Fiction is often described as “escapist” (particularly genre fiction), but fiction is also the means by which some of the darkest human thoughts and desires are addressed and explored. So is something like Fifty Shades of Grey really “escapist”? Or is it more that the book engages the taboo subjects of sexual relations as affected by imbalances in gender, wealth, social expectations, and hormones?
Twilight is often attacked as “misogynist” and “poorly written” (Fifty Shades even more so), and yet both have been best sellers, particularly among female audiences. But why? What is it about these books that resonates with such large audiences?
My theory is that Berlant’s “intimate publics” and “cruel optimism” have left many women trapped within cultural ideologies that deny the freedom to simply choose sexual partners. Thus, within this patriarchal cultural space, the idea of a “strong” male who can simply ignore social norms to spirit away the female protagonist may offer a mix of abjection of those norms and romanticization of sexual freedom – but it’s a “blameless” freedom because it’s the “man” who “takes the lead” by inflicting the female character’s desires upon her.
Not exactly sure this speculation is warranted, let alone sound. But it does get at the sense of psychological resonance I sense with autography.