Why break out of a cultural rut? I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to broaden your horizons and try to experience the things that other people enjoy. You may discover something you really like, or at least gain a perspective on why other people like something. Maybe this is hypocritical to say as someone who watches the same episodes of Friends and The Office over and over again. But at the same time, there are so many movies I want to watch and books I want to read and albums I want to listen that it seems like I’ll never get to them all. I love media and I’m totally fine with that. I think consuming the same media multiple times is like eating comfort food or getting back to your apartment after a weekend away. The familiar feels good.
My chosen piece of media was the infamous movie version of the book Fifty Shades of Grey. I have never read any of the books in their entirety, but I have read some snippets here and there that I’ve seen online. Originally I was going to choose any generic romantic comedies, since I never watch those, but I opted instead for Fifty Shades because I thought it would be funnier, since it has a reputation for being awful. It definitely wasn’t finding the best of the genre, like they suggested on Pop Culture Happy Hour (Thompson 2014), but it’s been so popular and so talked-about that I decided to go for it. I also already had a pretty solid opinion about it, even though I hadn’t seen it, just based on what I’d seen online- the way the relationship is unhealthy and abusive, the way the protagonist lacks any agency, the cheesy dialogue. Maybe I would watch it and be surprised (I doubted it, though). The movies I watch tend to be horror movies or critically acclaimed dramas, so something that seemed to be essentially a softcore porn with a rating of 4.1/10 on IMDb was about as far away from my typical movie choice as you could get.
I was not pleasantly surprised. As I expected, this movie was truly horrible- one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The main character was insipid and stupid, and neither she (Anna) nor the Christian Grey character had anything likeable about them. I literally laughed out loud at how bad some of the dialogue was. The script was bizarre and repetitive with a thin plot. Nothing either of these characters did made sense, and scary and abusive behavior was treated like it was sexy or romantic. I suffered through all 2 hours and 6 minutes for this assignment. I am about as far from the target audience for this movie as you can possibly get as a progressive, feminist, lesbian in her early 20’s. This movie was not made for me. It was not made for anyone who would watch it with a critical lens instead of just watching it to be titillated. I would imagine the target audience for this film as straight women in their 30’s-60’s. All tastes are subjective and I still feel comfortable saying this movie is objectively bad. I would not consider watching the upcoming sequel unless there was monetary compensation for my time. There are some movies that are concerned purely with profit and not at all with cinematic quality, and this is one of those movies.
In the first week of class, we talked about how it can be imperative to withhold value judgments when analyzing pop culture. I find that it is harder than expected when you’re trying to analyze something you disliked so intensely. It’s not just the fact that I found the movie to be bad, it’s that I thought the way the main character and her relationship was portrayed was gross and rapey, and it’s upsetting that women are supposed to find it arousing or sexy. I don’t think it’s having high standards to expect that someone you’re dating doesn’t follow you out of the state, or get rid of your car, or try to make you sign a sex contract. All of these happenings are plot points of Fifty Shades of Grey to show how determined Christian Grey is to seduce Anna. I know that I’m not the target audience, but as a gender studies major and a feminist, everything about the plot of this movie made me cringe. Even Christian calling Anna “Anastasia” when she has repeatedly told him to just call her “Anna” is a subtle example of the way he doesn’t respect any normal boundaries, and yet, the movie has enamored enough people that they are producing a sequel.
According to Raymond Williams (2008), “selective tradition” is deciding what is worthy of being studied. In the future, will scholars of pop culture look back to Fifty Shades of Grey as a defining part of the pop culture lexicon of the twenty-teens, or is it a fad that will eventually fade out of everyone’s consciousness? Let’s hope for the latter.
Taylor-Wood, S., Luca, M. D., James, E. L., Brunetti, D., & Marcel, K. (Writers). (2015). Fifty Shades of Grey [Motion picture]. Focus Features.
Thompson, S. (Host). (2005, September 14). Pop Culture Happy Hour [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2014/09/05/346055621/pop-culture-happy-hour-repurposing-the-simpsons-and-busting-out-of-a-rut
Williams, R. (2008). The Analysis of Culture. In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (pp. 32-40).