Fifty Shades of Grey is cinematic junk food

It would be unfair to discuss a film before I’ve seen it but I don’t want to watch Fifty Shades of Grey.

I should probably check it out so that I can make an informed opinion. But no, I just can’t face it. For all the hype and intrigue, I am spectacularly uninterested.

My wife couldn’t care less about the whole thing. She giggled her way through the book a couple of years ago after I won it in a radio competition. I was trying to win $500 and I won the complete Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy instead. Stupid competition. So she read the first book to see what all the fuss was about.

By the end she was too bored to cope with the sequels. She said, “If I see the phrase ‘inner goddess’ one more time I will have to hurt someone.” Which just goes to show that Fifty Shades of Grey probably does encourage violence.

I don’t know anyone who has read Fifty Shades of Grey who actually thinks it is a good book. As far as I can tell, people read it knowing full well that it is literary junk food.

And yet they read it. Like an extra naughty Mills & Boon it has swept women off their feet, 100 million copies sold worldwide. The movie was inevitable.

I should say at this point that I once tried to write a Mills & Boon novel. I decided it might be worth selling out my creative integrity if it could in any way fund my poetry habit. Poetry does not sell anywhere near as well as pornography, apparently. My idea was to make a secret living by writing judiciously steamy romance novels under a pseudonym.

For research purposes I got a couple of Mills & Boons out from the library. My resolve failed in the first few chapters. I just couldn’t stomach reading that stuff, let alone writing it. And that was the end of my misguided fantasy.

I once asked a friend of mine why she thought women were going so nutty over Fifty Shades of Grey. She suggested it was the fantasy of being wanted, really wanted, by a billionaire. I’m not sure what was more important, the billionaire or the being wanted. I suspect it was being wanted.

A lot has been written about how Fifty Shades of Grey is a dangerous influence because of the way it glamorises an abusive relationship. Once you hear those concerns expressed by people who have survived genuine abuse, it gets harder to take a charitable view of the film. Those survivor stories need to be told.

And yet I am cautious about giving the film too much credit. Despite all the fuss, the movie is just a movie – by most accounts not a very memorable one. Its big moment will pass and soon we will be worried about the next terrible thing.

Fifty Shades is the cinematic equivalent of KFC’s infamous Double Down burger, that fat-tastic stack of greasy chicken, cheese and bacon. “Don’t buy it,” people warned, “it’s horrendously bad for you.” So, of course, lots of people bought it.

Society’s collective health problems do not revolve around that single, idiotic, burger. What happens if you defeat the Double Down? Nothing. The fast food industry still exists.

Likewise, Fifty Shades is such an obvious target for moral outrage that railing against it almost becomes meaningless.

From children’s cartoons to music videos, there are far more insidious problems with the unhealthy ways that women are represented in the media.

At stake are questions like: how should a man treat a woman? How should a woman allow herself to be treated?

Fifty Shades of Grey forms part of this conversation, but let’s not spend too much energy dignifying one R-rated movie when there is an entire culture at work.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 20 February 2015. Reproduced with permission.