I know that by even publishing this post, I’m opening up the floodgates for a tidal wave of criticism, controversy, arguments, hate-mail, fan-mail, support, rejection and just about every other form of agreement or discord. I know that I’ll just be one among the masses writing, speaking, posting, blogging or tweeting about this film. I know I don’t have the readership of an outlet like The New York Times. I know that I’m not even in the target audience for these books or the movie. (Hint: I’m a dude.)
I know. I get it. But, it won’t stop me from doing what I can with the meager platform that I do have. I’ve been hesitant for a while to even write something about this. After all, the outrage from Christians and critics is exactly what the directors and producers want. It’s probably part of their marketing strategy. The more we talk about this thing, the more publicity it gets. In fact, most of the people involved in producing this steaming pile of dog poop would probably thank us. They might even agree with some of our points. They’re just in this to make money anyway.
But, as a Christ-follower and, particularly, as a man, I just can’t let this go. And I can’t sit idly by and watch as tens of thousands of my fellow believers engage in discourse over this film while I say nothing.
So first, a disclosure: I have not, nor will I ever, read the books. Anything that started out as Twilight fan fiction just doesn’t have the potential to appeal to me. Sorry.
Also, I have no plans to see the movie when it releases this weekend. I’ve read over ten articles about the books, spanning multiple points of view, and somewhere around 30 articles about the film. (I lost count around 3:00 a.m.) Several of those articles contained specific excerpts from the book. I realize that, despite hours upon hours of research, I will still be seen as utterly unqualified by some to make any sort of judgment call, assertion or form any kind of opinion about this topic, all because I haven’t read the books or seen the movie. I’ll be accused of being ignorant, close-minded and an all around pompous and egotistical jerk. If you are among those sort of readers, feel free to exit your browser now. It’s that red square with the “X” up in the top righthand corner of your screen. (Or the red circle on the left for my fellow Mac users.)
If you’re still with me, I’ll keep this brutally honest and to-the-point. I ask only that you proceed with an open mind and an open heart. Sound good? Ok then. Onward!
I heard on the radio this morning that the Fifty Shades of Grey series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide since its 2011 release. One-hundred million copies. Why? What is it about these books that’s causing them to fly off the shelves? Why are so many readers, the vast majority of who are women, so enthralled with this series? I thought that, maybe, at the very least, it would be a well-written piece of literature. I mean, if your book sells over 100 million copies, it must be a halfway decent page-turner, right? Then I came across some excerpts from the book, like this one:
“My medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe.”
Yes, that’s actually a line from a bestselling piece of literature. Oh, and here’s another:
“My scalp prickles as adrenaline and fury lance through my body, all my worst fears realized.” … “Before I know it, he’s got both my hands in his viselike grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his lips…His other hand grabs my hair and yanks down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine…My tongue tentatively strokes his and joins his in a slow, erotic dance.”
And then, there’s this:
“My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot.”
Please excuse me while my inner goddess hops to the bathroom to vomit.
Ok, so there’s no way it’s the writing that’s captured so many readers. This is some very cheesy, very laughable and very ridiculous material. It’s got to be something about the actual story and the characters. Surely, there’s something else. I mean, this reads like the sort of dribble you find in airport waiting lounges. Unfortunately, the story and plot are even worse than the amateurish writing. Fifty Shades of Grey is the tale of shy and awkward 21-year-old college student Anastasia Steele, who ends up having to interview tall, dark and handsome 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey when her roommate and best friend Katharine, who writes for the student newspaper, gets sick. But, Grey isn’t just good-looking and successful. He also happens to have a penchant for violent BDSM forms of sex — bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism — which we’re apparently supposed to blame on the abuse he suffered as a child and his experience in a BDSM relationship with one of his mother’s friends when he was fifteen. (Wow.) Without really having to do much of anything, Ana becomes the central focus of Grey’s attraction and, eventually, his obsession. And, even though he's [supposedly] in love with Ana, he constantly struggles with his innate desire to hurt her. (Sounds like a great guy.) There’s whips, handcuffs, shackles, ball gags, lots of spanking and a slew of other sexualized forms of violence and intimacy that are far too graphic to mention — even one incident involving a tampon. (No, I’m not kidding.) Grey’s “Red Room of Pain” (which is honestly nothing more than a sex dungeon) becomes the central location for Ana’s sexual experimentation and where she supposedly discovers her “inner goddess.” (Whatever that means.)
It’s somewhat tragic that this sort of tripe is debuting in theaters on Valentine’s Day weekend — a day when much of America will be celebrating love and romance. It’s tragic because this book and this film really have nothing to do with love at all. This is pornography masquerading as romantic fiction and, unsurprisingly, it has fooled many people — including many professing Christians. Now, if you’re not a Christian, feel free to skip ahead. But, if you are, I would challenge you to consider some things.
The forms of sex depicted in the book (and now the film) are selfish, manipulative and violent. But, true love — Christ-like love — the kind of love we were created for and are called to emulate, sets aside selfish desires and greedy, kinky fantasies and, instead, it sacrifices itself for the good of the other person. (Yes, even in male-female relationships.) We have a picture of real love in Jesus’s death on the cross.
“In this, the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10 ESV)
Books and movies like Fifty Shades of Grey push the idea that love is best when it is sexy, heated, passionate, forbidden, naughty, scandalous, fun and seductive. That’s not what real love is and it’s not what God wants us to fill our minds with. Now, let me be clear: I’m all for creativity between husbands and wives in the bedroom. (Though Christian and Ana aren’t even married.) And sex is meant to be enjoyed. It’s a gift from God. But, BDSM forms of sex and sex-play are more about a focus on pain and personal, selfish fetishes than on the needs and desires of the other person. And remember — love is not self-seeking. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) Anything that takes, rather than gives, just isn’t love — no matter how “pleasurable” it might be. Stop making excuses like, “Well to each his own.” or “Who are you to judge?” Come on, ladies, you’re better than that. You’re smarter than that. Would you let your boyfriends or husbands use these sort of excuses for viewing pornography or lusting after other women? I didn’t think so.
What’s ironic is that the vast majority of these Christian women already know this. I’m not preaching anything new here. So what’s your excuse for indulging in this sort of sinful nonsense? Stick with me, because I have a theory.
Let’s face it: We all know that if Christian Grey was 300 pounds heavier with a beer belly, gorilla-like chest hair, a receding hairline and mustache, this book and movie would flop. In fact, if you replaced actor Jamie Dornan with a guy like this, people wouldn’t see what he does to Ana as “hot and sexy,” it would be sexual abuse. The dude would be arrested and thrown in jail. (Which is really where belongs, but I digress.) But, apparently since he has a six-pack, a pretty face, wears a slim-fit suit, owns a helicopter and is the CEO of a billion-dollar company, he gets a pass. Am I the only one who sees a problem here?
Also, as believers, we’re called to live by a higher set of standards than those of the world — one of which includes the psalmist David’s command and personal value to “set no wicked [or worthless] thing before my eyes…” (Psalm 101:3, KJV and NAS) Yes, I get that this is the cliche verse people toss around when dealing with stuff like pornography and your eyes probably gloss right over it. But, whether you’ll admit it or not, that’s what this film really is: mainstream porn dressed up as a romance (and a sorry excuse for a romance at that.) The film (and book) contains “strong sexual content, including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity.” It has no intrinsic worth or value whatsoever.
But, I get why it’s attractive. It’s alluring. It’s enticing. It sparks your curiosity, pulls you in and before you know it, you’re hooked, heading out to buy the second book and preordering the movie tickets. And I have a feeling it’s not the sex that has most of you coming back for more. In fact, the sex, nudity and BDSM might even be beside the point, although they’re certainly still worth condemning in the strongest way possible.
I mentioned earlier that the book was originally written as Twilight fan fiction. British authoress Erika Mitchell, under the pen-name E.L. James, based her characters and the basic relational premise of the series on Stephanie Meyer’s Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. The parallels between the two, other than the twisted sexual crap, are worth mentioning because they are an important part of why the book became so wildly popular and, more importantly, skillfully deceptive. Fifty Shades of Grey is just Twilight but for an older, more mature audience and devoid of the vampires and werewolves. (Which is probably its only redeeming quality.) I remember the Twilight craze and why the relationship between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen made so many teen and twenty-something girls swoon — she’s the Plain Jane, average-looking sort of girl who attracts the dark, seductive and handsome Edward Cullen who, like Christian Grey, has a morbid secret: He’s really a vampire and has to resist hurting Bella. (You know, by sucking her blood.) Grey’s secret is obviously his obsession with morbid, torturous and pain-inflicting forms of sex and sex-play.
You see, Fifty Shades of Grey is dangerously written in a first-person singular sort of prose which allows the reader to insert herself into the character of Anastasia Steele, thereby giving the sensation of living vicariously through Ana’s experiences and relationship with Christian Grey. And what girl wouldn’t love to be the sole attraction of a handsome and powerful man like Grey without really having to do much of anything — without having to dress seductively, have perfect hair, perfect skin tone, perfect makeup or the perfect body? It’s a reader/character relationship infused with the idea that you don’t have to do anything but be yourself to attract this guy. Never mind that he makes you sign a non-disclosure agreement forbidding you from mentioning anything about your conversations or sexual experiences with him. And of course, like the naive, insecure and curious girl that she is, Ana signs it.
This is really just classic human nature — we all want to be loved and accepted for who we are — and oftentimes our longing for that acceptance, particularly when combined with insecurities or frustrations over past failed relationships, blind us from seeing dangerous warning signs in the relationships we pursue. And until those insecurities or past hardships are confronted in some way, it usually just remains a vicious cycle of let-downs, disappointments and hurt. This might explain why such a large percentage of Fifty Shades of Grey readers and fans are young, single women. But, the truth is, no human relationship will ever be as satisfying as your relationship with God. Underneath its nasty, disgusting exterior, Fifty Shades is really just the story of a girl looking for love, acceptance and redemption — but trying to find it in the wrong place and with the wrong person.
As a Christian man, and really just a man in general, it deeply concerns and grieves me that so many women have been swept off their feet and lured into reading and seeing this garbage. Why would you intentionally, knowingly and willfully put yourself in front of a movie screen that will be showing full-frontal nudity and violent and graphic sexual acts — particularly you Christian women who have a spiritual conscience — thus resulting in the potential for lust and an even deeper subconscious mischaracterization of real love and God’s original design and purpose for sex? You’re playing with fire and you know it. You know it.
Any and every excuse you make for reading these books and seeing this movie is, quite honestly, nothing more than a pathetic attempt to justify a very naive and very foolish choice.
I really wish that I didn’t have to write posts like these. I wish Hollywood would stop churning out putrid crap like this film. I wish people would wise up and stop shelling out money for tickets to watch porn with a bunch of fellow moviegoers. I wish there weren’t a bunch of boyfriends and husbands sitting at home this Valentine’s Day weekend while their girlfriends and wives go see a movie about a sadist billionaire who leads an innocent girl into a sex dungeon and rapes her. (Or maybe these guys will be dragged to the movie and end up having lustful fantasies about Dakota Johnson and what it would be like to have BDSM sex-play with their wives or girlfriends.) And I wish that the women seeing this movie would instead get some help — chat with a counselor or a pastor. I’d bet money that your pastor wouldn’t approve of this book or this movie.
Our culture is on a slippery slope with all of this. The acceptance of exceedingly immoral things always starts slow and deceptively. I’m sure most Fifty Shades fans probably think I’m just a close-minded prude. I know the movie is going to have unprecedented success whether I voice my opinion or not. (It raked in over $8.6 million on Thursday night showings alone — at 2,830 theatre locations — the second highest grossing opening for an R-rated film in movie history, right behind The Hangover: Part II.) I know the sequels will probably double the earnings of this first installment. Heck, there’s already Fifty Shades of Grey sex toy merchandise.
But, none of this should stop me, or us, from calling out evil, sin and filthy, disgusting, dangerous immorality where we see it. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you still have a choice. Even if you’ve already read the books, you still have a choice.
Do your mind and heart a favor this Valentine’s Day and avoid this movie. Don’t fall for the hype or give into twisted curiosity. Spend your weekend with the people you love, reflecting on the real essence of true love. Here's a hint: it doesn't involve handcuffs.