Fifty Shades of Hashtags: The Stage of #AskELJames

As a group, Twitter feeds are the new 16th century courtyard. With the rise of technology, the internet has become the proverbial stage, and as we have seen today, hashtags are the rotten tomatoes with which we throw.

When I first saw the #AskELJames hashtag, I chuckled to myself and liked a few statuses. Much of the sarcasm rang true, and though I have never read the Fifty Shades series, I have heard enough to know that it perpetuates harmful portrayals of abuse with incorrect notions of BDSM. But as I sought out the hashtag and continued reading, I felt a pinch in my conscience that didn’t resonate well with me.

Instead of using this hashtag to ask legitimate questions that may have prompted thoughtful discussion, the restless crowd raised their pitchforks and threw the rotten tomatoes in the form of snark and sarcasm and ironic abuse.

Yes, EL James, as an author, is not the most professional — name-calling and blocking all those who dare criticize her work. And yes, her PR made a horrible decision to create this Q&A in the first place.

EL James is a victim blamer and rape apologist and does not seem to be a decent person. But where is the line drawn? What makes the backlash and online abuse okay?

But what really irked my conscience is that, while these 140–character tomatoes were slung her way, they weren’t attacking her work. They were attacking her — as a writer, as a human being.

And most of those throwing the tomatoes were those who disagreed with the abuse she unleashed into the world in the form of her books.

By all means, literature is meant to be criticized. It is meant to be torn apart by workshops and analysis and thought. But to attack an author after her books are already out in the world is just a cruel show to jump on the metaphorical haystack to get a higher perch from which to throw the tomato.

Instead of these hateful words, try to educate someone on why these books are harmful in the first place. Write your own books. Try to change the world for the better, instead of throwing tomatoes.


8 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Hashtags: The Stage of #AskELJames

  1. I have read the series because I have no clue why. And I believe her work should be criticized to the utmost extent because it feels like a book for a 10 year-old on an extremely inappropriate topic. However much I do absolutely hate the series and can not believe that it became so well known and popular, there is no reason to attack an author personally. On the other hand, as an artist you have to take responsibility for your work and how it effects society. That is just something to consider.


    1. Definitely! Her work should be criticized in every position it describes (sorry for the pun); James needs to consider how her work has affected her readers and that society. But her ignorance does not deserve to be attacked.


  2. I agree that a personal attack is not the correct way; fighting abuse with abuse is as wrong as the original abusive behaviour. Having said that, a well-meant and non-violent or abusive criticism of her work will inevitably become a criticism of her as a writer and a professional. That is, her stance towards domestic and all other kinds of abuse as well as how deeply she researched her subject matter before deciding to write those stories. I have not read them because as an abuse victim myself I cannot read such work without being triggered but it’s a shame that her work is celebrated to such extent that even movies were made, while there are true abuse victims out there who don’t have a voice or even a choice on the matter. Domestic abuse claims victims continuously. All kinds of abuse do. We need to be educated about abuse instead of celebrating it.


  3. Yes but it’s easier to come up with a witty 140 characters than it is to have a full novel — or even a short story for that matter!

    I think the Internet allows many of us to channel our inner Comic Book Guy and judge everything harshly. Or it allows us to find a group who completely agrees with what we think and then never get out of that comfort zone.

    I think blogging and social media are valuable tools for getting feedback. But we have to recall that feedback is just one segment. If it were an indication of the overall feeling and thoughts of a majority of people, Snakes on a Plane would have made more money at the box office than Titanic or Avatar did.

    As for James, I honestly haven’t read her nor do I intend to. I don’t care for the subject matter of her books — but I actually did some research on what was in there before I dismissed or decided they weren’t for me.


    1. This is true! I’ve never read her works, either, but I’ve done enough research to know the content and where it’s lacking. Social media can be a good tool for feedback, but as you said, it’s easier for one-liners.


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