First of all, I’ll say, I wish Wearside Women in Need were not thinking of organising a Bonfire Night burning of “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I wish they’d gone for an amnesty on the book perhaps, in which they’d bury copies in fifty shades of concrete. Something else, almost anything else, to make what is for them a valid and necessary point about the way some media and cultural depictions of violence don’t help the cause of many of the women (and men) they help in one of the most deprived areas of the country and with one of the highest levels of domestic violence.
They’re playing with fire- excuse the pun- in aligning themselves with book burners. It makes their message too easily lost by people leaping on righteous moral ground and making Nazi comparisons before you can say “Christian Grey’s a numpty”.
However, I’m not much liking the spectacle of best selling novelist Sophie Hannah trying to get thousands of emails sent to them, and thinking of combining a spa weekend with a protest at the burning. (Five star Seaham Hall’s nearby and lovely though). I don’t like the idea that time that could be given to women with terrible problems will be given over to answering annoyed writers, and I really can’t get my head round women cowering in a hostel whilst a load of Kindle-clutching writers come to sit in jacuzzis and pour further fuel on the fire. (Sophie has replied to me and said she was joking about the spa but not the protest though). Something’s not sitting right about this power imbalance however…
Historically there have been two main reasons for book burning. 1) To prop up a regime by destroying opposition or, for that regime to oppress and obliterate the culture of another. 2) In contempt at what the burned book represents. In the first category of course, fall the Nazis, those who destroyed the Libraries at Baghdad and Alexandria, China’s Qin Dynasty and the fictional institutionalised Book Burning of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In the second category are more often localised protests, often Religious in nature- from the burning of Beatles records after they made the Jesus comparison, to recent burnings of the Quran, and of course the Satanic Verses.
The Wearside Women in Need protest falls squarely in the latter category and whilst ill-conceived, seems very far away from being “Keen to mimic the depravity of the Nazis” as Hannah suggests. I hope their committees/governing structures are looking at how far a publicity stunt like this may overstretch their own resources and obscure the message. But I don’t think that a small charity run a shoestring and doing good work in an area where it’s needed, is an appropriate target for the active wrath of people with very loud voices. In the end, as usual, it’s the truly voiceless who will suffer.