Fifty Shades of Grey: Society’s Current Bent on Unhealthy Relationships

I was asking what my friend, Rachel, was reading one day while I was with another friend, Alyssa, at Barnes&Noble and was introduced to Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. I had seen the trilogy before, had watched its foray from top three free Kindle downloads to the top three paid Kindle downloads but I never had the urge to read it.

This is Amazon’s book description of the novel:

“When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.”

Ok, so it’s an erotica novel. Big deal; I shrugged it from my mind.

Rachel had another description ready for the novel:

“It’s quite disturbing… I don’t know what to think about it, but I can’t stop reading….” 

Intrigued, Alyssa and I hurried to the Romance section and picked up two copies of the novel. We both turned to a random page and skimmed it, but it quickly became clear that we would enjoy it much more by reading it aloud to each other, our hysteric laughter chasing surrounding customers away from our area.

It was erotica, as I first thought, but my reaction to it was completely unexpected. While reading out loud to Alyssa, I straddled a very fine, previously non-existant intersection between surprisingly delighted, mortified, and hysterically amused. Surprisingly delighted because I love finding a bestseller so terribly bad; mortified because it was so bad and uncomfortable; and hysterically amused because it was so bad. At times, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to gasp in horror.

The language was unnecessarily crude—I remember reading a particular sentence: “I don’t make love, I fuck” (emphasis mine). E L James’s prose could hardly be called such and the events of the book were repetitive; I don’t have enough hairs on my head to count the number of times the hero says “Don’t bite your lip.”

However, worst of all was the relationship depicted. The hero was so scarred/damaged that he was unable to allow the heroine to touch him, although he was free to do with her as he chose. Fifty Shades of Grey came close if not crossed to emotional abuse many times.

First, Twilight spot-lighted unhealthy relationships—Bella basically sacrificed everything for Edward. Now, it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. Does no one else find this disturbing? Sure, people will object that there’s a difference between fiction and reality; I’m not arguing with that statement. What I find disturbing is that, from its continuous spot on the Bestseller’s list, a majority of people have sought out books like these—and they seem to really enjoy it.

Fifty Shades of Grey embodies a more explicit form of the dormant ideas in Twilight. 

Instead of verbalizing these dormant ideas myself, here are a couple links that explain the phenomenon so much better than I would:

E L James takes all these ideas a step further. Instead of creeping around and exuding danger, Christian is actually dangerous, terrorizing Anastasia physically and emotionally. Much like Edward inherently controls Bella through love, Christian demands Anastasia’s obedience and punishes her physically when she regresses, reducing her to hysterical tears.

The worst thing is that when Christian realizes he has overstepped some bounds, he gives Anastasia some crap excuse about how he can’t help how he is due to childhood trauma and ends up having degrading sex with her. Last time I checked, sex isn’t an appropriate apology, no matter how well it’s done.

Like Screen Crave states, Bella is a shell of a person; Anastasia is forced to become something else to appease Christian—she is forced to become a shell, if she had any personality in the first place. Through punishments, Christian is able to control what aspects of Anastasia’s “character” is emphasized and what aspects should disappear. She is basically his wet dream.

Twilight objectifies Bella because she is constantly being protected by the men in her life. Fifty Shades of Grey objectifies Anastasia more extremely: she is basically Christian’s chattel. One of the more uncomfortable scenes includes him commanding her to kneel, naked, in a corner until he releases her.

Are women’s fantasies taking a turn towards the dark end? Or is it because of the constant reinforcement of these “bestsellers” and the normalization of such relationships that encourage women to take on these fantasies?

Side note: After reading it, I discovered that Fifty Shades of Grey began as Twilight fanfiction that won a contest and was so popular that it was published (much like Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, which insults Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by its claim as a sequel).