FIFTY SHADES OF GREY….OR OF PARADOX: A SIGN OF THE TIMES
Fifty Shades of Grey, a film from the fifth most read book of all time (according to a Nielsen’s statistic) though beyond the breathlessness it’s not well written? Fiction almost overnight popular to the level of Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code? A “romantic” novel or rather series of novels about Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) to entertain the public, more especially the female public, in an age of feminism and autonomy? Provocative material being written, acted, talked about and domesticated by apparently happily married people, if possible more ordinary than you are yourself ?….
Then too, the rich, damaged but sinister and alluring Christian Grey is played by an Irish actor,Jamie Dornan, who in real life loves home and wants more babies. An Australian Weekend article describes the star as almost “frighteningly handsome” though it’s hard to see what’s so frightening in the almost boyish, half worried face that outside of the film the ex model prefers to hide with a beard. In interview Dornan’s humble hesitancy and self deprecation are not sexy – you could even imagine him as a submissive victim of some ancient or modern matriarchy!
So it all seems too paradoxical and a bit strange and if, like many, BDSM isn’t your thing, it could also seem rather unhealthy that shackling people, whipping, bruising them or drawing blood amounts to any sort of entertainment or expression of love. But I will suggest this whole Grey phenomenon could be stranger than strange and that what is hidden and least known in connection with it might be what is most significant.
CHRISTIAN GREY AND EDWARD CULLEN
The actual inspiration of the author’s work was (apart from the menopausal conflicts and fantasies to which she admits), the example of the also poorly written, extremely bestselling Twilight vampire series of novels from Stephanie Meyer. And a strange story attaches to that series. It had been triggered by an extraordinarily initial vivid dream of a charming, vegetarian, more or less innocent or cute vampire who then became fiction’s Edward Cullen, himself surely more accurately realized for cinema by Robert Pattinson than Dornan incarnating Christian Grey. But in the wake of completing the series its author confessed to experiencing something inexplicable. Edward reappeared to her this time, terrifying her as apparently a blood sucker ready to kill her and not the innocent figure she had imagined (1). She has declined to write about this revised figure.
I don’t like to find myself on the side of conservative American Christians who seem unable to speak of anything sexual and erotic save in the most extreme, alarmist and confined of ways, but in this instance I have to agree with those who find Christian Grey a potentially bad idea and influence, one that is as much and more spiritual than simply moral.
The practical/moral objections have been obvious and familiar enough and could apply to porn generally whether soft or hard. The more you are turned on by Dornan/Grey and by kinks, say the critics, the less likely you will be satisfied by your too ordinary partner at home and a regular sex life. It’s hard to think that your body, your partner’s body or the Creator is glorified by messing around with someone’s body even if only in a charade of cruelty and contempt (and sometimes accidents and misunderstandings do happen). And within an already permissive society what sort of example is one offering to the young and impressionable who may take a fad and run with it in the wrong direction? (We have had a foretaste of that with Anne Rice’s vampire fiction which though the author dismisses her work as just imagination, has nonetheless helped set in motion an entire vampire/goth cult with at least some persons regularly seeking blood).
While all this may be true (at the same time as such moralism rigorously ignores that in cases of marked ignorance or repression some erotica/ porn might have an unintended educative value), more vital may be the ignored spiritual levels. Christian Grey, like BDSM itself, is at once in opposition to and/or perhaps in a sort of rivalry with religion whose symbols it is happy to exploit. The very name Christian Grey announces there will be some sort of religious connection, Christian’s partner’s name, Anastasia, means resurrection, and by the end of the series we gather that Christian will have been redeemed (sort of) by the pleasure/pain “sacrifices” his victim-lover has made to him. But the symbolism in almost any direction is dark. Although it is widely stated the film of the book is being premiered on St Valentine’s day, in fact its main American premiere is Friday 13th, likely an intended play upon popular superstition – a superstition nonetheless related to the theme of Judas and 13 people at the Last Supper and Christian Grey might be said to offer a parallel Judas path to salvation at a time when Judas is trendy thanks not least to the extravagant Lady Gaga.
The secular society of course cares not at all whether Christians are offended by exploitation or misuse of their symbols and doctrines, but if they are not that does not mean they may not pay in the long term for raising the devils for profit or entertainment. There’s always time for the Edward factors to show their real colours and the secular rationalist society is ignorant of the extent to which kinky sex practices can be black magical and have long been associated with evoking the dark side.
Society is still more ignorant of how the experience of responsible exorcism suggests that troubled (possessed?) individuals are strongly associated with parents whose sex lives had been particularly deviant. In the days when my doctoral studies on gay spiritualities took me in all directions, I noted that S/M gays, (a little known sub-set of the would-be all-inclusive non-judgemental gay community) were frequently seeking alternative spiritual experiences or in some instances even advertising themselves as masters who could bring you the demons.
AN END OF ERA SIGNATURE: ERIKA LEONARD AND OVID
But my esoteric speculations with their objection to the easy domestication of a “harmless” or “boring and silly” or “merely glamorous and trendy” Christian Grey fad goes further. There is something really odd about the Erika Leonard (aka) E.L.James phenomenon that strikes me. It is something that the conservative Christian critics don’t know and wouldn’t acknowledge any more than the secular society though I am prepared to say it’s a loss not to. It stops you from seeing you are almost certainly faced with not just a fad to criticize or flippantly enjoy, but a movement in the collective unconscious that’s at once meaningful and unhealthy.
The half Argentinean, half Scotch author was born with Sun in Pisces and moon in Leo….just like the super successful Roman poet Ovid. In both instances they are big time sexually provocative writers (albeit Ovid was a great poet while James represents pulp fiction). Both have attributed their work to imagination rather than extensive experience from life. In short, they present themselves as innocents in terms of example or influence even when that example and influence is enormous.
Interestingly too for “Christian” Grey, Ovid was born just before or near the dawn of the Piscean era which connects with Christ’s birth, while Erika Leonard writes at the very end of the same era, whose sign has a long association with betrayal and by one ancient tradition (and alleged revelation in the case of the late Jeane Dixon) with Judas. The sign itself has long been accorded the motto “serve or suffer” which of course gives it some affinities for any eroticisizing of pain. And I should say that among men as opposed to the large female audience and readership for Fifty Shades it is going to be Piscean males (like I have just seen Australian singer and actor Johnny Ruffo on Twitter) who will lead the band to declare what a wonderful film Fifty Shades is.
It was the pagan Augustus rather than any Christian who on the cusp of the Christian era banned Ovid to the Crimea for allegedly corrupting his generation with his writings. There may have been more to the banishment than just the moral issue (see my article Ovid for Ever and Paul Janka for Sometimes at http://goo.gl/0lqC1M, but there is little question that Ovid’s The Art of Love glorifies seduction and infidelity to an exceptional degree and does stand historically at the gateway of what is popularly called the Roman decadence. In turn it is arguable that Erika Leonard feeds into what is most sick behind the scenes in our society’s urges – over 2 million recently rushed to see video of the burning to death of the Jordanian pilot that as against other channels America’s Fox News was determined to show– in the interests of instructing us in the brutality of ISIS. As though, if we were intelligent at all, we couldn’t and shouldn’t know that from report already!
The difference between the case of Ovid and Leonard is that Leonard is not going to be banished by either pagan or Christian. It simply isn’t the style of this end of era to face facts and call them what they are. Open to every lie and thus to every Trojan Horse, it is the decadently muddled way of the times to relativize or trivialize the seriousness of issues, to let anything and anyone through the door, even if need be calling the most radical permissiveness a belated form of Christian charity itself. People must now be allowed, accepted, approved in their every need and urge no matter how dark, odd or dangerous. No topic need be off limits, – it’s only the setting of boundaries that is off limits! This leads to a kind of Judas betrayal of real value, ideals and beliefs and writers, film makes, actors must take responsibility for what they attempt to make seem innocent.
Reluctantly I am inclined to agree with religious critics of Fifty Shades, that it might actually be better not to see this film. You are only voting for what helps nothing and nobody much beyond lining the author’s pockets. It’s not the same as attending the games of Rome in its decadence, but you could call it a step along the way.