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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Editorial: Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Really Skeevy.

Editorial: Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Really Skeevy.


This is Murphy. I have a dead horse here – I believe it's a Shetland pony – and a paddle. It works on two levels, because it both represents how I'm retreading ground tread over by many reviewers and critics before me, and an activity that would probably give Christian Grey a tingly feeling in his elbows.

So, you've probably heard by now: A trailer for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is out, and it's – well, it looks like a horror film, as Nine Over Five's Reecey aptly pointed out to me. Which is fitting, really, because that's pretty much what Fifty Shades is. Horror. Unintentionally, but horror all the same.

I'm not really talking about the writing style and quality, although Heaven knows that's really quite awful. What I'm really thinking about is the relationship between Christian and Ana. Not the BDSM: If there's anything the people who see how problematic their relationship is – which is most people – can agree on, it's that the fairly tame BDSM is not really the issue here.

What is the issue is that the BDSM is kind of a smokescreen here for actual abusive behaviour, because people can point at said abuse and go 'Oh, no, it's just BDSM,' when it isn't, really.

So, let's break down into five points exactly what some of the many, many issues with Christian and Ana's relationship are.

1. Christian is jealous and controlling to the point of obsession.

No! The Italics Person who represents a bizarre caricature of anyone who disagrees with me cries. He's just protective and an alpha male! It's a really common trope in romance novels!

Okay, yes, it is a really common trope in romance novels. A lot of male romance protagonists are bizarrely and oddly jealous, and it's an uncomfortable trend, but sure, okay, people enjoy in fiction a lot of things they don't want to see in real life.

Christian takes it to an entirely new level, though. Christian is meticulous in isolating Ana from any man she might be acquainted with or, god forbid, friends with. Christian is nearly as meticulous in isolating Ana from any women she might be acquainted or, god forbid, friends with. One of the first things Christian does is essentially deprive Ana of the ability to talk to her friends about her relationship with Christian – and not just with the cudgel of anger or emotional distance, but with actual legal threats.

Not only that, but Christian will whine and nag and get angry and basically use any tool at his disposal to control what Ana eats, what she drinks, what she wears and where she travels. He takes pains to make sure she is always available for him to contact, and berates her when she doesn't immediately reply.

But even these don't seem to be enough for Christian, as he also refuses to permit Ana any space of her own. His desire to control her is so all-consuming that he invades her workplace, her home and, when she tries to escape to her mother's to get some space, her mother's home. Christian makes it very clear very early that Ana has no freedom, no space of her own, and nobody else in her life.

That alone is pretty terrifying.

Methinks Christian is insecure about his rooster.

2. Ana is terrified of Christian, and unable to give informed consent.

Anastasia Steele thinks that when people say 'sleeping together', they literally mean sleeping together.

She's a virgin, and the narrative's focus on that is weird, I think they spend more time talking about her virginity than the Bible does talking about the Virgin Mary's virginity, but you know, everyone is a virgin at some point. That's not really the problem.

The problem is that at the start of the story, Ana knows nothing about sex. She barely knows what it is. She's had nearly no romantic or sexual attachment to anybody beforehand, she doesn't even seem to know the biology of how it works, she's so painfully innocent she doesn't understand euphemisms, and now she's entering into a 24/7 BDSM relationship with a man she's just met.

But you know what, fine. Fiiiine. No problem. Except Ana is also terrified of Christian, and that alone would make her unable to give informed consent, because she clearly feels threatened, and given the above two points, who can blame her. She won't tell him about going to a friend's show because she doesn't know if it'll make him angry. She's nearly constantly crying about this relationship. She's confused and uncertain about his behaviour, and she can't predict how he'll react to things. She can't talk to her friends about it. She can't talk to anyone about it.

She is terrified of this man. 

"But Christian, why do you want to rub chilli powder onto
Mr. Snuggles?"

3. Christian is mercurial and hypersensitive.

Here's a fun game: Count the times Christian angrily berates Ana for asking if he's gay. She doesn't ask him often, incidentally – once as part of a set of rather weird interview questions written by somebody else, and I think maybe once more. But Christian brings it up frequently, and angrily. He can't seem to let it go. How dare somebody think he is gay? How very dare they? He seems utterly preoccupied by it.

Which would be weird, but it ties in to Christian's general moods. Any time somebody expresses that they don't agree with him, even if it's just on an opinion about something fairly minor, like food and drink, he takes it as a personal attack. He gets angry or morose. He tries to compel them to change their minds. Where almost anyone would just brush it off, Christian seems to be deeply insulted by anyone disagreeing with him about anything.

Ana is almost constantly walking on eggshells around him, because anything – literally anything – could cause Christian's demeanour to change from happy to angry to melancholy, and it's always her fault if it does, and he always takes pains to drag her mood down with his when he's down. Lots of people, especially people with mental health problems, can have sudden mood swings. I have sudden mood swings. But Christian weaponises his mood swings to try and lower other people's moods, and lacks any kind of self-awareness or sense of personal responsibility for his moods, and that's a lot more problematic.

... Um ... How do I make a pun here ... Christian is dogged in his
pursuit of ... no, that's not going to work ...

4. Other people start to notice that something's wrong.

Everyone eventually gets on the Christian-Is-Awesome train – spoiler – which is weird, because in the early parts of the story, people notice that there's something wrong. They really notice. Ana's mother notices that she's becoming withdrawn and is so often upset. Her flatmate notices, and realises it's because of Christian.

Everybody notices. We're meant to believe this is some kind of great, tumultuous love affair that makes Ana feel alive and alluring and so in love, et cetera, but that's not the impression either the audience (hopefully) or the other characters seem to get, because Ana shows all the signs of somebody trapped in an abusive relationship and slowly dying of it.


5. Christian Grey's idea of BDSM is not Safe, Sane or Consensual.

Hey, guys, you know why people involved in BDSM have safe words? It's because enthusiastic consent is really important, and if you've decided beforehand that 'Elephant' means 'no', then one party screaming elephant is a good sign that they want to stop, get dressed, and maybe watch some Dumbo.

When Ana remembers to use her safe word – she doesn't, at first – Christian ignores her. At that point, it's not safe, because if Ana is in danger and asks him to stop, it's clear he won't. It's definitely not consensual, because Ana has just asked him to stop, and withdrawn her consent, and he hasn't stopped. It's not sane, because for all Christian knows she could be in serious danger, and he doesn't seem to care.

Christian is a terrible dom in large part because he's a terrible person, and Ana is a terrible sub because she's not doing this for fun, she's doing this because she is literally a doormat who barely knows what sex is and is being taken apart by a predatory man who is probably a serial killer.

I give up. I just give up.

So, yes. By all means, this trailer should look like a horror film, because Fifty Shades of Grey is horrifying. If you want to reproduce the experience of watching this film, just do what I'm going to do: Get a dead horse, beat it for a bit, and then on release day, cut open its stomach and sew yourself inside for two hours while the hits of Nickelback play.  

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