A Couple Hundred Shades of Grey

“Today there is no day or night / Today there is no dark or light / Today there is no black or white / only shades of gray…”

This new movie, based on the Twilight-fan-fiction-turned-major-bestseller-but-terribly-written book, has lots of people up in arms, but damned if it isn’t giving me conflicting emotions.50ShadesofGreyCoverArt

The book and film apparently glorify what would legally be considered rape, where Mr. Grey takes advantage of an innocent girl and forces her to do things against her will. Many people are upset about this book (and now a movie) which makes this desirable and appealing to women.

But it is. That’s the problem. There are many women who love this book and its sequels and are dying to see this film. Who am I to criticize them for what they find sexy and attractive?

I mean, come on, there’s plenty of pornography out there that appeals to our worst instincts — things that make me go “What the hell?  Who would ever find that sexy?” but clearly someone does or they wouldn’t be making it. It’s not my job to tell people they can’t watch porno made by consenting adults doing things I would never in a million years find sexy.

…But that stuff doesn’t get financed by the major studios and shown in theaters. It doesn’t show up on the New York Times bestseller lists.

So dammit, I am confused. Someone likes this and wants to see the film and read the books. No one is forcing them to like it;  they really do like it. I don’t want someone judging what I like and telling me I shouldn’t like it. Someone has this fantasy for whatever reason.

There have been plenty of right-wing groups that protest whenever a film has a gay love scene, because they disapprove of it. I certainly don’t want to be like those guys, who want to censor things that don’t match their personal views.

On the other hand, I also don’t think we should let people think this is acceptable behavior. Mr. Grey is clearly the Bad Guy here. The problem is that he isn’t being portrayed as one; instead, some women desire him. Many women, based on book sales.

Sometimes literature is about bad guys and might be told from their point of view. That doesn’t mean we are supposed to agree with them. There have been stories where people get mistreated terribly. That doesn’t mean the person telling the story thinks that is a good thing.

So I’m torn between my dislike of bad messages (and bad writing) and my desire to not censor or criticize what others might want to see.

I think the most important thing to do is to say, “This is a fantasy.  In real life, this would be legally rape” — but I would never stand in the way of those who want to see it anyway.

11 thoughts on “A Couple Hundred Shades of Grey

  1. This is in fact the major peril of trying to address social problems in fictional settings, and the one that creates much of the brouhaha in areas ranging from Racefail to Sad Puppies: how do you separate your disapproval of an idea, or your desire to change things in the real world, from what people want to see/read in fiction, and whether they enjoy those things, that you may think are distasteful or even flat-out wrong, in fictional contexts.

    In this specific area there are entire *subgenres* of such fiction that have been around for a long, long time and have very powerful followings; 50 Shades of Gray is the currently most visible “fantasy rape” fiction entry, but the subgenre is ancient by written standards and has consistently been popular with both males and females (I recall a survey on the subject that showed that a quite high percentage of women had fantasies of events that would qualify as rape — and did not imply that this meant that they would approve of such events in real life as opposed to fantasy, where they could control the outcome). Other such subgenres include the mind-control/hypnosis subculture. More generally, there are a LOT of works that are, basically, fantasies about doing things that we really wouldn’t do, or want others to do, and they are popular (Ringo’s GHOST, for instance).

    In my view? If it’s fiction, leave it the hell alone. Yes, you might be offended by it, and you’re welcome to talk about it or say “I don’t like that stuff because…” and so on, but going any farther than that to say “… and I think we need to do something…” is where the line gets crossed. If you can tell me I can’t or shouldn’t write about X or Y, then I can tell you not to write about A, B, and C. That way lies censorship and control.

    Bottom line: Freedom of speech includes fiction, and does NOT include your right not to be offended, even FROTHINGLY offended, by what someone else writes or likes. And that’s where I get into conflict with people who otherwise I share many views; they want to somehow stop other people from thinking and writing a certain way, about certain things, in FICTION.

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    • To touch another very fragile point: Not everyone acts on their sexual fantasies. I have represented defendants charged with possession of child pornography for instance who have never been even suspected of abusing a child, have made no effort to be close to children, and otherwise (after psychiatric evaluation) were found not to be a threat to children. (DO NOT read this to think I am saying this is OK or that it should therefore be legal. Absolutely not!)

      I am merely agreeing that most women who may have this fantasy would never ever want this to happen in real life. It’s fiction and they know it’s fiction.

      Not everyone who watches those terrible bloody slasher/horror films wants to go out and murder someone, after all.


      • Exactly. While *filmed* or otherwise performed child pornograpy requires action, because that’s real people, real children being harmed, it is not my business to tell someone what they can read or fantasize about as long as they actually aren’t hurting people, and don’t seem likely too. If I don’t think that seeing “Batman” is going to make even a small percentage of the fans go out and become costumed vigilantes (and I don’t), and I don’t think watching “Friday the 13th” is going to make someone become a slasher (and I don’t) , why should I assume that someone reading child porn is therefore automatically going to be a threat to real children, or that women liking a rape fantasy novel means that they approve of and want to be raped in real life? Or, indeed, that it’s even PROMOTING such things in real life?

        I don’t really think it is.


  2. I was never interested in reading the book nor looking at going to see the movie but I have two thoughts on this.

    I watched a talk show where they were discussing the book and talked about the contract between the submissive and the dominate. In this book, was this contract pulled out before or after the first sexual instance that could be considered rape? I find it hard to consider it such if actions were spelled out about what would happen in the relationship (as twisted as it may be).

    Second, one of the classics – Gone with the Wind – had a less graphic or exposed yet no less rape scene in it and I’m sure throngs of women wondered why couldn’t Cary Grant do that to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fiction and fantasy regularly overstep bounds that society has set whether or not the subject matter is sexual – much of the drama and tension in fiction is derived from these moments, much as humor is derived from subverting expectations.

    Several of the sci-fi or fantasy novels I have read depict actions that would at best be considered severe war crimes and in some cases would easily be classified as overt racial genocide. And those were committed by the heroes…

    When we actually get to sexual fiction, an awful lot of it seems to be *specifically* about overstepping bounds. So while I haven’t read a single line of the book in question, I’d be heartily surprised if it didn’t do so. By most accounts I’ve read it’s considered relatively tame. Not sure what the fuss is about.


    • I don’t understand the bondage and discipline crowd; that never interested me … but it seems that they have a “safe word” so that they can pretend to not like it and say “no” but not mean it. In other words, it’s a fantasy about control.

      Isn’t that what this movie is? A fantasy about control? If the woman in the movie had a safe word, wouldn’t the fantasy be ruined then? I mean, no one watching it thinks it’s real, any more than we think actors in action films are really getting shot at. It’s a fantasy.


      • Correct. In real life D&S, control is provided by the agreement and the safeword. In a fictional context, it’s provided by the fact that it’s NOT REAL and the events in the movie unfold “safely” for the viewer and can’t go beyond the script.


      • Yep, that’s pretty much my understanding of the matter as well.

        People are just… really touchy these days. I’m beginning to wonder if the sexual liberation movement has kind of run its course and is starting to turn in on itself.

        It’s like each time we liberalize society and everyone gets a close up look at how complex and psychologically fraught and even how violent human sexuality can be, there’s a sudden panic and people freak out and try to shut it all back in the closet – which doesn’t change anything about it, it just hides it from view until society gets bored and curious and cracks the door for another peek…

        Of course, now we have the internet, so I doubt that it’s going back in the closet no matter how hard people try. Should be interesting to watch.


  4. Pingback: It’s not about the pussy

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