The heavier stuff

Fifty Shades of maybe don’t go see this movie

February 6, 2015

I needed to write this because it’s important, and I also need to write this because Facebook has decided that the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s Christian Grey teddy bear is appropriate advertising for me and I want you all to suffer with me.


In case you care, this post has spoilers for the whole series.

I’m getting this post out before the movie comes out, because I’d like you to seriously reconsider going to see Fifty Shades of Grey.  By the end of this post, I hope I’ll have given you some very good reasons to not go see it.  By “very good reasons,” I do not mean “Jaime Dornan is #NotMyChristian.” Also, I do not mean that I personally thought the original book was really poorly written (which I do, in fact, think, just for the record.  It’s so bad.  It’s so, so bad.)  Also, I do not mean that I do not understand the attraction of watching this movie in a large room with a group of people who are also watching this movie and gahhhh uncomfortable just thinking about it ahhhh NO I DON’T UNDERSTAND.  But people can watch things I don’t like!  Even ones about sex!  That’s totally fine.  I’ve tried watching Friends a bunch of different times, and it just doesn’t take.  This does not mean that people should not watch this movie.

It’s also super not chill that people are tearing this thing apart because “it’s mommy porn.”  Women, even mothers, are allowed to run their own sex lives, including reading romance novels and watching their adaptations.  Jenny Trout, an absolutely amazing author and blogger, discusses this in her recaps of every single chapter of all of these books, which you can and should read here.  No, don’t stay away from this movie because it won’t be good; stay away because it’s demonstrably bad.

1. The book is plagiarism.
Okay, yes, fanfiction happens, no matter how much we’d like to pretend it didn’t.  I ended up in an internet wormhole one time and read about 50 pages’ worth of One Direction fanfiction.  …There is no justification in this, only shame, and please at least be proud that I stopped, okay?  And this is not to beat up on the quality of the book by saying that it’s fanfiction: there is a whole host of well-written fanfiction (and in the case of Jane Austen, an entire industry).

However.  This series of three books was begun as Master of the Universe, by Snowqueens Icedragon.  (I cannot in good faith mock her screenname, because duuuuude I would have been ALL OVER THAT at like 14-15 like are you serious ICEDRAGON??? hell YES)  Christian is Edward, Ana is Bella, BDSM is vampirism, etc etc.  She and her publishers have repeatedly said that MotU and 50SoG are different works, but if you run ’em through a standard “did this student plagiarize” thingy, it’ll pop out with 89% similarity.  If you run anything important in the book through a standard “why the hell does this sound so familiar to Twilight” brain comparison, it’s probably like 97%.  Yes, the author still made up her own “plot” “points” and yes every bit of literature is inspired by other literature and yes it would be really hard to make out a full copyright case but ughhhh do we really want to reward this?  And not just reward it, let it sell a book every two seconds, which, in fact, was the rate at which the series was selling at its zenith.

2. The series is hugely judgmental of others’ sex lives, particularly those who practice BDSM.
(not The Others’ sex lives.  I’m assuming they don’t have them?  Sorry if I’m wrong, White Walkers you get down with your bad selves)
This book is not a how-to about BDSM.  It’s more of a how-not-to.  It is stated over and over in the series that Christian is only into his type of sex (“my tastes are very…singular” ughughugh) because he’s broken, and that his sexual preferences are evidence of his damage.

This picture came up when I searched that quote and now I can’t stop laughing

We’re told he was abandoned in a horrific way as a kid, and then one of his adoptive mother’s friends made him her submissive when he was a teenager. So now this is all he does.  He doesn’t like anything but his own “kinky fuckery” (this is a legitimate phrase that happens in this series more than once and I’m sorry for making you read it but IF I HAVE TO SUFFER, SO DO YOU.)  Ana tries repeatedly to basically love him to wellness, which means no submission, no Red Room of Pain, no other ridiculously mild forms of bondage.  Seriously, guys, if anyone is scandalized by the sex in these books, just shut down Frederick’s of Hollywood and like, music videos.  There is nothing scandalous in here.  And that’s ME saying this.

There are a billion things wrong with Christian Grey and with Christian and Ana’s relationship, but the BDSM aspects are exactly none of them.  People who enjoy this type of sex, and literally any other type of consensual sex, are not broken, or damaged, or scandalous.  They’re just some people who like a thing, and to act like there’s something wrong with the way consenting adults choose to have sex (and especially to imply that only screwed up people like BDSM) is unacceptable.

3. Ana, the heroine, is horrible to every other woman.
This is not a person you want to emulate in any way.  Remember in the Twilight movies, where everyone was inexplicably nice to Bella even though she seemed like not interested in literally any of their own lives/problems/anything except Edward?  Ana is the same way, except somehow worse, and there is no Anna Kendrick to sweep in and be sassy.  She ignores or discards every friend she has, up to and including being annoyed by their enthusiasm to talk to her.  She describes any questions asked of her by her best friend, Kate, as “the Katherine Kavanaugh Inquisition.”  Gurl, this is your friend asking you shit about your life, can u not.

The worse part, though, is her absolute disdain for every other woman who looks at Christian for a second, in particular blondes and women who wear more makeup than she does.  She gives them little derisive nicknames in her head, like “Miss European Pigtails,” “Miss Flushing Crimson,” “Miss Very Short Hair and Red Lipstick,” and my personal favorite, “Miss Hotpants,” for a hostess at a nightclub who wears them as part of her goddamn uniform.  This dude is the epitome of male beauty but if any woman looks at him “for longer than strictly necessary” (an actual Ana original, right there), bitch hold my earrings because you do not look at my man like that.

I get it: I spent portions of my life being angry at women prettier than me, but I don’t get how it is still A Thing past the age of like, 16 to be angry at women who wear makeup and look nice and might be attracted to the same person you are.  E.L James is (in theory?) a grown-ass woman, her heroine is 22 at the beginning of the book, and both should know better.  Ana is absolutely insufferable and horrible to those around her, and it is really freaking hard to dredge up any sympathy for her.

However, I do sympathize with her, because this leads me to the most important one –

4. The hero is abusive.
This is not in any kind of shades of grey.  This is black and white, textbook-case, completely clear abuse.

The first big romantic gesture in the book is Christian tracking Ana’s phone to discover she’s at a bar, and he shows up to the bar, fends off a different guy, Ana passes out, and then he takes Ana with him to his hotel.  This is not romantic, this is not sweet, I don’t care that he fought off another guy who was trying to attack her, he tracked a woman’s phone and took her unconscious body to a second location.  And that’s just the beginning.

Here’s some key points from a list you may recognize.

  • You feel uncomfortable about something he has said, or done, and the feeling remains
  • You make excuses for his character or minimize his behavior
  • You tell your friends you are “unsure about the relationship”
  • You think no one else in his life understands him
  • You sense he is pushing too quickly for an emotional connection with you
  • You notice he quickly discloses information about his past or present emotional pain
  • You wish he would go away, you want to cry, and you want to run away from him
  • You feel bad about yourself when you are around him

This is a list of red flags meant to be used when you or someone you care about is potentially in an abusive relationship, and these are all things Ana either says or thinks during the course of the books, multiple times.  She is regularly afraid of him, and is worried that he’ll be mad over things like a male friend calling her cellphone: something she has no control over.  She tries to get in with his therapist so she can help fix him with love, or something.  She tells both her mother and her best friend, in tears, that she’s scared.   And the BDSM component of their relationship?  Ana repeatedly describes what they do as “he hit me” or “he hurt me,” and Christian uses it as an excuse to threaten horrific things, up to and including threatening to “beat the shit out of her” because he’s angry with her.

This is not BDSM, this is not love, this is not admirable.  This is abuse, and many, MANY women have come forward to say this; they say their abusers acted like Christian Grey.  The fact that he has a fucking helicopter and pretty hair does not make him a Billionaire Bad Boy, they make him a terrible human with a ton of money.

The worst worst part?  E.L. James has dismissed survivors who have contacted her to let her know that her book describes an abusive relationship.  She has said she does not see what she’s written as abuse.  This is not negotiable, she is wrong, and she is now also a billionaire of being wrong.

Maybe the movie won’t be like this, but then the movie wouldn’t be Fifty Shades of Grey, and judging by the trailer, it will be.

“Okay, so what if I want to actually see it now?  You can’t stop me from doing that, and the movie’s going to make money anyway!”
You’re completely right!  I cannot stop you from going, and this damn thing with its inexplicably good soundtrack??? (Twilight is to Muse what 50SoG is to Beyonce????) is gonna make a gazillion dollars no matter what you do.  The two things I’ve heard so far that I like are

– Buy a ticket to a Better Movie (meaning probably any other movie?  Idec go see The Hobbit again) and then sneak in to see this movie so you’ll be able to critique it
I don’t dislike this option, but it will probably not be the one I choose, because I am so uncomfortably a Good Girl that I cannot do anything Bad without having a gigantic bout of anxiety.  Like, I felt bad at law school events taking the Lexis swag because I preferred Westlaw.  I’m messed up, I get it.

Option 2!
– Donate whatever the cost of the ticket was and then some to a women’s shelter
This one will be my option if I choose to see the movie, and I think it’s a really good call.

I am not telling you you cannot see the movie.  I’m not telling you you cannot like the book.  I’m telling you to be aware that the book unarguably describes an abuser and is problematic as hell, so just be aware and critical of the media you consume.

And don’t buy that bear oh my GOD do not buy that bear.

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