Monday, May 7, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey. . . Lady Porn and The Fall of Culture. . . .

The conversation was between me and two of the women in my life. . . my wife and one of my adult daughters. We were driving from church to Costco. The conversation began with some comments and questions about Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in E.L. James' best-selling fiction trilogy. The books are all over the New York Times' Bestseller List and it seems like women everywhere are devouring them.

I listened as the ladies discussed the literary phenomena. None of us have read the books. But like everyone else, we've heard about them. During our short drive and conversation we talked about the content. We talked about the plot. And we talked how curious and disturbing it is that so many women are immersing themselves with reckless abandon in a work of erotic fiction that sounds like a Harlequin romance novel on steroids. 

In case you haven't heard, Fifty Shades of Grey is about the exploits of a young college graduate and a businessman.
 The story is summarized on Wikipedia this way: "The plot traces the relationship between recent college graduate Anastasia Steele and manipulative billionaire Christian Grey. Steele is required by Grey to sign a contract allowing him complete control over her life. As she gets to know him she learns that his sexual tastes involve bondage, domination and sadism, and that childhood abuse left him a deeply damaged individual. In order to be his partner she agrees to experiment with bondage/discipline/sadism/masochism, but struggles to reconcile who she is (a virgin who has never previously had a boyfriend) with whom Christian wants her to be: his submissive, to-do-with-as-he-pleases partner in his 'Red Room of Pain.'"  

As we discussed this current cultural trend, I wondered out loud about doing what I always think is the responsible thing when it comes to evaluating and commenting on a cultural artifact. In this case, the responsible thing is to read the book. The response from my wife and daughter was immediate and direct. . . and I'm glad it was. They told me I didn't need to go there. I was reminded of what I tell youth workers all the time. . . "Don't cross the line. . . and you know where the line is for you." Sometimes we need others to remind us of where our lines should be. I know that the directive of these two ladies was good advice. I'm not going to read this book. . . . for the simple reason that I don't need to look at pornography to know what it's about. And from everything I hear, Fifty Shades of Grey is literary pornography.

Upon arriving at Costco, I bee-lined to my favorite place in the store. . . the book table. It's a regular habit. As always, the book table was surrounded by browsers. The browsing was particularly dense on one side of the table. It was dense with women. What they were looking at and loading up on was a fast-diminishing pile of books. . . which happened to be the E.L. James trilogy. I eaves-dropped and quickly realized that everything I had been hearing and everything we had been talking about in our car was true.

One conversation in particular rattled me. A younger woman was holding the book and pondering the purchase. She had an inquisitive and slightly guilty look on her face. An older women standing nearby happened to see the same inquisitive and guilty look and decided to engage the younger lady in conversation. . . . a conversation that pushed the latter to a tipping point. "Thinking about reading it?", the older woman asked. "Yes, but I hear it's a little dirty," the younger woman replied. At that point, the young woman's husband appeared behind her with their cart. Noticing her husband was now privy to the conversation, the young woman turned a little red and muttered something about her husband showing up. . . as if the conversation needed to come to an end. She looked like a guilty kid who had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. The older woman. . . probably in her mid-60s by my estimation. . . looked at her, gave her a little wink, and said, "It's ten dollars well spent." With that, the young woman placed the book in her cart. . . . and I watched her exchange a sly little smile with her husband. That was an interesting mentoring moment that says a lot about who we are and what we're becoming as a culture.

I've mentioned before that research shows that on any given Sunday, our church pews in evangelical churches hold people who struggle with pornography. That research says that 50% of the men and 20% of the women in those pews are addicted to pornography. My friends at Harvest USA define pornography as "anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways." (It's well worth your time to read the full article that this definition comes from). In general, men are drawn to visual pornography. And in general, women are engaging with literary pornography. Fifty Shades of Grey seems to fit the bill.

And so we seek it out, we read it, we love it. . . and we don't see much wrong with doing any of those things. We're in trouble folks. Al Qaeda might as well just sit back and wait. . . we're doing a fine job of taking ourselves down. Anyone else hear Paul Simon quietly singing "Slip Slidin' Away"?


18 comments:

Walt Mueller said...

I've had a couple of conversations since posting this blog that have left me wondering. . . are you hearing about this in your church? Is there a buzz among the women? Are they reading it? Is the church addressing it?

Kim said...

I have several church friends who have read it or are reading it. One of them is actually a church employee. No one in the discussion about the book ever mentioned as Christian women, this is a book we shouldn't read. I have not read the book.

Walt Mueller said...

What I'm hearing in feedback thoughout the day serves as a powerful reminder of how we've failed to teach discernment. . . and how we're failing to discern.

Tim Brown said...

It was great to meet you via Skype in class today.

Thanks for giving guidance both by your willingness to be familiar with cultural trends AND your discernment to walk in the light.

Paul's words are trustworthy:
Ephesians 5:8-17 ...for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 ¶ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Walt Mueller said...

Thanks Tim. It was a privilege for me to be a part of your class. These are good words. Thanks. The discussion that's taking shape around this book. . . the discussion among professing followers of Christ. . . is discouraging. It points to our need to learn and teach biblical discernment. When someone struggles to differentiate between Song of Solomon and erotic fiction. . . there's a problem.

Wayne Morgan said...

I don't think we are the first generation to fail to teach discernment! Tim quoted the second half of Ephesians 5, but the first part starting in verse 3 says:

"Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world."

The Hedden Family said...

I'm so glad to hear you affirm my decision not to read this book. I'm like you - I like to read the "it" books and know what everyone is talking about. But, I haven't read this one and can't bring myself to - despite the number of people who have said, "Oh, just read it - it's worth it!".

Walt Mueller said...

I wonder what people mean when they say "it's worth it."?

Paul Byerly said...

Thanks for addressing this - a warning is needed. I wonder how many teenage girls are reading this without their parents have a clue about it?

Melanie said...

When I was 22 I read a novel,by a reknowned literary author that was not graphic, but very sex-obsessed. I think it shaped my thought and focus at the time more than I would have admitted. Knowing 'where the line is' is very difficult when you have not been trained. ALSO I have a 12-year old son for whom the line was crossed with exposure to porn. Now he is fighting and praying -- opting out on a lot of media. He wants to see girls as pretty, not 'hot'. This is so difficult in our culture!

Jennie Bishop, PurityWorks said...

Thanks for this comment, Walt. Always trying to keep abreast of these trends so we can continue to warn parents trying to guard/guide their children and themselves. We'll steer clear.

Anonymous said...

"it's worth it!" -- is a way to say "you're married sex life is lacking but if the wife reads this she will be wild and ready to go all the time." That, is exactly the way it is being promoted around here (CHAR NC)...and in my husband's work place. It is spreading like wild fire. The "sales pitch" between friends is "Your husband will be so glad you read it!" Bible-belt-raised young women and wives are "suggesting" it to their friends as a "cure" (of sorts) for bedroom doldrums. Young, professional women who were raised to stay away from the "degrading world or porn" are swooping in and, as you stated, "devouring" it. Shamelessly sharing it intervene rationally... I fear the thought is "no pictures, no porn". When confronted by my sister to "try it" I whispered to my husband that I would be more "turned on" if he did a study of the Song of Solomon/Driscoll's Peasant Princess :)

Leah K said...

Hmmmm.....excellent job, Walt. Great post. I think the appeal is multi-faceted. However, one theory I have about the attraction to it is an "easy" high. Women read it, they get turned on, and sex is the result. It's instant gratification. But real relationships take work. Communication, learning how to speak eachother's love languages, working to really love one another all takes time and effort. We like the quick fix. We are an instant gratification society. Why spend the time to get a couple of extra hours of sleep if we can just drink a 5 Hour Energy drink and power through? Great conversation starter and one I will be noodling on.

tony c said...

I don't think you have to read the book... unless your are going to blog about it. Them atleast reading a chapter or two would be fair. Surely.

Melissa Kircher said...

I have to say that I mostly agree, although I think that a book should be read before throwing out an opinion. I did read the book and I have a blog about it if anyone cares to check it out:

http://www.holymessofmarriage.com/2012/05/50-shades-of-what.html

But I like that the Christian community and especially women are thinking through this book and the issues it brings up. God calls us all to mindfulness. So the decisions we make about what we watch and read need to be made with thought and care and also with consideration as to how we can engage in our culture.

Good blog!

Anonymous said...

How can you throw out a book without reading it?! Ive not read it and not do I intend to as apparently it is poorly written. I certainly wouldn't go blogging about it!

And as for sex, it's sex. People will always have different attitudes towards it whether they have the bible and god in mind or not. For crying out loud, the scandals with the church and sex have forever been ongoing. As poor as this book may be written at least it is with fully consenting adults.

Walt Mueller said...

Anonymous - I understand your point and am adamant about always reading/viewing/knowing/being informed before critiquing. But as I'm always asked, "Is there a line?" and "Where does on draw the line?" In the case of these books by wife and daughter stepped in and requested that I not read them. If, in fact, these books are pornographic, then their advice is good advice we all must heed. If, in fact, one struggles with crossing a line in order to "know" a cultural artifact, then one must hold back and not cross the line. I think there's enough information and critique out there about these books that I can know the content, know the bent, and know the message without reading them. . . the same as I would in regards to other types of pornography. No need to go there. My main concern in blogging is not so much with the books themselves (although I think they are a huge problem), but the cultural issues/realities that undergird the immense popularity of the books. In addition, "consent" among adults does not define ethical boundaries. . . or at least it should not.

Sarah Lemp said...

Thanks for this well written article! I referenced your site in a post I just did on the same topic:All Things with Purpose: 50 Shades of Compromise