So unless you’re living under a rock, you know that the new film, Fifty Shades of Grey, releases this week. Today actually. Timed for a Valentine’s Day extravaganza, the marketing behind this film has been pushing the erotic romance in this story hard. The problem is that it’s not an erotic romance. And before anyone assumes that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I haven’t seen the movie, I read this story when it was free online. When it talked about Edward and Bella. Not Christian and Ana. Did I finish? Nope. I’ll be honest. But I did get through enough of it to know what happens in all three books. And I got through enough of it to be able to discuss it intellectually. I never imagined that would be something I’d share publicly. But then again, I never imagined that I’d be seeing it literally everywhere and that I would need to explain to my kids what it is either.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Fifty Shades or it’s teenage version, Twilight. You can see previous posts here and here on Fifty Shades. Here and here on Twilight. Why Twilight? Well, the first thing you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey is that it started out as Twilight fanfic. Some people may not be bothered by this. Others find it extremely off-putting. Some I’ve spoken to haven’t even believed that it came from Twilight. They thought I was making it up. You only have to do a little research to discover this. It’s not been hidden. E.L. James has been very honest about it. Now I was not a fan of the Twilight series. I’ve made that plain. However, to me, if you know the origins of Fifty Shades, it helps make plain what the goal or the message was intended to be. This was something E.L. James wrote because she was so enamored with the Twilight series, she wanted to make her own version. She wanted to create her own fantasy world based on the Twilight series. The problem is that she placed it in a very real world where real people do exist. In reality, when you look at it, Edward Cullen and Christian Grey are not the type of men you should fantasize about.
You see, Edward and Christian Grey aren’t that different. They are both controlling, wealthy, handsome men so completely wrapped up in that control that they will stop at nothing to ‘completely dominate’ the woman they supposedly love. Think about it. Edward chased Bella down multiple times, demanded that she stop being friends with people, ordered her to obey him (for her own protection of course) and lavished gifts and affection on her whenever she began to not like the boundaries he laid out for her. He was also messed up, believed he couldn’t be loved, and Bella ‘saved’ him from never knowing love. Fast forward to the ‘adult’ version of this story and we’ve just added sex to the mix. That’s it. Take all of the sentences above and substitute Christian and Ana and you’ll see what I mean. In my previous posts about Twilight, you’ll also see a dangerous trend where Bella is continually required to give up herself, her family – and even her life, in order to ‘love’ Edward. This is controlling. Abusive. But it’s so much more subtle than what you see in Fifty Shades that it’s often missed.
Now at this point, if you’re a fan of either series, I know you’re shaking your head at me. I’ve heard all the answers to my objections before. For right now, let’s put Twilight aside and just look at Fifty Shades. I’ve heard arguments like: “You’re just a prude. You don’t get it. It’s deeper than sex. They’re in a consenting relationship as adults.” Okay. I’ll see those arguments. And I’ll raise you a level of abuse that is cleverly disguised among the pages of sex and pornography in this series. This blog post (by someone I don’t know and have never met – I found the link while reading a review of the film) clearly outlines, in detail, the abusive moments in the story. Not the film – she uses the book as her source material. That’s important to note because many are excusing the movie away by saying that the book outlines more that makes it not so scary. Please be aware that the author of that blog post is not a Christian so the language and situations described are not ‘safe.’ Then again, nothing about this book or this film is safe, so hopefully that’s understood. Her observations are not from a Biblical perspective in any way. They’re just from a ‘real world’ view.
I’ve also heard the arguments about this being a story for adults so what’s the harm in an adult series designed for adult women? I mean it was obviously written for someone other than the teenage crowd and it’s been marketed toward women. That makes it okay right? I mean it’s not going to teens or tweens. Here’s the problem with that perspective. It was based on Twilight. I mentioned above that no one has ever tried to hide that fact. It’s been made very plain by all involved. They hoped to get the Twilight audience. All those “Twi-Moms” who fell in love with the Twilight series. But here’s the pinch– Twilight was marketed directly to tweens and teens. Some may call that a flimsy argument, but a little research shows that when the books came out, the majority of people talking about it were young adults and teens. The tweets, Facebook posts, and social media weren’t driven by these Twi-moms. They were young girls who, not knowing where to go for their “Twilight Fix,” turned to this series almost like it was some sort of weird sequel to Edward and Bella’s story. We all know it wasn’t and that it was never intended that way. But what’s the real message when you market subversively to the Twilight crowd and then cry publicly it’s really an adult book that isn’t meant for teens. Lest you think I’m grasping at straws on this teenage/young adult argument, please see this blog post where I discuss something my tween daughter and I experienced first-hand. This isn’t fiction. I saw this happen. That’s when I began to realize how pervasive this series was going to be in popular culture.
I’ve had Christian women tell me that it helped their marriage. It increased their desire for their husband. It brought ‘spark’ back into their marriage. Isn’t that a good thing? But I have to ask some questions here. Does this story honor God and His view of marriage? Does Christian treat Ana like Christ loves the church? Oh no – it’s not intended to be a Christian story. I know that. So we can’t expect Christian and Ana to have a Christ-like relationship. But if you are a Christian, YOUR love story should be that way. And if you’re saying that this book helped you, then how does that apply to your real life love story? Are you picturing your husband when you’re getting aroused reading about Christian and Ana? Or are you picturing Christian Grey? If you’re truly looking for an exceptional view of marriage, I’d strongly encourage you to check out The Song.
But back to Fifty Shades. I can’t answer those questions for you. I think most people who are reading this are already firmly for or against Fifty Shades. The line’s been drawn here and it seems that there’s very little grey in this – it’s either black or white. You’re either for or against it and I have no delusions that I will change anyone’s mind or suddenly snap a lightbulb over someone’s head about it. However, I can always hope that something I’ve said here sparks a discussion or debate that might make some changes in someone’s life.
These stories aren’t the light hearted sexual romp that marketing would have us believe. They don’t free women. They don’t encourage healthy relationships. To underscore this, I’ll leave you with one last link. This woman went to the Fifty Shades premiere fully intending to share a funny, lighthearted review of the film for its campy sexual fun. The way she left was completely unexpected.
With that sort of response to this film, I must ask: Do you really believe this is a story that needs to be promoted as healthy, sexual fun?