fifty Shades the torch-bearer for a community that’s far more intricate and intriguing than those novels (or the subsequent movie) will have us believe. You don’t have to be a devout user to understand what it’s all about. But if we’re going to pass judgment, let it be based on the collective rather than one example that just so happened to arrive at the forefront of pop culture. Maybe dig in and read a couple of the better stories available, or even bask in the ridiculousness of it all and read about Bill Nye pummeling that damn purple dinosaur into oblivion with science. Either way, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll have a good time.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

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