Why we love ‘50 Shades’


Adnan Syed / Online Editor

“50 Shades of Grey” …Have you read the book? Have you seen the movie? Have you analyzed and juxtaposed the two to see if character Christian Grey is more abusive or Anastasia Steele more of a sexual agent in the movie than they are in the book?

I hope you have, because I haven’t. I was told in 2012 that “50 Shades of Grey” was a published version of a fan-fiction piece derived ultimately from the “Twilight” series. That fact didn’t dissuade me from picking up the book; I actually enjoyed the “Twilight” series.

What ultimately dissuaded me from reading the book was the promise of an abusive relationship and a complete fabrication of BDSM, which is short for Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism (I know you were wondering). BDSM is prefaced with consent, and the people disparaging the book apparently didn’t believe that Steele was always enthusiastically providing that.

So, believing that the book was regressive and abusive, without reading it of course, I was surprised to see so many people fall in love with the book. The book has sold over 100 million copies since its release and will likely sell even more as the movie adaptations bring in new readers.

“50 Shades of Grey” broke the President’s Day Weekend box office records with a $94.4 million four-day debut. This debut could only be possible with the fandom of women. Many older women, middle-aged women and fellow SLU students all seemed stoked to see the film.

Feminist critiques have again proliferated with the film’s release. One major point they all seem to raise is that Christian Grey’s wealth and influence overshadow the fact that he is abusive and a stalker, and the movie in turn glorifies domestic violence. Their critiques are important; they provide a basis from which people can create their own criticisms of the film and book.

Other critiques, paradoxically coming from men, have derided what they call another example of “mommy porn” for “bored housewives,” to quote Arthur Chu of “The Daily Beast.”

Like Arthur Chu, I’m not about that. I’m not going to critique women – and everyone else – for wanting to read a book or watch a movie that addresses the taboo subject of non-traditional sex. (I read and watched “Twilight”; who am I to judge?) Women should not be critiqued for their individual choices, and it is just as misogynistic to lambast them for making that choice as it is to act like Christian Grey.

I am interested, though, in why these books and films are so wildly popular. Maya Dusenbery of Feministing.com argues: “I am in no way surprised that many women, who have been socialized in a culture in which male sexuality is linked to domination and in which women are taught their sexual power comes from being wanted, have fantasies of submission.” Whether we like to believe it or not, our culture – media, politics and social norms – influences are decisions.

In this culture, men and women are taught to interact with each other in different ways; from the subway to the bedroom, our culture influences men and women’s motions, posture and speech. In the next day or two, think about your actions throughout the day through the lens of dominance or submissiveness; you will be surprised how programmed your normal interactions are, based on your gender identity. “50 Shades” did not create this cultural attitude, though it may help to perpetuate it.

Dakota Johnson, the actress who plays Anastasia Steele, argues: “I know that a lot of people, before seeing the movie, were thinking that it’s promoting abuse and violence, but I think it’s actually doing the opposite … I think she’s a strong woman who is fearlessly exploring herself emotionally and sexually.” If that is truly the case, then this movie can provide a representation of confidence, sexual agency and enthusiastic consent that may be lacking in the book. The movie can also cause people to critically analyze their own lives and how they perhaps unknowingly recreate or deviate from the actions of Grey and Steele.

What I ultimately hope this book and movie can do is promote discussions. While I won’t critique people who watch the film or read the book, I don’t believe that “50 Shades,” or anything else, is mindless fantasy.

This book and film are both derivatives of popular cultural values and contribute to it and therefore must be discussed and critiqued.