Rich Lowry: Creep meets girl

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, February 18, 2015 8:04pm
  • Opinion

Thelma and Louise should be appalled.

Almost 25 years after their epic road movie attacked “conventional patterns of chauvinist male behavior toward females” (in the words of one critic), here arrives “Fifty Shades of Grey,” perhaps the most successful anti-feminist movie ever made.

The runaway best-selling novel is now a juggernaut on the big screen, driven by overwhelmingly female audiences that accounted for its record-breaking opening weekend.

The dirty secret of “Fifty Shades” is that, underneath the kinky exterior, it’s a formulaic romantic fantasy. For all its notorious boundary-pushing, it is the distilled essence of decades’ worth of Harlequin paperbacks, with hyperstereotypical gender roles pushed to the point of perversity (figuratively and, of course, literally). “Fifty Shades” is a version of the age-old boy-meets-girl story, except the boy is a dangerous creep.

As countless millions already know, the story centers around 27-year-old businessman Christian Grey’s seduction of ingenue Anastasia Steele, a college student. He is older and wealthy. She is young and poor. He is experienced and controlling. She is naive and trusting. He’s the strong, quiet type. She’s vulnerable and wants to talk. He owns a helicopter. She drives a VW Bug.

He overawes her. When Anastasia is first in Christian’s presence, doing an interview for her college newspaper as a favor for a friend, she practically collapses into a puddle of helplessness before the sheer force of his alpha-dog personality. Later, she needs him to save her from the unwanted affection of a college friend. Her road to adventure and material plenty (glider rides, gifts of expensive cars, etc.) runs entirely through him.

All this is a bit much, before we get to the fact — and, obviously, this is what sets “Fifty Shades” apart from other romances — that Christian wants to physically and emotionally dominate her and hit her for his own pleasure.

No wonder some feminists are inveighing against the film, and this time, the sisters have a point.

As much as it can, “Fifty Shades” seeks to sanitize the S&M. Christian wants Anastasia’s consent in a written contract so elaborate it could be negotiated by high-powered lawyers, provided they had a strong stomach for graphic sexual content.

But there’s no sugarcoating what Christian is about. His seduction of Anastasia is emotionally manipulative, his drive to control her is abusive, and his pursuit of her — unexpectedly showing up at places where she is — could easily be considered stalking. If anything like this happened in remotely more realistic circumstances, the proper response to Christian’s obsessive attention would be a good kick in the groin, followed by a restraining order.

Not to mention a referral to a first-class psychiatrist. The roots of Christian’s desire to hurt women is his own abuse as a child. Anastasia, in her wide-eyed way, wants to save her Byronic romantic hero from his demons, but that would be better left to a professional with years of training and lots of time to work with an emotionally damaged client.

The lesson of “Fifty Shades” should be: Ladies, don’t try this at home. In real life, trying to reform manipulative and abusive men only ends in tears, and becoming subject to sexual humiliation only brings humiliation.

The edge is taken off “Fifty Shades” by its sheer ridiculousness — the movie is punctuated by moments of inadvertent hilarity — and its fairy-tale ending. Anastasia maintains her identity, even though Christian wants to obliterate it. And over the course of the three books in the franchise, Christian Grey is indeed reformed and tamed, and Anastasia forms a happy family with him. It’s Ward and June Cleaver, via a pleasure room that looks like something out of a Restoration Hardware catalog.

Needless to say, there are easier routes to marital bliss, and they never involve anyone like Christian Grey, who gives the patriarchy a bad name.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka and former President Donald Trump stand on stage during a July 2022 rally in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tshibaka’s insincere defense of democracy

There are a lot of possible explanations why fewer votes were cast last November

Capitol
Opinion: Humanism and the billionaire class

Compromise is the right thing to do and they should do it.

tt
Opinion: The challenged truths of 3 elected representatives

“Politicians lying is nothing new.”

This photo shows the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The wrong way to define demand

And as glaciers go, the Mendenhall is only a minor attraction.

Zachary Hamilton (Courtesy photo)
Borough mayoral candidate: ‘The best is yet to come’

Zachary Hamilton is running for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor in the special election

Love, INC in Soldotna, Alaska, provides homelessness prevention and housing services to people on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: COVID relief funds help homeless children in Alaska

We need to sustain this kind of investment.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Alaska must act now to capitalize on carbon markets

Alaska has vast forests and coastlines that can provide natural carbon management

1
Opinion: MLK Day clinics offered in the ‘spirit of service and advocacy for equality and social justice’

Attorneys across the state will be spending their holiday as “A Day On, Not a Day Off”

The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in 2010. (Homer News File)
Opinion: New federal funding could aid Alaska Marine Highway System

The evidence is clear that the AMHS is in grave danger of failing and moving into Alaska’s history books

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’ve seen the union difference

As a community we can show solidarity…

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Sullivan’s irrelevance in defense of democracy

Two years ago this week, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol…

People vote in polling booths at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: What’s on your 2023 schedule so far?

There is a Kenai Peninsula Borough Special Mayoral Election coming up in February