50 Shits Of Crap: A Professional Dominant Excoriates The Worst Movie Of All Time
I knew that I was going to have to watch “Fifty Shades of Grey” eventually, it was just an issue of watching in a way that would be, you know, tolerable. And it occurred to me pretty quickly last week: One of my very best friends in the world is a veteran professional and recreational dominant. Why not watch it with him and record his reactions?
Of course, this was an appealing option not only because he’s a veteran dominant who would be able to give me insight — he’s also a veteran dominant with a really, really high-key, intense personality. To wit, I asked him, about halfway through the movie, what name I should use for him. I wasn’t going to use his legal name, but since he was giving me his unfiltered commentary on the movie in the context of our friendship and mutual familiarity, rather than in his professional capacity alone, it didn’t feel right to use his pro-dom pseudonym, either. His response: “What’s the opposite of Christian? Satan? Yeah, refer to me as Satan Black. I am the Un-Christian. Or Mephistopheles. Technicolor Mephistopheles!”
And honestly, “Technicolor Mephistopheles” is about how I’d sum up his personality: This is a man who talks in italics. You can hear the exclamation points at the end of his sentences. He likes to mimic cartoon villains, and has, in fact, previously and in many contexts referred to himself as the real-life version of a animated, mustachioed evildoer who ties damsels to train tracks. I preface his feedback on “Fifty Shades of Grey” with this character summary because it will 1) Allow you to put a voice to the text, and 2) Provide some explanation for the flagrantly offensive but truly hilarious interjections he had. Cross my heart, I left out the worst of it.
We got a torrent of a cam rip of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which T.M. was referring to as “Fifty Shits of Crap,” that ran for an hour and 47 minutes. It took us four hours to get through it because Technicolor Mephistopheles had to keep pausing it to explain his thinking and/or claw at his eyes while cursing E.L. James (“She should have some kind of neurological accident that makes her rot in a flesh-prison without the ability to communicate ever again”). His first conniption fit happened during the scene in which Christian and Ana meet up for coffee, and then, immediately after she says that she kind of “has to be” a romantic because she’s an English major, he cuts off the conversation and tells her he can’t see her.
“What he’s doing there — this is basically E.L. James’ version of ‘this is game,’ because Ana’s showing interest in in Christian,” T.M. told me. “What it looks like is that E.L. James read pick-up artist websites and decided to translate it into her uber-smooth, idealized dominant. But his predatory ‘game’ is primitive. What that would do in real life is not make a sub insecure and make them feel like they needed to prove themselves, it’d make them go away because they’d feel rejected. E.L. James has no idea how it really works, this is just how she’s guessing it works.”
The PUA-gamesmanship-as-dominance theme just got worse as the first half of the movie progressed: When Anastasia awakes in Christian’s hotel room after a night of heavy drinking, he violates any sense of boundaries with her (more on that in a second), and then leaves the room when she closes her eyes. T.M. objected again: “Some submissives enjoy the illusion of abandonment, because it heightens the feeling of objectification, but that’s a consensual thing, you negotiate that beforehand. But no one ever starts out doing that. You have to build a rapport. It doesn’t build trust to be ambiguous. This is the pick-up artist shit that’s written into the storyline, it’s pick-up artist shit as kink fantasy. He’s negged her, and he’s done the thing where you ignore the hot girl to get her to crave your attention. It won’t really work.”
But that scene also really encapsulated most of the things that were wrong with the movie. Let’s break this down: Ana gets black-out drunk with her friends at a bar. Christian tracks her down (“With his billionaire h0x0r skillz!”), removes her from her friends, and brings her back not to her apartment but to his hotel room, where he undresses her while she’s unconscious and then sleeps next to her. In what universe is that OK? “That’s a massive consent violation, a massive comfort violation,” T.M. said. Then, when Christian took a bite of her toast (to illustrate, via her lack of complaint, just how submissive she is, of course), he compared it to the “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!” scene in “There Will Be Blood.” “I EAT YOUR TOAST! If she had a milkshake, he’d drink that, too. Her milkshake brings all the psychopathic, histrionic, predatory dominants to the yard.”
This is also the scene in which Christian tells Ana, “My tastes are … singular.” Technicolor Mephistopheles’ reaction to that — both when he read the books and while we watched the movie — was this: “No, they’re not singular, you cunt! They’re shared by millions and millions of people! They’re just shared better and with more smoothness and more social expertise than this bullshit.” And that seems like a good place to state what I hope is the obvious: The last thing I or T.M. would ever do is tell people that they’re wrong or sick for being intrigued by the idea of BDSM, or for being curious about it, or for wanting to try it. He hates (and, well, we hate) the movie and the book and to some extent E.L. James, but not the audience.
“The only redeeming thing about the whole thing is that BDSM is more widely-discussed, but it’s also given people a totally wrong impression of what BDSM is like,” he said. “It’s like saying ‘It’s great that everyone is now talking about HIV, but it’s because now everyone has HIV.’ This is going to be a large number of people’s introduction to kinky shit, and then their imaginations will exceed their tolerance, and it won’t be anything like this, and they’ll be disappointed at the very least or, worse, harmed tremendously. I can only imagine how many people are going to end up with nerve damage in their hands because they were tied to a Saint Andrew’s cross by someone who didn’t know how to bind correctly.”
It’s a kind of glib way to put it, but it’s not unfair. I don’t know, I just want readers to know that, like, if “Fifty Shades of Grey” excited you, that’s awesome, but I really hope it makes you even more excited to know that in real-life, healthy, well-informed BDSM relationships, a submissive would be given infinitely more respect than Anastasia is given. There would be no “Why won’t you sign the contract?!” There would be no game-playing. There would be no waffling and lying and rule-breaking with impunity. Your boundaries would be communicated clearly, and honored by the dominant. You’d be eased into it slowly, you’d get acclimated to it, and if you decided it wasn’t your cup of tea, assuming you and your dom had been clear about your boundaries and what you wanted, you could walk away unharmed. But jumping straight into an elaborate contract, or into intensely painful activities, or situations in which you are physically isolated in an unfamiliar environment — the way it happens in “Fifty Shades of Grey” — is not something a normal human being could walk away from unscathed. That’s the objection.
How does Anastasia walk away from it unscathed? Well, it’s fiction, first of all. But furthermore, as Technicolor Mephistopheles, put it, “She’s supposed to be like the ‘uber-sub,’ which, by the way, does not exist. It’s E.L. James’ Mary Sue, wish-fulfillment sub.” Christian can show up at her place of work with no legitimate reason to be there, and in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” universe, it’s not stalking; everything turns out fine. Christian can basically kidnap her, strip her while she’s unconscious, and sleep in the bed next to her, and she doesn’t end up being (as T.M. repeatedly put it) Christian’s new girl-vest; everything turns out fine. He can trespass into her home uninvited, have sex with her, and then throw a hissy fit because she won’t sign his incredibly elaborate and — by vanilla standards — invasive contract, and she doesn’t wind up in the hospital; everything turns out fine. He can stalk her all the way from Seattle to Georgia, where he shows up uninvited again in order to interrupt her quality time with her mother, and she doesn’t object or feel intruded upon or controlled; everything ends up fine. He can take her to Seattle and isolate her from everyone she knows for days at a time, have her sign a nondisclosure agreement so that she can’t even tell anyone where she’s going, and she doesn’t end up decaying in a swamp somewhere; everything turns out fine. It’s not like fiction must be absolutely faithful to realism, but the idea that Anastasia would be safe despite these copious and very serious red flags is so far outside the realm of realism that the only way it would really work would be if “Fifty Shades of Grey” was either a satire, or if it ended differently and wound up being a serial killer story.
Which, as T.M. pointed out, wouldn’t be a bad idea: “It’s the worst BDSM sex movie ever, but it would be the greatest serial killer parody movie ever because they’re all in here! If he murdered her at the end, it would be the most chilling psychological buildup ever. Then you’d see his social awkwardness slipping through because his facade would be slipping.”
Of course, converse to Ana being a Mary Sue, wish-fulfillment uber-sub is the fact that Christian is E.L. James’ Marty Stu, wish-fulfillment uber-dom who has a Magical Cock of Healing — which, by the way, is abundantly referenced throughout the movie via the giant building he owns; his sleek, muscular cars; his great big helicopter that he knows how to pilot; a great big jet (“He’s flying her through the heavens in a giant white penis” was T.M.’s input); even the key to the red room is a symbol for his magical penis. And why or how is it magical? Well, look: Dakota Johnson-as-Anastasia is made to look exhausted and weepy all the time — except when they’re having sex, because Christian has a magical healing cock that can ease her effortlessly into a full-on BDSM lifestyle with no significant prior sexual experience, period. His magical penis heals her pain and hurt and discomfort and makes it OK for her to do things that, outside of their sexual interactions, she’s clearly not enthusiastic to do. And, on the other side, his magical penis and its healing powers justifies Christian’s otherwise predatory, manipulative, controlling behavior =- because the Magical Cock and the magical, psychologically-healing sexual experiences it provides for Anastasia make it so that everything turns out fine, no matter what.
I’m given to understand that ultimately, it turns out that Ana, herself, as a Magical Pussy of Healing — and that through her purity and her magical vagina, she ends up curing Christian of his kinkiness. This is where the whole thing breaks down and gets offensive to me, because even this first installment actively equates kink and pathology. Christian isn’t kinky because that’s just his inclination; the only way, in E.L. James’ world, that anyone could ever be kinky is if they were traumatized and emotionally unstable (ergo, it is curable through therapy/love/the purity of Ana’s magical vagina). What baffles me is how a story that is so negative and condescending toward BDSM could be interpreted as an endorsement of it. Anastasia hates the whole idea of BDSM. She finds it offensive. She takes an uppity, superior attitude toward it (oh my god, that contract-negotiation scene, kill me) because she apparently believes that by being vanilla and a believer in traditional romance, she has the moral upper hand, that her sexuality is correct and Christian’s is incorrect. She berates Christian for being kinky and insists that something must be wrong with him, and eventually he buys into it and caves. That’s what the story advocates – the belief that BDSM is inherently unhealthy, and that’s no small part of the reason that it never portrays truly kinky sexual activities, just a little spanking and a light flogging. Of course there’s no fisting, or heavy bondage, or suspension, or genital clamps, or electroshock, or caning. Of course spanking with a belt is portrayed as “the worst it can get.” Or, as T.M. said: “No anal fisting or vaginal fisting because it’s not pure! It doesn’t involve the magical penis and only dirty girls get fisted. It’s not because it’s an activity that’s objectionable because it’s something she can’t tolerate, it’s because good girls wouldn’t let people anally or vaginally fist them, because that puts a tarnish on the shine.”
But this issue of nature-or-nurture is a problem for Ana too, though — because this is a story about a woman who, as my veteran kink friend Technicolor Mephistopheles puts it, is “NOT A SUB!” When Christian yelled, in the climactic scene, that he “needed” that kind of sex, I asked T.M.: Is that true? “Well, yes, and it’s kind of good that they put it that way, but it’s not good in that context,” he replied. “Some people are wired to need a responsible outlet for their sadism.” And he continued:
“This imprints, like a perverted duckling, the wrong image on the audience’s frame of reference. I’ve already seen newbies coming in, and this is their frame of reference, and when they actually start playing they’re like ‘What the fuck is this shit?’ They’re not going to instantly be transported into an epiphany. You have to have the mindset to be open to that experience, and you have to have an inclination, and this character does not have any inclination toward being masochistic or submissive. She’s just a pushover. She resists everything, but not because the resistance is fun, but because she’s so out of fucking water. The only time she wasn’t weepy was when they had the nice pretty sex. People like that aren’t masochistic or submissive.”
And you know what? Ana not having the inclination to be submissive is just fine. If you’re not submissive, you’re not. If you’re super-vanilla, BDSM is not going to improve your sex life. But you have this bizarre, ambiguous story in which Christian is portrayed as not being genuinely or inherently kinky, as having a valid inclination stemming from valid sexual preferences; instead, he’s just sick in the head. And so then, accordingly, Ana is not genuinely submissive, and the whole time it just looks like she’s generously offering up her pain and her body in order to save Christian from kink. That is incredibly twisted. Instead of just parting ways and saying “We’re obviously not sexually compatible,” Christian and Ana torture each other in a fucked-up battle of wills, trying to convince the other that their sexuality is the right one. And my objection to “Fifty Shades of Grey” has always been — beyond just the bad writing — that that is not sexy in any way, shape, or form to me.
I expected to be at least mildly turned on by the movie. Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are objectively hot, and I’m the kind of person who enjoys spanking, bondage, submission, and consensual, responsible light choking. But how could I be turned on by a woman having sexual experiences that obviously cause her real emotional distress, that consistently result in her crying or feeling put out by her partner? And how could I be turned on by a story that uses her distress to belittle my kinky sexuality? It’s both troubling and insulting to watch.
It’s not just that the writing is bad (so, so bad — Technicolor Mephistopheles referred me to passages in the book that correlated with the scenes we were watching, and how did anyone ever get through those books?), or that it claims to be a story about BDSM but contains no serious portrayals of BDSM; it’s not just that Christian Grey is a sociopathic stalker who uses pick-up artist techniques and E.L. James tries to pass that off as “romantic”; it’s not just that Anastasia is a flat character with not a whole lot of real agency, and when she does assert her agency it’s only to disparage the entire premise of the book, a sexuality that — as T.M. said — millions and millions of people share. It’s not just the savior bullshit, or what’s clearly emotional abuse — I don’t know. It’s all of that that is deeply disturbing to me about “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“Did I do something to you to make you hate me?” T.M. asked me a few times during our viewing, which, honestly, is a fair question, although I did offer to stop several times. “That’d be like letting it win, though,” he responded.
He gave me a copy and scrubbed it from his computer. “I don’t know if anything could ever redeem this,” he said. Truer words have never been spoken.
[Screencap via Focus Features. It sums up the feeling of watching the movie really well.]
Send me a line at [email protected]. Huge thanks to Technicolor Mephistopheles, maybe the most colorful dominant in existence.