Three Questions No One Is Asking About the ‘Fifty Shades’ Phenomenon

February 11, 2015

My social media feed has been filled to capacity lately with commentary on the impending release of Fifty Shades of Grey.Fifty_Shades_of_Grey_1

And if you keep the kind of online company that I do, it’s largely negative. For good reason, I think.

A few of the radio stations in town (the top 40 kind that are always giving away prizes) have been giving away tickets all week. One morning DJ in particular is always excited about everything, whether it’s Miley Cyrus or Transformers or some other piece of cultural sludge. It’s almost comical, really. So of course, he says, “I’m not going to lie, I’m really excited to see this movie.” I think it’s his job to be excited about everything, but I honestly don’t see how a self-respecting man, much less a man in media can publicly declare his excitement for a movie like this. It sounds…emasculating.

I don’t know what kind of man would take his wife or girlfriend to see this movie. That sounds even more emasculating. And I really don’t know what kind of man would be comfortable with his wife going out with her girlfriends to see the movie. That sounds really really emasculating. Even though the movie is not really about sex (it’s about taboo behavior), it still sounds emasculating.

But rather than retreading the same observations about the glorification of violence against women, et. al., that others are making more eloquently, it would be better if we asked some other questions. Because Fifty Shades is hardly the first of its kind. And it won’t be the last.

What Is the Big Deal Anyway?

Why is Fifty Shades such a phenomenon?

It’s not like it’s the piece of literature of its kind. Sure, it has a unique place in this history of erotic chick lit. But there is an ocean of that stuff.

In some ways, the book (and now the movie) just got lucky. The stars aligned for it to reach the audience that it has. But the book is popular for the same reason that every other book or movie of its kind is popular…

Because human beings like to fantasize.

We like to dream of being someone else, being somewhere else, of doing things that we know would not be permissible in our own real lives. We fantasize about quitting our jobs or traveling. We live vicariously through superheroes or love stories. And we like taboo, though we would rather keep it secret.

So rather than answering the question what’s so bad about the movie, maybe we should be asking what’s wrong with our own lives? Why do we desire this fantasy so much?

Husbands, we are long past the era of men telling their women what to do. If you are concerned about your wife seeing the movie, why don’t you ask why? Why does she have this need in her life? Is her life so boring, so monotonous, so unbearable, that she needs this outlet for fantasy? (Again, women’s need for fantasy may not just be sex, since this movie is not really about sex.)

What Are We Really Fantasizing About?

Much has been made about the book and film’s depiction of violence, or the introduction of “power” into a relationship. We don’t normally think about “power” being a factor in loving relationships anymore.

So maybe a question we ought to be asking is why are so many people enraptured with fantasies about power? Why do so many people find it appealing to dream about hurting someone else, or being hurt by someone else?

I don’t know the answer to that one.

But I know that the world is becoming a less nice place.

I know that our world is one where people seem to feel less empowered, rather than more empowered. Increasingly, we believe that the world is out of our control. Our culture, our politics have run away from our command. We think we determine less and less of our own destinies. The world is less peaceful, less stable, less predictable in the 21st century than it used to be…

At least it feels that way.

And the internet has increasingly become a place where people go to act out their fantasies of being in control, or at least hurting each other. Anonymous people get together to flame one another, to stalk and berate people they disagree with. A person cannot express a personal decision online without being slammed and shamed and mocked by anonymous hordes. We are not becoming nicer or more civil or more open-minded. We are becoming worse, as we demand that everyone else agree with us, become like us, or be silenced.

Abusing one another is not just a fantasy. It’s a hobby for more and more of us.

What Do People Really Want?

Finally, I ask when was the last time you saw such a monumental reaction to a story?

The internet is becoming more and more a hotbed of sensationalist stories with headlines like “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” and other lies to get our attention. Why should Fifty Shades get our attention? It will, after all, fade back into obscurity. People will see it, and like all things, become bored with it.

If we are so afraid of what Fifty Shades represents, then why don’t we do something better to get people’s attention?

Why don’t we practice some radical forgiveness?

Why don’t we lay down our positions of power in a radical way?

People will always fantasize, but I wonder if people experienced from us the kind of love that Jesus showed to people, that they wouldn’t feel the need so much to dream of another life.

I wonder if people would lose interest in all the stuff floating around us every day.

The world pretends that love is many things. It’s not greeting cards. It’s not hugging strangers in exchange for free food (thank you very much, McDonald’s). But I wonder if it would be possible to make a world where people didn’t bat an eye at something as trivial, as passe, as boring as Fifty Shades of Grey.

2 responses to Three Questions No One Is Asking About the ‘Fifty Shades’ Phenomenon

  1. Thanks for bringing a perspective I hadn’t seen yet.
    Lucie recently posted..In Which I Remember That It’s Christmas