If you have been in an airport anywhere, anytime within the past year or two, you’ve probably tripped over tottering displays of the Fifty Shades trilogy. And now, we get the movie. Oh goody.
I’ll come right out and admit that I’ve never read any of the books, nor do I plan to. Why? For one, it’s straight-out lady-porn and I don’t think anyone should be reading that stuff. Secondly, I’ve read a few reviews and it sounds like the writing is just horrible and, well, I’ve got standards there, too. Example: He strokes his chin thoughtfully with his long, skilled fingers. Hmm, ok. Pass. In light of such literary blech, it’s astonishing that this book has sold over 100 million copies. The author, E.L. James, is a British woman who was recently named by Time magazine as one of the year’s 100 Most Influential People. The trilogy and its movie rights have earned James a tidy $95 million, securing her a place on Forbes’ list of highest earning authors. Did I mention that, prior to this trilogy, her writing experience was limited to internet fan fiction under the pen name of Snowqueen’s Icedragon? No comment.
There’s a third reason I will never read/watch Fifty Shades of Grey, and it’s this: it sends such incredibly horrible messages – and I’m not just talking about bad morals, though that’s obvious. The plotline of the book is simple: A girl goes in place of her journalist friend (who is down with the flu), to interview a successful business tycoon. She is young and innocent; he is handsome, successful and sexually deviant. He “educates” her in his world of dark dominance, and refers to her as “the Submissive.” You get the idea.
I’ve tried to figure out why (some) women are gobbling up this book, and now running to the movie. My guess is that there is a fair amount of cat-and-mouse flirting in it, and a good number of words used to describe the building tension. That would be the type of pornography that women might fall prey to. But make no mistake, porn it is. For any woman whose husband has gotten involved in pornography, there is pain and a sense of betrayal. I wouldn’t want to count the hours I’ve spent talking to women who’ve lived through it, and have experienced their husband’s pornography use as adultery. How then is it any different when a woman reads a book whose central male character is just as plasticized and unreal as the airbrushed women her husband has looked at on the internet? Both are equally wrong. Both are equally grievous to the heart of God.
Additionally, where there is pornography, there is often abuse. All over the world, and throughout history, women have been oppressed and/or subjugated. This isn’t feminism talking; it’s a plain fact. It’s also a fact that civilizations decline when women are oppressed or mistreated. Finally, women in a small corner of the world begin to live with dignity, freedom and self-respect – and here comes a book that glorifies a relationship (if you can call it that) where the aim is self-gratification through outright abuse – both emotionally and sexually. The main character, Christian Grey, stalks the female protagonist, Ana; he controls whom she sees and talks to, isolates her from family and friends, and ultimately physically abuses her. As one reviewer commented, Here, coercion is acceptable, abuse is extolled, and consent is ignored. Is this what we want to teach our daughters? That humiliation and coercion are erotic? And do we want to send the message to our sons that girls secretly like to be threatened and intimidated? Fifty Shades not only doesn’t hide its strong theme of violence against women – it exploits and flaunts it. Because Ana goes from terror to pleasure, somehow the abuse is all justified in the end. And then, it goes a step further with the marketing. While glorifying violence against women, Fifty Shades’ publicists have portrayed the movie as a romantic love story, perfect for that special date night. The movie was strategically released on Valentine’s Day, so lovebirds everywhere could flock to see it. The marketing is so lacking in self-awareness it’s astonishing.
If you’ve read this far, then thank you for sticking with the rant. I believe it’s a rant worth ranting. As Christians, we seek our entertainment in book or movie form like everyone else, but with this big difference: we can’t turn off our convictions when we turn on a movie. We would do well to ask ourselves a couple of questions about what we consume in entertainment: Does it expand our view of what is true and good in this world? Does it enlarge our compassion for those who suffer because of what isn’t good in this world? If we find, like Fifty Shades, that a book/movie takes what is God-designed for good and beauty, and corrupts it into something exploitive and wrong, then we know it’s something to be avoided.
If you haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, please don’t. If you already have, then hopefully you can erase some of the images (and poor writing) from your mind.