Unpacking 50 Shades of Crap

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This article was originally published Feb. 25, 2015

By Carrie Lockhert

Good friends celebrate birthdays — especially as the years continue accumulating. As we age, women have the opportunity to become more settled in their skin and accepting of themselves. It is a wonderfully comfortable, yet liberating and empowering time. I am fortunate to have a group of women who over the past 10 years have become my core-clique. We gather to chat, laugh, discuss and process our lives and the never-ending series of issues that life brings. That’s what women do. That is how we evolve.

This past week my group of gals descended on River Park Square’s AMC Theater to honor one of our own by attending the 7:10 p.m. showing of 50 Shades of Grey at the request of the birthday girl. Some of us had read the book(s), others had not. I was in the vocal minority in my vehement distaste and aversion to watching the film, but set my personal issues aside because after all it was my friend’s birthday.  I hoped that my preconceived notions of the movie would abate and I would find some entertainment value as the story unfolded. Unfortunately that didn’t occur. As scene after scene of extreme eccentricities displayed on the screen, my repulsion actually intensified. Interestingly enough though, I felt compelled to “unpack” my amplified feelings of disgust so that I could further analyze exactly why I was unable to “go with the flow” and just enjoy the movie. Let me first state that I am not “a prude,” recalling my mother’s terminology. But I do have an acute sense of how damaging misplaced preoccupation in unhealthy fantasy can be.

Literally watching the character of Christian Grey’s expressions of restrained anger vacate his body as he administered exactly six belted lashings to Anastasia’s bare buttocks, while tears streamed down her cheeks, didn’t help improve my appreciation for the movie. On the contrary, it made me want to vomit. It was clear that Christian is a glorified and gorgeous 21st Century monster with dark, unresolved issues and that Ana is reminiscent of Disney’s Bell from Beauty and the Beast. But what perplexed me most was the knowledge that middle aged women across the country had become mesmerized by this sexual fantasy of what many have coined, “mommy porn.” Do so many of us lead such pathetic, unfulfilled or boring lives that we feel compelled to read and now view a story detailing erotic scenes of BDSM? I had to Google BDSM to learn that the acronym referred to “Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism.” According to Emma Green’s recent article, Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades, which ran earlier this month in The Atlantic, BDSM presents numerous challenges in our evolving attitudes toward what we consider healthy sex. As Green points out, the movie is a reflection of our continued fascination with fantasy, but draws our attention to the troubling paradox of this fantasy in our “American culture, where one in five women will be raped within their lifetime, according to the CDC; where nearly 40 percent of those rapes will happen to women aged 18 to 24; and where troubling evidence of casual attitudes toward rape—such as in 2010 when a number of Ivy League-educated men thought it was okay to chant “no means yes, yes means anal” on their campus—is not uncommon.”

Why as women do so many of us still feel the need to love and rescue these “bad boys” from their hidden demons? Do we feel this innate compulsion to acquiesce our personal power so that we can resolve our own issues or need to rescue and heal another human? Why do we persist on believing that if we simply love them enough, then magically their demons will abate? I believe in love’s power to conquer and heal, but come on…is that what this movie is really about? There is a reason the medical field is teaming with qualified mental therapists and I truly think Christian could have traded in his Audi R8 for several quality sessions of retooling his messed up psyche. But why do that when he can just negotiate a contract for a new submissive?

What is it about approaching the age of 50 that makes many women feel the need to rekindle unresolved adolescent fantasies? It disturbs me to know that educated women are consciously or unconsciously drawn to a repetitive control and rescue theme, flocking by the millions to pay $10 to be mentally and/or physically aroused by a man whipping a young girl in his “play room.”  Is this really what feminism in the 60’s fought for?  Why can’t we seem to evolve out of the need for a fantasy life and replace it with an engaged and authentic life? Real life can be and often is difficult, which is why I appreciate a good, healthy fantasy story. I loved the movie “Frozen” and belt out “Let It Go” regularly while driving down the highway. Fantasy life isn’t necessarily the problem. Unhealthy fantasies however can be very damaging personally and collectively and can act like kerosene, enflaming embers with no recourse for realistic resolution.

While I am sure that society has bred other controlling monsters similar to Grey, why do women persist in escaping into this ill-fated fantasy through destructive images of control and rescue? Perpetuating the idealized thought that we can save the man we love and free him from his dark side has a boomerang effect and in turn disempowers us when we fail. At the end of the film, I appreciated the fact that the story’s heroine exhibits enough hutzpah to walk out. After being whipped she finally reaches her breaking point, which is one redeeming point in the story. But doesn’t she return in Book two? Understanding and unpacking the themes in 50 Shades of Grey is critical, especially so that as women, we can refrain from glorifying the story. While I understand the movie’s themes, the scenes still left me sick to my stomach. Perhaps I just don’t like giving up my personal power and being controlled? Or perhaps I don’t feel the need to rescue the monster. He can rescue himself. I have the phone number for a very good therapist he can pay because it won’t be on my dime or psyche. I have learned to “let it go” and take care of myself. 

Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Faith and Film” at 10 a.m., April 2 at The Community Building, 35 W. Main Ave. Lockhert is a panelist.

About Carrie Lockhert

Carrie Lockhert, a multi-generational Spokane native, earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Washington in English with an emphasis in writing during an era when white-out was purchased in bulk and privilege could be assessed by ownership of an electric typewriter vs. a manual one. Two decades, two marriages, three kids and multiple jobs later she thanked both God and human fortitude for the evolutionary shift in online education options that were afforded through the “computer age” by obtaining her graduate degree in Higher Education Administration online through Northeastern University in Boston. She truly is a bi-coastal Husky.

While Lockhert has spent her professional career in marketing, advertising and higher education enrollment services she finds herself continually called to speak what others may feel prohibited in articulating. Her self-deprecating candor and transparency about her life and spiritual path is one that many find either intimidating or inspiring. Under the guidance of her spiritual director, the Rev. Kristi Philip, Lockhert joined her love for writing with her desire to focus on human commonality in contrast to human differences by starting a blog, InspirationCrossing.com. As an Episcopalian, Lockhert appreciates the value of differing perspectives and encourages others to dialogue on their various viewpoints, ultimately believing that all are connected and one, whether Christian, Jew, Buddhist or atheist.

Lockhert endeavors to provide her readers with a real-life, and at times raw perspective, of viewing and incorporating fundamental spiritual principles into daily life challenges and fortune — even if through the disclosure of her own personal failure.

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4 comments

  1. I have neither read the book nor seen the movie but I don’t think a person is lacking in faith or values if they are into BDSM. I would be more interested in knowing what the BDSM participants think of the movie andor book….

  2. Carrie – I appreciate your take on the movie, especially that connection to the myth that women are supposed to ‘rescue’ men from themselves. One thing feminism has fought for, though, is a space where we can say “I don’t have to police anyone else’s sexuality”. Fetishizing sexual violence is an ugly feature of the whole psychology of oppression that we’re all brought up in. But I think there’s a certain narrow privilege to ostracize people whose turn-ons don’t fit the mold, which is a feature of that same oppression. I worry that 50 shades has become such an easy target, we’re on a slippery slope towards plain-old shaming.

  3. Well, one of the things about this movie is that it apparently conflates BDSM and abuse. And if there’s one thing people who actually know about BDSM will tell you, it’s that it has to be based on a rock-solid foundation of trust in order to work.

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