Audi, Cartier, Louboutin, Escala: Fifty Shades, Pinterest, and the Fantasy of Luxury
by Rebecca Onion — University of Texas at Austin
September 28, 2012 – 00:00
Alongside photographs of actors and actresses they want to see in the “50 Shades” movie and humorous personalized e-cards satirizing their own obsession with the trilogy, pinners assembling 50 Shades of Grey boards on Pinterest include many images of the luxury goods mentioned in the E.L. James books. Browsing through the boards, one can see representations of Anastasia’s engagement ring, Omega watch, and other jewelry; floor plans for Christian’s fancy condo in downtown Seattle; many pictures of the various Audis that Christian buys for Anastasia; and images of luxury real estate that could stand in for the couple’s houses on Puget Sound and in Aspen.
In her 2008 doctoral dissertation about romance novels [PDF], Jayashree Kamble identified a trend in romances written in the latter half of the twentieth century: many of their heroes were ruthless capitalists. Christian Grey, improbably wealthy at the age of 28, fits this bill. “Fifty” owns several houses, a private jet, and employs multiple servants. As part of their courtship, he lavishes Anastasia with gifts. Kamble writes that a key component of the fantasy of wealth in romance novels is the heroine’s initial rejection of this excessive consumption. Anastasia professes to be horrified at the amount of money everything costs, and is (at first!) uncomfortable with the constant presence of “the help.” This discomfort does nothing to destroy the pleasure the reader gets from Anastasia’s lucky break; the 50 Shades Pinterest boards, replete with images of these expensive goods, would seem to prove this.
Pinterest has been famously associated in the popular press with an acquisitive, shallow suburban femaleness. Some pins, however, complicate the simple narrative of readers as greedy collectors. Pinners also seek out and pin pictures of more humble objects from the books, including Anastasia’s Converse All-Stars, Macbook Pro, favorite Twinings English Breakfast Tea, and the pancakes and bacon that Christian orders her to eat for breakfast. Erin Copple Smith has argued that Pinterest subverts the dominant paradigm, juxpositing feminist and post-feminist ideas within the same space. Indeed, some pinners include e-cards that step back from the phenomenon and engage it with a critical eye. For example, an e-card made by wtfpinterest.com and repinned on several boards reads: “Oh, come on. Admit you wouldn’t be so hot for Christian if he were poor.” (Don’t miss the comments underneath that pin; they’re priceless.)