Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades Is Just Beauty & the Beast?! (No, no, no, no, no..!)

But I guess this was an inevitable comparison. 

I just didn't quite expect the write-up to read quite like this:
It seemed to many E.L. James, America’s new softcore sweetheart, was working some kind of magic on jaded American consumers, and had stumbled on the one choice of subject matter that could get people reading again. Yet the roots of its popularity stretched much deeper than its author’s source material, and what a Newsweek cover story dubbed “The Fantasy Life of Working Women.” At its most basic, Fifty Shades of Greylike Twilight,and like so many bestsellers that have come beforeappealed not just to suburban housewives, but to the little girls they had once been. The story is less a booster for bondage... than a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. At the end of her saga, when all the whips have been sheathed and the harnesses have been unstrung, Anastasia Steele has tamed and wedded her beast, given birth to one of his children, and conceived another. In its final lines, the narrative appears less a celebration of sexual transgression than of the nuclear family. ...The beast, vanquished, has transformed into a prince, and she has become his princess. 
(There's more. You can read the whole, huge article, titled 50 Shades Is Just 'Beauty and the Beast' with Handcuffs and Sex Toys, with all its reasonings HERE.)

So basically Twilight & Fifty Shades of Grey = Beauty & the Beast?

Only if the message in the fairy tale is "transform your man", "tame your Beast", "give in to your Savior complex" or "stand by your nightmare until he becomes a Prince"!

Please tell me this is not really the "fairy tale" (colloquial use of the term) that people truly want?

See this is where I think Disney needs to seriously overhaul the Beast's character at the beginning of their movie. There needs to be another way for he and Belle to be in conflict, because the resulting message, no matter how it was originally intended, is a recipe for abuse (and possibly Stockholm syndrome), and we've ended up with a lot of confused "little girls" out there...


Why am I bothering with this here? Because no matter how bad this film is purported to be, the book was (is?) a scary cultural phenomenon, which is how this it came to be made into a movie at all, and you know there are people you know that will see this. And when it gets talked about in conjunction with a fairy tale which is held as a favorite (for good reasons) by many enlightened people I know... well I think you should know and be prepared for it in case you get asked about it.

Ima jus' gonna leave this here now and move on...

I just skimmed the article in Entertainment Weekly called Sex, Lies & Fifty Shades, because right there, smack in the middle of the article are pictures of Disney's Snow White (The Prince Paradigm) and Cinderella (The Cinderella Complex). Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast are also referenced in the article as are fairy tale and feminist issues in general, but not in the way I expected after the last article. The interesting thing about this use, is that the author/magazine used the images to draw you (me) in, to say "that's not what it's really about at all".
The real reasons for the popularity of Fifty Shades, and for the persistent role of domination and submission in women's sexual imaginations, are rooted in what it actually means to live life in a female body - and the truth about that is so dark it makes Christian Grey's Red Room of Pain seem as innocuous as a backyard sandbox. (Leslie Bennetts for Entertainment Weekly. A longtime writer for Vanity Fair, she is the author of The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?)
While I don't agree with the whole article I think this makes a good and resonating point: one which, should you find yourself discussing fairy tales and feminism and the mixed up signals pop culture is sending us, that is worth keeping in mind.

You can currently read the EW article online HERE. You may want to note it starts provocatively, stating much about sex lives and the popularity of the books and coming movie, but this is only really the introduction to illustrate the baffling phenomena of this series that has bright minds having many arguments as to 'why?'. The quoted paragraph is the last one from that section and then it gets into a discussion that better suited to the question of "why are so many modern women consumed by this Fifty Shades fascination?" It may indeed have something to do with fairy tales, but not in the way that most people might think.


  1. Whenever someone tries to tell me I should like Fifty Shades because 'Beauty and the Beast is your favorite fairy tale, and this is just a retelling of it, you know...' I go into a blind sort of self-contained meltdown like Ash's head in that iconic scene in Alien. Fifty Shades is no more Beauty and the Beast than it is an accurate representation of BDSM.

    Even if you put aside the point that I've always had a problem with the fact that the Beast turns into a Prince (I'm for him evolving emotionally, but I've always loathed that he has to turn into something 'physically appealing' in order to end the story) there are absolutely NO parallels between the stories. I mean besides there being a male character and a female character there are nothing alike in the two stories.

    I don't even get the correlation people are trying to claim with the other fairy tales, like Cinderella. I mean, if Cinderella stayed with her stepmother and sisters, and LIKED the way they treated her, then maybe there would be a correlation. Otherwise, it's really the precise opposite of Cinderella. In Cinderella a prince takes her away from abuse and offers her a life of luxury. In Fifty Shades, Christian forcibly removes a happy girl from her comfortable life and inserts her into a world of abuse and control. Yeah, the two are exactly alike... said no one who understood the stories ever.

  2. I had actually been wondering if/when some people would make this connection...not because taming your abusive man is the meaning of Beauty and the Beast, but because the fairy tale has been linked to related literature such as Phantom of the Opera and Twilight. If you look at it in terms of the Beast representing not just ugliness, but some kind of Otherness, anything from vampires to homosexuality, and Beauty loving and embracing that Otherness which is generally disapproved of by society, I can see the connection.

    However there is still a huge, very significant difference between BATB and Fifty Shades. Even in the Disney version of BATB, or other versions where the Beast starts out cruel and abusive-Beauty is always initially repelled by his behavior. It is not until after the Beast undergoes significant change which culminates in him making a significant sacrifice-letting Beauty go even though he loves her and she is his only chance at breaking the spell-that we the reader, and Beauty herself, can believe that he is changed and it's more than just Stockholm Syndrome. From what I've read/heard about 50 Shades, and skimming the articles you link, there is no way to EVER expect that the relationship the main characters have would turn into a committed marriage. Anastasia allows the abuse, whereas Beauty never allowed the Beast to so much as touch her until he started making significant changes

  3. To add to my last comment...50 Shades is about a man being so obsessed with a woman he can't let her go, but it's still all about his own desires being fulfilled. BATB is about a beast loving a woman so much that he DOES let her go, even though it's very painful for him-he puts her interests above his own.

  4. Wow, thanks for sharing. I found the EW article pretty fascinating. I think it all comes down to the basic rape fantasy (as the article explains, alleviating women's guilt at sexual desire) combined with the fresh focus in 50 Shades on the female orgasm (albeit within the unlikely scenario of a domestic abuse situation--but since when has porn sought to be realistic?).

    BATB, while not the same kind of material, does start out with the woman being forced into the relationship. Even if she's just ordered to stay in the building and nothing else, she's still there against her will. She doesn't come looking for hot beastly love on her own account.

    I think many heterosexual women love this tale (and its modern variants) because there is something erotic about the monstrous qualities of masculinity (both physical and behavioral), and we're not supposed to get turned on by them--for both patriarchal AND feminist reasons. The forbidden is always both terrifying and erotic.

    I have no desire to read 50 Shades (for the grammar alone--yikes) or see the movie, but I do think reading about the cultural phenomenon is fascinating!

    Paradoxically, there isn't much sexy about political correctness. But for me (and many other women I know), there also isn't much sexy about tired old gender roles wrapped in cliched kink. Because female expression of desire is the REAL taboo, not feathers and whips.

    I find this last bit of the EW article very intriguing: "'In a culture of gender equality, sex would be way more creative and more interesting,' says Dines. 'You would be the author of your own sexuality.' Such autonomy would be infinitely more transgressive than any blindfold or ball gag."