Throwing Shade at 50 Shades

50shades  It’s taken me a long time to work out what I wanted to write about “50 Shades,” and to be honest, I still don’t know where to begin. I have so many issues with the story and its popularity, but for now I’ll touch on three things in general.

1) The movie, judged simply as a movie, was fucking terrible. I was expecting to be angry the whole time. Mostly, I was bored.

2) Yeah, Christian Grey is an abusive prick. This is a textbook example of intimate partner violence. That isn’t an opinion either.

3) This is the hardest point for me to discuss. I seriously don’t understand how people (including friends of mine, many of whom are intelligent) can watch/read this stuff and somehow miss how horribly unhealthy and awful it is. A studio made a movie about a man who stalks, intimidates, and rapes his girlfriend, and it was released on fucking Valentine’s day, and advertised as sexy and romantic.

I had an issue from the beginning with “50 Shades” because it was written as “Twilight” fan fiction. So there we have it, Anastasia and Christian ARE Bella and Edward. So “50 Shades” is based off of Mormon abstinence porn. Those books also got lots of hate for a)being really poorly written and b) promoting unhealthy (to say the least) ideas about romance. Even Robert Patterson said “when I read it, it seemed like a book that wasn’t supposed to be published.” I watched those movies and was horrified. Perhaps it was my training as a sexual violence victims’ advocate that inoculated me from thinking they were romantic? So many things I know to be red flags in relationships were touted to not only be good, but desirable. Most of it isn’t even subtle! If a guy says he kind of wants to kill you, all the time, but he’ll try really hard not to, it isn’t romantic! It isn’t a compliment! Ughhh. The fact that people tried to blow off his consistently abusive behavior “because he’s a vampire,” or “it’s fantasy,” makes my head actually hurt. Personally, if a gloomy, sexy vampire dude followed me around and crept into my room to watch me sleep, I’d go the Buffy route.

Anyway, back to “50 Shades.” I decided I needed to see it after binge-watching “The Fall,” a showgillian-jamie-prom on Netflix starring Gillian Anderson as a brilliant, smart detective who calls people out on their sexism and misogyny, and Jamie Dornan, the serial killer strangler who she tries to hunt down. One of my friends who encouraged me to watch it told me he felt like Dornan got the role of Christian Grey because of his performance on “The Fall.” I can see why. After all, he’s all sexy and good looking (I mean, he is), and he bounds and gags women before strangling them to death. It struck me because he plays these very similar characters, but one is touted as being a dream boat and a fantasy boyfriend. Dornan himself has been quoted as feeling uncomfortable playing Grey, and even kind of compared the phenomenon of the series to people following Hitler. “I wonder what it is about this set of books that has, excuse my pun, penetrated the global market. Mass appreciation doesn’t always equate to something good. Think of Hitler! But I think, in this case, it must. It simply must. There’s got to be merit in it if so many people agree.” Keep telling yourself that, Dornan.

As I said above, the movie was just terrible. The dialogue seemed to be just filler for the sex scenes, which were all pretty similar. Dakota Johnson did a lovely ode to Kristen Stewart by biting her lip throughout the whole film, and in general drawing attention to her mouth whenever possible. My favorite piece of heavy handed symbolism was when Anastasia leaves Grey’s office building after meeting him for the first time, and she gets soaked because it’s pouring out. WE GET IT. SHE’S WET.  It did seem like the person that wrote the screenplay adaptation tried to make Anastasia more intelligent than she was written in the book, but since it had to follow the course of the story, her decisions were still awful. I could gripe more, but there are a plethora of actual movie reviews dissecting the train wreck that you can check out on Rotten Tomatoes. Survey says? Rotten.


The stuff woman in abusive relationships hear is interchangeable with quotes from Grey in this love story.

The stuff woman in abusive relationships hear is interchangeable with quotes from Grey in this love story.

So many of Grey’s behaviors in this movie were disturbing. He goes back and forth with his intentions, one minute demanding Ana stay away from him, the next sending her gifts. At one point he buys her a car, and she was clear that she felt uncomfortable with such a gift, but Grey doesn’t care how she feels, or even bothers to engage in a real discussion regarding her feelings. He gives her a contract to read to establish rules in their relationship. They include crazy shit about her going to a gynecologist of his choosing, going on birth control, and about her eating habits. Because in this union her body isn’t hers, it’s his.  She isn’t allowed to talk to anyone about their relationship; like many abusers, he wants to isolate her. He badgers her incessantly to give him an answer, rather than respecting her time and space. Ana actually tells him she’s not down, and he shows up, in her apartment (how the hell did he get in there?) angry about her answer, and then forces sex on her (there was no verbal consent, and after saying “nice knowing you” to his contract, YES that was necessary.)

At one point he violently squeezes her leg at dinner when someone dared to mention a member of the opposite sex showed interest in her, and then goes nuts when she mentions she’s visiting her mom in Georgia. As if she needs his permission to go. Oh, and then he randomly shows up, in Georgia, making comments about her having a drink. That is insane.  Time and again his abusive and controlling behavior is attributed to him just being so into her and liking her so much. *Twilight personal brand of heroin shit right here.

I think that is one of the most upsetting concepts, overall. The behavior is supposed to be excusable for two reasons. 1) He’s just that in love with her that he can’t help it and 2) he’s just a terribly flawed man because his childhood was hard and blah, blah, blah. I know friends of mine who have been in abusive relationships, and I’ve heard similar excuses for their boyfriends’ scary behavior. I know a woman who wasn’t allowed to continue her friendships with men, and when I tried to explain how unhealthy that was, she sincerely said, “But he just loves me so much that he’s terrified to lose me. It’s a compliment that he doesn’t want me to talk to any other guys.”

As far as him being “50 shades of fucked up” as Grey says himself, supposedly his childhood and similar abusive relationship/rape as a teen were to blame. A friend told me I would understand more if I read all of the books about why Grey is the way he is, and it terrifies me because the books seem to be A LOT worse than the movie. The idea of excusing Grey’s behavior because he’s damaged reminded me of a quote from “The L Word,” when a male character violates a woman’s trust but tries to make it better by apologizing for his actions and saying he learned from her; “It’s not my job to make you a better man and I don’t give a shit if I’ve made you a better man. It’s not a fucking woman’s job to be consumed and invaded and spat out so that some fucking man can evolve.” No one’s past makes abusing their partner okay. Never.

Another quick thing I’d like to note, is that even in the BDSM community, people are freaking out over how terrible this series is in regard to how it grossly misrepresents them. There is nothing wrong with kink, at all. But in BDSM, trust, respect, and consent are HUGE. Christian Grey often ignores Anastasia’s requests for boundaries, and in the book especially, he rapes her. She very clearly says “no” and he ignores her. That. Is. Rape. What is most interesting to me about this, is that Grey seems to get a pass because of his socio-economic status and appearance. If he didn’t have his status, oodles of money, helicopters, six pack abs, etc. would this type of behavior be seen as romantic and hot?

   Apparently not.  In hearing about these books and seeing the movie, the most cringe-rapeworthy thought was that it will be seen as a blueprint for how women should/want to be treated. While it’s one case we have so far (that we know of), a guy raped a classmate and cited “50 Shades” as his inspiration… The article is a disturbing read, but he really did just reenact a specific scene from the movie. There was no consent here, and for Anastasia, consent is often ignored as well. Just like Twilight, it’s like taking a list of abusive behaviors to look out for, and instead telling people that these are actually romantic. He’s not abusive, he just REALLY loves you and wants you to be his. When the argument made next is that in the end Christian Grey changes for Anastasia, it makes me sick, because THAT hope is what keeps so many women in domestically abusive relationships. It tells them to be good and obedient and just love him, and eventually he’ll change for you. It’s a disgusting message, and truly, there isn’t anything romantic or sexy about it.