The irony of Universal Pictures’ decision to release its bondage-erotica film Fifty Shades of Grey on the day dedicated to honoring a Christian martyr has not gone unnoticed to many observers, who seem to find the choice unclassy at best.
Few today cite the full name of Saint Valentine’s Day when sending cards, flowers, or chocolates, since it has been abbreviated in popular discourse by the removal of the uncomfortably confessional title of “saint.” But the Roman martyr Valentine, a Catholic priest, was executed under the emperor Claudius on February 14 around the year 270AD.
Birgit Jones has written that since Valentine is the patron saint of love, young people, and marriage, “the day named for him is hardly a time for lust and debauchery.” Yet, in typical secular fashion, she says, “the Catholic feast day of this saint has been hijacked by commercialization.”
Jones finds it ironic that screening 50 Shades of Grey on Feb 14 has been marketed as a “romantic outing for couples,” which sends out a bizarre message. “Holding BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism) up as examples of what love looks like,” she says, “we endanger an entire generation’s outlook on the sanctity of marriage.
Madeleine Teahan writes in the Catholic Herald: “I don’t like being patronised but I also don’t like being persuaded that sadomasochism is harmless and healthy.”
Teahan goes on to cite a campaigner who offered a different version of how the “erotic romance” would have played out in real life.
In reality, how “Fifty Shades” would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm… she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.
“Call me a frigid Catholic bore,” says Teahan, “but in my view, linking the glorification of violence against women with the day where we supposedly celebrate true love, will be the moment romance gives one last blood-curdling gasp before it gives up the ghost entirely.”
Feminists, too, have been up in arms over the film. One group suggests donating $50 to local women’s shelters rather than seeing the movie.
“Seriously, free speech is one thing, public viewing for a fee on the night prior to Valentines Day of sexual abuse by intimidation is NOT pro-woman, nor is it pro-family. Let’s get this removed and put in the garbage where it belongs,” reads the group’s Facebook page.
Fortunately, Christian writers seem to be resorting more to ridicule than to protest of the new film, and the critics are doing the rest.
The official IMDb of the film gives it a rating of 3.7 stars out of 10, a failing grade on any report card.
This isn’t just the general public, either. Reviewers seem to be lining up to outdo each other in heaping opprobrium on the film.
The New York Times said that the movie’s main character who is supposed to inspire “lust, fascination and also maybe a tiny, thrilling frisson of fear,” succeeds mainly in “eliciting pity.” According to USA Today, sitting through “the turgid and tedious S&M melodrama that is Fifty Shades of Grey may feel like its own form of torture.”
Rolling Stone calls the film punishingly dull and “about as erotic as an ad for Pottery Barn.” The true audiences for Fifty Shades of Grey are “gluttons for punishment — by boredom.”
Though evidently disappointing to viewers, Fifty Shades of Grey may have succeeding in making its own history, however. It has somehow managed to bring together feminists, conservative Christians and secular reviewers into a united cry of ugh.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome