One of the best selling books of recent memory is coming to a screen near you. Here’s the truth behind 50 Shades of Grey.
Over the last little while I’ve been to the movies quite a few times. Of course, I had to see Part 3 of The Hobbit on Boxing Day, which was a fitting end to Peter Jackson’s work on the LOTR story (for now). I saw The Imitation Game starring this year’s flavour of the month, Benedict Cummerbatch (seriously, that guy is in everything). I even went to see Unbroken and the new Penguins of Madagascar movie, among others. Good time of year for catching friends over a flick.
And in every cinema, for every suitably rated film, enter the trailer for the film adaption of E. L. James’ series, 50 Shades of Grey.
Yes, 50 Shades of Grey. What a phenomenon this little series has been. The three books of the trilogy has sold over 100 million copies across multiple countries, and at one stage, was pretty much unavoidable. I remember one of the ladies in my office reading out passages from it for the whole office to hear. It was on every bus and billboard. You couldn’t even send your 6 year old to K-Mart to pick up a copy of Toy Story without them stumbling past the enormous display for the first book.
With the movie coming out soon, I thought why not have a look at what exactly makes this series so enormously successful and popular, and have an honest look at the truth behind 50 Shades of Grey.
Women are sexual too, yo
This will come as no surprise to most, but women are sexual beings. I know, right? Welcome to life. Please enjoy your stay. Don’t forget to grab some complimentary mints on the way through.
But I guess what is highlighted by the success of 50 Shades is just how sexual they really are. Traditionally, mass hysteria over sexually driven material has been the domain of men. You know, the prevalence of Playboy and Zoo in their respective heydays. The ladies getting their kits off in whatever movie it may be. The overwhelming dominance of pornography across most electronic mediums (although many women also get in on growing demand in the industry).
The thing is, though, erotica has been massively popular for quite a while. Whether it take the form of electronic stories or the old school form of a book, the industry stood at about $1.438 billion in 2013 (Business of Consumer Publishing). You could argue that there are men getting in on erotic fiction too, but these books and stories are primarily targeted at female audiences.
Enter 50 Shades which achieved probably the greatest market saturation a book of its nature has achieved, and we can clearly see that women aren’t coy about letting their money line up with their interests.
Not saying that you have to have a copy of 50 Shades to be sexual, of course. It just highlights that perhaps sex is just a large component of women’s lives as it is for men, and just as fascinating.
The emotional journey
The great power of 50 Shades and material of its nature isn’t that it is highly visual, although I guess that’ll change when the movie comes out. The truth behind 50 Shades of Grey is that it understands and capitalizes on a very real aspect of sexuality.
It’s that sex is a highly emotional experience.
Not just that, but perhaps it infers something even deeper.
Sexuality is one of the greatest reflections and expressions of our emotional state. This area of our life speaks the deepest statements of the heart without necessarily using words.
It’s all in the allure. It’s the mysterious stranger. It’s the unfamiliar territory. It’s the warmth of the embrace. It’s the tenderness of his voice. It’s the patience of his approach. It’s the loving attention. It’s the way he exists to touch you in the deepest areas of your life.
It’s that this book can’t break my heart like a real man can.
Let’s face it, relating to men can be quite intimidating, and sometimes painful. There’s a lot of confusion that can exist between men and women, in and out of marriage. Sometimes splashing out and having a sexual escape can help appease some of those bottled up feelings. The story is designed to pleasure you. In living vicariously through its characters, you are able to express through their actions things that you might not always be willing to say.
And perhaps that’s something really worth considering.
Maybe the success of the book is a reflection of the failure of our relationships. Maybe it shows us that when we don’t get the things we need in our relationships or in our lives, we go looking elsewhere for it. This is exactly how affairs work, too. You’re not getting the emotional support you need from your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or in your single experience, so you go out and try to find someone to scratch the itch. The way they treat you reaches you at your deepest levels of discontentment and frustration.
Fantasy vs. Reality and double standards
And so, we trade in the real thing for the fake thing. We would rather explore relationally through a book than with our own body and effort.
It’s exactly why men love pornography or erotic movies (or maybe even erotica themselves). We’re exactly the same – what men really want is love. When we don’t get what we feel we need, even if we don’t always understand it or express it, we are drawn to people and places and instruments and devices that help us get what we need.
In reality, the struggle of fantasy vs. reality is a human experience. It would be a double standard to slam either gender for being so extreme in that area of their lives.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
So we have a massively successful franchise, a growing industry which appeals to the deepest needs in our hearts, and a movie which will no doubt make a box office killing. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
I think based on what’s really going on, we may be playing with something incredibly dangerous here.
See, the truth behind 50 Shades of Grey is that it takes your heart and calls it to explore darker and more mysterious relationship with a fake story rather than helping you and I deal with the reality of relationship.
Mr Grey isn’t real. The scenarios aren’t real. The characters are intentionally designed to give you a certain reaction.
Reality is not the same as a book.
In the same way we shouldn’t objectify women in any form of media and reduce them to mere genitalia or servant-like behaviour, we shouldn’t do the same with men. To do so would be to disqualify and miss the fact that reality can be far better than fantasy could ever dream.
I guess another danger is that it’s filling our heads with ideas of love and sex that we probably never needed to explore, and may be dangerous to bring into our relationships with others. You never really heard too much back in the day of people complaining about their sex lives en masse. Why’s that? Maybe it’s because they didn’t know what they were “missing out on”.
The sexual experience was a special union shared between one man and the woman he loved. It was an expression between both of them of the beauty of their relationship, and a powerful way for them to profess their deepest feelings to each other. They weren’t told all the different manners and styles and all the reasons why their husband or wife was lousy in bed – they just had the one they love as their standard of beauty and sexual satisfaction. They weren’t being told all the things their neighbours or the local celebrities were doing to and with each other.
As long as we’re always inviting the voice of comparison into our relationships, especially into our sexuality, we’re entering the dangerous territory of building standards and ideals that people were simply never meant to compete with.
The Hebrew poem, the Song of Solomon, details the relationship journey and expression of love between two lovers. In it, one of the parties tells the other that they should prevent the little foxes from coming in and ruining their garden. The picture here is of a sacred and beautiful place for just the two of you, being ruined by external parties.
Perhaps 50 Shades of Grey, and its similar cohorts, aren’t a fox you want to invite into the garden of your love life.
Maybe the better thing to do instead is to have a deeper look at why these sort of stories may be appealing to you, and which areas of your heart and life they may be giving expression to. What is it exactly you’re looking for? I think there are much healthier ways to explore those issues and to really work through and make good progress in those areas. How you relate to men, how you feel about yourself, why you don’t like your own appearance – all those bigger issues we have to face in life.
Just another reason why I love relationships so much, and really believe we should be doing all we can to keep ourselves strong in these areas. She’s strong where I’m weak, and vice versa. We can work through the deepest areas of our hearts together. And that, my friends, is a winning combination.
How about you? What do you think about the truth behind 50 Shades of Grey?