50 Shades of Cultural Poison

Posted: Feb 13, 2015 12:01 AM

The electricity fairly crackles.

Millions of supposedly self-respecting women are poised to breeze into movie theaters this weekend to immerse themselves in the filth that is “50 Shades of Grey.”

If there is anything more depressing than that, it is the playful clucking of media anticipation, taking the tone that this is just a fun fantasy ride, just a flight of fancy, two hours of escape.

It is more than that. It is evidence of a damaged society, a nation that thinks it is just swell to celebrate the story of a predatory billionaire punk who victimizes a tragically vulnerable woman for his own sick entertainment.

I can hear the condescending cackles of the oh-so-knowing cultural mainstream, many with Fandango receipts already in hand, poised to mock any who dare to suggest this is cultural rot. But “50 Shades” is a far cry in substance and intent from the occasional edgy book or film that contains sexual or violent passages along the path of an otherwise meritorious plot.

Is there one consumer of the E.L. James book or the Samantha Taylor-Johnson film who can say with a straight face that either would have made a peep in the marketplace without prurient content?

The lascivious appeal is what drove the book sales, and it will drive the opening weekend of box office receipts, charmingly timed for Valentine’s Day. Because what complements Valentine’s Day like a twisted story of an abusive relationship?

Even more disheartening than the smuttiness of this exercise are the poisonous messages it offers about sex. Count off the lessons from a film to be consumed by proud American women this weekend:

— Soulless sadism is hot;

—If the sadist is attractive and wealthy, his violent appetites will be met with approval;

—Such self-absorbed victimizers can force themselves on young, innocent women, and it is kind of awesome;

—Women should tolerate such sexual violence, even find a way to develop a taste for it. After all, maybe you can change him.

Movies filled with tawdry sex will come and go, their worst sins amounting to mere mindless devotion to graphic visuals. This is far worse. This is an attack on virtuous manhood and a celebration of bad choices by women.

And the pathetic thing is, the liberated throngs knocking back a few Pinots in their pre-film tailgate parties neither know nor care.

So enjoy, ladies. Thrill to the imagery of Christian Grey as he beats a college-age girl for his jollies. Imagine yourselves in the pumps of Anastasia Steele as she endures his abuse.

Plenty of movies contain portrayals of perversity, but usually it is in a negative light. it is the particularly noxious works that hold it up as something cool, enjoyable to witness and perhaps even to be emulated.

Maybe this is just an extension of the catnip value of all those vampire movies, ravenously consumed by women drawn to the take-charge romanticism of the undead. In 2015, having Edward and Jacob fight over you in the woods no longer suffices.

Now the taste is for a harder fix. This weekend’s “50 Shades” target audience and any self-respecting (or woman-respecting) men unwise enough to accompany them are rewarding a low cultural exploit that will appeal to our basest appetites.

The film’s defenders will corral armies of straw men— that people have a right to make such movies and to see them, neither of which is at issue. The debate is over the societal merit of this onscreen garbage. I look forward to hearing the attempts to praise it.