Why I can’t wait to see 50 Shades of Grey. (article)
Of all the reasons you will read about why not to see 50 Shades of Grey – and there will be many as everyone thinks their armchair two cents is the most valuable in this debate – the most important question to ask is why people, men and their female sympathisers in particular, hate it so much. Forget the banal oversimplistic justifications such as its too porny or it justifies rape or its original text is badly written, for these are criticisms that can be aimed toward at least ten male-sympathetic films a year, and in the case of this particular film they are easily refuted.
Instead, ask yourself why this film, above all others raises your gall and the gall of the men around you so viciously? If you are one of the broad thinkers for whom 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t raise your ire, then enjoy the next month as we watch the internet explode with hatred and vilification for this very ordinary film. My simplistic explanation at this stage is that it is an unapologetically female-centric film… even more so than the Twilight series, and far more so than anything with male-approved female leads such as The Hunger Games or The Divergent series. The 50 Shades of Grey book was, in part so successful because a middle-aged housewife wrote her honest-to-goodness fantasy down, in all its simplistic foolishness and was brave enough or possibly naive enough, to publish. Her stripped back honesty tapped into the fantasies of millions of middle class housewives (and many other women) and women all over the world in an act of astounding subversion, took up the book and defended their right to read it against the most virulent and strident verbal attacks against their intelligence, their rights as consumers and their assumed stupidity. I’m not suggesting they suffered – Christian Grey made sure no woman suffered while enjoying that book – it is just that the book appealed to the worst female stereotypes, and women gleefully revelled in it.
Which should tell us something about those stereotypes and the way we look down on them, not about the book itself. Women have a right to enjoy and pay for 50 Shades of Grey, in the same way men have the right to enjoy the countless COUNTLESS bad films that affirm the worst of male stereotypes that have been at best appropriately maligned (hello every Michael Bay film) or at worst embarrassingly and inappropriately celebrated (hello first Hangover movie) or the 300 movie franchise or … I can go on and on and on for there are so many! Women are as entitled to their crap as men are, and just like we don’t assume everyone who watches The Hangover carries roofies, we shouldn’t assume women can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. However, 50 Shades of Grey does something even more subversive than just provide women with film-candy. What it does, is contribute to a commentary on what women actually do want in a man, and it is this, I contend, that hurts men to the point of taking out a ludicrous verbal revenge.
Now, before you all swamp me with comments stating Christian Grey is not what you want, let me remind you we are dealing in stereotypes here, and a stereotype, if anything at all, is a universal claim that is almost never accurate in the individual. The very nature of a stereotype, from ‘all men love sex,’ through to ‘all women love shoes’ is, the truth of it exists only in cultural phenomenon and not in the day-to-day machinations of imposing reality. To support my point, let me suggest the ‘men love sex’ stereotype. Men will always “say” they love sex, because it reaffirms their status as a man and to “come out” about sex instantly maligns a male as a deficient – never expect men to be honest about this, particularly if there is another man in the room. However, countless psychological studies have proven beyond doubt that male sexuality is a complex thing that includes premature ejaculation, impotence and other performance issues that profoundly affect all men at some point in their life. In fact, the reverse is more likely to be true – men love a certain kind of image of sex, but when it comes to on-on-one physical intimacy with another human creature, they are regularly profoundly confronted, confused and afraid.
This doesn’t mean the stereotype isn’t true, this means it is only true to an extent and at a certain level. What 50 Shades of Grey does, is invent a male that fulfils the stereotyped category of what women want in a man. The bare bones truth of the situation is, that a real life Christian Grey would inspire feelings of inadequacy and fear in any woman, but at the fantasy level, he is an ultimate man who knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and is then ruthlessly true to his initial desire. Yes he’s handsome, yes he’s rich, yes he’s into hot kinky sex that teeters on the edge of the forbidden – but all of that is secondary to Christian Grey’s ruthless self-awareness, his committment to what ever he wants, and his courage to self examine. (Not to mention his passion for making her cum while she lays back and does nothing) Christian Grey is the impossible male who is powerful on the inside, something women suddenly not-so-secretly lust after.
Competing with this impossible stereotype projection is the same thing women have been dealing with – the fantasy of the flawless female that commits to the macho man – for decades. The way to recognise 50 Shades of Grey‘s importance is in the hysterical vilification it incites in men, and this is evidence of its cultural value as a subversive piece of freedom of speech. Because we’re so used to seeing the ultimate female portrayed as the norm, and every other female on the planet is the exception, we forget that Mikaela Banes, all those Bond women and Artemesia are already the male versions of Christian Grey. The feeling men get when they see women falling for Christian Grey is the same one women have had to live with for years.
So eat it up cranky boys! I’ll be going along to pant after Christian with all my sisters. And to the women who scuttle after male-sanctioned standards of “good” and “intelligent” by claiming they hate this film, consider siding with your sisters on this one. If you really feel you can’t, take those same men to task when they approve of comparable male versions of this film like The Hangover. The boy’s radar is off on this one – they can’t see past their insecurities.
So, to the thinkers among us (female and male) enjoy the hysteria, enjoy the hype and watch in wonder at the anger this film manages to incite around you even as you try to ignore it. I’ll be doing my level best not to get caught up in it – I swear if I read or hear another idiot suggest this film incites rape I will strangle them – and I will probably head down to a secret forum where I can discuss the film in privacy with my feminist sisters who love women and seek to understand their foolishness as much as their greatness. Enjoy the delicious paradox of the Valentines Day screenings, and the ugliness inherent posited against the polish in the Christian Grey archetype. Celebrate the romance novel tradition, and recognise its right-wing foolishness, even as you indulge playfully. Most of all, play safe and happy peoples, and have a fun, cheeky time.