50 Shades of Mercy

50 Shades of Mercy February 14, 2015

It seems to me that if Catholics are smart, we would take the launch of Fifty Shades of Grey to ally with feminists of good will and say that decent human beings do not glorify domestic abuse, but instead support efforts to fight domestic abuse and uphold the dignity of women (and all sentient creatures with a pulse). This is not a culture war opportunity: it’s a chance to do a work of mercy and a work of evangelization.

So: instead of panicked memes and boycotts and hysteria demanding that nobody go (which will only make people curious), remember how the American people “stopped” the threat of Howard the Duck. Not with hysterical screams but with the age-old method of “Man, that was money I will never get back” word of mouth. Then suggest a way to take vengeance on Hollywood for this dog of a film: by spending our dough on something directly opposed to it. Do a quick a reference to something like 50 Dollars Not 50 Shades where you can say, “Instead of blowing 11 bucks you will never get back on a film that even the actors are embarrassed about, a film so wretched that it won’t make you laugh like bad films are supposed to, but simply make you feel ashamed to be human and doubly ashamed because you got con men to talk you into giving them money to feel this deservedly self-loathing for watching it, why not spend that chunk of change you obviously did not need on something that will make you feel good about yourself and do some real good for somebody else? Talk about win/win! It’s like avoiding Howard the Duck *and* winning the lottery with the money you saved on the ticket.”

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  • Artevelde

    And .. once again I cringed. Alright, I suppose that if you keep the series going and bombard enough people with this stuff and for long enough, there IS a real danger that young women begin to think violence and abuse are okay … in a way. By all means, if your line of work is within the field of pastoral care or fighting domestic abuse against women and this book poses a problem, fight it. I won’t argue. But it is by no means the main reason why a Catholic should fight it.

    — from the Wikipidia on Fifty Shades of Gray. Here be liberals.

    Writing in The Huffington Post,
    critic Soraya Chemaly argued that interest in the series was not a
    trend, but squarely within the tradition and success of the romance
    category which is driven by tales of virgins, damaged men and
    submission/dominance themes. Instead, she wrote, the books are notable
    not for transgressive sex but for how women are using technology to
    subvert gendered shame by exploring explicit sexual content privately
    using e-readers. Instead of submission fantasies representing a
    post-feminist discomfort with power and free will, women’s open
    consumption, sharing and discussion of sexual content is a feminist
    success

    A ‘feminist’ success indeed. If you are a man, ask yourself who you’d rather be: the woman reading the book (I’ll provide the slippers and the E-reader, bag of crisps too) or the man IN the book. The popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray tells us very little about men and domestic violence against women. It tells us a great deal about killing marriage and fatherhood, when it reduces masculinity to a perverted image created in the female reader’s mind, one that depicts men as a curious mix of being damaged and yet full of sexual raw power, but – oh golly here comes the best bit – you can enjoy all this at your own leisure. Just close the book when you’ve had enough.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      Unfortunately, I knew too many women in college whose view of the romantic had been warped by romance novels (which, as you say, have all the themes present in 50Shades–I read plenty myself, and they weren’t good for me–every single one had an older, sexually experienced man, an innocent, virginal heroine, the man was distant or domineering, the woman was the one to soften or “tame” him. Romance novels don’t generally present healthy relationship dynamics.) The results I saw were my fellow college girls looking for that handsome, distant man they could heal or tame (who would dyno-mite in bed, of course), then wondering why he didn’t change, why he didn’t call after the sex, why he cheated, why he didn’t turn into the gentle, loving man all the romance heroes turned into. Those that did happen into a great guy often lost him from trying to manufacture the drama they expected. There’s a lot of wasted time and lives out there from women who invested in the false view of what romance is.
      Though I haven’t read them, I understand that many women who are abuse survivors are quite appalled at how many women defend the abusive behavior of Mr. Gray, and see it as an indirect defense of the men who abused them.

      • Adam Hovey

        I have a college age friend of mine who said she “looks romance” when I saw this book in her dorm. I told her it was porn.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          A lot of them are–it’s porn for women. It took years and the intercession of Our Lady to get it out of my head after reading what I did in college.

      • Rebecca, I’m very late to the party but I just wanted to defend Romance novels as a genre. Like any other genre, it encompasses a huge number of books with a wide variety of quality of writing and morality. Jane Eyre and Pride & Prejudice,* for example, are romance novels. The novels by Georgette Heyer pretty much invented the sub-genre of historical romance, and her novels are well-written, well-researched, and not at all explicit or sexually immoral. There are lots of other novels that don’t have sex scenes (or keep them very discreet), either because they weren’t appropriate for the setting, they were unnecessary for the story, or the author just didn’t want to write them. Heck, there are whole sub-genres devoted to romances with explicitly Christian morality. Most romance novels are crap for a number of reasons, some are entertaining and good, and a few are brilliant or classics — — just like mysteries, sci-fi novels, and general lit books.

        *For what it’s worth, I know a few women who developed very screwed-up notions of love, romance, and marriage from P&P and Wuthering Heights.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          I remember reading Georgette Heyer, though I don’t remember much about her books–didn’t they always have a mystery to solve or discover, too? I would certainly be willing to narrow my sweeping generalization, though, to intentionally racy, risque or explicit novels as being the most damaging. There is a difference between a book whose plot focuses on the actual romance of two people falling in love and navigating the difficulties in life as they do it, and a book who plot is drama, drama, sex, drama, sexy sex, drama-drama-drama, sexy-sex-sexy, oh my, happily ever after sex! (Which seems more and more prevalent. I certain read several and knew many people who read several. It seemed like the normal college thing to do.)

        • carlamariee
          • I *love* Hark! A Vagrant.

            • carlamariee

              That’s my favorite cartoon of hers! I was in a book club that read “Wuthering Heights”, and it was a was a great antidote to the discussions that went on. Some of us women don’t know the difference between “romantic hero” and “guy you get a restraining order against”. Sheesh. “50 Shades” just throws more gasoline on that fire.

              • Have you read the Thursday Next books? In The Well of Lost Plots, the characters of Wuthering Heights are required to go to anger management, and there are pro-Cathy terrorists who keep trying to change the plot.

                • carlamariee

                  No, thank you for the suggestion, it’s now on my list! My favorite anti-Bronte book is “Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons. BBC made a film of it and it’s perfectly cast and captures the book wonderfully.

        • Marthe Lépine

          hanks for the clarification. In my mind, romance novels usually meant the cheap paperbacks with suggestive covers seen at places like small corner and grocery stores, and seldom in serious bookstores.

    • carlamariee

      ” Alright, I suppose that if you keep the series going and bombard enough people with this stuff and for long enough, there IS a real danger that young women begin to think violence and abuse are okay … in a way. By all means, if your line of work is within the field of pastoral care or fighting domestic abuse against women and this book poses a problem, fight it. I won’t argue. But it is by no means the main reason why a Catholic should fight it.”

      There is already a boatload of historical and cultural supports for the acceptance of the abuse of women. One in four women have experienced domestic abuse, so it’s not like it’s a fringe thing and the Churches lack of will to recognize and fight it is, I believe, central to the flight of many women from the Church. Ask any volunteer at any abuse shelter about the response of local church leaders to domestic abuse. The ignorance surrounding a topic that effects so many under their care is astounding.

      Ms. Chemaly’s opinion aside, most feminists are appalled by both book and film.

      Relevant Magazine gets it right regarding the book and film. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/fifty-shades-grey-and-abuse

      Regarding the response of churches to abuse, check out Facebook’s “A Cry for Justice”. It’s primarily about adressing the response of Reformed churches, but much is relevant to Catholicism.

      For more information on the dynamics of domestic abuse, Lundy Bancroft’s “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men” is still the best out there. Mr. Bancroft also has a video on YouTube regarding the pervasiveness abuse themes in popular culture worth checking out.

      • Artevelde

        I try to read posts that are explicitly posted underneath mine, since I assume they are a reaction, but this one leaves me wondering. Was there anything I wrote that made you feel I underestimate the problem of domestic abuse? I don’t.

        • carlamariee

          The phrase “in a way”, also, that if your pastoral concerns lead you to fight domestic abuse…fight it. I never thought of fighting injustice as peripheral thing or an area of specialization. I like to think we all have a stake in it. I’m glad you wrote to clarify things, but I also hope you can see how your language could be interpreted as dismissive or minimizing. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

          • Marthe Lépine

            I saw the “fight it” in Artevelde’s original post as directed at the book, not at domestic abuse…

            • carlamariee

              I’ll cop to jumping the gun. Apologies, Artevelde, I’m on a personal quest to stamp out domestic violence and can get a bit touchy. You are always gracious, Marthe, thank you.

  • Dave G.

    I’m just taken by all the hoopla. When my boys were in public school, this book was one of the options on their freshman language arts reading list. I didn’t think anything of it. They didn’t even come close to wanting to read it. So I knew nothing about it until now. Glad they chose to read other things.

    • Artevelde

      I wasn’t overly prudish when putting some American novels on my reading list when I was a teacher. Definitely included The Catcher in the Rye, would have contemplated American Psycho. But this? I’d rather burn the school down. Now I feel like a conservative culture warrior. Have to lie down.

    • LFM

      The existence of this book and film have not troubled me an iota since I first heard about them. I’m far more seriously worried about the availability of online porn. However, the thought that it has been offered as a reading choice to young people in “freshman language arts” is so outrageous that it’s almost enough to make me care about it at last. A piece of pseudo-sexy derivative dreck that everyone agrees is so badly written that it makes even our uneducated punditocracy feel embarrassed for the writer! What the H*** were the teachers/school-board/gov’t thinking?

      • Dave G.

        That’s been my thinking the more I’ve heard about it. Not just the content, but the quality of the book. But then, that’s one of the reasons we home school.

      • Linebyline

        A couple things about Internet porn: First, most of it is geared toward men, not really made for women. Trashy romance novels take a different approach that fits women more, which is why the book was hailed as a way for women to be as liberated (*gag*) as men were by porn.

        Second, there’s a certain stigma to porn: It’s kind of gross even though there’s supposedly nothing really wrong with it. There’s a certain shame to it; you wouldn’t want to get caught with it even if everyone already knows you read it. Books, on the other hand, have a much more positive aura. Books are good for you. So what if there’s some sex in it? At least they’re not rotting their brains with TV or…*shudder*…video games. (Don’t get me started…)

  • W. Randolph Steele

    Sorry, but all of this is pretty silly. THIS TOO,will pass. The reviews have been pretty mixed and a feminist lawyer who was filing cases in my court yesterday said that she read about 10 pages and put it down saying that “it was really bad writing”. About all you can say is that it is a kinky romance novel. As for men, I haven’t heard one in my circle and other even vaguely interested in seeing this or reading it. I don’t know ANY who would like to be Mr. Grey except for his wealth. This is simply a bad joke and the women who liked it after reading it are focusing on the romance and fantasy part of it,nothing more.

    • Adam Hovey

      I talked to a man the other day about it. He had (apparently) read it and I told him why I would not.

      • W. Randolph Steele

        Ok and…..you’re point is?

    • kenofken

      I won’t see it, not for the same reason that Mark or any other Christians might object. I know a lot of people who are into BDSM for real, and I know the book and movie to be cheesy, sensational and utterly inauthentic portrayals of that subculture (one which I don’t find to be terribly interesting to start with). Nobody who is the real deal is interested in this dreck. It’s aimed at the considerable demographic of suburban soccer moms who have led sheltered lives, and the Moral Majority, as usual, is doing the heavy lifting of marketing for the project by getting all exorcised over it and giving it rivers of ink it never otherwise would have had.

      • W. Randolph Steele

        You said it, brother! In the end, this is a couple of weeks story, if that and then it’s over. BTW, in old hometown of Indianapolis, there was a professional dominatrix who operated 2 doors down from a Catholic church and school. The parish knew,but said nothing because it was done in her basement out of sight. The cops busted her by reading her ad in an “alternative newspaper”. SHE blamed the mayor and made it her mission to defeat him in the next election AND because there was a property tax increase and a tax revolt,she teamed with the outraged groups and helped to defeat the mayor. She’s even written a book about it. Her allies, not only DIDN’T downplay her support,but touted it as being part of their libertarian coalition. Even now, a lot of voters still agree with her.

        • Catholic pilgrim

          Ok your point is? You should care more about being a Catholic than a libertine, ahem, libertarian. Jesus says: you’re in the world but not of the world. Only because a majority of people support something does not make something that’s wrong into a right thing (this is the fallacy of Democracy). In a republic (like the Founders such as John Adams & Washington proclaimed) we need people of morality & religion.

          • W. Randolph Steele

            Actually, I’m NOT a libertarian nor am I libertine. I am,however, BOTH a big D and a small d. I further believe in the right to privacy as established in Griswold vs Connecticut(U.S. Supreme court, 1965). I just think that we should leave people alone. Indeed my personal life is very sedate.
            As for the Founders, I suggest you read John Adams private correspondence wherein he come off as anti-Catholic bigot. HE believed in a “civil religion” NOT much different than Jefferson’s except that HE said that the country needed it to keep the common people in line.
            I would also suggest that you read about the private lives of Hamilton,Jefferson and Franklin,not exactly paragons of virtue.

            • kenofken

              I can vouch for the fact you’re not a libertine. I’m secretary of the grand lodge, and you’re not on any of our membership rolls or other records!

        • kenofken

          Unless her activities crossed the legal line of prostitution, and most dominatrixes don’t, the cops had no business busting her for anything, and it wasn’t the mayor’s or anyone else’s business.

          • W. Randolph Steele

            The city shut her down because the area wasn’t zoned for a business,especially an adult business.”I” wouldn’t have shut her down,either.The city also went after private, “adult” clubs and closed one down that had operated in anonymity for 30+ years..

      • Marthe Lépine

        If my memory is correct, the Church at one time had a list of forbidden books (called the “Index”, at least in French), and eventually gave it up because too many people (I actually know some) were using that list as an actual reading list…

        • kenofken

          Yes, that Index was was formally in force through the mid-1960s, although it wasn’t actively maintained for a couple of decades before that and lost most of its power to truly ban works since the Reformation.

          In bringing it up, you do touch on an interesting point. Most of the draw of the 50 Shades movie comes from the media buzz which in turn comes from the controversy and the moral outrage of Christian conservatives.

          You all, collectively are the single largest factor in the movie’s roaring opening success. It probably easily accounts for 90% of the marketing success, and the producers didn’t have to pay a dime for it.

          If Christians hadn’t taken the bait, 50 Shades would have been left to move on its own power and probably would have done a short run on the arthouse theater circuit followed by minor cult status on Red Box and streaming video. Most of my own awareness and engagement of the work owes to you folks. I had only ever heard of the book through a young female co-worker who was (and is) all agog about it and the mythos of Mr. Grey. Apart from that, I’ve seen one preview trailer prior to another movie.

  • Adam Hovey

    See, everyone gives Mark Shea crap. And then he goes and says something intelligent. I just don’t know what to think of this guy. (Since, you know, pretty much him, Jimmy Akin, and Marcus Grodi are why this convert decided to stay Catholic)

    • kenofken

      He’s OK, for a Papist 🙂

      • Adam Hovey

        Not to be a grammar nazi (sieg heil!), but I always thought to myself “shouldn’t that be papalist”?

        • D.T. McCameron

          Grammar rarely informs slurs.

          • kenofken

            Some of the biggest users of the “papist” term were members of the Know Nothing movement, so that’s one hint it probably wasn’t chock full of English profs or other intellectuals.

  • Alma Peregrina

    I know this isn’t important, but…

    … what’s Howard the Duck?

    • Tom Beigel

      Dunno, but sounds a little Daffy…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_the_Duck

    • orual’s kindred

      That duck at the end credits scene of Guardians of the Galaxy. 🙂 There was also an entire movie about him that was released years ago. I haven’t seen it, but the consensus seems to be…not fun 😀

      • Elaine S.

        I had the misfortune of seeing the “entire movie about him that was released years ago” (1986, to be precise) at the invitation of a friend. And yes, it stunk.

        The only redeeming value I can see in a book like “Fifty Shades” (which I have absolutely no interest in either reading or seeing) might be that someone who reads it will think “Sheesh, I can do better than THAT!” and be inspired to write something good. That’s what my husband did after reading a series of cheesy Western novels written in the early 70s — he wrote one of his own!

  • SteveP

    Mark: I’d guess smart Catholics don’t bother with works of fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey or “feminists of good will”.

    • chezami

      I’d guess we have very different definitions of smart.

    • mephis

      Catholics who “don’t bother with” people of good will sound anything but smart to me.

  • Sue Korlan

    I would never have considered seeing this movie, so I couldn’t give money I would otherwise have spent on it to anyone. There is no such money. But Dear Lord, we ask you to heal all those who make the mistake of watching this movie or reading the books. Please draw them to Yourself and teach them the holiness of sex as it should be practiced.

  • LFM

    I’m not sure that the abuse issue is as much of an issue as some critics of the film and book have made it out to be. Although I don’t wish to give myself an air of sophistication that I don’t in fact possess, I’ve been told by people who appear to know about these matters that the submissive person in these highly ritualized encounters is in fact the one who holds the power in the relationship, and the apparently dominant partner does not. Women who are drawn to these kinds of stories sense this, I suspect, and enjoy them for their promise of control over untamable men – something that poses its own moral problems, of course, but not the same ones.

    At any rate, I suspect such women do not come from the same mind-set as those women who tolerate (and perhaps, for whatever twisted reason, enjoy) being beaten and otherwise abused in non-ritualized ways – like the once-infamous Hedda Nussbaum – situations in which there is a real danger of injury, disfigurement and possibly death.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      I believe a lot of the abuse concerns refer to actions outside of the sexual encounters in the book: stalking, threatening, possessiveness, etc. This is the most thorough take I’ve seen on it, by a survivor of an abusive relationship:

      http://theramblingcurl.blogspot.com/2014/02/fifty-abusive-moments-in-fifty-shades.html

      • LFM

        Like you, I’ve read a great many romances over the years, not all of which were of a low literary quality. While I won’t say they were necessarily good for me, I also don’t think they influenced my understanding of sexuality and human nature that much, or my decisions regarding romantic love. If anything, feminism had a much more disastrous influence on me because I tried for many years to be a good feminist, and the feminism I knew was utterly unrealistic about men, women and sexuality.

        I don’t in general think that popular culture has that much of an impact on people’s real-life decisions, as opposed to its impact on their imaginations. The malign influence of these films lies in the way that they break sexual taboos, so that acts that were once thought to be outside the range of civilized behavior by all but a perverse few begin to seem ordinary and acceptable. Most healthy women won’t look for boyfriends and husbands who stalk or beat them, but they might well be tempted to try out some of the silly, trashy sexual behavior that 50 Shades portrays, which will cheapen their understanding of sexuality and sexual love.

        • carlamariee

          We are social beings, and as such live in our culture the way a fish lives in water. We can not avoid being affected by it. All cultures have passed down their values by sharing stories. “50 Shades” tells a poisonous story. It’s malign influence is that it presents using and abusing as “romance”. Women who find themselves in abusive relationships weren’t looking for that. Abusers start our as charming, but are usually very manipulative. As things gradually darken, that such behavior has been eroticized in the culture makes it more confusing and difficult for a victim to identify. It isn’t merely silly or trashy, it’s soul-killing. JPII described the opposite of love as using another person as a thing. As Catholics, we need to understand when the culture encourages us to seek this poisonous (and, yes, cheap) substitute for love and speak out. We also need to be aware of how our Catholic culture of obedience of wives to husbands is used to perpetuate this too.

          • Catholic pilgrim

            Wives are to submit to their husbands just as the Church who is the Bride of Christ submits to Christ who is the Church’s head. But husbands are to give their lives for their wives & sacrifice & completely love their wives just as Christ gave His life for the Church

            • carlamariee

              This works in healthy marriages. Pastors do not distinguish between difficult marriages and toxic ones. Many send a troubled wife back to submit and obey when they should be helping her with a safety plan to get her and the kids out. We are supposed to be as harmless as doves and as wise as serpents. The goal of saving a marriage at the cost of a women continuing submission under abuse is neither harmless nor wise and too many have died.

        • Rebecca Fuentes

          I see imagination as having a profound effect on how a person views reality. For many, the only risk might be trying something out of the norm in the bedroom, but the effect on imagination will pervade how women view their husbands and boyfriends, and it sows discontent, because reality never lives up to the fantasy (Like this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-isenman/i-cheated-on-my-husband-w_b_1433139.html ) Of more concern is how some women, especially younger women, may overlook or ignore the early warning signs of a bad relationship because “He’s just like Christian (or Edward)” or a girl who is experiencing misgivings about a man who is stalking or manipulating her is told to ignore it by her friends because it is perceived as a sign of love and devotion–because after reading and loving the books, and imagining a guy just like the romantic hero, they aren’t going to go with their gut if he shows up in real life.

          Based on a chapter-by-chapter synopsis (as I have no intention of actually reading the books), there isn’t an interaction in the book at all that isn’t someone objectifying someone else–which is another slew of concerns for any readers.

      • carlamariee

        You beat me to it, Rebecca, great link!

    • Catholic pilgrim

      What a sick, twisted logic you propose. Yeah, a woman who is tied down to a furniture is clearly the dominant one over the abusive, perverted man just like Jewish victims in concentration camps were actually dominant over their Nazi guards. Fifty Shades of Grey is the work of the devil, do NOT justify the Devil’s work. Christ came to heal our broken (& sexually confused) humanity & destroy darkness with His everlasting Light- do not trample on Christ’s holy work of redemption & healing (by justifying the Devil’s works).

      • LFM

        Calm down. I’m not trampling on anything and I am not defending or justifying 50 Shades in any way, merely explaining it. You do not appear to understand that the practices outlined in 50 Shades (the tying up, the striking) are not merely common in some circles, but in fact are so stereotyped as to have elaborate rituals attached to them. Men and women actually pay money to be tied up and struck. Whether that was what the writer of 50 Shades intended to evoke with her silly (and wicked) book, I don’t know, but dominance is a complex matter and is not always manifested in displays of physical strength alone.

        • Tweck

          I think it’s more the emotional abuse that Mr. Grey exhibits in his controlling relationship with Ana that is the most dangerous aspect of the movie.

          • LFM

            I don’t disagree with you, but even in more domestic contexts where the abuse is purely emotional, the struggle for dominance is a complex thing, and the dominant party is not necessarily the most powerful one. Of course, it’s possible to split hairs over-much when attempting to understand such matters, but I think the point is worth making.

            The motif of the good woman who wins over the wicked, rich seducer is everywhere in our culture, from Pamela to Beauty and the Beast to Jane Eyre. I find the 50 Shades version disturbing because it’s so explicitly concerned with degradation and conquest, unfiltered by any kind of sublimation or charity – just as men’s porn is now unfiltered by any concern for beauty or art. It is to me a marker of our cultural degradation, and the fact that it exists at all is a sign that the tendency has gone too far to stop. I suppose that’s what I’ve been trying to get at here: all this fussing over 50 Shades is locking the stable after the horse has gone.

            • carlamariee

              I was with you until your last sentence, LFM. We made great strides during the civil rights movement by confronting deeply entrenches attitudes. It’s always a good time to fight for right!

    • Tweck

      I think people make a mistake in getting hung up on the BDSM aspect of the movie – that’s just a clever ruse to hide the portrayal of domestic abuse underlying it. The movie is basically saying to women, “It’s cool to date jerks.” Which is something that is already a problem in our society that leads to increased incidence of domestic abuse. It’s also saying to men, “You should be a rich, narcissistic, abusive, controlling man if you want to get the ladies.” Women being attracted to dark, arrogant, potentially violent men is a problem – call it a meme – that has been spreading through our society for decades now, and this movie is just reinforcing that. All the S&M stuff is A) not even portrayed properly as per the way it’s usually done, and B) a ruse to get people “interested” in what is essentially, at its core, a movie that glorifies domestic abuse.

  • carlamariee

    A little late, but this was just posted today through “A Cry For Justice” blog. http://visionarywomanhood.com/deal-breakers-advice-to-unmarried-women-and-daughters/comment-page-1/#comment-437558