• Tue. May 28th, 2024

Fifty shades of controversy

ByHope Houston

Mar 11, 2015

This Valentine’s Day, sparks were flying, but not just because love was in the air. Instead, a grassroots campaign sparked controversy by asking lovebirds to boycott the new “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie during its holiday opening weekend in a stand against domestic violence.

Organized jointly by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), Stop Porn Culture and the London Abused Women’s Center of Ontario, the campaign #50DollarsNot50Shades urges people to donate fifty dollars, or whatever money they would typically spend at their local movie theatre, to domestic violence organizations and battered women’s shelters, the Washington Times reports.

On its Facebook page, the campaign claims that the film glorifies the abuse of women, and NCOSE has initiated a social media movement against the film, particularly through Facebook photo galleries whose images describe the film’s bad boy flame, Christian Grey, as a “manipulative and forceful stalker,” among other things.

Amanda Smith, the communications director of NCOSE (formerly known as Morality in the Media), said that this “anti-abuse and pro-survivor” campaign is meant to spread awareness on the very real and harmful effects of the film.

“We want people to support women and survivors in their community because real-life ‘Christian and Ana’ relationships, they can happen,” Smith said. “Women can be hidden in their homes for years, dealing with this, or in a women’s shelter, or many women end up in the cemetery. It’s sad to say.”

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” which opened Feb. 13, is based on the best-selling trilogy of romance novels by E.L. James. The novels and film follow Anastasia Steele, a young woman wrought with innocence, portrayed by Dakota Johnson, and her bad boy beau, the young business magnate Christian Grey, portrayed by Jamie Dornan, as they venture into a new sexual relationship.

According to the Washington Times, the fundamental difference between “Fifty Shades” and other harlequin romance novels is that it dives its virginal protagonist into the world of bondage, domination and sadomasochism (BDSM), sporting blindfolds, whips, chains and all.

For activist groups and Smith, the content of “Fifty Shades” is falsely veiled through the guise of a love story when it is truly dangerously akin to mainstream pornography.

“It’s lying to everyone and saying it’s a love story, but it’s not,” Smith said. “When you remove the glitz and the glamour, it is bare bones a story about a predator, preying on a young, virginal girl and grooming her into sadistic sex.”

Smith continued: “We see that porn has become the biggest educator of sex, particularly for men. A lot of mainstream porn is so violent now, and most of that violence is specifically against women.

“Porn has really poised culture to accept this ‘Fifty Shades’ story, and ‘Fifty Shades’ is modeling that behavior, and Hollywood is really cashing the check on this.”

Furthermore, Smith says that “Fifty Shades,” like mainstream porn, does not just depict an alternative sexual practice, like BDSM, but glorifies abuse entirely. “The franchise is trying to make violence sexy,” she said. “Violence is violence, and sexualizing it is even worse; it’s exploitation.”

According to the New York Daily News, a 2013 study in the Journal of Women’s Health agrees with Smith’s claims, in relation to the books.

“The book is a glaring glamorization of violence against women,” said Amy Bonomi, chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University and lead author of the study.

After Steele encounters what Bonomi describes as Grey’s stalking, intimidation, isolation and humiliation, Bonomi said that the book’s protagonist “begins to manage her behavior to keep peace in the relationship, which is something we see in abused women,” and that “over time, she loses her identity” and “becomes disempowered and entrapped.”

These claims surrounding the “Fifty Shades” franchise have called into question whether the film and books or the practice of BDSM are what’s truly under fire.

Many members of the BDSM community disagree that BDSM lifestyles or practices are inherently violent, dangerous or unhealthy and, instead, say that the problem lies within E.L. James’s depictions of the sexual counterculture.

According to ABC News, Susan Quillam, a relationship psychologist and sex advice columnist, agrees, espousing that couples can healthily explore the kink of BDSM without the controversy of “Fifty Shades.”

“Christian Grey’s initial seduction of Anastasia breaks every rule in the BDSM book,” Quillam said to ABC News, further explaining that the relationship portrayed in the “Fifty Shades” franchise is exploitive “on both sides and therefore emotionally unsafe and not sane.”

Similarly, in a piece for the Guardian, Margaret Corvid, a professional dominatrix, writes that while “Fifty Shades” is opening up kink to the mainstream, “it is designed to arouse, not educate, and in doing so it leaves out the things that differentiate BDSM from abuse,” such as the concept of consent.

However, Smith believes that, regardless of consent, the film’s content still represents abuse.

“This is not an issue of consent,” Smith said. “This is violence, sexual violence. Consent is not a black and white issue. It really goes across a broad continuum, and your ability to fully have the freedom to consent is often compromised when you’re being abused and there is trauma.

“In this type of a sexual, violent relationship, it is not true informed consent… For Ana, when she is controlled, degraded, isolated, trapped, manipulated, all of that is affecting her ability to make an informed decision.”

The franchise’s controversy has elicited debate across campus, and some Sinclair students disagree with Smith’s and NCOSE’s view of the film.

Bethany Harbison, a communications major, believes that these organizations are getting worked up over nothing that’s their business.

“The controversy about the movie is just unnecessary,” she said. “If a man and woman feel that tying each other up for erotic pleasure is something that they enjoy doing, then so be it. I disagree with the abuse part. If each participant is willing to go to the extremes to pleasure each other, then so be it. It’s their business and bedroom concerns, not ours!”

Regardless of the controversy, Harbison thinks that viewers of the film should be able to handle its content.

“We have all seen movies with sexual content,” she said. “Although this movie might be a little frisky with sexual activity, still we’re all adults here.”