For the record, yes, I read the book and, yes, I watched the movie. And before we get into my review of them both, I want to offer you this tidbit of advice from the bottom of my crooked little heart -- For the love of God, if you haven't already subjected yourself to either of these atrocities, spare yourself.
If you haven't seen or read 50 Shades of Grey and you're not really sure what the fuss is about, perhaps because you were lucky enough to be stranded on a desert island for the past year or so, I wrote a brief summary, just for you -- Read it HERE, and come back -- We'll wait...
Ok? Ok. Let's do this.
First? The story in 50 Shades of Grey only “works” because Christian Grey is a hard-bodied Adonis with an insanely awesome penthouse, sleek cars, loads of cash, and, oh, a helicopter. If he was an ugly dude who worked at a gas station, rode a dirt bike, and invited a cute girl into a “play room” full of torture devices in the back of his doublewide trailer, we would all be disgusted.
It's true and you know it.
Take away the male hotness and the buckets of money and suddenly 50 Shades of Grey is a book about an insecure, young woman who meets a controlling, manipulative stalker, and finds herself in a mess of her own conflicting emotions. She enjoys being the object of his desire, but she's also intimidated by his demeanor. She's not comfortable with the things he's asking her to do, but he's only asking because she's “special” and he wants to share special moments with her. He smothers her, but only because he wants to protect her. And he punishes her, but only for her own good. She knows he's not perfect, but surely, if she sticks with him long enough, he'll change. She's freaked out by the demands she must meet to be in a relationship with this guy, but how else can she show him how much she really loves him?
We all know someone who is living that story and we do not envy her.
Most of us have watched painfully from the sidelines as a friend ignored serious red flags in favor of relationship - Any relationship! Even a super unhealthy one.
So why are we eating this stuff up? Do we really like the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey? Are our ideas of love and romance really this broken? Or are we just choosing to ignore the oogy parts because we enjoy a raunchy novel every now and again?
Honestly? I would rather believe this stupid book blew up the way it did because it gave everybody and their sister a lady-boner, than because we are so dumb we can't see 50 Shades of Bullshit when it's right in front of our faces. The real life story of 50 Shades goes like this: Christian Grey needs a therapist and Anastasia Steele needs to grow a pair.
Sorry, friends. That is just not a good story.
But it is a relatable one.
I mean, maybe there's a little bit of Anastasia Steele in all of us.
I am drawn to characters like hers, I will admit, probably because I've spent a lot of my life feeling awkward, and clumsy, and ordinary, and little bit invisible -- and I'm not gonna lie, it's kind of nice to think that someone might see something special or valuable or good in me that I can't see in myself. And, like her, I've had my insecurities used against me by people who wanted to dominate me in some fashion, even people I loved. And I, too, have walked paths created by the insecurity of others, thinking, “If I just walk with him far enough, it will help him.”
Maybe it's not actually the dashing billionaire, Christian Grey, we fell in love with one poorly written page at a time, but plain old Ana. Sweet Ana, finally picked first over her cooler, richer, hotter best friend, finally learning how lovely she is, finally knowing she is desirable, and - most of all – finally feeling worthy.
I mean, that still doesn't explain why so many people endured this terrible, awful, painfully bad book. Seriously, why God, WHYYYYY???... It has to be because it gives us the sexy-feel-goods. That's the only reasonable explanation. This dictionary disaster of a book can only have become SO STINKIN' POPULAR because, ladies, when we read about sex, it makes us feel sexy. It makes us want to have sex. And we really like sex! Can I get a AMEN?! Like, can we all please just admit that's true? Say it with me now, “50 Shades of Grey makes us horny!”
We like reading about sex. There. It's said.
Of course, it helped that the type of sex depicted in 50 Shades tested our imaginary sexual boundaries – that certainly made it a more interesting read. But I think Christian Grey's fetish could have been just about anything and, as long as the sex scenes were sufficiently steamy, we would have been ok with it. He could have demanded his woman be slathered in bacon grease, or that she put on a dinosaur costume and wait for him bent over a rocking chair. He could have asked Anastasia to wear a fake mustache while he gave her hickeys with a vacuum cleaner, and we probably would have kept reading. Because whatever. There's nothing wrong with liking weird things in bed. If you are in a healthy, committed, monogamous relationship (admittedly, I'd prefer the word marriage here, but, y'know...), and you've put in the time, effort, and emotion to get to a place where it's safe for both of you to try new things and maybe even explore your limits together, I say go for it. Your bedroom is your business. Go crazy.
The problem with this book is not that it's about rough sex or BDSM or bedroom fetishes, it's that if we want to enter into that kind of space with another human being, we should probably try to get there through mutual trust and relational intimacy. Not in a written contract. Not on a first date. And not under threat of rejection.
There is bullying and abuse in 50 Shades of Grey, but I don't really think it happens in the bedroom. It happens when a rich, powerful, good-looking man exerts his money, power, and good looks to get his way without the permission of the woman he wants to bone. (One example: He takes her beloved, crappy, old car and sells it without her knowledge, replacing it with an expensive new one. Surprise! We're supposed to think this is romantic, but really, it's just bullshit.) Quite frankly, the only way 50 Shades of Grey could have gotten so big is that we consciously chose to ignore the icky underlying message of the story - that a woman should feel grateful to oblige a demanding, controlling, severely broken man if he's hot and rich - because we were too busy enjoying the sexy parts.
Right?! I mean, that has to be it! Otherwise, I DO NOT GET ITS MASS APPEAL.
Whether or not we should be using romance novels as sexual stimulants is gonna have to be a whole other conversation. But the fact of the matter is that most women do get turned on by lit-porn – and not just by the explicit, overly-detailed, frenetically paced descriptions of impassioned sexual encounters, but also by the enduring fantasy of being seen and wanted. That's what most of us are seeking in our own relationships, isn't it? To be truly vulnerable and deeply loved anyway.
That might be the only redeeming piece of this stupid, fucked up story - that what it all boils to in the end is that all of us, women and men, alike -- all the Anastasia Steeles and Christian Greys of the world -- we all share in one great fear and one great need; to be known.
We are all longing for someone we perceive as valuable to look at us and say, “I see something amazing in you and I find it irresistible.”
It's almost as if we were Created to be loved and cherished, and we're all dying to find our worth... but if the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is any indication, we're looking for it in all the wrong places.