Boy! There have been so many essays, blogs, podcasts, and other responses to the book and movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. This book, at one point, was selling two copies every second. It’s sold over 100 million copies so far! The movie’s opening four-day weekend made over 90 million in revenue! What is extremely clear is that this book and movie appeals to a very, very large segment of the population.
To be clear, I haven’t read the book or seen the movie. Partly because it wouldn’t help my mind/heart to see so much nudity. I’m a Christian and Christians care much about purity, or what we call, “holiness.” To help myself not lust, it’s easier if I just stay away from it altogether. Another reason I’ve avoided it is because I’ve heard and read repeatedly that it’s just an awful movie (i.e., in its script, acting, etc.). And I hate wasting my time (and money!) on awful movies.
But, I have read many reviews of the movie and have seen several interviews from the actors and writer concerning the movie. So, I’m convinced that I have a firm grasp of the contents of the movie. . .enough, at least, to make some reflections on the movie, and more importantly in this post, some reflections on how people have responded to the movie.
This last sentence was important. I’m mostly concerned with reflecting on people’s responses to the movie.
For example: There is one article that is circulating widely online (shared about 500,000 times so far), by Miriam Grossman, MD. It’s entitled, “A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey.” You can read the full article here: http://www.megmeekermd.com/2015/02/a-psychiatrists-letter-to-young-people-about-fifty-shades-of-grey/
Dr. Grossman suggests that this movie “promotes” six “dangerous ideas” in the male character, Christian, and the female character, Anastasia:
“1. Girls want guys like Christian who order them around and get rough.” Dr. Grossman said that a “psychologically healthy woman avoids pain.” And that “she dreams about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.”
“2. Guys want a girl like Anastasia who is meek and insecure.” Dr. Grossman says that this is “false” as well because a “psychologically healthy man wants a woman who can stand up for herself.” He wants a woman who can correct him when needed.
“3. Anastasia exercises free choice when she consents to being hurt, so no one can judge her decision.” Dr. Grossman says that this logic is “flawed” because the decision is still wrong because the behavior is self-destructive.
“4. Anastasia makes choices about Christian in a thoughtful and detached manner.” Dr. Grossman finds this statement “doubtful.” Why? Because the male character, Christian, gives Anastasia alcohol, because they have sex early in their relationship, and because he manipulates Anastasia into signing a contract.
“5. Christian’s emotional problems are cured by Anastasia’s love.” Dr. Grossman says this so-called “cure” only happens in the movies.
“6. It’s good to experiment with sexuality.” Dr. Grossman says this one is a “maybe.” But who can experiment with sexuality? Dr. Grossman says, “adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogomous relationship, AKA “marriage”. Otherwise, you’re at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault.”
I have a few reflections on Dr. Grossman’s reflections, regardless of whether or not she’s a psychiatrist.
First, Dr. Grossman’s insistence (and every other blog I’ve read on this issue shares the same view) that this movie “promotes” these ideas is at minimum, bizarre to me. If this fictive story is accused of “promoting” certain values and behaviors, then every single movie, song, poem, book, blog, essay, or anything ever communicated in any form is “promoting” values and behaviors.
OK, fine. But is that what we must believe about all art, narrative, song, or movie? In the movie, Independence Day, Will Smith killed a bunch of aliens. Did that movie promote killing aliens? In the recent movie, Kingsman, secret agents kill a bunch of people (I just saw this movie). Does this movie promote murdering people?
I simply don’t see why this movie has been singled out among all movies, books, songs, etc., as “promoting” something when so many other movies never get scathing reviews of other values and behaviors that are clearly immoral. Where was the outrage at the murder, lying, stealing, and other values and behaviors in the movie, Goodfellas? Where is the outrage of all the death in the movie, Kingsman? Where is the outrage in nearly every single movie that is released today that supposedly “promotes” lying, stealing, murdering, affairs, gossip, etc.? Hollywood is pumping out filth every weekend and there is no outrage at all.
If Fifty Shades were a sermon, I’d concur: it would be “promoting” certain values and behaviors. If Fifty Shades were a documentary attempting to persuade an audience, I’d concur. But it’s neither. It’s a fictive movie. And I don’t know one fictive movie I’ve ever seen (that wasn’t released by a Christian studio) that didn’t “promote” at least some unchristian, immoral values and behaviors.
Where is the outrage on them all? Do we ban them? Why didn’t Dr. Grossman plead—beg—us all not to see all those other movies like she does with this one?
Maybe it’s because she thinks this movie is exceptionally pernicious. Perhaps. But that leads to my second point.
Secondly, her final point about experimenting with sex as safe within marriage utterly subverts her entire post. I was shocked to read it! If this movie, and its supposed values and behaviors that it’s "promoting" are so overwhelmingly dangerous, then how in the world does marriage make it OK?
According to her post, if a husband wants to do the things Christian does, he’s an immature deviant. If the wife wants to do the things Anastasia does, she’s a manipulated, self-destructive deviant. I guess if they’re married it’s cool. In what way does the covenant of marriage make the immaturity, manipulation, self-destruction, or deviance go away? According to Dr. Grossman's own post, if she were being consistent, surely she would be forced to think the married couple who behaved in such ways is in horrible shape and needs counseling immediately or divorce?
To say it once more: why is it dangerous and unhealthy to do these things while they’re dating, but perfectly acceptable if they’re married? What is it about being in the state of marriage that transforms these things from “destructive” to “healthy,” or from “dangerous” to “safe”?
That doesn’t follow at all. And it makes the entire post logically unsound. (If she had been arguing in her first five points that the real danger is STDs, assault, etc., then she'd be consistent. But, she didn't. She thinks the movie is dangerous, according to her first five points, due to the emotional/psychological affect it has on people. And if that's the real danger, then it would still hold true in marriage.)
Thirdly, a point about sexual fantasies. Her first point is that "healthy" women dream “about wedding gowns, not handcuffs.” Based upon what data or research could she possibly make this suggestion? Is it really the case that these are mutually exclusive truths? A healthy woman can’t dream about a wedding gown and simultaneously have a fantasy that involved “handcuffs”? That doesn’t follow at all.
In fact, there might be about 100 million women who might beg to differ (i.e., most of the audience who purchased the book).
Now, if a woman genuinely desires to be beaten and/or raped, then yes: this is self-destructive and therapy should be sought immediately. But, it doesn’t follow at all that if a woman has a sexual fantasy of some sort of domination (which is, in fact, a very common fantasy for many women), she can’t be “psychologically healthy.” (I distinctively remember a well-adjusted Christian woman who was majoring in counseling as an undergraduate, who told a girl friend that she "longed to be thrown." She meant to be dominated to some degree by a man. I remember it because I had never heard it before that day!)
Look, the brain finds certain things attractive. It just does. Now, to be clear: if it desires certain things that are patently immoral (in the Christian worldview)—say pedophilia or bestiality—then it’s time for a good therapist.
But, I know of no Christian doctrine being violated if a woman has a fantasy that involves “handcuffs.”
Now, some final thoughts that are not about Dr. Grossman’s reflections.
First, what is missing from so many responses to this movie from Christians is the most basic immoral sexual act presented in the book and movie: having intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. Jesus and the early church utterly opposed sex outside marriage (e.g., Matthew 19). It's not how God designed sex to be used. It’s funny and sad: the Bible says nothing at all about acting out sexual fantasies; it says tons about sexual immorality and marriage. Yet, people are overwhelming ranting about the immorality of the fantasy and very little about the immorality of sex outside of marriage.
Second, it says something about our culture that this has struck such a nerve. Those vampire movies made millions and they sold millions of books. Does that “promote” the morality of vampires? Is that why teenagers love it? No. Because those stories are about teenage unrequited love and desire. It addresses a need and experience they have. The same is true with this movie. It gives us a really good glimpse into what, apparently, millions and millions of people feel they need: raw, sexual passion, especially by a dominating male.
Of course, one might deduce several things from this fact. That’s for another post. Yet, I think it might be more profitable to reflect on the state of millions of people who ingest this graphic material. That, to me, would be quite interesting. To say it this way: This movie didn’t put a desire into a hundred million people; it merely demonstrated that it was there all along. And a more productive study would be to examine those people and deduce what it says about the state of their sexual desires than merely to vilify the movie that touches on a desire people already possess.
Third, where is the enormous protest for films, songs, poems, and books that really, clearly promote domestic violence? How many hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on songs that celebrate what some man did to “his b***ch” or “hoe” or whatever? In fact, we give those people Grammy awards! We praise them for being the best! (Not that I concur with their decision; I think it’s uncreative and trash.) My point is: where is the Facebook outcry? Not to mention the billions of dollars spent on producing and purchasing pornography? Where is the outcry? You know why? Because we’re used to it. That’s why. It’s because “men have needs” and “boys will be boys” and other galamatias. We celebrate today what used to be considered the most deviant of possibilities.
I know, I know. Fifty Shades is novel and popular so it’s an easy target. Eventually, the posts will stop and so will the Facebook shares. That is, until another popular movie is released.
Fourth, if your children want to go see that movie, then disallow them if you don’t agree with the morality in the movie. Have a talk as to why. Whatever reason you disallow them to see it, I encourage you to explain exactly why. Let this be a lesson in how what you watch, see, hear, and experience matters to your character development. Then, of course, explain why it’s OK for them to watch all those other movies they’ve seen that also “promote” so many immoral things and yet this one movie is completely off limits. If this makes you inconsistent, then it says something about your parenting you might want to address.
Fifth, of course I completely oppose domestic violence. When a man or woman doesn’t ask for the sexual fantasy that involves some type of pain, then it should never be performed. Ever. It’s that simple. And if your spouse wants to cause you pain for her/his sexual satisfaction and doesn’t respect your boundaries, then go see a Christian therapist. If nothing changes, divorce his/her junk with a smile on your face. You are not simply the object of someone else’s sexual fantasy. That’s not how healthy marriages work at all. (Notice how I’ve said nothing about single people performing sexual fantasies because I’m assuming a worldview advocated by Jesus of Nazareth, who would never embrace sex outside of marriage.)
Finally, I really encourage you to consider doing the whole “love and marriage” thing Jesus’s way. Why? Because God designed us, marriage, and sex. His way is always the best, most healthy way. (Here’s a link to a talk on that issue you might find helpful.)
So, what do I think of the movies’ values and behaviors? I don’t live that way. I don’t get drunk; I don’t have my wife sign contracts of secrecy for anything I do; I don’t attempt to address emotional needs by sex; etc.. I wouldn’t want my kids to see it because I’m convinced Jesus wouldn’t watch it. It demonstrates (I don’t think “promotes”) so many values and behaviors that are not Christian. I attempt to avoid any movie, song, book, or whatever that has so many aspects of the narrative that are counter to Jesus. I’ve turned off multiple movies, shows, and songs in my lifetime. Life’s hard enough as it is. I don’t need anything that makes it harder to live according to the loving, peaceful, pure, Kingdom-centered teachings of Jesus. My flesh is too weak.
That’s my view, at least.