There’s been plenty of protest from Christian groups about the new movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. They call it pornographic. They call it abusive. They call it perverted. It’s probably some of all of those things. But I’m not that shocked. I’m not even that scandalized. I guess it’s because I was scandalized a long time ago.
I was scandalized when I heard about my elementary school classmates watching the “naked scene” in Titanic on repeat. I was scandalized when the middle school boys picked up virtual prostitutes through the video game Grand Theft Auto. I was scandalized when I found out that swimsuit models needed to be reported on in Sports Illustrated. I was scandalized by our entertainment industry a long time ago, so I wasn’t that surprised when I heard about Fifty Shades and people flocking to see it.
Our culture has made their stance on sexuality very clear: that it has no boundaries as long as it is consensual. That means we are going to have movies, video games, books, magazines, and TV shows full of what we consider perverted sex. And it’s only going to continue to get worse and become more mainstream. In case you haven’t heard, there is a “Fifty Shades Vermont Teddy Bear“complete with accessories.
This is no doubt perverted, but maybe we should have seen it coming when Gund released its “Victoria’s Secret Teddy Bear” in 1992. Not S&M version, sure, but, really? Who is this teddy bear for and why?
So when I see the protests against Fifty Shades, I can’t help but wonder if we missed the boat a long time ago. I understand that this one is a little different because it’s mainstream — because suburban women are openly reading things that used to be the secret sins of suburban men. But what about the suburban men? What about Playboy? Have we somewhat given up that protest simply because it has become normal?
I’m not saying I don’t think the backlash to Fifty Shades is a good thing. I definitely think that it is. But I think we have to be careful to not be misleading. When we sign petitions to not go see this one movie about one form of perverted sex, I worry that we are saying something (or failing to say something) about the dozens of other movies with perverted sex.
I haven’t seen Fifty Shades but I’ve read enough summaries to get the gist. The only thing that seems to really separate this movie from any other post-Christian values romance is that it involves BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) — ironically, the trilogy supposedly will end with marriage and even children.
Other movies involve homosexuality, others adultery, others plain old premarital sex. But as Christians, we should believe that all of this is problematic. As Christians we should believe that the opening scene to Bridesmaids or various scenes in Knocked Up are also pornographic and degrading like the scenes from Fifty Shades.
We should believe that they are greater and lesser and different forms of the same sin. BDSM is still taboo in our culture so it is easier to condemn. Perhaps we have forgotten how to condemn the mainstream sins, or perhaps, we are afraid to.
It’s years of Sex in the City that led women to Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s the natural progression of the subject matter. We have to recognize it and protest sooner. I’m not saying we become prudes. I’m not saying we can’t watch any movies that portray sexual sin. Sin can be portrayed in an artistic or even irrelevant way that is not pornographic (i.e. intended to arouse).
But I think we have to make a stand when it becomes pornographic, whether that means closing our eyes (yes, seriously) during the scene, or skipping scenes, or rejecting the movie altogether if the scenes are too many. I think it means refusing to buy certain songs or turning off Beyonce’s Superbowl halftime show.
I know I have often glossed over the borderline pornographic in entertainment media for the sake of a good beat or a good laugh. But those little concessions contribute to getting us to where we are today. When we say we don’t mind that one scene or that one song, we tell the entertainment industry to keep going— and that’s how we get to Fifty Shades.
So I wonder what will happen when this movie is old news— when BDSM is no longer taboo and Hollywood has moved on to something else horrific. Right now, Fifty Shades of Grey has a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I hope we would be just as passionate against it if it had a 99%.
But my experience says that the more our culture becomes desensitized to the degradation of the sacred, the more we Christians also become desensitized. I hope that this time it will be different. I hope that our protest lasts, that the commitment to boycott this movie will become a trend in boycotting other movies, and I hope this makes us think about those little concessions.
I hope it makes us think about how we let our culture get to this point and how we can stop it from going any further.