My teenage son is being forced by his girlfriend to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I suppose this is payback for him taking her to see American Sniper, a movie that’s much more his speed. Although he’s old enough to see Fifty Shades, I’d rather he didn’t because I have serious issues with the relationship portrayed in the movie, and I know that kids his age are still quite impressionable. When I was his age The Story of O was making the rounds of the art houses and I remember seeing it and finding deep revelations within the movie. I saw it multiple times and it did influence my thinking about relationships.
Unlike The Story of O, I haven’ t read the book Fifty Shades of Grey nor will I see the movie. I am past the age where sex touches upon every waking thought and with age, I hope, comes wisdom. Here is what I am telling my son about Fifty Shades of Grey.
Submission Is Not Empowering; It Is Abuse. One of the aspects of movies like O and Fifty Shades is that I find particularly troubling is the idea that being submissive to someone is somehow good for you. In the fantasies portrayed in these movies the protagonists become submissive to their partners and are toyed with and dominated. Through this state of submissiveness they end up learning about themselves, becoming better, stronger people in the process.
Half a century of life has taught me this is bullshit. The submission portrayed in these movies would in real life be viewed as a form of psychological and sexual abuse that would result in war crimes if it were practiced on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Everyone I know has suffered in relationships where they have been dominated by a partner at one time in their life, one who cut them off from family and friends, who controlled what they did, what they wore and even what they ate. This goes way beyond kinky sex, and although I’m not personally familiar with the BDSM community I do know people who are, and my understanding is such domination only occurs within the context of the “dungeon” where it is limited and contained. Samantha Field who happens to be a part of the BDSM community and sees the movie as abusive writes, “Fifty Shades of Grey does to its audience what Christian does to Ana and what my rapist did to me: it completely resets our expectations and what we believe to be acceptable… The danger in Fifty Shades of Grey is that it does what an abuser does: it makes us think that abuse is normal.”
At a time when young men are being viewed as potential rapists, the last thing I need my son to think is that his girlfriend really wants to be abused, or worse, think it’s normal for her to do the same to him. There are so many mixed messages in our culture, so many competing definitions of what it means to be a man or woman, that a story like Fifty Shades should be seen for what it is: a vehicle to make money by the author and movie studios, and one that will inevitably hurt people.
People are Fragile. It will take the people who suffer in these unhealthy relationships years, and sometimes even decades to recover. It’s almost like the people hurt by the their own personal Christian Greys are poisoned by them, and this poison takes a very long time to dissipate. Before they recover anyone they touch will have to deal with the poison left by the Christian Greys in one way or another. The loved one who come after will be forced to deal with the alcoholism and drug abuse that comes with the destroyed self-esteem. They will spend years, decades even (for the more persistent) rebuilding what their loved one’s Christian Grey did without care or thought long before. At the very least those with a basic level self-preservation will run – not walk – away from the victims of the likes of the Greys, fueling their own guilt.
A Real Man Empowers and has no need to dominate another in order to feel alive. Consider how pathetic it is for a billionaire like Christian Grey to feel compelled to dominate a young nobody like Anastasia Steele (Good grief I can’t believe I’m wasting words on characters named like those in a self-published romance novel.) What, doesn’t he have any flies to pull the wings off of or puppies to kick? In real life a man like Grey would easily become Carl Icahn’s bitch, and would inspire an entire generation of character assassins and short sellers the way Enron’s Ken Lay did.
A real man builds up his partner. Destroying is easy, construction is hard, but just as fleeting as an orgasm is, the love that is built through daily nurturing can endure a lifetime. Imagine if Grey was a real man who helped Steele become a fully actualized human being, helping her define and chase her own dreams. The book would have been completely different and likely wouldn’t have been a best seller.
Real Men are the ones who encourage their spouses to go back to school or to start their own businesses. Real Men are the ones who flood the mail with books from Amazon on the works of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Galen Rowell when their loved ones express an interest in landscape photography. They are the ones who make sure there is endless half and half in the fridge so their loved one’s never miss having their morning coffee the way they like it.
A Real Man encourages without needing his own encouragement because he finds fulfillment in his creation, whether that is his career or his family (hopefully the latter). A Real Man’s character is evident through the success of his creation. Is his partner better off than before in all ways? Are his children well-rounded individuals who can grow outside their father’s shadow? Can his business survive without him at the helm? The answers to these questions are what separate Real Men from poorly written contrivances like Christian Grey.
Don’t Learn How to Live Your Life from Movies. Movies are created for one reason only: to make money. We watch them for one reason only: to be entertained. Movies can inspire just as good music and good books can, but most movies, music and books are created to pay bills and consumed to keep boredom at bay. As science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once noted “ninety percent of everything is crap.” This is just as true for movies, so it’s likely that his saying will apply to Fifty Shades.
If you want to learn how to live your life, look around you. I learned faithfulness from my parents and from seeing the lives of my friends ripped apart by divorce. There have been times where I thought long and hard about the suffering I witnessed, and from the care expressed by my mother for my father, but in the end I made the right choice. There are all kinds of role models; Hollywood or whatever it produces should not be one of them.
Romance Novels Suck. Men watch porn, women read it. Back in the day I tried to read erotica like Anais Nin and of course Ann Rice, but it didn’t work for me. Writing about sex is like trying to photograph music. I just don’t think writing and sex go together. Maybe it’s because I write for a living, I don’t know.
I’m sure the author could have written a better book by reversing the roles. Why make Grey the dominant? Isn’t the power he wields being a billionaire enough? How much more interesting the story would have been had the relatively poor Steele been the Dominant, the one holding a billionaire’s heart in her cold steel hands (Get it? Ana Steele, steel hands? This is why I write systems requirements) . What would she do with that power? Perhaps she would only come to realize the power she held in a sequel, and then there would be the books exploring her own morality. See? The mommys get their porn, the studios and author get rich, and Fifty Shades has a better chance of beating Sturgeon’s Law. Everybody wins!
It’s a Fantasy. Just because a person might fantasize about being dominated by a man like Christian Grey doesn’t mean they want to be dominated. It’s a fantasy; it’s not real. Truth be told people often do not want fantasies to come true. It’s one thing for their imaginations to run rampant, it’s another thing to have an emotional vampire like Grey appear in their lives.
Oh well. Telling an 18 year old boy about porn is like explaining water to a duck. I’m sure he’ll figure it out on his own…