A Sunderland-based women's charity, Wearside Woman In Need, have announced a publicity stunt aimed at drawing public awareness to domestic violence. In a symbolic exercise they will invite people to place books on a pyre for incineration. The titles that have incurred their wrath are the bestselling erotic works by E L James - FIfty Shades of Grey and its two sequels. The charity's director, Claire Phillipson, is claiming stories 'normalise physical and mental abuse of women'. Aside from the actual titles of the offending literature, this is certainly a grey area.
On the one hand, women's charities do a commendable and often thankless job. Women's rights seem to have been taking a hammering recently. The Missouri Republican Senator Todd Akin received widespread condemnation for talking of 'legitimate rape' ('legitimate' and 'rape' are two words that should never appear together any more than 'legitimate' and 'genocide'). All Akin did was reinforce the stereotype that good old Dixie remains a God-fearing, cross-burning, misogynist heartland.
And what about Julian Assange claiming asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy while refusing to answer to serious sexual assault charges, an action that has inspired the full support of that other champion of self-aggrandising narcissism, George 'We salute your indefatigability' Galloway? The Respect MP for Bradford West and renowned cat impersonator used YouTube to unilaterally redefine the complex legal questions surrounding what constitutes rape.
On the other hand, burning books of any desription is exactly what has happened in those US Bible Belt states where popular opinion rails against everything from Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species to the Koran (two prominent titles for Christian fundamentalist pyromania). Free speech separates democracy from the pyres of Nazi Germany. The main issue with E L James' writing seems to be the universally accepted truth that, as works of literature, they are shite. The narrative is crammed with appalling grammar, purple prose and laughably cliched dialogue. They present a ridiculous fantasy world that has as much bearing on the life of the average Wearsider as the forthcoming remake of Dallas.
Like ultra-violent computer games, most people with any degree of savvy can differentiate between reality and escapist nonsense. If the sexual acts portayed in Fifty Shades of Grey were anything other than consensual, then that would be completely different.
Censorship is wrong. Simply gagging BNP leader Nick Griffin would have been a far less effective counter to his anti-social views than seeing him under the full glare of the Question Time spotlights, where a vast audience could listen as each of his vile racist arguments was ripped to shreds.
Books should inspire healthy debate by being out in the open, not bonfires.