Friday, February 20, 2015

Fifty Shades finale: Throwback?

I listened to a Slate podcast on Fifty Shades this morning because someone told me that one of the participants made the same connection between the movie and Pamela. He does, but he misses the larger context.

First, the entire panel of Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner agree that the movie is unrealistic and that it represents some kind of throwback to an utterly conventional love story. They object, although not very strenuously, to the film treating BDSM as a pathology. They all also enjoyed it. Even Stevens, who claims otherwise, obviously had a great time.

Anyway, Metcalf brings up Pamela "an old novel that no one would read" except that they had it assigned to then in a class on the English novel. He makes an interesting point about that the eponymous heoine of that novel very much not a social equal of Mr. B. the man she ends up being linked to romatically, and that Fifty Shades is similar in that it's very much a one-percenter fantasy that has brought the idealization of marriage back full circle to Pamela.

He makes the additional, interesting point that the actual power relationships between the characters don't necessarily "map onto" the social power relationships. What he means by that is that a really hot young woman can, by virtue of withholding sex, gain considerable power that her social or economic status would not give her. Not surprisingly, neither he nor his co-panelists expand on that point.

I'll come back to that in a future post. For now what interests me is what I see as the rather bizarre shared certainty of the three panellists that this situation wherein a young woman with sexual power uses that to pursue a man of much more powerful, on paper anyway, man.

Well, we don't have to go all the way back to the 18th century. Let's go back to 1998 and the first episode of Sex and the City, a series that can't be any worse written or acted than Fifty Shades. It starts with a parable that opens like this:
Once upon a time an English journalist came to New York. Elizabeth was attractive and bright and, right away, she hooked up with one of the city's typically eligible bachelors. Tim was 42, a well-liked and respected investment banker who made about 2 million a year.
Okay, he's not a billionaire at 27 like Christian Grey is supposed to be but he's hardly the boy at fifty-one-thirty-three Kensington Avenue. An English journalist, not a famous English journalist, just a journalist, hits town and her idea of an eligible bachelor is a guy who makes $2 million a year, which puts him well into the one percent. According to a couple of online sources I just checked, journalists in New York make less than $60k on average. Those sources may not be solid but even if the real salary was 200 or 300 percent of that, she's way, way, way down the socio-economic ladder from the man we're told is an eligible bachelor.

And the rest of the SATC plot bears a shocking resemblance to Pamela right down to the appallingly wooden acting of Chris Noth as "Mr. Big" playing the role for Carrie that "Mr. B" plays for Pamela.

And women loved it.

And why not? If it's all a fantasy anyway, why not make the guy very rich and very good-looking?

What needs explaining is why is it that rich and good looking but also emotionally unavailable, cold men who demand a lot from women are so unfailing attractive when they appear in stories like SATC, Fifty Shades and the champion of them all, Pride and Prejudice.

Except that it doesn't need explaining. What needs to be said is that there is a frightening sense of female entitlement hiding here.

We haven't gone full-circle anywhere because we're still at the same point we always were. 

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