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  • Writer's pictureA. Murphy

Fifty shades of f*cked up: A cult story

Updated: Aug 31, 2019

The success of the novel Fifty shades of Grey has brought light to humanity’s dire situation. I am not, as one may assume, regarding the success of erotic fiction as a sign of doom, just this one specifically. I’m sorry, but if someone tries to sell me an abusive relationship that is eerily similar to the way cults indoctrinate poor innocent souls into their ranks, and tries to pass it of as a love story, then I’m not going to be thrilled. On second thought, I’m not sorry at all. This book is seriously messed up. Though the genre is not particularly to my tastes I respect that, like all genres, it can be written well and this kind of sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of. Fifty Shades, however, is something to be very, very ashamed of. Especially by those who bought the 100 million copies worldwide and then demanded the film release in 2015.

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For those lucky few unfamiliar with the Fifty Shades phenomenon written by EL James, this story follows the journey of young college graduate Anastasia Steele and her relationship with the mysterious businessman Christian Grey. Ana is drawn into the world of BDSM as Christian’s submissive. Fifty Shades of Grey was a pivotal moment in erotic fiction and has been held up as a symbol of feminist power, which holds true in some aspects. It allowed women to explore their sexuality, something considered very taboo by a majority of the media (because all women should remain pure and intact like the precious butterflies we are.) That would be fine, if this was an accurate portrayal of a consenting BDSM relationship which it most definitely is not.

I am not going to lie to you, I read the book myself because when a novel becomes so popular that supposedly one is sold every second, one assumes that it is a good book. I was curious about what made it so successful and I caved, downloaded it onto my kindle and made sure there was no one in the house to see my shame. It has been said that curiosity killed the cat. Acting as the metaphorical cat, I sincerely wished it had. The prose was terrible, the characters aren’t relatable and are at some points down right creepy, and the plot itself is convoluted and uninteresting. I have no way of explaining how this novel (if you can call it that) got to be so popular and beat JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series in sales. It disturbs me that such terrible writing can succeed in the world when there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of talented writers living in the shadows.

This book was painful to read. I physically cringed at Anastasia’s inner monologue which made me wonder if author EL James has ever met another human being in her life. More than the awful prose though was the characters, the so, so very unrealistic characters. Anastasia is so naïve that she borders on childlike, which only makes her relationship with the ‘charming’ Christian Grey all the more disturbing. She seems to find anything and everything Christian does insanely arousing. A marvellous example of this is a scene where the two have sex whilst Ana is on her period. Period sex can be as good as any other kind of sex if perhaps a little messier than usual, but the removal of tampons, as any menstruating person knows, is not a sexy experience. It’s a mandatory part of owning a uterus and something to get on with rather than be turned on by. But not to Anastasia, a few examples of this include. “He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string… what! And… gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy f***. Sweet mother of all… Jeez.” Maybe I shouldn’t judge, perhaps there are some people out there that find the removal of tampons exciting, I’ve never met them personally but the world is a large place. However: I eye Christian's toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth. Hmm..." and toothbrushes too…maybe? "Holy crap! He's wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and tray flannel pants that hang from his hips." Ah my God! He’s wearing clothes?! When will the outrageous seduction end?! "He steps out of his Converse shoes and reaches down and takes his socks off individually. Christian Grey's feet - wow - what is it about naked feet?" Now I know there are people out there with foot fetishes but there has been no indication until then that Ana is one of them and considering she started the most virginist virgin to ever virgin. Maybe this is EL James’s idea of character development.

That is not mentioning the lines spoken by the infamous Christian Grey, badly written like Ana’s with an injection of super creepiness. Many see Christian Grey as the ultimate fantasy, a young, attractive millionaire showering affection and amazing sex on such an ordinary, everyday person as Anastasia. Admittedly that doesn’t seem like a bad deal, but there is exploring sexuality and there is becoming an object that’s only purpose is to do whatever messed up stuff your ‘lover’ tells you to do. Ana no longer belongs to herself by the end of this book, at least not in Christian’s eyes. He says:

Ana: “It’s my body.”

Christian: “It’s mine too.”

My first thought when reading this line was “Excuse yourself, you abusive dickwad, no it is not.” And I hold onto that sentiment throughout the entire narrative. If you read through it carefully, you notice just how many times the Grey says something “’threateningly’” or refers to Ana as “’mine’” or just straight says “I’ll do what I want regardless of what you feel comfortable with” Ah yes, the pinnacle of modern passion being reduced to nothing but a body that someone else controls.

Hardly sounds like a mature and consenting relationship, does it? Notice that I use the word ‘consenting’, because there is an actual scene where Ana says “No” and Grey threatens to tie her up: “‘No,’ I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. ‘If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Anastasia, I will gag you.'”

This was my exact expression upon reading that line.

Let me repeat, she said no, that means she did not give consent. Guess what sex without consent is called? Rape. It’s not a pretty word, but it’s not a pretty act either, yet EL James tries to sell it to people. This is why Fifty Shades is so dangerous, it’s telling women, young and old, that if someone does this, ignores your right to your own body, threatens you with punishment or dismisses boundaries you’ve set, then they’re being romantic. How can someone recognise abuse if when it’s shown in the media they call it love?

Let’s just come right out and say it, Christian Grey’s actions sound downright cultish. If you look closely enough, look past the supposedly romantic haze over it all everything Grey does is eerily similar to methods used by cults to snare new members into their ranks. Thought reform, better known as indoctrination, is defined as the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically, basically manipulating someone to accept a lifestyle without fighting back or questioning it. If you look at Fifty Shades, this describes Ana’s transformation from the quiet, shy, unassertive and naïve college graduate to a kinky BDSM sex slave. In fact, there are eight easy steps to start your very own cult and Grey uses every one of them.

Do you know what happens to a frog if you put it into boiling water? It will jump out probably shouting “Dude what the fuck?”. But if you put a frog in cool water it’ll stay there, and you can slowly turn up the heat and the frog won’t move. It’ll slowly boil to death as you watch, you sadistic maniac. Ana, the poor innocent frog, is the perfect target for Grey.

The frog judges you

The first step to indoctrination is to get the target into the habit of saying yes, starting with a non-threatening event, the cool water. Asking Ana out for coffee seems innocent enough but soon enough this escalates to agreeing to eat what Grey says to eat, wear what Grey asks her to wear and eventually say yes to some sexy paperwork, the all-important sexual contract that crops up throughout the story, that will allow him to beat the crap out of her.

Step two, shower attention and gifts on the target. This is where a majority of the audience were fooled into believing that this story was about romance. Surely the dream of every middle aged unappreciated woman is to have an attractive millionaire playboy to bury them with gifts, so when Grey starts sending fancy books and tech Ana’s way, every female reading it swooned. It starts with a few books, a few books that cost a hell of a lot as Ana is surely aware of. Then it’s a helicopter ride, then a new computer. The purpose of this is it manipulates the victim into associating the cult, or sexy millionaire, with positive emotions. Hell, if someone walked up to you and handed over a puppy or kitten seemingly free of charge you’re probably going to go “Hell yeah, I like this guy!” That is exactly what Grey is after, for Ana to see him and get all excited about what new toy she’s going to receive. It also leads into the third step, dangling the prize over the victim’s nose. In this case the prize is kinky fun time with a mysterious and attractive man straight out of the books Ana loves so much. All these gifts are part of what Ana could have, if she would only sign the contract, Grey keeps all these wonders just out of her reach. It’s all becoming so clear now, right? But that’s not the end of it.

Grey even makes love to Ana, vanilla style, to show her just what she’s missing out on. The water is starting to get a little warmer now and the frog may sense the danger, so he needs to ask, does she really want this? Well sign an agreement to prove it. Step four, get the target to agree that they want the prize, and Ana clearly wants this prize.

Step five, up the ante and make gestures more extravagant and impressive. Certainly one of Grey’s strong suits, his ‘gifts’ start getting more personal like introducing her to his family and revealing more of his personal life to her. Yet still he won’t give her the prize until the contract is signed, and we’re getting very close now. Step six is when things get a little nasty and that frog is really starting to sweat. Grey threatens to withhold the prize, aka his delicious bod and all the fabulous gifts that come with it, to control Ana’s behaviour. This is where the target starts doing things they would not normally do, like becoming a fully-fledged submissive to a kinky dude with a room full of whips and chains. It’s not just the sex either, he wants to control every aspect of her life: food, clothes, sleep, where she lives and goes, who she meets. Starting to sound super cultish now right? But don’t worry guys this is about love.

But how do we keep Ana from getting to freaked out and bolting? Well that’s easy, my cult loving friends: shame. Step seven, make the target feel super guilty about doubting your creepy ways, and Grey is very good at making Ana feel bad. Let’s look at the big picture, Grey has done nothing but give Ana lavish gifts, awesome sex, and help her mature as a sexual woman. Great, seriously, that’s brilliant, see how he treats her, spoils her, how can he be a bad guy? Ah, and here is where the danger lies. Let’s phrase it this way, “I’ve never done this with anyone else before, you’re special, see? So why don’t you appreciate me more? Why can’t you give me what I want when I’m so nice to you?” Doesn’t sound so romantic anymore does it? Grey even plays the poor beaten puppy, when revealing his past to Ana all to make her feel guilty about doubting him. This goes hand in hand with step eight, which is to reward what is seen as good behaviour and punish bad behaviour, which is what Grey’s entire BDSM lifestyle is about. Ana can’t back out now for fear what crazy torture she’ll face for pissing him off. But why would she want to? As we all know he’s “fifty shades of fucked up” (ugh, that line just…ugh) so how can she deny him his little fetish? If downright abuse is what makes him happy how can she say no? Boiling water my friends, and the frog just sits there, bondage gear and all.

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