So, you may not believe me, but I actually saw this wretched movie…
Not the newly released sequel, mind you, but the first one: “50 Shades of Grey”
“Dysfunctional Codependency 101”
I’d hate to admit it, but I read the book, too.
I wasn’t so much interested in the whole bondage scene, so much as I was wondering what all the excitement was about. Women everywhere were fawning over this smouldering anti-hero, Christian Grey. The BDSM community was up-in-arms about the misrepresentation of their life-style and a bunch of my Christian friends and family members were clutching their blouses in horror and writing lengthy, self-righteous Facebook posts about how disgraceful it is to indulge in fantasies about men other than your husband.
I figured anything that garnered that kind of controversy and excitement deserved a look.
So I purchased the e-book on itunes and sat down for a little somethin’somethin’ with American literature’s most talked about sadist.
Long story short, it was drivel… I mean… high-school-creative-writing-class-bad. I honestly kept reading it out of sheer outrage that something so deplorably vapid could actually turn a profit. That got me through the first chapter. I spent the rest of the book fantasizing… not about kinky sex with a 27-year-old billionaire, but fantasizing about rewriting and editing the text to actually make it a halfway (in)decent read.
I remain flabbergasted by the notion that such inane garbage could actually get published while I’m struggling to get any agent to read my stories about the Mighty American Death Machine.
Anyway, after I read the book, I watched the movie… and you know what?
The movie wasn’t half bad.
It wasn’t “A Lion In Winter” or anything, but I actually enjoyed it to some degree, for a few reasons. First off, Jamie Dornan is definitely not too hard on the eyes. However he makes a much more convincing serial killer than romantic lead. ( If you don’t believe me, look up “The Fall” on Netflix) Secondly, Dakota Johnson actually has some talent for wandering through a scene looking bewildered and uncomfortable… which was exactly what her role called for. Nice work, casting director.
Anyway, probably my favorite part of the movie was the ending. And for those of you who haven’t seen this cinematic travesty, let me illuminate you: After a weeks long campaign of stalking, intimidation and abuse that, really, should have resulted in a restraining order… Anastasia Steele decides that she simply cannot abide Christian Grey’s kink… and she walks out on him.
And while it may not seem terribly revolutionary to anyone else, I wanted to give our heroine a standing ovation… right there in my pajamas as I watched this literary swill play itself out on my ipad.
Of course, tragically, the series continues with the next installment in which the two of them get right back together before Anastasia even has the time to wash him out of her bed sheets… which is a damn shame but I can’t say I haven’t done the same… several times. But that brings me to my point….
What the fuck are we doing?
I remember going to see “Phantom of the Opera” with my father when I was a tender 16 years old. I was unbelievably enamored with the romance of it all; the phantom’s tragic genius, dancing inside his gloriously dark midnight-mind like the aurora borealis… the soul-ripping music that bled from his broken heart like a hemorrhage of magic falling from the stars… The love… The poetry… The allure of a magnificently tortured soul, as breathtaking as the crush of a fatal impact. I loved it. And when Christine decided to abandon the phantom to his dismal solitude beneath the Paris opera house, I cried my starry little teenaged eyes out. How could she leave him? He was soooo grotesquely beautiful.
I also remember when Beauty and the Beast came out in theaters… obviously not the live action one that was released just last week, but the animated one that, in it’s brilliance, received an Oscar nod as well as a subsequent stage adaptation that has been running for … well… I’m not sure, but probably decades. I saw that damn movie nine times in the theater. NINE TIMES… IN THE THEATER. That doesn’t even begin to touch the number of times I saw it after a friend bought it for me on VHS. (Yes, VHS. I’m dating myself, I know.) I was obsessed with that story, too. I strongly identified with the lead character who was a painfully misunderstood girl who read too much and couldn’t fit in. And, of course, I LOOOOVED the LOVE story. With her love Belle transformed the selfish, enraged, monstrous beast into a loving, tender prince and they lived happily ever after. Yay for love!
I could go on. There are innumerable tales, loads of movies, countless books. Hell, even the great classic “Pride and Prejudice” features a love affair between our spunky, whip-smart Elizabeth Bennett and the dashingly dour Mr. Darcy… a man who is, quite frankly, a judgemental, imperious prick who refuses to dance with Elizabeth in the first chapter, proclaiming derisively to his cronies that she, along with all the other women present, is “barely tolerable”.
I’m 40 now, and recently, I went to see “Phantom” again. It was just as evocative and excruciating as ever. But this time when Christine high-tailed it out of the opera house, leaving the Phantom to his dank isolation. I wasn’t quite as heartbroken and maybe just a little exhilarated… a little vindicated… and a part of me wanted to get up and yell after her, “Run faster, girl! You can make it! That guy’s a complete psycho!”
Because he was.
Coming at it from the other side of 25 years later, I realize “Phantom of the Opera” wasn’t a love story. It’s the story of a young woman who is being manipulated and slowly driven insane by a crazed (and brilliant) narcissistic sociopath who uses her childhood trauma to exploit and, ultimately, try to consume her. That’s not love.
“Beauty and the Beast” is a story of a young woman who, depending on the version you’re reading, is held captive by a vicious, maladjusted, shut-in who intends to steal her life away and make her fall in love with him so he can escape from his own twisted situation. That’s not love.
“50 Shades of Grey” is a story of a young woman who is completely inexperienced and naive. She is seduced by a sadomasochistic nut-job (whose only real attribute is his fabulous wealth) who is obsessed with the notion of owning and controlling her. One more time… louder for the folks in back… THAT’S NOT LOVE.
And we are doing ourselves and our children a massive disservice by telling them that it is.
My tirade isn’t only inspired by the recent release of many of these movies. The other day I was working out at my gym and a song came on the sound system. It’s a senselessly vapid little ditty, sung by some pouty-mouthed ding-bat in a leotard. “When love huuurts… baby… yeah that’s how you know it’s REAL!” she croons through a synthetic swamp of over-produced auto-tune.
And THAT ladies and gentlemen is the crux of the problem. We (both men and women) have been led to believe that intensity and emotional turmoil are love. We enter and entertain relationships that are damaging and dangerous because we believe that the “high” we feel from a flooded limbic system is “ever after” calling us forward from our mauve, hum-drum lives to embrace a vibrant and passionately tumultuous existence. It’s a crock of horse-shit and we need to stop… seriously, we need to stop.
Because my tirade is also inspired by something else…
Remember “Beauty and the Beast”? That movie I saw nine times in the theater? Well one of those times I saw that movie, I was with my best friend, Theresa. She loved it just as much as I did. We clung to each other in delighted sophomoric ecstasy. We laughed, we cried, we agreed it was the BEST MOVIE EVER!
Hers was the first dead body I ever saw.
A few months after we saw that movie together, Theresa took up with some guy whose name I don’t even remember. His name doesn’t matter. He was “that guy”. The one who shows up with the saucy smile and the cigarette between his teeth. He also showed up with a blunt and a wandering eye. Theresa fell desperately in love with this little shit stain and when he cheated on her a few months later, she killed herself.
Sixteen years old… Just like that.
I remember her funeral… And all of us there, children. Stacked up in the church pews with our eyes as wide as a virgin moon. We were dazed, terrified, baffled. Had this really happened? Was this really happening? It was an open casket. Theresa had dyed her blonde hair jet black and her roots had been growing out. Her face was green. That’s what I remember.
And I wonder about it now. What if? What if she had called me before she took the pills? What if we had seen a different movie or listened to different music? What if someone, somewhere had definitively assured Theresa that this relationship was absolutely NOT the most important thing that would ever happen to her?
Maybe she’d be here with me… Laughing at long-lost what’s-his-name with his stupid smile and his even more stupid cigarette…
Intensity and chaos are not passion… they’re intensity and chaos. Yet young women are being bombarded with this message from highly stylized pop-culture. They’re being told to sacrifice their own well-being and sanity in the name of love… with the assurance and everything will turn out great… Furthermore, they’re being told that failing to sacrifice themselves means that they are some kind of a banal, inhibited coward.
The fact of the matter is, women die because of this message. Not only do they end up beaten to death, shot, strangled… (I’ve seen all of these situations). They die to their values when they abandon their own moral compass in order to keep the peace with a lover. They die to their identities when they ignore their own life in order to fit into the twisted contortion that’s required to make an impossible relationship work. They die to their hopes and dreams by becoming a satellite to another person’s ego. They die to their friends and families when they slowly disappear from activities and events… either because they’re too tired, too stressed out, too pressured or too ashamed of what they’ve become
They die to themselves, when they capitulate to this madness and become a hollowed-out receptacle where a broken man stores all his self-loathing.
Leaving is brave.
Self-preservation is sexy.
Fighting for yourself is passion…
Relationships are difficult… relationships take work… and all that psycho-babble. But if you’re with someone who regularly treats you like shit and you hate yourself as a result…
You’re not the heroine in a love-story for the ages…
You’ve been had.
It’s okay, we’ve all been had at one point or another.
So turn off the romantic tragedies. Ignore the wailing advice of insipid pop-stars on the radio. Don’t take advice from anyone you don’t want to emulate. And anyone who calls you a fool or accuses you of giving up is an idiot.
Follow in the footsteps of Christine Daae. High-tail it out of that fucking swamp, and rest assured, you will have an audience of women like me… women who have been there, who’ve had to make that choice and fight that battle… women who have had to run for their lives. We’ll all be standing up in our seats and cheering as you go…
“Run faster, girl! You can make it!”