2015 · Blogging · Film · Writing

Fifty Shades of Curiosity and Controversy

Everyone is talking about it.  You know what I’m talking about – admit it.  The Fifty Shades Trilogy written by E.L. James has been making headlines ever since it experienced a spike in popularity around three years ago when its rights were bought by Vintage Books.

Vintage, a subdivision of Random House, saw the books become a smash hit on bestsellers lists and what followed was what many could have never expected.  Now we’re here with a feature film in theatres, paraphernalia from the main characters’ sexual lives on sale at Target (http://bit.ly/1CBr4Iy) among other stores and most interestingly people are talking.

They are talking about sexuality, kinks and fantasies; others are spreading awareness about domestic abuse, the signs of abusers and the symptoms displayed by their victims; still others apparently spend time dreaming of their own Christian Grey or Anastasia Steele.

I’ve seen the film.  In fact I saw it just this afternoon with a girlfriend who wanted to see it.  I preferred that if she was going to see it anyway that she go with someone with whom she could discuss it and to be frank, I was curious.  Curious indeed.  Like many other young woman my age I watched my mother and her friends devour the books.  After several discussions with her about the content of the novels I decided to try to read them.  I made it through an ironic fifty pages until I gave up.

To be honest the writing was nowhere near the calibre I expected and I have most certainly read better fanfiction.  Since I was about thirteen I’ve been reading and writing fanfiction although I gave up the latter around age fifteen.  However, I have been exposed to a great deal of what the fanfic community has to offer – some of it is good, some of it is absolutely terrific, and then there’s the bad stuff, the fics with no punctuation, no capitalization, or any semblance of a plot whatsoever.  Sometimes all three of these disastrous qualities combine and a completely horrendous piece is produced but when that happens I simply choose to click the back button to continue my perusal of online archives.

There is an art to creating good fanfiction just like there is a technique to writing well.  E.L. James is not the best writer I have ever read, far from it.  Yes, she is making a considerable amount of money but writing has to be about more than putting words on a page to put cash in the bank.

I am not a fan of the series.  There are several glaring errors and inaccuracies in it that prevent me from ever having any form of appreciation for it on the basis of its plot alone.  For example, the issue of consent is often brought up to criticize the film and the novel.  Nothing is ever completely cleared with Ana, nothing is ever fully explained, and she NEVER signs Christian’s contract. That last reason above all else is one of my biggest issues with the storyline.


Then Ana leaves because she finally realizes that Christian is not in fact what she wants or needs in order to have a safe and secure relationship.  This bothers me however my issue is not with Ana seeking a better relationship but with Christian who has manifested into the ‘face of modern BDSM.’.  He is depicted as a man who as a result of abuse turned to hurting others because that’s “who he is.”  I refuse to believe that all couples or singles who safely practice BDSM in a loving, respectful way have all been abused or have a need to hurt others based on being ‘incapable’ of performing other actions to express their love or sexual attraction for their partners.  From my understanding BDSM relationships are based upon trust, communication, and mutual respect.  Both partners are not required to be, “Fifty shades of f****d up,” as Christian states before he punishes Ana near the end of the first novel.

*End of Spoilers*

To continue on the topic of consent many activists are bringing awareness to the dangerous aspects of Christian and Ana’s relationship – namely but not limited to his stalking tendencies, his jealousness, his possessiveness, and his seeming inability to seek consent for intimate acts.  His emotional unavailability is also a tool he uses to keep Ana on the hook for him.  Whether he is aware that his lack of emotional expression pushes Ana to want him to want her more is unclear.  But the obsessive and possessive tendencies are quite clearly established.  From the way he organizes his life to the way he casually states how he is used to getting his own way.  These are not healthy standards to compare any relationship to and I would advise anyone romanticizing this type of lifestyle where your partner controls every aspect of your life without any type of negotiation or discussion to seek help immediately.  http://bit.ly/1b6a11H

As stated above, proper BDSM relationships appear to require extensive negotiation, trust, and respect – abusive relationships do not allow for any of those qualities.  If you or one of your friends finds him or herself in a situation with an abusive partner – contact authorities.  Abuse should never be tolerated under any circumstances.

I can understand why people hate this franchise.  I think I can comprehend why some are drawn to it too.  There is something seductive about the plot  – it is comparable to a fulfill your own fantasy novel.  After all, many men and women alike dream of being swept off their feet by someone who will be completely devoted to him or her.  But it still concerns me.

For one I would take issue with being showered with gifts. It makes me uncomfortable to think that a partner would do something like buy me a new car without asking me at least a) if I wanted a new car and b) what I thought of him buying one for me.  Gifts create a need in the receiver to reciprocate and hence a contract of sorts.  Relationships can include gifts without making one’s partner uncomfortable but communication is key in situations like those touched on in the film.

I found the movie interesting. I do not regret seeing it.  I did not however pay for it – a Christmas gift of movie passes came in handy today – so no real endorsements of the franchise were made by me this afternoon.

The film was an exploration.  There was some questionable and jarring dialogue – certain phrases just seemed so out of place – while the character portrayals were suitable.  Ana (Dakota Johnson) was much stronger and independent than I pictured.  I was glad of that and even more so I was thrilled with the elimination of her inner narration, which meant the disappearance of her “Inner Goddess.”  Christian (Jamie Dornan) was attractive in the role I must admit and showcased Grey’s fear of breaking his routine in order to hold onto Ana quite well.  His struggle to have both what he is used to and who he actually cares for was good for an array of scenes depicting his discomfort with emotions.

The film was about power.  It was about the power dynamics of a relationship, about sacrifice, about comfort, and discomfort.  It will not be making my list of favourite movies but I think it was interesting.  My curiosity was satisfied.

What about you?

Are you curious?

*An article I thoroughly enjoyed about the series written for The Atlantic: http://theatln.tc/1EWrNHF

Let me know what you thought.  Comments are always welcome.

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