A movie about a kinky relationship shouldn’t be ruffling this many feathers. We’ve seen alternative relationship movies before – “Nine and a Half Weeks,” “The Story of O,” “Secretary,” and then there’s the latest darling sweeping the Sundance circuit, “The Duke of Burgundy,” where a lesbian couple struggles with the issue of “topping from the bottom.” In 2015, kink shouldn’t be this controversial.
The controversy is over the way it’s portrayed. And yes, if you think of adult relationships as being negotiated by a college panel on political correctness, then “Fifty Shades of Gray” is not for you. Yes, the message is demeaning to females – and yet let us not forget that a female wrote these books and another female, Sam Taylor-Johnson, directed the film treatment. Don’t these women get to decide for themselves how they want female sexual politics depicted?
The film tones down many negative aspects of the books. Lots of the silly talk inside Ana’s head is cut (and thank the gods for that!). The edgier kinky scenes are decreased, and everything gets handled far more tastefully than E. L. James’ blunt description of adult games supplied by the aisles of Home Depot. Gone are the chapter-sucking reams of emails and a good deal of the dream sequences.
However, the whole story still reads more like a kinky Cinderella story than a mature woman taking control of her own life. Ana literally lucks into that first interview with Christian, and mutely bobs along like a bathtub toy flowing to every whim directed by Christian Gray from then on. Is that the demeaning to women part? Well, we can’t say much better for “The Little Mermaid,” “Sleeping Beauty,” or “Cinderella” herself, can we?
It’s easy to sit back and condemn Fifty Shades, but far harder to lay the blame where it belongs, on the audience who loves it and the culture that created that audience. We Western humans sure are scared of sex, aren’t we? That’s where submissive kinky desires come from: Our society makes us so ashamed of our healthy sexual impulses that we have to feel forced and punished for them just to get them gratified at all. As they say about the History Channel, it’s amazing how many people complain that it doesn’t show any history anymore, and yet how few people watched it back when it showed history. Reality shows are terrible, but they pull in the numbers.
Oat bran is good for you and chocolate cake is bad for you, so why are you all buying the chocolate? Fifty Shades isn’t good for you, and it’s probably not going to set feminism marching on the path to triumph, but it is broadcasting an important message, and we should listen. It’s saying that a lot of women want this kind of fun, at least between the sheets over a weekend or two. Some women want to be ravished. Some other women regard the idea as offensive. Most guys shrug, but there’s more than a few guys who can also give that first group of women what they want.
Bottom line, we’re all individuals. One person’s erotica is another person’s nightmare. Is that such a surprise?