Posts Tagged ‘E.L. James’

Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover“Fifty Shades Darker book cover” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg#/media/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg

I hate to sound like a Puritan.  Believe me, I despise Puritanical negativity as much as the next person.  But there comes a time when one must either call a spade a spade, or cease to speak altogether.

Okay, okay — so let’s start by summarizing the main point of the first post, “Is ‘Grey’ Okay?”  Throughout E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy there is a vague hope of sweet Anastasia “Ana” Steele saving Christian Grey from the sordid world of BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism), but in reality it is he who drags her into his dark world.

Christian and AnaI should, however, modify that conclusion with the admission that Christian and Ana do, in fact, get married by the end of the series.  By the end of the third book, “Fifty Shades Freed,” they have a two-year-old son and a daughter on the way.

The problem is the material itself.  One can get the impression that even granting a BDSM relationship to be a questionable thing, it can lead to a truly intimate and healthy relationship.  I don’t want to make this post too long, so I will just hope that the dubiousness of this premise is obvious to the reader and leave it at that.

But beyond that, let’s be honest about something: The “torture porn” element of the books — and of the film based on the first book — is clearly the selling point.  It is so embedded in the narrative that it cannot be otherwise.  Many readers and viewers are much attracted to this element, seeing in it nothing worse than the proverbial guilty pleasure.

And that’s what troubles me so deeply.

Let me step back a moment.  Why is pornography a problem in the first place?  The problem with pornography — whether involving people having sex or individuals posing naked and in erotic poses — is that it shows too much of the person, right?


As Pope John Paul II once said, the problem with pornography is that it shows too little of the person.  It reduces him/her to the least common denominator, and it renders him/her a spectacle for the pleasure of viewers.

Think about it a moment.  A woman depicted in a pornographic image has no story, no personality, nothing to say, and no purpose other than to stimulate sexual feelings.  She is robbed of her human dignity — in fact, as far as the spectator is concerned, such dignity was never there to begin with.  In other words, for all intents and purposes, there is no person behind the image.

Romeo_and_juliet_brown“Romeo and juliet brown” by Ford Madox Brown – http://www.whataboutclients.com/archives/2009/07/_ford_madox_bro_1.html , museum link. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg#/media/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg

This is not to disparage sexual attraction, by any means.  Sexual attraction is in itself not only good, but fundamental to the identity of human beings.  But its purpose has nothing to do with what one can get out of one’s sexual partner.  It’s purpose, rather, is self-gift.  That is why the sexual act is meant to be reserved for marriage, for the lifelong and exclusive commitment between a man and woman in genuine love for one another.

Seen in the proper light, sex is far from evil or “dirty.”  On the contrary, sex is sacred.  It is perhaps the holiest encounter two people can have with one another in the natural course of human life.  And so when it is wrested out of its proper context, trivialized, and made a spectacle of, it is almost a sort of sacrilege.

Fifty Shades BDSMI would not say that the BDSM style of sex one sees/reads about in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the logical extreme of sex gone wrong (that, of course, would be rape); but it does come close.  Again, remember the contract: Ana is to be an object of use; Christian is to have his enjoyment of her, which enjoyment is going to involve the infliction of pain.

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Next time.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia


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50ShadesofGreyCoverArt“50ShadesofGreyCoverArt” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg#/media/File:50ShadesofGreyCoverArt.jpg

I am not in the habit of commenting on movies I haven’t seen, nor on books I haven’t read.  But the buzz that the recent film adaptation of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” has generated compels me to make an exception.

The massive commercial success of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy and of the film based on the first book, the “Fifty Shades”-themes menus at popular dining establishments, and the fact that even children’s toys are clothed with Christian Grey attire speak to the fact that the time has long passed since “Fifty Shades” was merely a story.  If it ever was so, it has long since become a phenomenon.

Okay — so I haven’t seen the movie or read the books.  I have, however, read the synopses online, so I can offer some very basic commentary based on what I know of the overall story.  I will begin by reflecting on some of the positive aspects, before proceeding to offer what I consider to be some much-needed criticism. fifty-shades-of-grey-dakota-johnson1College senior Anastasia Steele (portrayed by Dakota Johnson in the film) meets wunderkind business tycoon Christian Grey during what can best be described as an accidental journalism assignment.  In short order, she is drawn into his dark and shady (no pun intended) world of BDSM (short for bondage/discipline and sadomasochism).  Eventually, he has her sign a contract to the effect that their relationship will not entail romance or commitment; she is to be an object for his pleasure, and nothing more.

All that said, literary person that I am, I’d like to play the same “name game” that I played in my commentary on “Frozen.”  If you think I’m reading too much into it, all I can do is ask you to bear with me. fifty-shades-clip2The name “Anastasia” means “resurrection.”  As such, it is an appropriate name for the sweet, beautiful, innocent young virgin who comes into the life of this seductive and dominating tycoon (played by Jamie Dornan in the film) with twisted fetishes.  I think what many of the women who read James’ novels admire in Anastasia’s character is the desire to “save” him — to draw him out of the dark underworld he has built for himself and for his lovers, and back into the light.  Indeed, she does seem to hold onto hope that he will eventually relent in his determination to keep their relationship out of the realm of genuine affection.

If Anastasia’s name is interesting, her nickname is even more so.  Many women with the name Anastasia go by Stacy for short, but James decided to shorten her protagonist’s appellation differently: Ana.  That name means “grace” — which, among other things, can refer to unmerited favor aimed at another person’s betterment.  Surely this should remind us of the aforementioned point. But it is even more interesting when we meet Christian’s mother, whose name is…wait for it… Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-17-Marcia-Gay-HardenGrace.

So Ana shares with Christian’s mother the same name, but couched within “resurrection.”  It is as if she hopes to do what Christians mother was, for whatever reason, unable to do.

And that brings us to how Christian got into this lifestyle to begin with.  When he was fifteen years old, he was seduced by a woman named Elena Lincoln.  Unbeknownst to Christian’s parents, Elena drew him headfirst into the realm of BDSM sex — only she was the dominant partner in this case.

This is very telling.  At a young and relatively vulnerable age, Christian had a sexual experience in the form of being dominated.  We could perhaps infer that his sordid activities as an adult bespeak a subconscious quest to regain and reassert his compromised masculinity. helen of troy“Helen Moreau” by Gustave Moreau – World Gallery; see also Maguire, Helen of Troy, 41. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Helen_Moreau.jpg#/media/File:Helen_Moreau.jpg

Back to the “name game” a moment: Elena is a variant of Helena or Helen, which immediately brings to mind Helen of Troy, the proverbial “face that launched a thousand ships” during the Trojan War.  The name itself means “light,” but it is clearly a false light in the cases of both Helen of Troy and Elena Lincoln — a light that distracts and leads to ruin, as opposed to one that enlightens and leads to life.  So Christian’s dark sexual escapades are bookended by two women: Elena — false light — and Anastasia or Ana – resurrection and grace.

But there is a problem: Rather than being Christian’s salvation, Ana becomes another one of his conquests.  Rather than him being rescued, she is corrupted.  This gives us our segue into my more “negative” comments on the story’s subject matter.

Next time.

Top image from Wikipedia; movie stills obtained through a Google image search

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