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Catholic in America: ‘Fifty Shades’ the Product of a Romantically Bankrupt Culture

The Michigan Catholic

February 20, 2015

Al Kresta

From a cheesy bit of anonymous fan fiction with vapid characters, ludicrous plot and insipid writing, “Fifty Shades of Grey” morphed into a Harry Potter-size marketing phenomenon. When the dust settles, however, we’ll discover it was little more than a self-generated, incestuous bit of media marketing foreplay without the grand socio-sexual climax promised by its boosters or prophesied by its critics.

The “Fifty Shades” franchise is a marketing windfall, but a cultural dud. One can hope that in five years, it will be hard to find anyone who will admit to having read or seen it. For those imagining that “Fifty Shades” is a rush to the barricades for a new sexual revolution, think again. Neither Alfred Kinsey nor Larry Flynt would have ever been considered a candidate for a Valentine Day’s Vermont Teddy Bear like Christian Grey. “Fifty Shades” is not a revolutionary moment like Stonewall, Fort Sumner, D. H. Lawrence or Vladimir Lenin. It is just business as usual in a declining America.

Mainstreaming BDSM is a crass, cynical exploitation of frustrated, impotent people who are seeking the real intimacy proper to human nature. A few more fur handcuffs and leather paddles may be sold, but they will eventually lie in a bureau drawer with discarded eyeglasses, old concert tickets and unredeemed coupons. Why? Because most people consider Christian Grey’s antics to be silly, pathological and not to be carried out in our house or with our daughter.

Yes, more people will be hurt by this book’s example. But the objectification of women has already been achieved in the unstoppable, long-established Internet porn revolution that was the precondition for the book’s success. “Fifty Shades” is a product of that revolution, not its opening volley. It is the problem for which St. John Paul II prescribed the Theology of the Body.

Even the natural modesty of the young actors playing Christian and Ana asserts itself off the set. He admits he needs to take a long shower before he will touch his wife and baby. She kids about not wanting anyone to see the movie, including her parents and her brother’s friends who would retch upon seeing her in the role of Ana. This “Fifty Shades” phenomenon is a report on the poverty of American romance, not a proud manifesto for sexual liberation.

Listen to the franchise’s consumers. They aren’t social activists or volunteers for humane causes. They aren’t leaders, revolutionaries or trend-setters. They are often romance novel readers fantasizing about love rather than risking real intimacy. A Michigan State University study revealed that women 18-24 who have read all three “Fifty Shades” books, when compared with those who haven’t read them, are 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids in the last 24 hours, 65 percent more likely to binge drink, 63 percent more likely to have had five or more intercourse partners in their 18-24 years of life. Twenty-five percent have a partner who yelled or swore at them. And 34 percent have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies.

Even author E.L. James admits that writing the book was little more than therapy during her two-year mid-life crisis. Even in our Facebook era, some things should be kept private.

The trilogy’s third book closes with Ana no longer a victim of intimate partner violence and Christian purged of BDSM practices. They marry. In the epilogue, this first family of sadomasochism is living happily ever after.

How sweet and deceptive. Christian’s “redemption” spells danger for Cinderella syndrome women and, conversely, women who fantasize divine powers to change the lost soul of a pervert. Sadly, Ana’s reckless experiment in risky behavior is vindicated and justified. In real life, prudence would have gotten a restraining order or counseling.

Christian’s “salvation” also dangerously defies reality. His deviant sexual tastes demand greater and growing intensity leading to brutal, uncontrollable, irresistible linkage between sex and violence. Ask jailed Grosse Pointe Park murderer Bob Bashara, who had his wife, Jane, killed.

Some justify the perversions of the book by claiming all was consensual. But consent to bondage is no virtue. Remember the old Virginia Slims ad? “You’ve come a long way baby, you’ve got your own cigarette now baby.” Consent to bondage is as silly, and more dangerous. Women can now consent to physical, not merely psychological bondage. How enlightened.

What an opportunity for Catholics to question the operative spiritual and relational assumptions of our culture. Redemption is found in the crucifying of Jesus, not the flogging of Ana. Consent does not justify all things. What behaviors should set off warning flares? Since God invented sex, doesn’t He know best what makes for the most fulfilling sexual experience? Doesn’t the Catholic teaching on male/female complementarity correct Christian and Ana’s perverse relationship?

Let’s get more than moral outrage out of this pop culture craze. Go to to find a resource page that will equip you to use the “Fifty Shades” fervor for good and not just complain of the evil.


Al Kresta is president and CEO of Ave Maria Communications in Ann Arbor. His radio program, “Kresta in the Afternoon,” can be heard from 4-6 p.m. daily on 990 AM-WDEO and EWTN.


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