’50 Shades of Grey’ deserves both its praise and criticism

Katie Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Editors note: This column mentions graphic scenes from the novel and film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey and contains some sexual language.

Whether Fifty Shades of Grey depicts healthy relationships, its pervasiveness has certainly fostered healthy conversation. 

E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey has landed itself in a strange limbo with audiences who cannot decide if Christian Grey and Anastasia Steel’s relationship is empowering or abusive – if Christian is dreamy or destructive, or if the plot line had any motive other than to quicken the heartbeats of middle-aged women.

On the film’s opening night the theater was not filled with middle-aged women, however. It was packed with men and women ranging from their late teenage years and up, which begs the question: whom is Fifty Shades of Grey intended for?

Originally written as Twilight fan-fiction, one can argue Fifty Shades was written for exactly that audience – Twilight fans. Contrary to popular speculation, however, James’ trilogy was not self-published as an ebook. Australian publisher, The Writer’s Coffee Shop published the stories as ebooks, which suggests the story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is worthy of a more prominent platform than the Internet, and it is.

Fifty Shades presented popular culture with the idea of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, (BDSM), which also encompasses dominance and submission as a consensual sexual practice. Conversely, some boycotted the film, arguing the main characters’ relationship is an abusive and misogynistic one.

Both interpretations are valid and deserve consideration.

Anastasia Steele, a senior literature student, interviews the wealthy and successful Christian Grey for her university newspaper and is immediately struck by his good looks and commanding presence. Without delay, it seems Christian “bumps into” Anastasia far too frequently, which I can only assume is homage to Edward Cullen’s vampire instincts and protective nature.

Christian’s omnipresent behavior, however, is a glaring red flag. He essentially stalks Anastasia, and even tracks her cell phone to find her at a bar, where he throws her over his shoulders, takes her to his home and undresses her, then sleeps next to her in the same bed.

The national Stalking Resource Center reported that stalking may include repeatedly calling a victim, sending unwanted gifts, following a victim or showing up wherever they are, and driving by or hanging around a victim’s home, school, or place of work – each of which Christian Grey is undeniably guilty of.

Not only does Christian mysteriously appear everywhere Anastasia goes, he stays at a hotel away from his business but closer to her school to keep an eye on her. He also spontaneously sends her gifts she is openly uncomfortable receiving, including expensive first editions of novels, lingerie and a laptop.

In this regard, Christian is harassing Anastasia.

All the while, Anastasia attempts to come to terms with how “intimidating” she finds Christian – a thought that is often followed by how handsome she finds him, as if his looks are enough to justify not wanting to be alone in a room with him.

Flattery is both a delusional and frighteningly common interpretation of stalker behavior, which I would argue Anastasia falls prey to.

Part of the story’s appeal is in powerful Christian’s attraction to mousy Anastasia and how they begin to transform one another.

As readers, we immediately learn Anastasia is drawn to controlling, dominant personalities, and feels most comfortable as the submissive counterpart. Our first insight to Anastasia’s behavior is her admiration, appreciation and overall love for her overbearing, intense, dominating roommate, Kate.

Along the same lines, we read Anastasia’s disinterest toward the seemingly quiet, gentle and artistic Jose, who has been pursuing her for years. It is clear to us that Anastasia, like Christian has very “singular” tastes although she has not realized them yet.

What was perhaps the most disappointing part of the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey was disheartening lack of orgasms.

A scene involving Christian performing cunnilingus on Anastasia, for example, was edited in a way that omitted the act entirely.

Just as Christian is about to begin, his mother knocks at the door and the couple must hurriedly get dressed and leave the room.

Additionally, in the text Christian and Anastasia’s first sexual encounter results in three female orgasms – none of which are shown in the film. Her sexual satisfaction is such an integral part of the story, and while it is vaguely hinted at in the movie, the extent to which Anastasia realizes her own sexuality is wildly edited down.

I did not go into this film expecting it to be award-winning or x-rated. I was, however, curious about the discussion of healthy sexual freedom and expression. What I saw was a dulled down portrayal of an otherwise racy, and experimental sexual narrative.

Katie Smith is a senior journalism major.

She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]