Room for Erotica in Singapore?
Posted on March 7, 2013
~ From Erotica: An Illustrated Anthology of Sexual Art and Literature, by Charlotte Hill and William Wallac
Mention the term erotica, and people are divided into perhaps two distinct types of reactions. There is the reluctant group, which seals its communication off like a mimosa, and the opposite camp may find themselves unraveling to share their relationship and sexual experiences.
But even for its reluctant and conservative societies, South-East Asia is not any less interested in erotica, according to a local publisher. The erotic romance novel, 50 Shades of Grey, written by British author E.L. James, registered itself as a bestseller in Kinokuniya Bookstores for months in 2012 within conservative Singapore. The ubiquitous title even found its way into the name of a fringe panel event at a local writing festival in the island republic last year. Judging by the event’s successful turnout and a growing public acceptance of books detailing sexual content book sales data, erotica, has apparently a strong following.
Written by Anonymous
The story solicitation process of the erotica compilations, The Best of South-East Asian Erotica, and The Best of Singapore Erotica, saw more discretion of writer identity rather than a lack of entries. The books’ editor, Richard Lord, found many writers, some of whom schoolteachers, writing under pseudonyms. He recalled some writers saying to him, “ I do not want my family or people in church to know”, as fear of repercussions in the form of social stigma. Writers attempting to avoid embarrassment prefer anonymity, sometimes with content largely derived from the exploration of the writer’s own sexual issues. The biggest fear in taking erotic fiction ownership was the danger of offending core readers and fans for those established in other genres. “Sexuality can be a particularly sensitive topic — writers might be a bit hesitant to put so much of themselves out there,” said Jess C Scott, who writes in a variety of genres including erotic fiction.
Closer to crime fiction than porn
Readers of other genres (such as crime fiction) unknowingly explore erotica, as writers embed elements of sexual desire, sensuality, and romance as part of plot development. Erotica at its best, is really good literature, reflecting themes of sensuality that identify as part of human experience. Pornography, the graphic nature counterpart, pales to successful erotica as the latter conforms to all the technical aspects of good writing, and is more difficult to write than critics like to think. Well-written erotica eschews heavy uses of the sexual element and lyrically expresses sexuality in creative ways, thereby sparing the reader from clinical or crude terms, according to Lord. In term of sexuality preferences, since men gear to visual stimuli and women gravitate to romantic components, commercial erotica, with its coquettish expressions, leans toward consumption by the fairer sex.
Scott admits that erotica could be considered “edgy” material, and hence would be challenging to market to a general audience. The chicken and egg conundrum, that gradual acceptance and interest in local erotica, is proportional to its supply, which in itself is in the doldrums. It is the cultural factors that suppress local erotica, with institutions — surprisingly — being the least of the hurdles. The Media Development Authority, a statutory board responsible for censorship in Singapore, was supportive of the publishing of The Best of Singapore Erotica, something that surprised Lord. The censorship authority had even lifted a ban a few years earlier on the circulation of Cosmopolitan, a magazine considered the most sexually liberal amongst mainstream female publications. Scott, who also has written a non-fiction guide to sex, thinks a trigger to growth in the local scene could start if writers see more of their contemporaries writing in the erotica genre — one that has more potential with “strength in numbers, and “something that’s much needed in an overly, commercially-saturated marketplace.”
All eyes would then be on the first writer to give that unique shade of Singapore erotica that people can identify with globally.