Thursday, 12 February 2015
Why would you want Christian Grey as your valentine?
This weekend is valentines. And along with all the romance this brings, we will also see the release of the film 50 Shades of Grey.
100 million women bought and digested the books, and it is anticipated that they will be going to see the film in their droves, to watch as 21 year old Anastasia is swept off her feet by the rich, handsome, and incredibly controlling and manipulative Christian Grey. Romantic? apparently some people seem to think so. But leading women's abuse charities have begun a campaign to encourage women to boycott this film as it is seen by them as normalising domestic abuse.
So let's give a bit of background for those who have not read the books.
Ana is a 21 year old student who agrees to interview prominent and influential businessman Christian Grey on behalf of a friend who is ill and needs the interview as part of her university dissertation. Ana is in awe of the fact she will be interviewing Grey. He is well known, he is attractive, and he is extremely rich.
From the outset it seems clear that Christian Grey is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and from the beginning it is evident that he wants Ana.
So, having interviewed him, Ana goes back to her life as a student, and as an assistant in a hardware shop, and just days later christian Grey appears at her till, where he has bought a variety of products, rope, cable ties, and some kind of tape. Well it is a hardware store after all. The fact he actually lives hours away is seemingly inconsequential, and over the coming days and nights he seeks to sweep Ana off her feet, by firstly rescuing her from the advances of a male friend after she had had too much to drink, taking her back to his hotel where he in true gentleman style does not take advantage of her, and then whisking her off to his flat by private plane for a nice dinner.
So far, so romantic. After all, Christian Grey is extremely powerful, he could choose any woman, and yet he has chosen Ana.
This could be the beginning of a beautiful love story. One where man meets woman, where they discover themselves and each other, and where their relationship grows as they get to know each other.
Except that the next morning Christian Grey presents Ana with a contract. A contract in which she must agree to be his submissive and he her dominant, where she will agree to wear the clothes he specifies, eat the food he tells her, and most importantly, submit to him in every other way. Before she signs the contract he first takes her to see his playroom. A room in his apartment which is full of the various whips, chains, handcuffs, and other implements used as part of the submissive/dominant relationship.
I won't go into too much more detail, other than to say that throughout the course of the book it appears that Ana and Grey are actually falling in love. However the story is littered with instances of where he takes absolute control of her life, and where the term consent appears to have very little meaning. She can say no to anything, of course, but when she does she's told that actually, she can't. And throughout the trilogy, Ana decides that actually, this isn't the relationship she wants, so she makes a stand and lets it be known what she wants, and in the end, love conquers all and Christian Grey changes into the man Ana wanted him to be. , leaving the message that if a relationship is controlling and abusive in the beginning that can change as long as you stick around.
Now it would be a bit simplistic to suggest that a film alone mmight be able to influence people into entering into, or staying in abusive relationships believing that it's normal to be treated like that. However it is also true to say that we are influenced by what we see in the media on an every day basis.
Many, many women stay in abusive relationships believing that their abuser could change, because even abusers have a nice side to their personalities, something which attracts their victims to them, so if Christian Grey is portrayed as a generally nice guy who has a bit of a past which explains his attitude towards women, but who dictates to his girlfriend where she can go, who she can see, what she can eat and how the rest of their relationship should be conducted and he can change, then surely it stands to reason that any man can change?
But this is a fantasy. Most abusers do not change. I won't go so far as to say they can't because with the right kind of therapy anyone should be able to change. But I think it's fair to say that most abusers do not change, and for most victims of abuse the only way they can gain control is by leaving the abuser.
50 shades is of course not marketed as a film depicting an abusive relationship. It has been marketed as a romantic film which leads someone into the world of BDSM. But we have heard from critics that it is not an accurate portrayal of BDSM, and as such, the behaviors exhibited in the book are those of a controlling and abusive man rather than one who has absolute respect for his partner.
But perhaps the question would simply be why? Why would you want to watch a film where a woman is dominated and controlled in this way and dress it up as romance? Why would anyone want to fantasise about having a Christian Grey type in their life? A lot of films are pure escapism from life, and of course most don't depict reality. But surely escapism should be something positive and uplifting, or even if it's negative such as a drama or thriller, something with a positive ending where the killer gets what they deserve. But why would anyone want to escape into the realms of fantasy where someone is essentially taken from her world of innocence and thrown into one of sadistic control?
It's not a thriller or a drama, neither is it particularly romantic, so what is it then?
And if none of those are good enough reasons not to watch, then surely the fact that the books were so spectacularly badly written are good enough reason not to want to watch them played out on screen?