Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thoughts from a Hopeful Romantic: Fifty Shades of Ignorance


The last few days, the internet has been abuzz with everything relating to Fifty Shades of Grey.  From the astounding numbers scored at the box office to the morality of the film, my news feed on every social media outlet was permeated.  To me, it was kind of exciting to actually see a romance novel turned film gaining some serious attention.  However, it was also frustrating to see the criticism, which is often irrational and ignorant.

First of all, I read Fifty Shades of Grey and saw the film.  I loved the adaptation.  While there were certainly things left out or added in, I still thought it remained true to the heart of the novel.  Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson could not have been better, and while there is still a heated debate about casting, I do not think anyone else could have done justice to the characters the way they did.  The sex was there, of course, but I did not find it gratuitous.  I actually thought the scenes were quite tastefully done and made the movie more sensual rather than sexual.

In one of my college classes, the film has come up in every class for the last couple of weeks.  The teacher, who does not support the film and considers it to be pornographic, has not read the book.  Neither did the three-quarters of my classmates who agreed with her.  There was only a small group of us who would admit to seeing the film.  The main topic of discussion was not the sex, though.  It was the characters.  Those who opposed the film consider Christian to be a stalker and unhealthy, and that this film is only going to make young women believe that they need a man like him.  They say that it sets women back instead of pushing them forward.

This angered me deeply, as I am quite passionate about what I considered to be an attack on the romance genre.  After all, Gideon Cross from Sylvia Day's Crossfire series could also be considered a stalker if we are judging him by their standards.  The men in romance novels often do whatever it takes for the woman they love, and while it crosses boundaries sometimes, these novels are fiction.  My characters are often that way as well.  Are they also control freaks?  Are romance novels a social evil that needs to be exterminated?  I mean, it feels like the argument goes so much deeper than Fifty Shades.

I spoke up, saying that if you read the novels, you will understand that Christian has endured traumas that might make any sane person crack.  It would sicken any reader to read about what he went through.  Still, the moment I brought up the book, I was told that we were only talking about the film.  Well, if that is the case, then people are missing the big picture.  No film is going to be a perfect adaptation and convey every aspect of the book.  The example I came up with was if there was ever a film made of The Catcher in the Rye, and without reading the book (though I have), I said that Holden Caulfield was an obnoxious little jerk, I can guarantee you I would be told something that started with the line, "Well, if you've read the book, you would understand why he's that way."  Am I not making the same argument?  I know I am, but because The Catcher in the Rye is a classic novel, it is assumed that everyone should read it and understand.  Am I out of line to say the same thing about Fifty Shades?  I'll be the first to admit it's not the most well-written piece of literature, but reading it would certainly clarify a lot about Christian.  However, romance novels do not receive that consideration and unless writers who encounter similar situations to mine stand up and say that there is something wrong with judging books without reading them, we won't make a difference.

I was never going to win the argument in that class because there were too many people against me with narrow-minded opinions who weren't about to listen to what our small group had to say.  Still, I won't be backing down on this subject.  Romance novels do not deserve the backseat.  No one should make you feel guilty for what you read or see and try to persuade you, especially if they have no knowledge about the book or film, or at least none that goes deeper than the surface.

The Fifty Shades argument goes so much deeper than shaming women for going to see a movie about BDSM where the dominant is fucked up.  It's about shaming an entire genre, for if any other erotic novel was made into a film, I can guarantee these people would say the same thing.  I will again bring up Gideon Cross, since he's already been my example.  Gideon is one of my favorite romance heroes.  However, I also recognize that he shares some of the same characteristics as Christian Grey.  He likes to control everything, sometimes verging a little on obsessive.  However, upon finding out the trauma he's endured, his reasons become much clearer.  His reactions are quite normal, actually.  These critics who do not like the way Christian acts would not like any of the alpha heroes who have reemerged in the romance genres since the release of Fifty Shades.  What they ignore is the strong women that these men are paired with and how Anastasia Steele frequently stands up to Christian Grey or Eva Trammell tells Gideon to fuck off.  How can you say women are being set back if they are standing up to men as strong as these heroes are?  It makes very little sense to me.

Regardless of what its critics rant about, Fifty Shades is breaking records.  It's a big old middle finger to the people who claim all of these ridiculous things about the book and the film.  People are seeing past all of the BDSM and salacious stuff and recognizing what the crux of the film really is: a woman teaching a man how to love.  That's a far more important lesson than any of these other crusades, in my opinion.  After all, romance novels are the journey of a couple finding their way to each other, right?  Fifty Shades does that, simply in a more brazen way, and much of this hate is generated by the cynicism of the public in general who are too skeptical to believe in something like second chances or love changing a person.  It's a sad but true fact, and I can only hope that more people who share my opinion speak out without the fear of being ostracized.  Loving romance novels shouldn't be a crime, after all, and it seems like this huge debate about one film is really finding its roots there.

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