When I say “50 Shades”, I mean the phenomenon more than the book itself. It’s that viral, popular, ‘all the rage’ thing that inexplicably sweeps in … but ends up being completely boring and lacking in any creative inspiration.
I know, it’s subjective, and I apologize if I’ve offended anyone’s sensibilities.
But I can’t hold my tongue. As much as people have the right to like this kind of stuff, I have the right to hate it. And I do.
Yes, hate. It’s a strong word, but there it is.
Again, if that offends you, you can stop reading now.
“There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”
~ Audre Lorde, American Poet (1934-1992)
On October 27, 2015, the story of Zola the Stripper was released in a series of roughly 150 tweets. (It’s no longer on twitter, but it has been Storified for your reading pleasure, if you’re curious.)
To quickly summarize, it’s about young Zola, a Hooters waitress and stripper, who takes a trip to Florida with her new-found friend and fellow stripper Jessica. Jessica’s boyfriend and her pimp come along for the ride—it seems there’s money to be ‘made in the trade’ down in Florida.
Mayhem ensues, with the usual sex, violence and murder that most of us have come to expect from such narratives.
There is nothing new here. This world has been depicted many, many times in many, many voices.
Does that make me jaded? Perhaps. Maybe the younger generation hasn’t read enough stories about strippers and prostitutes yet; maybe such stories still have an allure of the shiny and new. (Yikes! Have I read too many?!?)
To be clear, I’m not insisting that ‘good’ equals ‘new’. As many have observed, there aren’t new stories to tell — it’s more HOW they’re told. A strong voice, effective pacing, and engaging characters are all so important for giving a story its zing.
So let’s talk about character. Give me one with depth, some unusual quirks, traits or longings that make him/her less of a cliché and more three-dimensional. Maybe even a character that challenges cultural clichés. I don’t care if I like them (I couldn’t stand Amy in Gone Girl and there was always something irritating about Jane Austen’s Emma, just to name two), they just need to engage me … get me thinking … entertain me.
Even better, how about one who can use the language effectively, who doesn’t need to use the same words over and over and over to the point of tedium. You know what they say: show, don’t tell. Well, the two-dimensional language that Zola uses shows me that the protagonist is painfully flat. It’s tough to be invested or to feel any empathy.
All I can say is, meh.
Now we can anticipate a Zola the Stripper blockbuster!
Yay! Because that’s what Hollywood loves so much – sure bets.
It doesn’t always matter if something is artistically worthy, as long as a box office draw can be guaranteed. It’s a business after all.
So, going viral is where it’s at. And, while many people might like to suggest otherwise, when something goes viral it doesn’t mean it’s good. Likewise, just because something is good doesn’t mean it will ever go viral. One is not synonymous with the other.
And now the media must follow. Again, they have to get their piece of the pie.
First, there’s the article write up in Rolling Stone. It concludes with what we can anticipate in the near future. We’ve been promised “Hoeism” t-shirts (can’t wait to see young girls walking down the street wearing it), and possibly a reality show.
Not to be outdone, Time.com gave it a write-up, saying that online enthusiasm “is absolutely justified. Zola’s adventure … is such an engrossing read … this future classic work of American storytelling …” (bolding is mine).
That’s where I had to stop reading. Really? A “future classic”? (I think it was after reading that line that I wanted to rant.)
The future of fiction?
I have to believe that stories like this one will not be future classics. I even hope that this will be one of those viral stories that fizzles as quickly as it appeared.
I didn’t know about it, nor did my son or my step-daughter. (Yes, I checked in with the younger generation on this one. They hated it too.) So, maybe it’s not as viral as ‘they’ say?
I only discovered it when I read a post from one of my favorite writer/bloggers: Mandy Wallace. She does a beautiful job of highlighting lessons to be learned about character, tension, pacing, suspense, setting and voice. I will concede that we can learn something; there’s always something to be learned.
But Zola the Stripper simply cannot be the future!
I’m sorry Mandy. While I may agree with you that “literature is alive, lively, and ever changing”, the operative word there is literature. Zola the Stripper is not literature.
Again, I also agree with you that “it’s up to writers to keep up”, but I’m going to add something more to this conversation …
It’s also up to writers to set the standard.
Literature carries a weight of responsibility. Not only does it influence the culture in which it is produced, but it also becomes a part of the historical record. Future generations will learn from our literature, just as we learn from the literature of our history.
Let’s have a conversation about this
I know, I’ve just ranted, in a big way. Reading others praise “Zola” offended my sensibilities and out it poured.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for lending me your ear.
As writers, it’s well worth it to have a conversation about such things. We do need to ‘keep up’, and then we must decide where we want to place ourselves in this strange and wonderful world in which we long to thrive.
Should we do what someone else has done simply because it’s popular? Is that why we write—to follow the crowd … to make the quick buck?
Let’s use it to have the conversation.
What do you think makes something ‘literature’, anyway?
Have I been too harsh? Do you think Zola the Stripper has more merit than I’m willing to acknowledge?
I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.