Think twice before buying that “Fifty Shades of Grey” ticket



Mary Finnegan

What do you get when you combine “Twilight” with a misguided fifty-year old’s deepest, darkest fantasies?  The worst cultural phenomenon seen since serial selfies, aka “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  I tried to take E.L. James seriously as an author, but after I found out that “Fifty Shades” started out as fan fiction for “Twilight, and that it was originally titled “Master of the Universe,” and that it was penned under the username “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”—mmm, sexy—it became rather difficult.  

Written to alleviate James’ “midlife crisis,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” “stunned” the author with its whirlwind success. She’s not the only one shocked. I myself am still struggling to grasp how she successfully convinced millions of readers that buying such a novel would serve as an instant antidote for their flagging sex lives.  

So what type of couple dynamic does it take to brainwash mainstream America? Well, first we have our “heroine,” Anastasia  Steele.  Enter clueless virgin, a woman whose signature hairstyle (pigtails) speaks volumes about her emotional age.   To complement this winning lead is our “hero,” Christian Grey.  Enter privileged playboy, a man whose signature behavior (abuse) speaks volumes about his impending need for therapy.  That is, following a restraining order.  

Let me be clear.  For those of you hoping to spice up your Valentine’s Day with a vicarious visit to the theater, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not a romance.  It is an abuse chronicle that follows the unfortunate relationship between a disturbed, manipulative playboy and a painfully naïve, pigtail-donning virgin.  And, if the movie script is anything like the writing, you’ll be demanding your 15 bucks back for the 90 minutes of utter boredom you will have endured.  

Let’s talk about the writing. Oh, the writing. “Fifty Shades of Grey” reads as naturally as a spray tan.  You think you’ve gotten the tone down (read: a 13 year old girl’s diary about her middle-school crush), when suddenly Snowqueen—I’m sorry, I meant James—pulls a fast one on you and whips out her thesaurus, saying things like, “My subconscious has reared her somnambulant head.”  Right, because we all use “somnambulant” to refer to sleepwalking.  

When James isn’t busy perusing, she tries her hand at psychology. Littered throughout the book are strange psychological terms randomly inserted to vary her (limited) vocabulary.  My personal favorite happens one time when Christian shows up randomly at Ana’s house—because, you know, he stalks her regularly—and she is overwhelmed by his physical beauty (a common occurrence). She says, in reference to her mind, “Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe.”  Remember how this book is supposed to turn you on?  Well, I hate to be a downer, but your medulla oblongata will be so distracted by James’ poor writing style that the only thing you’ll be excited about is getting through the next scene.  

If the writing doesn’t disturb you though, there’s always the stereotypical characters to do the trick.  First, there’s Ana. Oh look, here’s another female character with the self-confidence levels of a “Mean Girls” victim.  Classic.  Because, you know, all girls are really insecure.  But besides her mortifying lack of self-respect, there’s also the issue that Ana behaves like a child.  Her juvenile vocabulary does little to convince us of her supposed age (21); Ana’s go-to catch phrases consist of, “Oh my!” and “Crap!” and “Double crap!” and—you called it—“Triple crap!”  Do you think if I swear more it will convince people that I’m older?  Crap.  This isn’t working.  People still think I’m five.  Double crap!  Wait, wait, you’ll never see this one coming.  Triple crap.  Oh my!  That was a naughty one.  Giggle.  

I was hoping that even if the female character was lacking, James might insert a little more variety with Christian.  But no—she reverts to another stereotype, and oh look, here’s another male character who’s perpetually emotionally unavailable.  Here’s another male character who doesn’t do girlfriends, who doesn’t do making love, who doesn’t do feelings.  Classic.  Because, you know, all men are emotionless robots.  

Sexually abused as a child, therapy isn’t doing the trick for Christian, and his moods are about as stable as Taylor Swift’s next relationship.  Haunted by his past, he unleashes his pent-up issues on each new woman that stumbles into his grasp, controlling all aspects of their lives whether it’s sex, diet, clothing, or exercise—he’s really got the whole package covered!  If that doesn’t convince you that he’s prime boyfriend material, maybe the Red Room of Pain that he has nestled away in his house for you will seal the deal.   

Finally, there’s the whole issue of how the romance started in the first place: through a prolonged and glamorized stalking episode.  What do you do when a man starts stalking you?  Well, if you’re Anastasia Steele, you say, Oh my God, that’s like so hot.  Ana’s first brief encounter with Christian leaves her star-crossed but thinking that’s the last she’ll see of him (they live over 150 miles apart), when voila, a week later he magically appears at her work (a hardware store) where he’s just casually shopping for masking tape, rope and cable ties.  Stalker, much?  Not to Ana!  She attributes his presence to coincidence, the questionable purchases to redecorating.  

Clearly, our heroine is a bit thick-headed, and it doesn’t disturb her when he proceeds to ask her if any male he’s spotted her with in the past 24 hours is her boyfriend.  Or when he mails inappropriate gifts to her home address. Or when he tracks her cell phone to a bar and whisks her away to his hotel room for the night.  None of these things disturb her, because he’s hot.  Were he unattractive, Ana might change her tune a little.  James portrays stalking as though it is a romantic experience that is desirable for women, when in fact, stalking—for most women—is an intimidating and frightening behavior that they have little control over stopping.  

So, besides the fact that it encourages men to stalk women, glorifies abusive relationships, promotes harmful gender stereotypes and rewards atrocious writing skills, I think it’s safe to say that “Fifty Shades of Grey” will do little to entertain you, or your romantic partner, come this Valentine’s Day.  Please resist the voyeuristic urge—I know it’s strong—to go see the film, and join me in boycotting this terrible sham that calls itself a romance.