Posts tagged ‘E.L. James’

Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Black and White

Movie TheatreComing to a theatre near you this Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day: 110 minutes of expectation and titillation wrapped in the package of a movie based on a best-selling novel. E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has been widely panned by literary critics. Jesse Kornbluth, writing for the Huffington Post, admits, “As a reading experience, Fifty Shades of Grey is a sad joke, puny of plot, padded with conversations that are repeated five or six times and email exchanges that are neither romantic nor witty.”[1] A quick tour through a few of the novel’s more infamous lines quickly reveals just how bad the writing really is:

  • His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.
  • My subconscious is furious, medusa-like in her anger, hair flying, her hands clenched around her face like Edvard Munch’s Scream.
  • Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose. I breathe.[2]

If you think the line, “Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe” makes for a good novel, in the timeless words of the professor from Waterboy, “There’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata.” I’ve never read either of these authors, but something tells me E.L. James makes Danielle Steele look downright Shakespearean. Something also tells me that when James was writing her novel, clicks on went through the roof. Yet, over 10 million copies of this stilted, silly prose have been sold worldwide.

In all honesty, though the awful writing really does bother me, there is a much more sinister side to Fifty Shades of Grey – something that deserves serious theological reflection. This novel unashamedly, unabashedly revels in its sexual depravity. It is a sick foray into all sorts of sexual sin. Some reviewers have gone so far as to call it “mommy porn.”[3] The overarching plot line explores the sexually abusive relationship between a wealthy 27-year old entrepreneur named Christian Grey and a 21-year old college senior named Ana Steele. Christian warns Ana that he is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy” and introduces her to his room full of BDSM toys. It is their masochistic sexual encounters that form the meat of the novel. Indeed, reports indicate that in the 110-minute movie version, over 20 minutes are devoted to sex scenes.[4] And people have worked themselves into a flurry of anxious anticipation to see them.

Let me cut through the grey and be black and white for a moment: You should not go see this movie. You should not read the book. That’s the bottom line of this blog. You don’t need to encounter the explicit contents of this book and movie firsthand to know its implications are evil.  Allow me to give you three reasons why I believe this.

1. Fifty Shades of Grey robs people – and especially women – of their dignity.

I myself do not know all the illicit details of the sexual encounters between Christian and Ana, nor do I care to. But I do know that BDSM – whether it be in a novel, in a movie, or in real life – is an affront to basic human dignity. Tying up another person and calling them all sorts of nasty names, as is common in these types of sexual encounters, cannot be anywhere near what God had in mind when He designed sex so “two [could] become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the description of the righteous woman in Proverbs 31 haunts me as I think about the relationship peddled by this book: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Ana is robbed of both her strength and dignity in this story. May what is fiction never become what is reality.

One additional note on this topic: even if you are married and trust each other implicitly, BDSM still degrades the divine design for human sexuality. It simply does not square with what Paul writes concerning the marital relationship: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). Sex and marriage need tenderness.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey portrays people as little more than the sum of their desires.

Somehow, we have bought into this myth that if we do not indulge whatever sexual desires, fantasies, dreams, or fetishes we might have, we are not being true to ourselves. We are repressing ourselves. First, allow me to say a word about our feckless use of the word “repression.” Repression is when a person pushes something – usually a memory – out of their conscious awareness as a defense mechanism against the pain it causes. Repression often requires psychological help. Suppression, on the other hand, is when a person consciously chooses not to indulge a particular appetite. Repression is almost always dangerous. Suppression, on the other hand, can often be good. For example, I have often desired to try to take out the 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, but I have suppressed myself. Why? Because there is no way that would be good for me. I also sometimes desire to sleep in rather than to get up early to work out. But I suppress my sleep and get up. Why? Because I know working out is good for me.

Just because we desire something doesn’t make it good or good for us. This is why the apostle Peter warns: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). You are more than the sum of your desires. And you are most true to yourself not when you’re following every whim and desire, but when you’re following Jesus.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey gives false hope for a happy ending.

Perhaps what disturbs me most about Fifty Shades of Grey is not its graphic descriptions of bizarre sexual encounters, but the arc of the broader plot line over the whole Fifty Shades trilogy. In volume two, Christian and Ana get married. By the end of volume three, the reader learns the couple has two children. Christian, it seems, has been tamed. And even though it’s left unspoken, the emotion of the ending is clear: “And they lived happily ever after.”

Here’s the problem with this ending: if the first part of the story is true, the last part cannot be. The Fifty Shades trilogy tells the story of light being born out of darkness. It tells the story of tender love emerging out of sadomasochism. In real life, however, this does not happen – at least not in the way Fifty Shades presents it. Evil does not wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to birth something good.” No. Evil begets evil. If you don’t believe me, read up on the doctrine of original sin. The only way for good to emerge from evil is not by evil’s behest, but by evil’s demise. Jesus didn’t come and ask evil to be a little better. He came and nailed it to a cross. There’s where the hope for a “happily ever after” ending is. Not in some accidental stumbling of righteousness out of wickedness.

I hope this is enough – if you were thinking about seeing the movie or reading the book – to stop you. Researching the story and thinking through its repercussions is certainly enough for me.  And I also hope this is enough – if you’re trapped in a real-life abusive relationship – for you to get the help you need to get out. You’re too fearfully and wonderfully made not to.


[1] Jesse Kornbluth, “‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Is The Hottest-Selling Book In America Really Just ‘S&M For Dummies?’Huffington Post (3.12.2012)

[2] Brenton Dickieson, “50 Shades of Bad Writing,” A Pilgrim in Narnia (9.21.2012).

[3] Julie Bosman, “Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz,” The New York Times (3.9.2012).

[4] Jess Denham, “Fifty Shades of Grey movie banned in Malaysia for being ‘more like pornography than a film,’The Independent (2.5.2015).

February 9, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sex That Shouldn’t Sell…But It Does

It may be a cliché, but it is most certainly true:  sex sells.  Just ask Barnes and Noble.  Jeffrey Trachtenberg of The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the quarterly sales of the last remaining brick and mortar chain bookstore giant and noted that the numbers of its retail stores were up – 2% to $1.1 billion.  Trachtenberg cites two reasons for this impressive growth.  First, Barnes and Noble is reaping the benefits of the recent bankruptcy and closure of Borders.  Apparently, many Borders’ customers have found their way to Barnes and Noble.  But the second cause has nothing to do with corporate competition.  Instead, it has everything to do with sexual infatuation.  E.L. James’ bestselling hotly erotic trilogy with its flagship novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, is cited by the company in a public report as “a key revenue driver at its retail stores.”[1]  A racy trilogy is singlehandedly driving sales at a major book retailer…way up.  And that book retailer explains in an official ccorporate report that a racy trilogy is driving its sales way up…gladly.

This report from Barnes and Noble is sadly indicative of the spirit of our society.  It is not just that we are fascinated by sex, it is that we are fascinated by that which has been traditionally sexually forbidden.  The racier and the raunchier something is, the more piqued our collective cultural curiosity becomes.

What is especially notable about Fifty Shades is that it is erotica aimed at women.   Traditionally, pornography has been marketed to men, with stunningly and sadly successful results.  Indeed, pornography addiction has been generally considered to be a male problem rather than a female one.   With the Fifty Shades trilogy, however, we learn that women seem to be just as vulnerable to the pornography industry, though instead of featuring lewd pictures, this pornography finds its hook in spicy storylines.

Now more than ever, Christian believers must stand up for a biblical sexual ethic – and not because we can self-righteously claim to be free from sexual sin, for Jesus makes it clear in His Sermon on the Mount that none of us are innocent of sexual immorality (cf. Matthew 5:27-28), but because the Christian sexual ethic tells the truth about human sexuality.  Contrary to the vulgar verbal voyeurism encouraged by explicit bestselling novels, sex is more than biological arousal and satisfaction.  Instead, it is meant to be an expression of fidelity and unity, blessing husbands and wives with the gift of not only pleasure, but children.  Sex is meant to be a valuable gift rather than a cheap thrill.  And it is supposed to honor human dignity rather than degrade it (cf. Romans 1:24).

Perhaps the heart and soul of the Bible’s sexual ethic is best summed up in a single verb:  “know.”  Time and time again, the Bible uses this verb as a euphemistic way to refer to sexual intimacy:

  • “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (Genesis 4:1).
  • “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch” (Genesis 4:17).
  • “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her” (1 Samuel 1:19).

This verb reminds us that sex is meant for husbands and wives to know each other more deeply and connect to each other more intimately.  It is not meant for near strangers to grope each other in quest of some cut-rate erotic fantasy.  Sex is far more valuable than that.  And so are the people who engage in it.  Will you stand up for the value of sex and for the dignity of the people whom God has created as sexual beings?

[1] Jeffrey Trachtenberg, “‘Fifty Shades’ of Books” (The Wall Street Journal, 8.21.12).

August 27, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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