Sunday, February 15, 2015

All I Have to Say about 50 Shades of Gray

There seems to be a lot of hand wringing in America over the immense popularity of 50 Shades of Gray, more over the emotional bullying than the kinky sex. Here is what I say on the subject:

If that sort of thing doesn't turn you on, read something else.

If it does, great, go enjoy it in private somewhere.



Thomas said...

Are you saying that there is no room for cultural discussions in society?

What if the book was explicitly racist, rather than misogynist?

John said...

I have the same amount of interest in discussing the politics of 50 Shades as I do of discussing the politics of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings.

I do understand that fantasy feeds into politics, but I think the way to limit the damage is to insist that fantasy is fantasy and leave the real-world implications alone.

This stuff is written by women, for women, because millions of women find fantasies of male power exciting. Many of those women consider themselves feminists. Are you going to tell them all that they're wrong? Bad ladies! You shouldn't like those stories! Let us suggest some nice, safe, egalitarians stories you should enjoy instead! I think that is pointless, a little insulting, and exactly the sort of thing that makes "feminist" a much hated word in some circles.

Neal Gray said...

You're surely right if the response is simply a matter of "Bad ladies!" But I think a lot of people are curious as to why so many women like this story. It leads to the larger question, why do people like stories about the victimization of people they identify with? Clearly it's an aspect of the species, even if not in every individual. Catholicism, Shi'ism, and postwar non-Orthodox Judaism are to a large extent built upon the phenomenon.

Beyond that, I suppose interest in the topic is a matter of taste. After all, couldn't one say, if you don't like brutalist architecture, look at another building? But it's an itch you yourself need to scratch, no? (Yes, you could rationalize it as being concerned about public spaces, yadda, yadda. But like it or not, 50 Shades is part of our public space, too. In fact, perhaps humans today tolerate poor architecture because media technology now means movies and stories can now be part of our public space--and if they have that, many people find it easy to ignore the buildings, for better or worse.)

By the way, I think the politics of Lord of the Rings is interesting, and not because I want to say, "Bad fans!" since I'm one of them. I found it quite illuminating when I read, for example, that Tolkien modeled his elves on his idea of humans before the Fall.

Unknown said...

By the way, I'm not Neal Gray. I have no idea who or what a Neal Gray is, or why he's living in my computer.


Thomas said...

You have no interest in discucssing means that anybody who has interest in discussing it should be shushed and told they are idiots?

I discuss the politics of "Die Hard." It's really far more interesting when you know what popular culture is about.

Of course, 99% of what will be written about 50 Shades will be nonsense, and I'm not particularly drawn to it as a topic of discussion, but it does feel like a potentially rich topic.

ArEn said...

I don't think John shushed anyone nor did he say anyone is an idiot. He said he had no interest in discussing the topic and gave his reasons.

John said...

It makes me squeamish to politicize everything. I have no problem with criticizing 50 Shades as a bad book. I am dubious of writing off whole fields of imagination as politically suspect. No doubt there is some connection between action hero movies and Republicanism -- John Wayne certainly thought so. But is that a reason to oppose action movies or criticize those who like them? I love John Wayne movies!

The whole genre of high fantasy is saturated with aristocratic politics. Aragorn isn't the legitimate king because he won an election. The bad guy of that story comes off as evil because he thinks the fact that he and his family are actually doing the job of ruling Gondor counts for more than Aragorn's bloodline. I love the story but I still think we should have 90% inheritances taxes.

The Harry Potter stories can be read as aristocratic fables, or as a sort of extreme individualism, since special people belong in a different world with different rules. I love those, too, at least the first three.

Yes, Neal Gray, I do think it is interesting that so many women love stories like 50 Shades of Gray, or Wuthering Heights. But I don't think that is because they are oppressed by the patriarchy, and I think it is perfectly possible to enjoy such stories and still be a feminist. In fact since such stories are so widely loved, and the attraction to them seems to be so deep, I think they serve as an essential safety valve sorts, allowing women to enjoy that side of themselves without sacrificing any real autonomy or power.

Unknown said...

Neal Gray has mentioned to me that he wonders if there's any connection between wanting to follow obsessively all the little slights and pains endured by the female character in 50 Shades, and wanting to meditate obsessively on the wounds of Christ or Imam Hussein.

Unknown said...

The fact is the careerist model of liberation is in many ways quite charmless. Again and again, official feminism and other forms of liberation discover that most people want to be free, but they don't necessarily want to be free according to the model of "everyone is free to work very, very hard and be obsessively dedicated to their career regardless of race, creed, color, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, etc."