Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The latest on 50 Shades of Grey

A statement from the Archdiocese, with my interlinear commentary:

Dear Father,

The movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, is scheduled to debut in theaters across America on February 13, 2015. Note well: on the eve of...Saint Valentine's Day. This is a particular sacrilege. Some will say, don't give it attention, you'll just magnify the interest. From what I gather, the trailer has gotten wide viewing already. Neither this statement by the Archbishop, nor my highlighting of it, is going to add anything to this film's publicity.

The story line is presented as a romance; however, the underlying theme is that bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable. No doubt they can be pleasurable. Two points worth making here. First, that we can learn to enjoy something we would have found detestable otherwise. Not just in matters of appetite; but consider how people can become inured to evil, such as guards in concentration camps. Second, the fact that something is pleasurable doesn't make it something to pursue. There's a particularly charming song I wish I could forget hearing, featuring the line, "you and me ain't but mammals..." Think just a bit about the full implications of that. 

In the story line, a young Miss Steele is urged to sign a contract becoming a sex slave and agreeing to an abusive and degrading relationship. This movie is in direct contrast to the Christian message of God’s design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy. What the Archbishop says here is correct, but something implicit here needs to be made very clear. This is not limited to the "Christian message"--it's revealed in nature, and grasped by all people of good will and right reason. Stop and think about this. Marriage was not invented by the Church; either God "invented" it, or else humanity discovered it on its own. Men and women weren't sitting around, wondering what to do, until Christian missionaries showed up and explained marriage to them.

Marriage, in any and every culture, is either a sacrificial, self-giving, mutual partnership, or else it inevitably becomes exploitative and coercive; or else it fails. I.e., the truth about marriage is not limited to Christian revelation.

The movie is a direct assault on Christian marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God’s people. Amen! We need to inform our people about the destructive message of this movie and to highlight the beauty of God’s design for loving relationships between a husband and wife in the bond of marriage.

-- Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr
    Archbishop of Cincinnati

OK, what follows are my words, not the Archbishop's. This movie is filth; it is evil. I'm sure it's pretty, and has lots of fine production values, yadda-yadda. I can think of no excuse for anyone to buy a ticket to it; or, for that matter, to buy the book. It is also intensely degrading, particularly toward women. The jaw-dropping ironies abound: the author of the book is a woman; and the book has been gobbled up by a lot of women. Meanwhile, we have lots of so-called advocates of women's rights who have nothing but energy to demand the right to kill unborn girls through abortion; but their silence about this smut is, as the saying goes, deafening.

Update, circa 5:45 pm...

I forgot about one of the more notable ironies, which I saw in the Wikipedia article (I know--but I checked the source, it seems legit.): "The Fifty Shades trilogy was developed from a Twilight fan fiction series originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name 'Snowqueen's Icedragon.'"

Isn't that rich? This was the result of someone drinking deeply (and then wallowing about in) the woman-degrading nincompoopery of the Twilight series. Half this country is women (and I'd guess the viewership of the Twilight films--excepting dragged-along dates--was about 85% women). If feminists wanted to strike a blow for women, shaming and boycotting that sorry excuse for a series of movies would have been a useful thing. I confess I watched the first one--on TV!--just to see what the thing was about. It didn't take me long before I was rooting for the vampires and werewolves either to eat that idiot girl Bella, or else just walk away in disgust. The notion that they would all fight each other--over her!...defies description.

Thank you, Archbishop, for speaking out.


Sevesteen said...

I have neither seen the movie nor read the book. While I'm not into BDSM, I know people (mostly online) who are involved in organized BDSM. Those people are universally against the portrayals in the book, both because it is an unrealistic portrayal of actual BDSM and because the grooming, abuse of power and lack of consent portrayed go against their standards. BDSM is essentially a game with rules necessary for safety, and seems to be recognized as such by the players.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I suppose pretending to treat people like **** is less bad than actually doing so; but I can't see how fantasizing, practicing and becoming skilled at said "pretending" doesn't move one closer to doing so.

"But Mom, I'm not actually setting the neighbor's house on fire; I'm just spending all my time learning how to do it, practicing it, and 'pretending'..."


Jennifer said...

I agree, Father Fox....the ads for 50 Shades of Grey ask, "Curious?" But I am not curious...there are so many things I've seen and I wish that I had never seen them. Curiosity is not virtuous.

Thank you for being an online friend to so many people, and for never being silent about the truth. :)

Jenny said...

AMEN! He who is silent about the truth gives witness to the lie...
Thanks, Father, for always speaking the truth, not counting the cost--and I know it has cost you at times.

Sevesteen said...

Are civil war reenactors moving one step closer to actual war, or are they learning to have fun and play a role while taking care to avoid harming people?

It isn't lighting the neighbor's house on fire, it's lighting a bonfire at his request. Just because I don't like bonfires doesn't make it arson.

The part that I see as a problem is the attitude that different must be wrong and sinful, and whether both people involved are happy in a joyful loving relationship is apparently irrelevant or impossible.

Teresa Daily said...

Father, I am not much of a movie attendee, but recently I went to a PG13 movie with a friend. We are both committed Catholics and were shocked that the trailer for this movie played. I would think that just a few short years ago the trailer alone would have been X rated. I as a professional and educated woman have a hard time understanding why this movie or any of the vampire types of movies have any allure. Clearly, women have demeaned themselves beyond recognition! However, men should not be portrayed as blood sucking manipulator either...Satan has a hand in this I am afraid!

rcg said...

Seventeen, for there to be similarity the Civil War reenactors would need to bring along their black friends and have them consent to the role of slave. The reenactors also typically count the grave markers and contemplate their fate as they lay In the dust. Creating safe words and training another person to a permanent, degraded, station below another person is evil. The physical safety is irrelevant.

If we want to act out the extremes of human behavior in a safe way the why not start a community theatre and present Tennnesee Williams plays? Macbeth, or the Tempest? If we want to publicly display male and female traits why not learn to Tango? The elevation of sexual desire and satisfaction is an elevation that is only relative to the degradation of others and eventually ourselves.

Fr Martin Fox said...


There's another problem with your analogy. I've thought about how to say this...delicately.

The bondage stuff is obviously sexual. If Civil War re-enactors likewise get a sexual kick out of the stuff they do, then that's unhealthy.

Sevesteen said...

The elevation of sexual desire and satisfaction is an elevation that is only relative to the degradation of others and eventually ourselves.

This is close to the core of my disagreement with you on this topic. Couples *should* be concerned with their partners' desire and satisfaction, and should be willing to make some reasonable sacrifices to help achieve those--sexual or otherwise. Obviously not to the point of degradation, but the line there is very individual. BDSM at the level in that book is likely degrading and wrong--I'm not arguing that. The argument I'm trying to make is that context is hugely important here, What is painful or degrading in one context may bring joy and pleasure in another. Much of married life is like that--A caress or kiss from the wrong person isn't pleasant.

If something brings joy or pleasure to one partner at little or no cost to the other--Where is the line where that becomes sinful? Makeup? A pretty nightgown, or nice aftershave? Bringing home flowers? Or is it different when it's sexual, even if both partners are OK with it?

Pat said...

"[D]ifferent must be wrong and sinful, and whether both people involved are happy in a joyful loving relationship is apparently irrelevant or impossible."

Sevesteen, you hit the nail on the head.

Fr Martin Fox said...


It's hard to respond to you when we keep this on the level of generality; and for the sake of decency and decorum, I don't want to get into too much specificity; I suspect you may feel the same, and I am sure many of my readers do.

If the question is whether a certain playfulness is sinful -- the answer is no. That's not the issue.

The point is that playfulness is one thing; a real denigration of another person is something else.

I'm certainly not terribly familiar with this subculture (if that's the right word), but it's no secret that we're often talking about not just playacting in moments of passion, but the way two people (or more than two, as the case may be) interact in general. The terms used are "Master," "slave," etc.

So there's the problem of a "lifestyle" that is about the exaltation of one person over the other. It's certainly contrary to Christianity; but it seems to me there are lots of reasons for non-Christians, and non-believers in God, to find fault with that.

If your stance is that you think one can live this lifestyle of Superior and inferior, Owner and owned, and it's all just fun and everyone really knows what's up, without any real danger of harm to the less-powerful, or corruption of the more-powerful, then I think that's naive.

Completely without this particular fantasy, there is the reality of domestic violence. Is it really all that hard to imagine this serving to validate that? "I didn't really hit him, officer: we were just having sex!"

Have we forgotten the horrendous story out of Cleveland not so long ago, of women who were kept as sex slaves?

And, sure, I realize most people who are going to indulge in this have no intention of going that far. My point is that we sometimes think we're safer from being corrupted than we really are. That's always a peril.

Fr Martin Fox said...


So that leads to my other point, which is about the peril of this movie, and the books before them, as such. I mean the problem of indecency and obscenity.

We've been engaged in a fairly lengthy social experiment in the last 60 or so years, in which we've been demolishing the boundaries that used to exist to protect the young from what was once commonly called "indecency" and all of us from what we used to call "obscenity." (These terms still have meaning, including in law, but they seem to be nearly dead letters nowadays.)

And the idea of the experiment is this: that there is nothing to worry about knocking down these barriers; indeed, there is more to gain than to lose.

All I can say is, we'll see.

We do live in a much more coarsened culture -- not the first time, probably not the last. These things go in cycles; which prompts the question: why? Why do they cycle back from greater vulgarity and obscenity to more restraint?

It's entirely obvious to observe that people tend to re-learn lessons once learned by their predecessors and then forgotten. We do it in our own lives; our parents often watch us make the same mistakes they made (and sometimes try to stop us; sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing); and societies go through this cycle.

I think it's true that people and societies are capable of being corrupted. Is there anyone who denies this?

If it's true, then the next question is, what corrupts us, and what do we do to prevent it--if we can?

Again, in quainter days, we spoke of indecency and obscenity "corrupting morals" -- and it's very clear that's true. Even if you think it's a good thing, it's undeniably true in this sense: the morals of a prior generation (or even less time than that) wouldn't have tolerated "50 Shades of Grey." Of course, the generation that does tolerate it--or even celebrate it--is quite happy about that, even as it says, "after all, we're not tolerating that--over there!

Of course, we know what happens: this "progression" sets the stage for the next...

Now, if the "looser-is-better" crowd were really right, how to explain the reverse trend? Why doesn't the great loosening in social more result in a socially stable state of general happiness that people fight to oppose?

Well, I suspect we'll find out before long.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Final point: your point leans heavily on the question of a relationship that is "loving," "joyful" and "happy" -- and that, in turn, depends on just what those words really mean. "Loving" above all.

Sevesteen said...

It's hard to respond to you when we keep this on the level of generality; and for the sake of decency and decorum, I don't want to get into too much specificity;

I almost put a nearly identical comment in a previous post. I try to keep my decorum at least to the level of my surroundings.

playfulness is one thing; a real denigration of another person is something else

I'm in full agreement. I'm not intimately familiar with the subculture, but I'm fairly sure my view is a bit closer to reality than the one portrayed by Hollywood. The people I've talked to weren't full time, it was closer to a strange hobby. There isn't one lifestyle, like the acronym is actually 3 separate but overlapping ones--BD, DS, SM.

As for domestic violence--Consent is critical, and there's already a precedent--It is a bigger crime to have sex without consent than to hit without consent, so someone contemplating either should make sure they have consent from a trustworthy partner.

How many drunk driving deaths in Cleveland since the sex slaves--Is that a reason for most people to avoid wine or beer with dinner? There's a peril with almost everything. Is there any evidence that the Cleveland kidnapper started out playfully and just got out of hand?

I'm currently reading "Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker. In it he presents pretty convincing evidence that non consensual violence and cruelty on an irregular but downward trend as civilization progresses, and that empathy is likely a key factor. That's the progress I'm most concerned with--not harming others, in particular for being different. I'm not too worried about people hitting others who agree to be hit, seeing too much skin or hearing bad words.