From ‘Fifty Shades’ to Martha Stewart: A look into Melissa Click’s research

Click’s research topics have been called into question by lawmakers since her involvement in protests last fall.

After footage of assistant communication professor Melissa Click confronting two student journalists went viral last fall, major news outlets from across the country began to pick through Click’s life with a fine-toothed comb, criticizing not only how she handled herself on that November day, but also her professional performance over her nearly 20-year career.

One aspect of Click’s professional life that held the limelight is her research interest of choice, listed in her CV as “Media Audiences and Fans, Television Criticism, Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality.” In examining these areas of study, Click has written about topics ranging from “Fifty Shades of Grey” to Lady Gaga and Martha Stewart.

In early January, more than 100 Republican lawmakers signed a letter calling for UM System officials to fire Click, in part because “she is using taxpayer dollars to conduct research on ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ ‘Lady Gaga,’ and ‘Twilight.’” Here is an explanation of five of the studies and articles commonly called into question.

“Fifty Shades of postfeminism: Contextualizing readers’ reflections on the erotic romance series”

Click’s chapter on how feminism is portrayed in E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” was accepted for “Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn,” a book published this year about the “current terrain of feminized pop cultural production” as analyzed by feminist critics from around the country. This is not the first time Click has written about “Fifty Shades.” In 2013, she interviewed three dozen women about the book series and found that many “started out reading these books for the sex, but they stayed for the romance,” Click said in an LA Times article published in January 2015.


  • Richard Wallace Faculty Incentive Grant, MU. Awarded to support research on readers’ reactions to the messages in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” book series. April 2013.
  • Women’s and Gender Studies Faculty Research and Creative Activities Grant, MU. Awarded to support research on readers’ reactions to the messages in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” book series. April 2013.

“Bitten by Twilight: Youth culture, media, and the vampire franchise”

Click contributed two essays related to Stephanie Meyer’s young adult series to this book, a collection of scholarly essays from more than 20 people. Her essays centered on fans’ responses to love and romance portrayed in “Twilight” as well as the book’s role in regard to creating teen idols of the 21st century. Her essay on love and romance was based on a study conducted by Click and two other professors in the MU communication department. In 2013, she presented on Twilight fans and anti-fans at a conference in London.

Funding: $600. Center for Arts and Humanities Grant, MU. Awarded to facilitate the creation of an index for Bitten by Twilight: Youth culture, media, and the vampire franchise (Peter Lang, 2010). December 2009.

“The romanticization of abstinence: Fan response to sexual restraint in the Twilight series”

This study examined teen girls’ perception of the relationship between the main characters in “Twilight” through an online survey of 527 teenage girls and in-person interviews with 24. Their research showed that many girls found a pro-abstinence message within the text, albeit a sexualized one. This finding led to Click and one of her co-researchers being interviewed on CNN in 2009.

Funding: Center for Arts and Humanities Grant, MU. Awarded to support travel to attend TwiCon in Dallas for study of Twilight fans. July 2009.

“Making monsters: Lady Gaga, fan identification, and social media”

Click’s approach to this research project was similar to that of her “Twilight” study. She and her colleagues interviewed 45 “Little Monsters” — the self-given name of Lady Gaga fans — and looked into the how individuals identified with the pop star and how that relationship influenced their view of themselves in society. Click found that using the word “monster” in a positive way gave “Little Monsters” a way to better understand and embrace their deviations from the mainstream.

“It’s ‘a good thing’: The commodification of femininity, affluence and whiteness in the Martha Stewart phenomenon”

Martha Stewart was the subject of Click’s dissertation and is a recurring theme throughout her academic career. In 2007, she presented at a conference in Montreal about how “The Martha Stewart Newsletter” filled a niche in the magazine industry. Since 2001, she has given eight presentations on Martha Stewart and her relationship with gender, race and class. In 2009, Click requested $13,480 from the UM System Research Board to help fund research for her book, which shares a title and topic with her dissertation. The board did not fund her project at that time.

Funding: In 2010, the Research Board awarded her $3,100 of a requested $6,457 to her project “Understanding ImClone: The Scandal's Lasting Impact on Martha Stewart Living,” which she wrote in her proposal was necessary to include in her book to update her research. Her book draft is listed as “preparing for proposal” on her CV.

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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