I’m bracing myself for the grey wave due to soak us all this Valentine’s Day when the movie opens. A couple of years ago the book was all the talk around my office. Why, I wonder, do smart, competent women go for this type of junk?
My grandmother, who worked as a secretary from youth to old age, a cop’s widow and mother of four, consumed romance novels like she smoked her cigarettes. One after the other. She was nothing like the swooning and weeping women on the covers, even the plucky heroines were wimps compared to her. She faced enough adversity for three lifetimes with Irish-American toughness.
So why did she love these stories? The prize for the right combination of submissiveness and trembling self-assertion was the heart of some arrogant inbred British lord. Like there was no cute stable boys around? Like our relatives back in the old country didn’t have issues with the British?
Good thing Christian Grey doesn’t look like Donald Trump. Even so, this oligarch worship is creepy. Bad enough we have to listen to politicians drivel on about ‘job creators’ as if any mortal ever created anything. As if we need to flatter and appease our betters so maybe they’ll create us some jobs.
And the Fifty Shades plot that a young woman out of college has no better prospects than to sell sex to some rich guy? This is not romance- it’s outrageous. And untenable. Simple math says that the 99% can’t all count on making a living as a sex toy to the 1%.
I miss the old days. Back then when we said ‘eat the rich’ we didn’t mean it that way. We wanted to stick it to the man, not kneel down for him. Where did the anger go?
Like everything else in American culture it was co-opted, commodified and neutralized. The draft ended, campuses settled down. The women’s movement made substantial legal gains and discrimination became a dirty word. Plenty of it, but you don’t see ‘whites only’ or ‘ladies entrance’ any more. Social progress left much of America behind and gave cover to the dismantling of the working middle class.
From ‘Dallas’ to ‘Pretty Woman’ to ‘Maid in Manhattan’ and now ’50 Shades of Grey’ it’s the same wealth worship. It doesn’t work for me. I thought Scarlett O’Hara was a slave owning parasite who should get a job. I thought Princess Diana could have done better. I think rich guys are more likely to look like Rupert Murdoch than Richard Gere.
I know that escapist fantasies are just that. Escape from our real lives. Agency brings responsibility, and that’s a burden sometimes. Everyone on some level would like to be rescued. It’s just that this junk culture, like junk food, will make you fat and hungry at the same time. Believing in fairy tales can mess up your life. Think of poor Diana, she dreamed of Prince Charming and got Prince Charles instead.
Who am I to judge? I think the hottest screen couple ever was the snails in Microcosmos. I read The Enquirer in the grocery line. I own the complete set of Firefly. I call M&M’s and potato chips a balanced lunch. But there’s something not right in making gods of the rich.
If The Baffler ‘Fifty Shades of Late Capitalism’ is correct, this film may be an orgy of product placement. Tell me if I got that right, I’ll be doing other stuff with my time off.