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Fifty Shades of Grey

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I haven't read the book, but the movie is almost nothing *but* a prolonged discourse on the nature of consent. One of the more erotic scenes, as some people have noted, consists of the male and female protagonists sitting across from each other at a table, fully clothed, and negotiating what will be permissible between them. Even the final "encounter", which clearly crosses *some* sort of line (as the characters themselves recognize, and it's kind of hard to miss the fact that they *do* recognize this), does not take place until explicit consent is given.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Mother Jones: Christian Singer Who Sold His Song to "Fifty Shades of Grey": "I Thought It Was a Rom-Com"

 

I knew it was a book, but I had no idea what it was. So I was like, sure, big movie, good exposure. I'll be in this romantic comedy. Which is what I thought it was: a romantic comedy. It's a good way to make money in the music business, you know. Then I saw a preview for it, and I was like, 'Oh shit. Oh no. What have I done?'
 
To me it's kind of funny. I'm glad it's in a non-sexual scene to be honest with you, not for my sake but for my family's sake. I don't have any moral things about it. It's not like we're in the movie—it's just a song for a minute.

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Who knew Russell Brand could and would so clearly articulate a healthy perspective on '50 Shades' (and all porn in general) when not a single male here on 'Arts and Faith' even made an attempt?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kvzamjQW9M#t=376


Art affirms all that is best in man—hope, faith, love, beauty, prayer…what he dreams of and what he hopes for.  What is art?  Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other.  A confession.  An unconscious act that nonetheless reflects the true meaning of life—love and sacrifice.

~Andrei Tarkovsky

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Who knew Russell Brand could articulate *any* sort of perspective on Fifty Shades of Grey without even seeing the film?

 

Try again, Lynn.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I think it'd be nice if ya'll would be a little more respectful to Lynn. She is making some good points and ones sorely needed. (I'm gonna edit this to specifically ask Peter to be more respectful. I thought Jeffrey's response was respectful, and wish others had followed suit)

Some of my female friends have written some response pieces to Fifty Shades of Grey that I think are definitely worth reading.

I Dated Christian Grey: How Women Are Groomed For Abuse by Samantha Field

And Another thought piece more on Fifty Shades of Grey and Income Inequality by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

 

and another important review that talks about some of the abusive relationship stuff

I think too we need to have a discussion on what consent necessarily means. Being manipulated into consent is not consent. Consent is not something you "discuss" (you do, but not after they've said no already or shown they are uncomfortable) it's simply..."Do you want to do bondage during sex?" "No, that makes me uncomfortable." "Okay." or "I have strange desires..." "Show me" *starts to show her* "Whoa this is weird and uncomfortable, can we not do this?" "Okay." or even just being able to see that your partner is uncomfortable and simply ask if they are, and tell them they can be honest...trust them, let them trust you...that to me is the kind of consent that is important in BDSM and lacking in the film as many who are into BDSM have said it's lacking (and I'd trust their word over anyone not into BDSM)



 

Edited by Justin Hanvey

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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I don't think anyone here is denying that Fifty Shades depicts a relationship that would in the real world be deeply unhealthy. Since I have not and probably will not see the movie, I can't speak to its content and I don't care to indulge in moral indignation over a movie I've not seen. Life is very much too short. I do think that implying that people in this thread are guilty of moral turpitude for not loudly declaring such a stunningly obvious fact is--well, disrespectful, if we have to use such a culturally-loaded term, which I'd prefer not to do*. (And, apparently, we should extend that condemnation to pornography itself, which--eh? Literally no one on this board is willing to go to bat for pornography, even if there are a few--and that "if" should be taken in the strongest conditional sense--who would have their doubts about issuing a blanket condemnation on it. The non-rightness of porn is one of the assumptions of this particular discourse community).

 

Here's what's interesting about the Fifty Shades phenomenon--to me, anyway: it's a phenomenon. Presumably among many women who don't have abusive relationships or who would reject the sorts of advances that are [presumably] depicted in the film. That is, it's a fantasy. Now, we could talk about why it's a fantasy (and I think that I've linked to a story in this very thread that raises the question. Here it is again). We could also interrogate [a] how many copies sold are actually read,  how many are read ironically, etc etc etc. It seems to me that this sort of inquiry would go a long way toward complicating the discussion. However you slice it, I do think that we have in the popular discourse a woefully bankrupt vocabulary for dealing with the intersections of desire, fantasy, and reality.And erotics more broadly considered--a point I've brought up more than once on this board.

 

We also seem to have a bankrupt vocabulary when it comes to cultural analysis. There's a temptation in dealing with pop-culture artifacts of all kinds--action movies, thrillers, superhero flicks--as if whatever is going on in them can be mapped one-to-one onto a cultural matrix. This is particularly a temptation of cultural studies when it's done poorly. Thus, "superhero movies are about 9/11"--which, yes, even at this remove--but not in the same way or to the same degree. Or "Fifty Shades is a product of rape culture"--which makes for a very satisfying moral condemnation, but it's boring after the initial jolt of satisfaction has worn off. A more interesting thing would to be to interrogate the dimensions of rape culture and ask what the book's--and the movie's--popularity among women says about the ways in which women themselves negotiate such a culture. Particularly since it has its origins in fan fiction, which is a [traditionally] female space. And--let's not forget--as Twilight fan fiction, which means that it carries with it the baggage of the popularity of those books--again, particularly among women. There's ideological work going on here, to be sure, but it's a much more textured sort of thing and I doubt that it maps easily onto a binary model.

 

___________

*I'd prefer not to because, under the circumstances, throwing around demands for "respect" for anyone is not calculated to defuse any perceived tension. It's more likely to have the opposite effect.

Edited by NBooth

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Good thoughts NBooth.

 

I'm not interested in the movie and will probably never see it, but I am somewhat curious about the phenomena.  It seems pretty obvious to me that the book and movie are selling to an awful lot of people who would find the concepts therein repulsive in real life.  So, the question of what is going on with the culture, in a way that it genuinely curious and not condemning, is valid.  I would think.

 

Considering and questioning doesn't necessarily equate to agreeing.  I don't read anybody here agreeing with it.  Or have I missed something.


But I certainly agree with the value of a womans perspective.

Edited by Attica

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Hey, I'm all for a respectful discussion. But that only works when all participants should be respectful... male or female. That means no mockery of one another's perspectives, male or female, on the board. That means no jumping to conclusions about one another's sex lives based on what articles we link or share. It means that just because somebody hasn't posted a public condemnation of abuse, they shouldn't be accused of endorsing abuse. And it means that raising questions about a complicated subject should not deserve the questioner an accusation that he or she is not really a Christian. (All of these things have been happening in this thread, or in personal notes that I've received about this thread.) Let's discuss the film, not turn disagreements over the nature of art into personal attacks.

 

Moderators, if I'm out of line in asking that we rise to these standards of basic decency and respect, do let me know.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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AH, Jeffrey, you're such an idealist. ;)


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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I have also found myself wondering if Christians really have a vocabulary for discussing bondage and other kinds of transgressive sexual fantasies. Certainly some of us do have such fantasies -- and I would underscore that I'm talking about *fantasies*, which is altogether separate from reality.

They do, and it arises from passages like Exodus 20:17 and Matthew 5:28. Any basic word study first shows that the original Hebrew and Greek for words like to lust, to desire or to covet are the same words used to designate both good and evil desires: for example, mere “lust” is not always a bad desire. The next step after establishing this is establish [1] that it is not wrong merely to lust, to desire or to covet, and that [2] the mere desire to sin is not, in and of itself, a sin. It then becomes immediately necessary to articulate what the 10th commandment was meant to prohibit. Reading the Bible commentaries on the meaning of the prohibition talking about a sort of “active” desiring that is chosen with the will. In other words, there is a “desiring” or a “fantasizing” that is considered theologically to be an act. In a very real sense, there is a kind of fantasizing that is traditionally considered to be a vice. Therefore, fantasizing about taking pleasure in hurting someone would be rightly considered evil. It may be true that many churches are not very good at teaching this, but the theology on the subject is there, and has always been there, likely even before Aquinas begun discussing the root of sin within “inordinate desire.” (See the Summa Theologica, Prima Secundæ Partis, Question 84; Secunda Secundæ Partis, Question 167.)

 

Yes, there is only one right female perspective. The one that honors all women and girls as having equal rights and dignity to males, and treats them as such.

There is not one single thing okay in any woman or girl being manipulated, controlled, abused, and/or treated as a disposable object.

In this particular case, I would agree with you that it is the right “female” perspective, but only with the addition that it is also the right “male” perspective. The issues here are profoundly human issues - and treating other persons as objects is a moral wrong, regardless of gender. In other words, a man does not get to have a different perspective on this one, given its nature as a moral question.

(And Lynn, I am glad you are joining our conversations. Thank you. I hope you stick with it, even when you find yourself in a disagreement. The more other women see you participating, the more they will be encouraged to participate also.)

 

A series of questions without intended answers:

1. What explains the popularity of this book/movie among women?

The same thing that explains the great popularity of every exploitative Hollywood film that appeals to the unhealthy fantasies of the viewer. I don’t see how it’s any different from the popularity of many mainstream horror films (Rob Zombie, Darren Lynn Bousman, Marcus Nispel) or from a host of films that fetishize violence (Michael Bay, Justin Lin, Eli Roth).

 

2. To what extent is the response to Fifty Shades conditioned by gendered expectations regarding the relative worth of popular fiction produced for women v. that produced for men?

If there’s a bias, perhaps that’s only because our culture has not applied the compelling reasoning against this sort of fantasizing in order to condemn other kinds of fantasizing as well.

 

3. To what extent does Fifty Shades fit into a generic tradition – the Gothic Melodrama, for instance – in which power-plays are always part of the frisson of the piece?

4. What historical precedents are there for both Fifty Shades and the furor surrounding it?

I think we’d struggle to categorize the novels of the Marquis de Sade as “Gothic Melodrama.”

 

5. Going back to 1, it seems to me that any evaluation offered should be very clear about where the evaluator stands on the fantasy-reality issue; to what extent is fantasy separable from real-world desires ...?

Whether one is coming from a position of theology, moral philosophy, psychology, or aesthetics, the existence of “fantasy” within the moral sphere is a given. Literary critics and philosophers have been condemning “fantasy” for ages (not using the definition of the fairy tale genre, but using the definition that distinguishes itself from imagination and concerns the ways in which fantasizing about the unreal twists and distorts one’s ability to deal with real world relationships; see Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Biographia Literaria). The basic, and rather elementary, idea being that there is a kind of fantasy that is both morally and psychologically unhealthy.

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Who knew Russell Brand could and would so clearly articulate a healthy perspective on '50 Shades' (and all porn in general) when not a single male here on 'Arts and Faith' even made an attempt?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kvzamjQW9M#t=376

I thought the way he addressed the topic was really good. I especially liked the citation/inclusion of articles. I for one wish I would have made such a video. However, that being said, I also did not find it a topic close enough to my heart to spend time editorializing. We all, male and female, focus our often limited time on things that we have deemed worthy of our attention, so I don't think it is productive to condemn males on the site for not attempting to address. Does it really matter? We can certainly talk about Russell's video.


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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... the movie is almost nothing *but* a prolonged discourse on the nature of consent. One of the more erotic scenes, as some people have noted, consists of the male and female protagonists sitting across from each other at a table, fully clothed, and negotiating what will be permissible between them. Even the final "encounter", which clearly crosses *some* sort of line (as the characters themselves recognize, and it's kind of hard to miss the fact that they *do* recognize this), does not take place until explicit consent is given.

See, calling the film a “discourse” is too generous. There is no evidence that either E.L. James or Sam Taylor-Johnson were trying to seriously explore the moral nature of consent. They just happen to be exploitating sexual behavior that is still considered taboo by many people across the right and left divide - and given the cultural mores that we do still have, the "contract" or "negotiation" was just a easy way out of it.  If Taylor-Johnson tried to add a little nuance, that does nothing to alter the exploitative nature of what he is doing by making and selling the film in the first place.

 

I think too we need to have a discussion on what consent necessarily means. Being manipulated into consent is not consent. Consent is not something you ‘discuss’ (you do, but not after they've said no already or shown they are uncomfortable) ...

Actually, if anything, I’d suggest this film illustrates our culture’s obsessive focus on consent as a false basis for the morality of action.

Sometimes “consent” simply does not matter.

A “consenting adult” can consent, even without being manipulated, and that still does not make some things ok. Even those who would defend the behavior in the film as morally tolerable because of consent would still have an uncrossable line somewhere (say with a snuff film).  Moreover, merely because violating consent can be a moral wrong, or because coerced consent can be a moral wrong, that does not make consent the standard of what is and isn’t a moral wrong. Carl R. Trueman just commented on this recently.

 

... or even just being able to see that your partner is uncomfortable and simply ask if they are, and tell them they can be honest...trust them, let them trust you...that to me is the kind of consent that is important in BDSM and lacking in the film as many who are into BDSM have said it's lacking (and I'd trust their word over anyone not into BDSM)

It follows from the above that “the kind of consent that is important” would be a nonissue here. In fact, discussing “kinds” of consent is a discussion that can being to become ridiculous.  (How much consent is enough consent?  Does tentatively offered consent justify line-crossing that persuaded consent does not?  The hilarity of watching people try to answer these questions is diminished by the inanity of the answers that are given.) Absolutely perfect, completely voluntary, utterly free and enthusiastic “consent” would still, given the nature of man, by a poor and sad determinative of moral action.

If it is wrong to use a human person as an object rather than as a person, to objectify her and to commoditize her as a thing that can be bought or bartered for, then asking if she consents to be used and dehumanized in such a way is irrelevant.

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Great points, Jeremy. Just one thing:

 

 If Taylor-Johnson tried to add a little nuance, that does nothing to alter the exploitative nature of what he is doing by making and selling the film in the first place.

Sam in Sam Taylor-Johnson is short for Samantha.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Don't we often fantasize about things because we are horrified and repulsed by them, and we mull it over attempting to deal with it.  Doesn't it sometimes spark a thrill because of this repulsion, being that because of what is good in us we get a sensation out of the thought of, say, a person being stabbed by a guy in a hockey mask.  It repulses us, because it is objectionable to our value system.  But this repulsion also leads to an adrenaline rush and fascination.

 

A psycopath wouldn't have these emotions, he/she would probably be indifferent.  (Edit:  Even though he/she may get some sick charge by emulating it.)

 

So, then, how does this all apply to "exploitational" aspects of film?  I certainly don't think that it is necessarily always bad (but sure it can be) or that those who watch those films are always dark.

 

But also, can this be applied to understanding why so many people seem to be interested in 50 shades of Grey when it would be opposed to their actual real life values?  Honest question?

 

Also.  Do people who are into that sort of thing get something from 50 Shades of Grey, or do they find it to be a big yawn?   

Edited by Attica

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Ok, Jeremy. Here's my promised digression on "fantasy." As might be expected, I have tons of issues with the way you settle matters by appealing to old standards as if they decided things for good and all (seriously, between your Classicism and my Modernism/Postmodernism, we're like an ideological Voltron). But I'm not actually going to argue against anything you say, except to protest that you do Jeremy Lin a profound disservice and to point out that, the boundaries of genre being malleable as they are, it would actually be quite easy to find ways in which the Marquis de Sade fits the Gothic mold (though, if he doesn't, you still have to argue that Fifty Shades belongs in his camp rather than Jane Eyre's--in fact, I suspect, it belongs a bit in both).

 

What I do want to do is press back against, just a little, is this:

 

Whether one is coming from a position of theology, moral philosophy, psychology, or aesthetics, the existence of “fantasy” within the moral sphere is a given. Literary critics and philosophers have been condemning “fantasy” for ages (not using the definition of the fairy tale genre, but using the definition that distinguishes itself from imagination and concerns the ways in which fantasizing about the unreal twists and distorts one’s ability to deal with real world relationships; see Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Biographia Literaria). The basic, and rather elementary, idea being that there is a kind of fantasy that is both morally and psychologically unhealthy.

 

It seems to me that to revert to Coleridge in order to discuss the relative value of "fantasy" is to err in several directions. For one thing, it neglects the entire Western tradition post-Coleridge, a tradition that includes thinkers like Freud, Marx, Marcuse, etc etc etc. By so doing, it weakens itself by not taking into account the delicate connections between fantasy and desire. It assumes that the human is a monad who can choose which fantasies arise at a given moment. But the situation strikes me as not at all so clean-cut as that.

 

Desire--the whole history of Western thought since Freud has been grappling with the nature of desire. Freud located desire within the id--the underground current of obscene yearnings that must be kept in check by the superego. Navigating these two fields was the ego, which must suppress, sublimate, or otherwise alter the antisocial forms of desire brought about by the id. Thus, Civilization and Its Discontents--the discontents being located in the fact that the id can never achieve full expression, and so its dark forces work themselves out in unhealthy ways--including fantasy. But, importantly, it isn't fantasy itself that is the problem here: it's specific kinds of fantasy, namely those that cause illness or mental disturbance in the organism. So far so good. We could, perhaps, tease out the ways in which this ego-superego-id division is necessarily grounded on the development of an industrial, capitalist society (as Marcuse, for instance, would do)--but never mind that for now.

 

But what's interesting about desire is that--per Lacan--it is, by its nature, that thing which can never be fulfilled (Freud also had this insight, iirc). Achilles can never catch the tortoise. This gets at a core point about desire, one which exists in Freud but which I want to point out here: desire is by its nature excessive. If it were not excessive--if it were satisfied with materials at hand--it would not be desire. It would be appetite, which by its nature can be remedied by eating, having sex, etc etc etc. Desire is, thus, the over-spilling of libidinal functions, and the navigation of desire--by my understanding--is thus the realm of fantasy.

 

Again, what this means is that fantasy is both necessary and innate; far from being a distortion of reality, it is the condition of the Real itself. If we did not desire, we would have no metaphysics (see also: Surprised by Joy; even Augustine got somewhere close to this when he declared that "Our hearts are restless until they rest in [God]". Desire is the grounds of an encounter with the Divine). Fantasy is the mechanic by which we manage the surplus of desire--and, so, it is in a sense the precondition of any philosophical or metaphysical speculation. [There's more that could be done here by referencing Looking Awry, particularly its third section, "Fantasy, Bureaucracy, Democracy," as well as its sixth chapter, "Pornography, Nostalgia, Montage: A Triad of the Gaze," but I've already run on too long]

 

None of this contradicts what you're saying. I'm actually suspicious of telling anyone that they should feel guilty for enjoying whatever fantasies they enjoy--because, y'know, no one's died and made me Grand Emperor yet--but even in the Freudian-Lacanian model there is room for fantasy to be either unhealthy or healthy (or, perhaps, both). The key complication I'm trying to introduce is this: once fantasy is seen as a mechanic by which [all] humans navigate desire, it becomes a much murkier area of inquiry. It becomes tremendously difficult to divide the "healthy" fantasy from the "unhealthy" fantasy--which is not the same as to say that it can't be done. But it just ain't as easy as all that.

Edited by NBooth

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Love your post NBooth.

 

We need to "fantasize" about "unhealthy" things to a least some extent, otherwise how would we even be able to truly "Grok" it in order to understand and then reject it?

Edited by Attica

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Which is of course why film can help us to deal with life's issues, even that which is unsavory, or maybe better, *especially* that which is unsavory, because it provides us with a relatively safe environment through which to reflect on and wrestle with these things.

Edited by Attica

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Richard Brody on "The Accurate Erotics of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'":

 

The movie should really be called “Fifty Shades of Foreplay,” because that’s the most important thing it has that most movies don’t. Whatever else the new “Fifty Shades” film may be, it’s a salutary corrective to the depiction of sex in most modern movies, whether Hollywood, independent, or foreign. The silliest cinematic convention of recent decades has been the emblematic sex scene—the visual evidence to prove to viewers that the couple in question consummate their relationship and enjoy it. These scenes merely illustrate a line in a script—“They have sex”—and might as well be done with stock footage and the actors’ faces digitally added.

 

The perfunctory sex scene is a problem of romantic comedy and of serious drama alike. Usually, it involves a cut from a couple at a restaurant or in a car to the two of them pneumatically heaving in bed, or pounding unseen flesh while still mostly dressed and standing in a vestibule or a kitchen or a hotel room. The scene elides the stages of erotic progress, from the restaurant to the car to the door, from the first kiss and the aroused gropes to the subtleties of tender empathy and intimate knowledge that make the difference in any encounter. In short, they’re sex scenes in which everything sexy is eliminated. It’s not that the good stuff was left on the cutting-room floor; it was never filmed, or mentioned in the script, or imagined by the director and screenwriter.

 

“Fifty Shades of Grey”—and I’m referring to the movie, not to the book, which I haven’t read—isn’t porn. It isn’t mommy porn, and it isn’t softcore porn. It isn’t a joke, and it isn’t complete junk. The movie is far from a masterwork, but the glossy fantasies of “Fifty Shades” deliver something altogether significant, substantial, and welcome. The trouble with the sex in most movies isn’t a matter of prudery but of a stultifying failure of erotic imagination—and of dramatic imagination. It reflects an inability to think of sex as action and to think of characters as actual sexual beings with the sexual complexity of any ordinary person. You’d think that whoever writes such ignorant gaps into a script, or whoever films such gaps, has never actually had sex—or worse, had never even fantasized about it. . . .

 

Just wondering: How many people participating in this thread have actually *seen* the film? How many people here, besides myself, *know what we're actually talking about*?

 

Justin: You say I should show more respect. Well, Jeff already gave the most obvious answer -- that people who want respect need to show it first -- and to that, I would add that before Lynn got involved in this thread, I was making a point of listening to -- and respecting -- female appreciations of this film. This film is made by and for women. Of *course* it doesn't speak for *all* women, any more than James Bond speaks for all men. But if this film expresses a feminine point of view, I want to know more about it. And if Arts & Faith was invented for any particular purpose, it was *not* to let someone swagger in here and try to shut down discussion of a film *without even seeing it first*. That's precisely the kind of attitude that many of us here have been fighting against *for years*. (Cf. boycotts of The Last Temptation of Christ, etc.)

 

That being said, I do thank you for linking to those reviews of the film. There has been so much discussion of the film's portrayal of *sex*, and all the consent issues relating thereto, that I'd almost forgotten about the utter *lack* of consent when Christian sells Anastasia's car without telling her first, etc. Yes, absolutely, there is an abusive relationship issue there.

 

But I must admit, I find it difficult to take even *that* element very seriously when I remember that this film began as Twilight fan fiction, and that all the stalking and control-freaking in this film is basically a carbon-copy of Edward's relationship with Bella -- which many people objected to in the case of *that* franchise too, obviously, but I dunno, after a while a template becomes its own thing and you just kind of settle into it and look for the variations *within* that template. Kind of like how you accept, without question, that Luke Skywalker is shooting stormtroopers in Star Wars because, hey, that's what you do in an action movie, and no one -- not even Luke -- ever pauses to reflect on the fact that this poor naive farmboy just *killed* someone for the first time. (The Godfather makes a big deal of how Michael Corleone "makes his bones" -- and this, despite the fact that he's already a war hero who has killed enemy troops! -- but it's quite possible that Luke's first kill doesn't even take place onscreen.)

 

NBooth wrote:
: Here's what's interesting about the Fifty Shades phenomenon--to me, anyway: it's a phenomenon. Presumably among many women who don't have abusive relationships or who would reject the sorts of advances that are [presumably] depicted in the film. That is, it's a fantasy.

 

Precisely. I believe I made this same basic point in an earlier post too. And I agree with everything you wrote following that, too.

 

J.A.A. Purves wrote:
: They do, and it arises from passages like Exodus 20:17 and Matthew 5:28.

 

Ha! If that's all they've got to go on, then no, they don't. I'm not talking about adultery here.

 

: Therefore, fantasizing about taking pleasure in hurting someone would be rightly considered evil.

 

Even when the person being "hurt" finds "pleasure" in it? Has every lover who has ever spanked his or her partner committed an evil act?

 

: . . . a host of films that fetishize violence (Michael Bay, Justin Lin, Eli Roth).

 

Wow. You'd put Justin Lin in the same camp as Michael Bay and Eli Roth?

 

: Actually, if anything, I’d suggest this film illustrates our culture’s obsessive focus on consent as a false basis for the morality of action.

 

Now *this* is actually a really interesting point, and one worth exploring.

 

: If it is wrong to use a human person as an object rather than as a person, to objectify her and to commoditize her as a thing that can be bought or bartered for, then asking if she consents to be used and dehumanized in such a way is irrelevant.

 

And of course one can change the genders: Christian Grey is, after all, a statutory rape survivor who was introduced to the world of submission by a "dominant" woman (a friend of his mother's, in fact, with whom he is still friendly when this story takes place). And the women who consume these stories *are* indulging in a form of objectification themselves (the "wealth porn", the fantasy that they can take a man like Christian Grey and "change" him to the kind of man that they would like, etc., etc.).

 

NBooth wrote:
: . . . desire is by its nature excessive. If it were not excessive--if it were satisfied with materials at hand--it would not be desire. It would be appetite, which by its nature can be remedied by eating, having sex, etc etc etc.

 

Interesting!

 

: Fantasy is the mechanic by which we manage the surplus of desire . . .

 

This sounds like something the Architect said to Neo.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Just wondering: How many people participating in this thread have actually *seen* the film? How many people here, besides myself, *know what we're actually talking about*?

 

Insofar as I'm pointedly not talking about the film, yes. Insofar as it applies to the movie itself? Not a bit. But I don't think that precludes talking about more abstract concepts related to the film (much as not having seen A Serbian Film doesn't preclude talking about the political stuff going on there).

 

But I must admit, I find it difficult to take even *that* element very seriously when I remember that this film began as Twilight fan fiction, and that all the stalking and control-freaking in this film is basically a carbon-copy of Edward's relationship with Bella -- which many people objected to in the case of *that* franchise too, obviously, but I dunno, after a while a template becomes its own thing and you just kind of settle into it and look for the variations *within* that template. Kind of like how you accept, without question, that Luke Skywalker is shooting stormtroopers in Star Wars because, hey, that's what you do in an action movie, and no one -- not even Luke -- ever pauses to reflect on the fact that this poor naive farmboy just *killed* someone for the first time. (The Godfather makes a big deal of how Michael Corleone "makes his bones" -- and this, despite the fact that he's already a war hero who has killed enemy troops! -- but it's quite possible that Luke's first kill doesn't even take place onscreen.)

 

 

Right. The question of genre is very much in play here. And I don't think most cultural thinkpieces handle genre that well, to be honest (I kind of got at this when I mentioned superhero movies a few posts back).

 
NBooth wrote:
: . . . desire is by its nature excessive. If it were not excessive--if it were satisfied with materials at hand--it would not be desire. It would be appetite, which by its nature can be remedied by eating, having sex, etc etc etc.
 
Interesting!

 

Thanks!

: Fantasy is the mechanic by which we manage the surplus of desire . . .
 
This sounds like something the Architect said to Neo.

 

Ouch. Cold.

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth wrote:

: Right. The question of genre is very much in play here.

 

Exactly.

: Ouch. Cold.

 

LOL!


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Sam in Sam Taylor-Johnson is short for Samantha.

That’s right. Duly noted.

 

Doesn't it sometimes spark a thrill because of this repulsion, being that because of what is good in us we get a sensation out of the thought of, say, a person being stabbed by a guy in a hockey mask. It repulses us, because it is objectionable to our value system. But this repulsion also leads to an adrenaline rush and fascination.

Sure it does, and there is a real theological position which holds that this “thrill” is unhealthy to intentionally indulge. In fact, works of entertainment that are intentionally made to appeal to, and even to encourage, this thrill are doing something underhanded and rather disgraceful.

 

... the boundaries of genre being malleable as they are, it would actually be quite easy to find ways in which the Marquis de Sade fits the Gothic mold (though, if he doesn't, you still have to argue that Fifty Shades belongs in his camp rather than Jane Eyre's ...

I could do that, but discussing the Gothic genre would probably be a conversation for another thread. What I will do now is address the other implication here, that the E.L. James or the Marquis de Sade could even belong to a "genre" that would be worth considering as a genre, any more than pornography would be. The thought here that might interest you is that I, coming from a conservative sensibility that is opposite from yours, actually find some of the feminist objections against Fifty Shades of Grey entirely convincing. And, in doing so, I am also willing to apply these same objections to other mainstream Hollywood films not commonly considered to be pornographic.

 

It seems to me that to revert to Coleridge in order to discuss the relative value of "fantasy" is to err in several directions. On the one hand, it neglects the entire Western tradition post-Coleridge, a tradition that includes thinkers like Freud, Marx, Marcuse, etc etc etc.

That is, unless the tradition you speak has already borrowed from and applied Coleridge’s distinction between fantasy and imagination in a variety of ways (and I will make a go of demonstrating that it has in one of my next Filmwell essays).

It is also worth noting that Coleridge himself does not write that fantasy (or “fancy”) is always bad. He in fact argues that it is necessary as a matter of mechanical cognitive function. But the problem arises for Coleridge once a work of art is specifically designed in order to gratify or appeal to one’s fantasies. That is when things get distorted.

 

At the same time, it weakens itself by not taking into account the delicate connections between fantasy and desire. It furthermore assumes that the human is a monad who can choose which fantasies arise at a given moment. But it strikes me as not at all so clean-cut as that.

... importantly, it isn't fantasy itself that is the problem here: it's specific kinds of fantasy, namely those that cause illness or mental disturbance in the organism ... But what's interesting about desire is that--per Lacan--it is, by its nature, that thing which can never be fulfilled.

In fact, Coleridge’s distinction absolutely makes room for the idea of desire. More than that, this ultimately develops into a exploration of human agency, including sense perception, fantasy, understanding, reason, imagination and will. You are right in thinking that your objection might be rooted in the idea that desire “can never be fulfilled.” That may indeed be one of our areas of disagreement. I could never agree that fulfillment is what distinguishes appetite from desire. In fact, appetites, by their nature, are only temporarily sated and can often and continually arise even after a moment’s gratification.

I’ll admit this is a topic I need to study more upon. Yet it appears as if the older classical/Christian view (Aristotle/Aquinas) is that [1] one can exercise one’s will in attempting to follow goodness and virtue (even contrary to what one personally desires), and [2] that we all possess both good and evil desires, which are unreliable, inconstant and easily influenced by internal moods and external environment. I’d suggest that it is a far more modern view [Ockham/Hobbes/Hume] that [1] one’s actions are caused by one’s desires and attempts to realize them, and [2] that these are desires that can never be fulfilled. (Thomas Pfau just explored this in terms of human agency recently in his new book, Minding the Modern.)

 

This gets at a core point about desire, one which exists in Freud but which I want to point out here: desire is by its nature excessive.

Except that’s a debatable point. It could also be that “inordinate” or “excessive” desire is what turns a desire bad (taking or twisting what was originally good to an indecent excess).

 

Again, what this means is that fantasy is both necessary and innate;

Coleridge agrees with this.  In fact, Coleridge writes that, by "the nature of the faculty itself," it's "province is to give consciousness to the Subject by presenting to it its [the subject's] conceptions objectively."  That the word "fancy" or "fantasy" is used matters a little less than that there is a faculty or way of thinking that we possess that views things other than self as objects.  This kind of thinking is necessary and innate, but the problem is when this "objectifying" is taken too far, particularly in how we view and treat other persons.

 

I will respond to more of what was posted here soon, but I now have to look up a couple references first ...

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J.A.A. Purves wrote:
: In fact, works of entertainment that are intentionally made to appeal to, and even to encourage, this thrill are doing something underhanded and rather disgraceful.

 

By that standard, I daresay there are passages in the Bible that must be underhanded and rather disgraceful, then.

 

Side note, but: I wonder how much of this thread you had already read before you jumped in, if you weren't aware that Fifty Shades is directed by a woman. The point had already been made more than once, I think.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Just wondering: How many people participating in this thread have actually *seen* the film? How many people here, besides myself, *know what we're actually talking about*?

... And if Arts & Faith was invented for any particular purpose, it was *not* to let someone swagger in here and try to shut down discussion of a film *without even seeing it first*. That's precisely the kind of attitude that many of us here have been fighting against *for years*. (Cf. boycotts of The Last Temptation of Christ, etc.)

Addressing this first because it is rather a separate discussion from everything else, I can see a prima facie case for not criticizing what one has not read or seen. That is a good general rule, and I understand your invoking it. However, the point with FSoG is that those who are taking the position that there is a moral problem with both making such a film and with watching it is that it puts those taking the aforesaid position in a bind. Arguing that is one of the few positions that could reasonably be an exception to the general rule. If I believe the mere act of watching a film is wrong, then I would be contradicting myself by watching it in order to argue that watching it is wrong. (Now of course, please don’t think I am saying this is easy. I could also see watching the film to criticize it, rather than to enjoy it, being a possible exception to my exception. But then the next immediate objection to be made to that would be that watching a film to criticize it instead of to enjoy it destroys, petitio principii, the ability to objectively criticize it in the first place, and then so on and so forth.)  I can see both sides of the argument on this one.

 

Which is of course why film can help us to deal with life's issues, even that which is unsavory, or maybe better, *especially* that which is unsavory, because it provides us with a relatively safe environment through which to reflect on and wrestle with these things.

The problem with this is you could use this reasoning as an argument to justify almost anything in a film. It almost treats what happens in a film, and the act of watching it, as amoral, which only works if you accept some Gnostic/Cartesian assumptions first. Furthermore, FSoG is not a film seriously interested in reflection or in wrestling with any serious questions.  No one, even its defenders, are arguing that it is a film of depth.  Neither are any standard films made within the exploitation (or "sexploitation") genre.

 

If we did not desire, we would have no metaphysics (see also: Surprised by Joy; even Augustine got somewhere close to this when he declared that "Our hearts are restless until they rest in [God]". Desire is the grounds of an encounter with the Divine). Fantasy is the mechanic by which we manage the surplus of desire – and, so, it is in a sense the precondition of any philosophical or metaphysical speculation.

None of this contradicts what you're saying. I'm actually suspicious of telling anyone that they should feel guilty for enjoying whatever fantasies they enjoy--because, y'know, no one's died and made me Grand Emperor yet--but even in the Freudian-Lacanian model there is room for fantasy to be either unhealthy or healthy (or, perhaps, both). The key complication I'm trying to introduce is this: once fantasy is seen as a mechanic by which [all] humans navigate desire, it becomes a much murkier area of inquiry. It becomes tremendously difficult to divide the "healthy" fantasy from the "unhealthy" fantasy--which is not the same as to say that it can't be done. But it just ain't as easy as all that.

But also, can this be applied to understanding why so many people seem to be interested in 50 shades of Grey when it would be opposed to their actual real life values? Honest question?

J.A.A. Purves wrote:

: They do, and it arises from passages like Exodus 20:17 and Matthew 5:28.

Ha! If that's all they've got to go on, then no, they don't. I'm not talking about adultery here.

Again, I would not suggest that this is easy. And I am not talking about adultery either (I am interested here in the full implications of the 10th commandment instead of the 6th). So here’s a few thoughts to try and flush this out more clearly:

First, there is a theological account of desire. The Hebrew word chamad is the word used in Exodus 20:17:

“Thou shalt not covet (chamad) thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet (chamad) thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.” (KJV)

This same word chamad is often translated into English to mean desire. For instance:

Psalm 19:10

“More to be desired (chamad) are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (ESV)

Psalm 68:16

“Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired (chamad) for His abode, yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?” (ESV)

Desire (chamad) is sometimes used to mean good desire (Genesis 2:9, 3:6; Psalm 19:10, 68:16; Proverbs 21:20; Song of Solomon 2:3; Isaiah 1:29, 53:2) and sometimes used to mean bad desire (Genesis 3:6, Exodus 20:17, 34:24; Deuteronomy 5:21, 7:25; Joshua 7:21; Proverbs 6:25, 12:12; Micah 2:2.)

The same thing can be demonstrated with the Hebrew avah: “to crave, desire, yearn for, long for ... wanting, craving, desire, lusting after, pleasure” which is actually the word used in the tenth commandment in Deuteronomy 5:21. Then, the Greek epithymeo: “to long for, desire, covet, lust” is also the same, which is used to translate the tenth commandment (Romans 7:7) and is used by Christ in applying it (Matthew 5:28).

I go over all this only in order to establish clearly that, while desiring/lusting/coveting is not necessarily wrong, theologically there is clearly a wrong kind of desiring/lusting/coveting.

In his Scripture commentary of Matthew 5:28, Peter Kirby wrote:

“Here, the concern is that the Greek is specific and clear, while the English translation may be open to different interpretations. Mounce quotes the RSV of Matthew 5:28, 'But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' But the Greek is clear that the sin is when a man looks at a woman 'for the purpose of lusting,' not just when there is a temporary lustful thought. For this reason, the ESV, for example, reads 'who looks at a woman with lustful intent.' More English words are there to make the sentence as clear as the Greek is.”

It is probably worth noting that this supports the basic Christian position (anti-Gnostic) that sexual desire is a good desire, in and of itself. But I think this insight can be applied to Coleridge’s idea of fantasy. In fact, there is some evidence from Coleridge’s reading of Aquinas, that his understanding of fantasy may have been shaped by a theological understanding of will and desire. Fantasy would not be a problem in and of itself. And a passing “fancy” just passing through one’s mind would not be wrong. But the suggestion is that intentional fantasizing “for the purpose of fantasizing” would be when things go wrong. And it just so happens that this is how something like films become relevant. When a film is made for the purpose of gratifying fantasy, with the intent of encouraging fantasizing (in this specific sense), then that is when things go wrong.

Now Exodus 20:17 always puzzled me once I was taught that even having a sinful desire is not, in and of itself, a sin - that it is only a sin when I act on the sinful desire. But really, the tenth commandment is not just telling us that we can’t have a wrong desire. That is out of control of the will. Being tempted is not wrong, giving in to temptation is.

 

In fact, the Scripture commentaries on Exodus 20:17 sound very similar to those on Matthew 5:28, by their discussion of intent. For example, Adam Clarke wrote that “covet” in Exodus 20:17 -

 

“signifies to desire or long after, in order to enjoy as a property the person or thing coveted. He breaks this command who by any means endeavours to deprive a man of his house or farm by taking them over his head, as it is expressed in some countries; who lusts after his neighbor's wife, and endeavours to ingratiate himself into her affections, and to lessen her husband in her esteem; and who endeavours to possess himself of the servants, cattle, &c., of another in any clandestine or unjustifiable manner. ‘This is a most excellent moral precept, the observance of which will prevent all public crimes; for he who feels the force of the law that prohibits the inordinate desire of anything that is the property of another, can never make a breach in the peace of society by an act of wrong to any of even its feeblest members.’”

In other words, there is an intent element in the moral wrong. “Thou shall not covet” is a prohibition of a kind of desire united with intent to engage in it in order to enjoy that which is not rightful. The level that this mirrors the historical conversation that Coleridge begins about “fantasy” and where other critics and philosophers then take the same discussion in Aesthetics cannot not accidental.

What is key is that, in theology and philosophy, there is such a thing as desire. But then desire (not in itself chosen by the will) can be distinguished from an intentional act of desiring (which is chosen by the will) - which is what the tenth commandment actually forbids, which is what Christ is getting at in Matthew 5:28, and which is also why those who interpret this verse to mean that finding a woman physically attractive is itself a sin are fundamentally misunderstanding it).

Now, assuming NBooth is correct that fantasy and desire are inextricably intertwined, we ought to be able to apply this to fantasy. For lack of a better word, “fantasy” has been used to designate a faculty or a kind of thinking (or desiring). This is why one of the definitions of “fantasy” in the O.E.D. is “Mental apprehension of an object of perception; the faculty by which such apprehension is made.” What Coleridge and other theologians have asked is whether there are not some ways in which it is unhealthy to apprehend or perceive X as an object. So, the mere faculty of fantasy (not in itself chosen by the will) can be distinguished from a sort of intentional act of fantasizing (which is chosen by the will). It is this act that is considered wrong.

Or (even though I suspect it may be the case) we do not even have to admit that all “fantasizing” is wrong or unhealthy. The application works as long as one agrees that some “fantasizing” can be wrong or unhealthy. It is then that this entire exploration is applied to the arts and cinema.

If we accept the proposition that there is at least a kind of fantasizing that is unhealthy and/or immoral, then what do we do with films which are intentionally made to gratify, appeal to or arouse those kinds of fantasizing? And what how does one explain that the act of watching such a film is damaging?

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