‘Fifty Shades of Grey’: Guiltless, Mindless, Glorious Indulgence

Fifty Shades of Grey
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson steam up the screen in ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey.’

The premiere of the Fifty Shades of Grey film is sparking two kinds of buzz throughout the country—from the I-can’t-wait camps, and from the I’d-rather-eat-glass-than-watch-that-drek crowd.

Critics, from the Daily Beast to the New Yorker are finding creative and inventive ways to pan the film, while bars are cashing in on the craze by introducing new cocktails with FSOG influence, like the “Laters Baby,” “Guilty Pleasure,” “Safe Word” and “Red Room.”

And though I usually find myself in the former camp, appreciating art and literature over mindless pop culture, I admit that I will be among those waiting on long lines with my girlfriends to watch this long-anticipated film.

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey-inspired drinks at Chatters Bar and Grill at Island 16 movies in Holtsville: (L-R) ‘Laters Baby,’ ‘Red Room,’ ‘Safe Word’ and ‘Guilty Pleasure.’ (Photo by Cheryl Pepe)

Long Island and suburban enclaves like those found here are in a big way responsible for the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy. When the books came out in 2012, you couldn’t take two steps onto a soccer field without some mom saddling up to you, whispering from the side of her mouth, “Have you read the books?” The Facebook PTA group for our elementary school is chockfull of pass-the-budget information and fundraisers and cupcake recipes, but if you read the comment threads carefully, you would have noticed that Fifty had infiltrated there, too. The salutation “Laters, Baby” is the calling card for those who have read it. Talk that would usually stay within the PC parameters of 5K runs for Autism Awareness and gossip about the Boy Scout leader’s fight with the cheerleaders had grown a bit hotter with talk of who moms might cast as Christian Grey in the movie and “Did you know that’s what those silver balls were for?”

Literary purists, however, found multiple causes to state their disdain for the wildly popular (like, sold 100 million copies popular) novels, while making sure to impart to friends and followers, “Not that I’d ever read that kind of thing.” Likewise, they will not be going to the opening this weekend.

I would argue that, although the novels are not on par with some of the world’s greatest literature, they are enormously fun. If you’re going to dip into these fantasy novels, treat them as the brain (and libido) candy they are, and leave your literary critic at home. There is a place for them, beyond turning on a generation of PTA moms. It’s more than that.

Fifty Shades of Grey

What garners these books such enormous popularity as to become what the newsreels are calling a “cultural phenomenon” is that they brought out confessional, giggly conversations between women. Men might bond over sports or beer, but women connect, really connect, when we make revelations to each other. We dress the perfect part, sweat at the obligatory spin class, highlight our hair in unison to present a perfect front to each other. And then we get close by stripping down those exact manifestations, with confessions about how cheap we got our designer bags, how we cheated on our diets, how we yell at our perfectly coiffed children, drink too much wine, and read pornography.

The books themselves are a side note, a catalyst to a conversation we’ve all been dying to have. Fifty Shades of Grey has served as a lubricant to the separateness between us. The writing falls below superb. And though I (almost) have a Master’s in Literature, I can appreciate a book that’s main objective is fun. The first books I read were The Baby-Sitters Clubs and Sweet Valley High. Not literature by any stretch, but a place that an author worked to create, and I enjoyed hanging out in. No, it’s not Nabokov. It’s not even Stephanie Meyer.

I read the Twilight trilogy, too. This isn’t really a confession. I love my junk reading as much as my literature. I can talk about dramatic irony and the political implication of works by Shakespeare and the above-mentioned Nabokov (my favorite), but I can also let my hair down and talk about Twilight, Fifty Shades, The Hunger Games. Popular books. Decidedly not art. As long as my smut doesn’t try to be art (Remember that Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie? What was that?), then I’m happy to indulge. We cannot judge these popular books by art standards. We judge them for what they bring out in us.

And if human connection is the end result, I say bring on the film. And if husbands across America get lucky this Valentines weekend as a result, who’s to complain?