Fifty Shades of Confused

February 04, 2015
50 Shades of Grey Movie Essay
Excluding a few excerpts, I had no idea what the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon was in 2011. Anastasia Steele is swept off her feet by a control freak and "BDSM" millionaire Christian Grey. It sounded like nothing special. Yet the series pulled in sales by the hundreds of millions, attracted genuine readers, usually moms, and curious folk. Parodies and celebrity readings popped up all over while quotes haunted aspiring writers. Criticism of E.L. James was less than favorable, and for the adult world of literature, the buzz for her series was as big as the magical obsession we all had towards J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

What would a series where the author and editors copied and replaced the names Bella and Edward from Twilight into a literary sensation have anything to do with me?

Three years later when the first movie teaser was released mid-2014, a little inkling of curiosity sprung out of nowhere. My excuse, was: HUH. I like the trailer. *fifty views later* Okay, I really like the trailer. Maybe in February I'd want to see the movie. Well, if I see the movie, I have to read the books. OMG, FIND ME THE BOOKS. THE MOVIE IS COMING OUT. I NEED IT NOW.

If you follow me online, and put up with my incessant reblogs, you are well-aware of my current obsession with Fifty Shades of Grey. But, call me Fifty Shades of Confused. I still don't know how I became obsessed with this series (mostly, the movie).

I read the books (all 1620 pages, poor me) in less than six months. When I finished, I came away with a new understanding but also still badly declared I needed a  I Survived Reading Fifty Shades of Grey t-shirt. My reaction (not really the gif above) was mostly just stumped.

It's no secret: the writing is atrocious. E.L. James is not capable of capturing well-rounded, sane, emotionally healthy characters in either Anastasia Steele or Christian Grey. How a popular fanfiction went from internet sensation to literature, and now film, history is beyond science.

I mean, there's sex. Lots of it. So, what's with the sex? Sex is sex. Some of it was hot. Some of it not so much, almost veering on creepy stupid, and even tiring since the relationship is not founded on compatibility in personality or interests. 95% of Steele and Grey's affair is not romantic because they jump each other whenever there is a lull or "intense" moment of conversation. Hardly, the basis for a catch-fire series.

Steel and Grey's relationship was an emotional vacuum of psychological red flags perpetuating endless tournaments of humping. Enough of it is generic to attract the boring reader, or for therapists to dissect what is wrong with these characters for the rest of their careers.

Christian is controlling, abrasive, and withholds an emotional connection until he gets what he wants physically. Controlling as Christian is, Ana is equally nutso: fervently jealous of everyone that looks at "her man". Not to mention the thirty sub-conscious/inner goddess personalities she always looks to for validation. Passed all of the chapters where they go at it like rabbits, or emotionally abuse each other, both of them are basket cases but offer characteristics that make them durable. Like, instead of love or hate, seems to be enough these days to get people talking about a book or a show, and for that word of mouth to make its notoriety bigger and more hyped up than the material itself.

Debates about how BDSM is misrepresented, rape culture, abusefeminismchild molestation brings more attention, Is it a love story? and so much more. It's impossible to even dissect the layers of issues I agree and disagree, and how they're poorly presented and examined in the books. If you have the time, this one is my favorite, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one.

Beyond the sex, poor writing, and development, the series is overrated. James' relationship is nothing to be hypnotized by, at least for me. Between a bad line here and there, and a scope of psychological issues that could be analyzed if wanting to delve further than the surface-level smut, it's readable but it's not for everyone.

Did I mention the writing is deplorable, atrocious, horrendous? For all the lines of dialogue and descriptions that are analyzed over the series for abuse or manipulation, I honestly can't believe anyone takes the series seriously. The story is exaggerated with mind-numbing grammar, repetitive use of synonyms, and it's complete lack of realistic development between Christian and Ana.

A fact that most people overlook with the series is that it is based on Twilight, as it was previously written as a fanfiction titled Master of the Universe. Millions of young teenage girls and moms were head over heels for Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer's series went under the radar for the most part. The world was more concerned with Robert and Kristen's on-screen romance than the potentially damaging effects the series would have on teenagers that a young woman loses her virginity to a dead guy because he can't control himself unless she becomes what he needs her to be. Real romantic.

If we're going to put Fifty Shades of Grey under the microscope, we should demand more from other genres such as romantic comedies, one that's dismissed as unimportant. Many films provide toxic ideals to young women where limited "representation" are sexualized starved college students, desperate moms not able to handle their schedule-packed lives, desperate women choosing between a career or a guy, or "Cool Girls" who always fall in love with the Seth Rogen she could never land in a million years.

Commercials. Music videos. Literature. Television Shows. Movies. Magazines. Reality shows. The Bachelor and Bachelorette. They all dictate women's behaviors and sexuality in perspective to a man other women they have to compete against. If we're going to start an internetz battle against Fifty Shades, we can't end it there because misogyny exists - period.

Did we need another trashy novel that adds to the already sexist material so ingrained in our culture? No, but it's out there. The best we can do is talk with younger adults and ensure they understand perimeters of sex and healthy relationships; we can talk to women without condemning or dumbing them down.

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So I tried to figure out what made the series so popular and controversial versus what my investment in the series was.

Objectively, I believed women were looking for an outlet: an erotic one, a cheesy one, or catching up with everyone else. From what I've seen it was a letdown or a fun read. Fifty Shades was "publishable material", and yet ironically, the behavior towards the series acts as if millions of adults don't seek porn or the same kind of mature fiction in their own homes or with consensual partners. The books venture beyond the masses knowing but not really caring about chick lit or Danielle Steel's work, and as erotic literature broke out of the mold into pop culture and social media.

Some women read and enjoyed the books, saw it beyond the BDSM or anger issues Christian has. Some women felt Ana establishes power play in her own sexual identity in the later books rather than all of the anti-BDSM hoopla circulating the first book. Some women felt deprived in their own relationships and was fulfilled by Grey’s attention to Ana from emotional and materialistic to bedroom fantasies. Some women before reading the series will always feel it's their responsibility to cast aside a man's tortured past and dig beyond the brooding exterior. Some women were turned off by Christian's issues that were played off as a romantic quest for Ana to heal him. There were fifty shades of readers who love or detested this series.

On my end, the series fell into my lap when I didn't have any other major fandoms going on. Television shows lost their luster or had comfortably moved their way out of my life. Movies lacked exciting or hardcore fulfillment, as hard as I tried to get into Divergent and as hyped up I was for The Fault in Our Stars. Fifty Shades happened to fit the bill.

Now, this is when the movie comes in. It's perfectly cast (though I imagined Theo James a little more as Christian). Director Sam-Taylor Johnson is trying to do the film justice, and hopefully, the studios allowed her to accomplish that.

Part of me wants to see it because it'll be refreshing from the onslaught of superhero franchises, YA dystopias, sci-fi blockbusters, typical romantic comedies, popular indies, or heavy-handed dramas.

Part of me wants to see it in defiance of comments I've read online and heard on the radio of guys suggesting to hang out around theaters playing 5Fifty Shades because chances are women will be horny enough to go home with them. When women are sexualized in every medium imaginable around the world a million times over twenty-four seven, I get a little peeved that people assume our sexuality is wrapped up in whatever men deem is worthy of to ignore, make fun of, or take advantage of. I'm an adult. I can choose to see whatever I want.

Maybe Fifty Shades strove towards me and I didn't know what to expect. But I gave it chance, I analyzed the whole Grey/Steel relationship, and on some level, after recognizing the books aren't good, I genuinely enjoyed itsy-bitsy parts of them: in total, like fifteen lines of dialogue or description. For someone who understands the intricate layers of the series' problematic nature, I mindfully gauge why I'm seeing the movie and don't need to be subjected to other peoples' opinions about why or why not I should see it. Because I already know. Maybe, my tastes have become very singular: Jamie Dornan. Shirtless. In High Def. On the big screen. Nothing wrong with that.

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