Before Jaws hit theaters in 1975, great white sharks weren’t the villains we now believe them to be. But when the movie–which was purely fiction–became a blockbuster, it directly caused humans to seek out and kill sharks, causing widespread population drops in shark species across the board. The influence of that piece of fiction (coincidentally also based on a novel) even coined its own name: The Jaws Effect. When Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was published, it was perceived by the public to be an erotic novel, despite the fact that it told the story of child sexual abuse through the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator. The result? To this day, we refer to sexually precocious teen girls as “Lolitas,” despite the author’s intent. Yes, 50 Shades of Grey is fiction, but fiction isn’t created or consumed in a vacuum. It is influenced by our culture, and influences our culture, and 50 Shades of Grey isn’t an exception. Even though something is “just fiction,” it can still have detrimental effects on society or expose problems that already exist in our perceptions. So when someone says “50 Shades of Grey promotes abuse as romance,” they’re not saying, “50 Shades of Grey is a totally real thing that happened and is a cautionary tale.” They’re saying that this work of fiction is having, or has the potential to create, real world effects.
Fiction isn’t created or consumed in a vacuum. It bears repeating.