Guns, Steubenville and Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy- EL James

Audience and reception studies seemed as if it was going to be a difficult topic for discussion, but, fortunately, it’s not. While I was reading the articles, many current conversations came to mind. I thought about America’s gun debate, the Steubenville rape case, and Fifty Shades of Grey, so this post will address these current issues.

Over the past few years, the many mass shootings across the U.S. make one question whether there is a connection between media and violence. The Grossberg reading, “Debates over Media Effects” was very timely. According to the text, “the American Psychological Association (APA) held that indeed television can cause viewers to act aggressively” (301). Basically, television violence is a part of the profile of a person who may exhibit aggressive, or violent behavior. From the profiles of most of the current mass shooters, it can be assumed that media in some way contributed to their actions. Further, most of the individuals were tech savvy in one way, or another. For instance, the Newtown, Connecticut shooter, Adam Lanza, was an avid online gamer. The Aurora, Colorado shooter, James Holmes had set-up a sophisticated booby-trap in his apartment, and was dressed as the Joker—a character from the Batman comic and movie juggernaut. What other elements that led up to the Holmes shooting are unknown, but there is no denying the influence of the Batman movie, however minor that may be.

Chicks Who Love Guns as seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown  (Click text for link. Warning: Strong Language)

Chicks and Guns Tumblr

We don’t have a psychological profile, or any information on what may have motivated the two Steubenville teens to rape. I mean, we know that they are young, male athletes, and there are some studies, some that we have read in this class, on hegemony and masculinity. But is there a connection to be made to pornographic, or obscene images? We don’t have this information either, but I speculate that “Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice” is relevant to this case (304 qtd. Grossberg). Young boys are exposed to many soft porn, porn, or sexually violent images. In the days after the guilty ruling for the boys, the media took to analyzing how the case was handled in the media (is that considered meta–?). What further complicates this case is that one of the boys, Trent Mays, used his cell phone to transmit a nude picture of the young lady, and a few more students used social media to discuss the rape. From the details of the case, it is clear that media instructs with pornographic and violent images, but children can’t make a distinction whether these images are right or wrong. One of the students who witnessed the violation was quoted saying “It wasn’t’ violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was.”  Interestingly, a young, female college student created a kind of instructional video for young men–a what one should do if one finds himself in the company of a peer who is incapacitated.

Stephanie Meyers Twilight Series

Turning to current popular literature, a lot of it is very dark. Janice Radway’s article analyzes women readers of romance novels. She opens the article by establishing that prior studies on the readers of romantic novels have not focused on the readers themselves. That is, people of a different standpoint than the readers have done most of the studies, and that one can’t come to a true conclusion about the readers, unless one does ethnographic research. In any case, current popular novels such as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series for young adults (though some adults are fans too), and E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy are reflective of the mood of both youth and adult readers today. All one has to do is look at the sales numbers for these texts, and one can see that they are very popular. According to Radway, the group of women studied “[would] not tolerate any story in which the heroine is seriously abused by men. They find multiple rapes especially distressing and dislike books in which a woman is brutally hurt by a man only to fall desperately in love with him” (63). They would also “avoid works that deal in what they call “perversions” and “promiscuity” (63). It must be noted that the Radway article was published in 1983, and reading tastes have changed since then. E.L. James, the creator of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy takes the romantic novel framework, but subverts it. Her characters are involved in a romance dictated by a Bondage, Dominant, Sadomasochist contract (BDSM). There is a scene in the first, or second book—probably all three (I’ve read all three, and the main female protagonist got a “beat down” in all three, if I recall correctly)—where the main character, Anastasia, is “spanked” in a way that crosses the line for her. She leaves Christian Grey, the male protagonist, at one point, but then she returns to him. I am guessing that the BDSM contract would be in direct opposition to the reading group in Radway’s study, but there is no way of knowing unless they were contacted, and asked about it. Perhaps their tastes have changed as well.

6 artifacts contained in this post.


  • Allen, R.C. (1992). Audience Oriented Criticism and Television, In Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism, Ed. Robert C. Allen. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Radway, Janice, “Women Read the Romance: The Interaction of Text and Context.”
  • Grossberg, L. et. al. (2005). MediaMaking: Mass Media in Popular Culture (Second Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Chapter 11
  • Murtha, Tara (2013, March 19) Steubenville: How the media promotes rape culture. Alternet. Retrieved from accessed 2013, March 27.
  • Stendal, Samantha. A needed response. YouTube. accessed 2013, March 27.

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