As with any epidemic, there's a tipping point and a saturation point. And then there's fifty shades of annoying.
Yes, it's true. There is now a theme-based magazine called 50 Shades of American Women Who Love the Book and Live the Life. I saw it in Barnes and Noble, next to a magazine celebrating all things Hobbit.
And then, shamefully, I bought it.
"Don't judge me," I told the young man at the register. Behind him stood a bookcase filled with paperback copies of the Fifty Shades trilogy.
He looked at the magazine and chuckled. "Are you kidding me? This stuff sells."
Only after I paid did I realize his misunderstanding, taking me for a middle-aged woman in suburbia who turns all fifty shades of orgasmic any time someone mentions Charlie Tango. What I felt was not shame in my purchase for sexual reasons, but deep lameness in myself, an embarrassment akin to being caught singing along to Air Supply in my SUV while picking something green out of my teeth.
I'm all out of love/I'm so lost without you/got the green thing!/I know you were right, believing for so long... lalalalala...
As I walked through the parking lot, I rationalized my purchase, big time. Why did I pay six bucks for this stupid thing? It's because I am a journalista. It is my duty to read this entire magazine and report about it in the Huffpost, just as I brought "Mommy Porn" to you in January, after reading the first Fifty Shades novel.
And, of course, I'm curious. I know a zillion American women are reading the novel, but who are all these American women that, according to publisher Topix Media Lab, are "living the life?" And, what exactly, does that mean? Are they driving around as passenger-of-choice in an Audi R8 Spyder, drinking Bollinger's Grande Annee Rose for breakfast or wearing Ben Wa balls to PTA charity luncheons?
Is it true that many mom-n-pop hardware stores are running low on rope?
These are the hard-hitting questions I was hoping this magazine would answer.
So I devoured it from cover to cover.
And now I can tell you to buy it, so that you, too, can release your inner goddess with 80 pages of jump-starting sex secrets! And follow the recipes for Christian-inspired cocktails and meet the Sex Whisperer, who used her body to "fix broken men like Christian Grey!"
This magazine is like Cosmo with fewer articles about sex.
As I read it, I felt concerned. Is there really a sexual revolution going on out there, due to the Fifty Shades phenomenon? Because I'm just not feeling it.
My friends and I read the books and enjoyed them and experienced a momentary spike in our marital sex lives ("for like a week," as my friend Kate said, rolling her eyes) and then we got bored with that whole thing, bored with the commercialization of the franchise and/or with having more sex with our husbands, and so we moved back into more literary novels with less sex in them and also into having less actual sex. I know, it's sacrilegious to admit that, so burn me at the stake. (Make the fire hot enough so I can feel the flames touch my loins, Christian.)
A glossy page declared this an American Revolution because, "for the first time in a long time, American women are confidently talking about sex." But, are these women really talking about their intimate sex lives... or are they talking about Fifty Shades of Grey? Because there is a big difference. I peered over the magazine and out my window to the street below, almost expecting to see women in tri-cornered hats with epaulets on their lingerie, holding riding crops above their heads as they marched forward into the next battle in the red room of pain.
Okay, okay. As much as I joke about the impact of the books on our culture, I learned that Fun Factory, a German company, experienced a 350% increase in sales for their Smart Balls, which are similar to the beads used in the novels. That kind of economic growth, my friends, cannot be overlooked.
Here's what else I learned from 50 Shades of American Women Who Love the Book and Live the Life:
1. 93% of people surveyed said they wanted a spanking now.
2. I am embarrassed for America.
3. E L James is working on a fourth book in the series.
4. Bret Easton Ellis has tweeted about Fifty Shades of Grey over 50 times, as he vies for the honor of writing the screenplay version of the books.
5. I am embarrassed for Bret Easton Ellis.
6. Women in a Mormon feminist book club read it and discussed it. That was actually interesting.
7. 82% of fireman interviewed (yes, you read that right, fireman) said they would have a drink with Christian Grey. I have no idea what that means.
8. I can have an ass like Anastasia's if I do squats with 16-pound kettle bells.
9. A first edition of Tess of the D'Urbervilles costs $14,000.
10. E L James can now buy all of the remaining copies of that book without putting a dent in her bank account.
11. You can have "vanilla sex" by applying Kiehl's vanilla-scented lip balm before kissing your mate. Only $9!
12. On a quiz entitled "Which Shade of Grey are You?" I scored a solid 40 points, putting me in the "Steel" category. This means I'll occasionally flirt with the dark side but I would only tell my closest friends. Shhh.
13. Lastly, I learned that 73% of those same firemen said that reading Fifty Shades of Grey had not "spiced up" their sex lives. Poor guys. You would think, with all that access to hoses and poles, they'd be on to something good.
As I closed the magazine, I pictured the future direction this Fifty Shades fad might take. Like Harry Potter before it, first comes the book, then the movie, then the merchandising and, ultimately, the Universal Studios experience.
Forget 50 Shades: The Magazine. Bring on 50 Shades: The Ride.
Follow Julie Gerstenblatt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgerstenblatt