I’m a 44-year-old mother of two, with a paying editor’s job to maintain, and several time-consuming obligations that come with being a full-time writer, mom, and wife.
Although my inner child remains active through my well-cultivated geeky pleasures, I consider myself fairly open-minded and, for the most part, emotionally mature. As part of it, I realize the importance of not stomping on someone’s personal interests, views and fandoms, because I know how hurtful it is for someone else to destroy mine with a dismissive air of superiority, be it an author, music genre, movie or television franchise, or even a professional sports team.
So why exactly was my first reaction to seeing that there would be a movie for the Fifty Shades of Grey book trilogy be to deface an innocent entertainment magazine cover like a 10-year-old in a foul mood?
For some reason, these books just make we want to approach the first stranger I see and apologize for E.L. James’ trilogy’s very existence on behalf of my generation, my gender, my race, my species—you name it. I’m just so, so sorry.
Why do I even have this extreme reaction? Why does the idea of this series rankle me so much? This led to some serious self-evaluation, and I learned quite a bit about my own personal convictions in the process.
First, the obvious: is it all the (spoken in hushed tone) S-E-X? Nah, not really. The overt and over-usage of sex as a plot is nothing new in Hollywood or even literature. Look at the pulp fiction novels that date back to the 1930s and earlier. Women in bondage, blatantly abusive older men, sex as a weapon, and any other form of sexual deviancy can be found in those stinky yellowed little paperbacks, and often with some of the most unintentionally hilarious covers to boot. I actually have a little collection of these covers, like the one pictured in this story, because they are so amusing.
These new books are really no different, except for one thing: the majority of the intended audience is women, at least that’s how I perceive it. I just can’t see how this same type of domineering, borderline abusive scenario that was once thought demeaning and harmful to women now a form of empowerment?
Of course, there have been comments from the fandom, some of the “creative team” behind the films, including the leading pair or actors (neither of whom I have any opinion on at all…I honesty have never heard of either of them and am sure they are very pleasant folk), has already begun denouncing what they consider to be closed-minded, sexually stifled, and generally backwards thinkers. This attitude is nothing new and has always been something that just makes me smirk and roll my eyes so hard that my head hurts. I don’t walk out of every erotic or violent scene in movies (I wouldn’t be such a Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad fan, if that were the case), but I don’t feel “pushing the envelope” necessarily makes a script better or a love scene more arousing.
Here is my first self-discovery, as I’ve learned to ask myself the following three things regarding what I find arousing or romantic:
• Is this the way I want a man to treat me?
• Is this the way I want a man to treat my daughters someday?
• If I had a son, would I want him to treat a woman that way?
In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, my answer is NO on all three counts. I’m more turned on by Tony Stark and Pepper finally hooking up in the Iron Man movie franchise (I’ve been a Tony/Pepper shipper since I first opened an Iron Man comic as a kid), by the Ninth Doctor’s self-sacrificing and selflessly sexy kiss for Rose Tyler, or by the still knee-wobbling classic Han Solo response to Leia’s confession of love: “I know.”
However, I think the big reason I get annoyed by this craze is because I look at it the same way I look at all voyeuristic reality television, torture porn, and stand-up comedy where the f-bomb is used in place of a punchline. It is just another type of “shock over substance” that reminds me of the cheapening of modern entertainment.
I’m not begrudging James her time in the spotlight—or any writer, for that matter. I’m actually happy for anyone who gets people to open up books, and for that I commend her. However, from what I’ve read (and I admit I couldn’t make it through the samples I looked at without laughing for the wrong reasons), I just don’t feel that these books are very well written. True, there are many mediocre writers out there, and possibly many penning romances much worse than this one. However, when all I hear about in regards to the upcoming movie is “how will they look naked” or “how will you approach the sex scenes,” I can’t help but wonder if there is anything more to these stories at all than spiffy sadomasochism in an expensive suit?
In terms of my sensibilities, and in many cases my own hypocrisies, I’ve discovered this about myself with what I want read and watch:
• If it’s sexual, give it meaning and emotional substance.
• If it’s profane, make it sparse enough to maintain its impact. If removing the profanity from a film cuts the dialogue in half (anyone see The Wolf of Wall Street out there?), then it’s probably being a tad bit overused. Just my thought.
• If it’s violent, make it have a message and some sort of redemptive resolution.
If these criteria aren’t met, I feel like I’m standing next to someone who covers up their lack of personal hygiene with heavy cheap cologne.
So ends my soul-searching. What it all boils down to when I see the fever pitch surrounding this bestselling trilogy is that I just think we as readers and viewers can do better. Heck, we deserve better. Why should we compromise our intelligence once again?
After really thinking it over—and I’ll admit I have puzzled about this too much—I can say one good thing about this “threesome” of books: they have certainly inspired me to look into my own heart and to remain true to my own values and discretion, as unpopular as they may seem today.