My Irish Valentine’s Round-up – Fifty Shades of Creepy?

I was talking to a friend and neighbor this week about the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey tonight.  She asked if I was going and I said I hadn’t thought about it but maybe it would be fun if a group of us went for a laugh.  I asked if she’d read it and she replied, “I read half and gave it to my sister.” I haven’t read it or given it much thought until this week.

I asked her what it is about and she said there’s not much story just a rich man with a secret fetish room.  Hmm…Is this guy supposed to be a dangerous psychopath or the hero? Is this a thriller? She answered that he wasn’t supposed to be a psycho and it wasn’t a thriller but she didn’t read the whole thing.

Then my husband asked if I was going and I started getting curious and read the basics of the story online:

“When college senior Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) steps in for her sick roommate to interview prominent businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for their campus paper, little does she realize the path her life will take. Christian, as enigmatic as he is rich and powerful, finds himself strangely drawn to Ana, and she to him. Though sexually inexperienced, Ana plunges headlong into an affair — and learns that Christian’s true sexual proclivities push the boundaries of pain and pleasure.”

Geez, this doesn’t sound like a fantasy to me.  An older rich man dominating a young woman – romantic.  Who needs the cinema for that? Look around your office, neighborhood, house, city, political elite, etc.

My husband and his co-workers were discussing it last night because one of them had also read half after his wife read half (I’m sensing a pattern) and got bored.  He thought it was ridiculous that it was being hailed as THE fantasy for women.  Aside from the hilarious image of a group of men on a workshop floor standing around discussing an erotic romance book and its relationship to Irish women’s fantasies, their discussion interested me for two reasons.

Firstly, the very fact that they are discussing it means that this movie has brought this fantasy into mainstream culture and hence, it will affect our collective definitions of gender, sex and apparently romance since it’s billed as a Valentine’s movie.

Secondly, this group of men couldn’t believe that this story was being sold to women as empowering and they agreed that if the man had not been a billionaire but say rather an unemployed builder with a cheapo sex room in his house down the street from ours, women would call him a pervert. A typically practical male perspective and a fair point.

Graham Dwyer, a married architect and father of two, is currently on trial for the murder of Elaine O’Hara in Dublin.  Elaine went missing in August 2012 the day she left a mental hospital and her remains were found in September 2013 in the Wicklow mountains.  Handcuffs and leg restraints were found later along with belts, a bondage hood, her phone and clothes.

We’ve learned many  sad details about the victim’s life and diagnosed mental illness. This week we learned she was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and had years of reported suicidal thoughts and self-harming behavior that included meeting strange men online and in person to let them hurt her sexually.  I don’t know anything about the accused murderer except that he is an architect and lives in a wealthy suburb of Dublin and had a well-documented but secret affair with Elaine O’Hara after meeting in some S & M chat room. He was older, wealthier and the dominant partner in a S & M sexual affair.  Sound familiar?  It appears like the defense is trying to argue that Elaine was suicidal when she was released from hospital and possibly hired someone to torture and kill her as a method of suicide. Is this glamorous or romantic?

Call me a buzz-kill (you wouldn’t be the first) but I don’t see how the glamorization of gender inequality if empowering to women or romantic. How is it a fantasy when in reality men are violent and dominant over women so often?

I think blockbuster movies differ from books in their role in influencing popular culture.  Reading a book is personal.  Fantasies are private and personal.  They are between yourself and the partner you share them with (or just yourself if you’re like most Irish women!). You have to use your imagination and your interpretation of the characters and their relationships is personal.  All of this is different in a blockbuster movie.  The fantasy is no longer in your imagination and the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred as you are told over and over that this is the ideal romantic movie of the year.  The parallels between Mr. Christian Gray and the man on trial for murder in Dublin are just too close for comfort for me to be enjoying Fifty Shades of Grey tonight with a bucket of buttery popcorn.

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