Saturday, February 14, 2015
I have some issues with our current conversation about the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey." I have so many books on my list, many still piled on my night stand, that I'll not be reading the book. Further, I don't do movies, and won't see the film either. In our media soaked culture though, I have heard and read plenty about the book and the movie; whether I wanted to or not. I think we are making a mistake referring to this movie as 'porn.' I am not trying to convince anyone to be pro-porn, but we should be pro adults-making-their-own-decisions-about-what-media-they-consume. We do have plenty of issues about who has access to what, at which age, but that is a different argument than what is or is not acceptable; and especially who gets to decide as much.
Despite how cool we think we are, the United States is a bizarrely puritanical and sexually repressed place. Many other countries have much healthier relationships with their own bodies and a healthier respect for the sexual expression of others. For that reason alone, I am in favor of more nakedness in media.
Most of the repression in this country is an expression of patriarchy. We seem to have a great fear of women expressing themselves in ways that are outside certain small boundaries. This repression serves only to strip woman of their own power and happiness. There is an awesome column about that here. She says "... historically, attempts to delineate “good sex” from “bad sex” have been used to persecute women and queer people... " Ironically, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' was written by a woman. '9 1/2 Weeks,' a movie I mention below, was also based on a book written by a woman.
I don't have any experience with the book, but the movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey," is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America; a very timid and conservative organization. The movie, therefore, simply cannot be 'porn.' We should be very careful of how we use the word. Further, I've read that, for all the hype, Fifty Shades of Grey is actually pretty bland and the sex pretty vanilla, just with strange, shiny accessories. Social conservatives would be happy to expand the definition of what is or is not generally acceptable. They would love to reframe, or rewind, "community standards" according to their own agenda. We cannot let the word 'porn' become a blunt weapon in the culture wars. The consequences of allowing these lines to be redrawn without notice could have broad implications. Remember it was only a few years ago that copyright laws had to be employed to stop a company from editing what they considered the nasty bits, out of Hollywood movies to make them safe for the timid people of the Heartland. Who gave them the right? Who gave them any guidance about which is what?
From what I've read about Fifty Shades of Grey, it seems like a close remake of '9 1/2 Weeks' from thirty years ago. I'm not sure anybody else, besides Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, has noticed. Mickey's character was also a fastidious and controlling rich guy. I haven't seen the movie in a long time, but their escapades started as a fun exploration of each other's limits. Sadly, he was sadistic enough in the end to cause Kim's character a kind of breakdown. The movie was a strange character study about two people trying to out kink each other, but didn't feel like it had broad cultural significance.
Consider the two movie posters. For Fifty Shades, he is practically choking her. For sure, he is in control of the situation. The 9 1/2 Weeks poster, on the other hand, features only Kim Basinger, a woman expressing her own power.
To my mind the worst aspect of the Fifty Shades of Grey, is that in the hyper-ambitious, MBA-infused cultural context of the 21st century, the author felt the need to make the male protagonist even more rich and powerful, and more sadistic. Though I won't see it, the movie seems to be more about the expression of his power and wealth than about sex. To me, power and wealth are much more dangerous afflictions to our society than naked people with whips and duct tape.