Interesting how the noise died down once 50 Shades of Grey finally hit the screens. There was an unending torrent of discussion prior to the release, but I guess the movie didn’t live up (or down) to it’s pre-release hype.
I remember an interview once with Supreme Court Justice David Souter. He was speaking about public debate and open discussion in the media. He said something along the lines of, “In the past when we disagreed on an issue our opponent was merely uniformed or incorrect, now he is evil.”
As I watched and read the debate, I saw all sorts of venom poured out, but very little thoughtful discussion. There were many emotional tirades, but virtually no reason was evident in the majority of the posts. Sure there was plenty of name calling, explicatives and aspersions, and at times it was quite entertaining, but I don’t recall anything that really took the discussion to a higher level.
But at least we were talking . . .
The silence is deafening.
Portions of this were written as a comment on a blog by Teryn O’Brien, “Love, He Told Her (A Poem on Abuse & 50 Shades of Grey)”. After various conversations, it evolved into the following:
I often read things in which I am not the least bit interested as they become popular and talked about in many circles. They give me illustrations and metaphors to use. That led me to read the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games series as well as parts of the first book of the 50 Shades series.
Harry Potter gave me illustrations of perseverance, staying true to your own identity, friendship and loyalty. I was able to talk to a middle school boy about peer pressure using Harry’s first few days at Hogwarts and his interaction with Draco Malfoy. His Cinderella-like experience with the Dursley’s gave plenty of illustrations in being true to who you are and persevering in less than ideal circumstances.
Twilight gave me the picture of Bella who did not understand her worth and the damage it did in seeking it outside herself – not to mention the pain of the “gotta have a guy to complete me” mindset. It was useful in discussing a history that kept a very successful woman trapped in a pit of insecurity. Bella also served as an intro to a conversation about personal identity and external validation not to mention numerous conversations about body image issues.
50 Shades of Grey provides illustrations in brokenness and redemption, but as with the others mentioned above, they have to be tempered with great caution. Often any underlying “good” message of hope or healing is completely obliterated by the overt themes of the story line. It is easy to fall into the humanist fantasy that there is some utopia of self-esteem, mutual acceptance and meaning available to us if we simply become enlightened (that’s socially enlightened which has little to do with actual “truth” or wisdom) when you are desperately searching for love, purpose or meaning.
Here’s the problem:
If the story is read by an emotionally healthy, reasonably mature person, they can very quickly see the traps and blind alleys the philosophies of hedonism and humanism lead into. They have the necessary experience to counter the fantasy with personal evidence. They know who they are, how to show and receive love, their own worth and the value in others. The story does not lead them into danger, because they recognize it for what it is – a fanciful story with a contradictory ending.
Unfortunately, the healthy are not reading it. The ones reading it are those who are searching for identity, love, acceptance, meaning, etc. They look at the pretty girl who got the handsome guy (or the other way around). They so desperately want this to be them and they see a pattern to follow. Many of them actually believe that this is how romance and passion are done. They don’t have any experience with non-sexual physical affection, sacrificial love, mutual submission, truth, authenticity, etc. Having never seeing a contradictory example, they have little hope of being able to see the deception and they blissfully begin their travel into the horror, isolation and insecurity never connecting the resulting pain with the first causes.
For some reason, we have lost the ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality.
The reality is that neither of these characters actually exists and no relationship begun in this manner would reach the conclusion presented by the author. Relationships born of obsession, rebellion or desperation always end badly (sometimes unbelievably, horribly bad). That’s what makes this fantasy/entertainment (albeit poor entertainment) and not a documentary or instructional video. But, for people bred on “reality” TV that isn’t “real”, it is small wonder that they fall for this.
Actually, that’s not fair. They are thirsty, craving something they don’t know, crawling through the desert of their existence, desperate for water. In the end, they drink the sand not knowing any difference.
My wife shared a blog post with me by Miriam Grossman, MD – A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People About “Fifty Shades of Grey”. I recommend you read it in it’s entirety along with a half dozen other posts she has on the subject. She makes the statement:
Years of careful listening have taught me a lot. One thing I’ve learned is that young people are utterly confused about love – finding it and keeping it. They make poor choices, and end up in lots of pain.
I couldn’t agree more.
Confused and abused.
For years I have dealt with the aftermath of poor choices in relationships. I’ve sat with women, ages 15 to 62, who have told me that in their own eyes they are “a worthless piece of shit”. For those of you offended by a Baptist minister using such a word, I simply want to be honest about the self-image of the 7 different women who used that exact phrase in a three week period of time – four drug addicts all from vastly different social circumstances in a recovery program, 1 academically successful college student, 1 grandmother and 1 successful by all outward indicators, mother, wife and professional woman. Seven women, with seven different stories all arrived at exactly the same self-image as the result of relational carnage and all of them involved in abusive relationships.
They just didn’t feel they “deserved” to be loved.
Our media culture makes it clear that a woman has no value until she is attractive to the opposite sex. She can be fabulously successful in the business world but if men don’t fall over themselves to demonstrate their lust, there is something wrong with her. It doesn’t matter if she is talented, beautiful, intelligent or creative, she is never good enough if she doesn’t have a guy. To confuse things even more, she has been sold the lie that love equals obsession which always leads to isolation, insecurity and abuse. And when it doesn’t work, she is left with the message, “There’s something wrong with you.”
It’s not just the girls.
It is definitely far worse for women both physically and emotionally, but men are not exempt.
The young man harms himself at the same time. He robs himself of true intimacy, companionship and respect. I would even say that he abdicates his “manhood”. As he grows up, he stays childish and self-absorbed. Actually, he ages, but he doesn’t “grow up”. Just like a child, the world revolves around him. He demands immediate gratification regardless of the long term consequences. He has no vision for something greater than himself. He becomes a selfish consumer, bolstering his self-importance by berating and abusing others.
A man is not a man until he is responsible for himself and provides for and protects another. Provision is so much more than the stuff we have and protection includes nurturing and empowering those we love. All Christian does is use someone to meet his own exaggerated and distorted needs. That is not something to aspire to.
That isn’t love.
Should you read the books?
Probably not. The movie? Given the inability of the medium to sustain a complex plot, the odds of it portraying any of the redeeming aspects of the storyline (especially since they are sooooooooooo small) are virtually nil.
My heart aches for the young men and women who live their lives according to this pattern – who drink the sand.