Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Biggest Problem With "50 Shades"

Much has been written about the problems with the “50 Shades of Grey” series. Through all the discussion, however, few have hit on the most compelling moral problem of the trilogy.

People have discussed how Christian Grey, the hunky billionaire at the center of series, is controlling and manipulative and a borderline stalker. Volumes have been written regarding the sado-masochistic nature of the relationship between Grey and Anastasia Steele, the protagonist of the books, as well as the fact that their relationship began with Grey basically offering to pay her for sex. The codependency of the relationship has been covered as well as the charge that the series is, at its core, dressed-up pornography.

After losing a bet with my wife that required me to read the series, I discovered the biggest and most dangerous problem of the trilogy. First, let me say that the books are much better than the movies. My wife acknowledges this as well. The written version is less creepy and, as with many book-to-screen projects, provide a better understanding of what is happening to the characters.

My wife has said that the books would be good reading for men who want to understand women. She says that author E.L. James does a good job of explaining how women think and feel. Unfortunately, if you want this insight you’ll have to read the books because this does not carry over to the movies.

She also says that the primary attraction of the books is not the kinky sex, but the love story at the center of it all. The problem here is that the unlikely love-at-first-sight-with-a-hunky-billionaire plotline reflects a morality that is almost a mirror-image of reality. “Fifty Shades of Grey” comprises the modern myth that sex leads to love rather than the traditional ethos of love, marriage and then sex.

Granted, “50 Shades” is far from the first franchise to make this claim. Starting with the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and the advent of the birth control pill, sex has become increasingly divorced from love. Radical feminism preached that women could empower themselves by rejecting traditional sexual mores. These days sexual hookups with no emotional hang-ups can be had as easily as swiping right on Tinder.

The result has been a cultural cataclysm. Out of wedlock births have exploded since the 1960s to the point where almost half of all births are to unmarried mothers. Unsurprisingly, government entitlement spending has shown a corresponding increase over the same period.

“Fifty Shades” includes [spoiler alert] the subplot of an unplanned pregnancy, but for Anastasia the shocking news came after she was already married to Christian. Millions of women are not so fortunate. I applaud the pro-life message of the book here as Anastasia rejects the idea of not keeping her baby, but without marriage it seems plausible that a man of Christian’s persuasion would have pressed for an abortion or abandoned her entirely.

The damage has not been limited to unmarried mothers, entitlement spending and a soaring national debt. While sex may easy to find, long-term relationships are not. The marriage rate has steadily declined as people miss out on the fulfilling relationship with a lifelong partner in exchange for a series of one-night stands or casual flings.

Not everyone is unhappy with the arrangement. Conventional wisdom holds that men give love to get sex and that women give sex to get love. If sex is separated from love, many men are getting what they want, but women are left unsatisfied.

That doesn’t mean the arrangement is necessarily good for men. The tradeoff used to be that men would fall in love with a woman and get married, in part to get regular sex, and the women would settle the men down and help them mature. Without the civilizing effects of marriage and the pressing need to provide for a family, many men are suffering from a Peter Pan syndrome in which they never grow up and are content to drink beer and play video games or engage in extreme sports as their lives slip slowly away.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is a fantasy. Women want to be swept off their feet by a rich, sexy man. They may even want a bit of rough sex. There is nothing inherently wrong with the bondage and masochistic sex described in the book as long as both partners consent. In that respect, “50 Shades” may help to spice up some marriages.

But the real and most damaging fantasy of “50 Shades” is that casual sex leads to love. In most cases it does not. It is far more likely that one or both partners will emerge from the relationship emotionally damaged and possibly with lives financially ruined as they try to support a baby on their own.

The reality is that great sex comes from strong relationships with someone that you love. You’re more likely to find great sex if you find love first. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

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