Repeat after me:
Fifty Shades of Grey IS NOT PORN.
Sam Taylor-Johnson’s 2015 adaptation of E.L. James’s 2011 erotic novel has stirred up much controversy with what some perceive to be a misrepresentation of BDSM as well as a romanticized portrayal of an abusive relationship. The film was released February 13, and Dakota Johnson, who stars as Anastasia Steele, hosted Saturday Night Live February 28. As it turns out, Johnson is the daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith (it still blows my mind that Dakota Johnson is Tippi Hedrin’s granddaughter), and Griffith and Dakota became the talk of Tinseltown when Griffith admitted on the red carpet at the February 22 that she hasn’t seen her own daughter’s breakout role yet, nor does she plan on ever seeing it, due to the sexual content.
First of all, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Melanie Griffith is a hypocrite. Her own breakthrough came with Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984), wherein she plays a porn star named Holly Body. She dances topless in a window for Craig Wasson to watch through a telescope, and she’s the one who’s embarrassed of Dakota Johnson?
Second of all, the Fifty Shades of Grey critics do raise some valid points. As we all know, the original book began as fan fiction for Stephenie Meyer’s 2005 masterpiece of modern Western literature, Twilight, and the media franchise it spawned. Twilight is the love story between a Mary Sue who’s inexplicably desirable in every way and her controlling stalker boyfriend, because the fact that he’s a hot vampire is his “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Although I’d argue that movies about abusive relationships should be made if for no other reason than to destigmatize abuse, I do agree that erotica and romance like Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are problematic when they present dysfunctional relationships as sexy or romantic (though not all-out pro-domestic violence propaganda like some people seem to believe; they’re ultimately as harmless as the writers trying to graft conflict into their stories).
In no way, shape, or form am I defending Fifty Shades of Grey. I haven’t seen it yet, personally, but, from what I’ve heard, it’s not the next giant leap in cinematic history. I haven’t read the book, either, and so, as a critic, I have no room to pass any judgments on the movie itself, either positive or negative.
As a feminist, however, I can and I will call to task the people who are foaming at the mouth to burn Dakota Johnson at the stake for her awkward interaction with Melanie Griffith. I took the liberty of screenshotting the top comments from the YouTube video of Griffith slut-shaming her daughter in the most public, humiliating manner conceivable. It’s not the comments themselves that are disturbing – the Internet is full of stupid, hateful people – but it’s the fact that they’re the top comments, the fact that so many people support them.
The comments might be too small to read, but one of them says Melanie Griffith is in the right because Dakota Johnson is a “skank.” Another one says that Dakota Johnson getting paid to have sex in a movie makes her a “whore” in the same way that prostitutes get paid to have sex off-camera or strippers get paid to take their clothes off.
How is Dakota Johnson a skank? Because she has fake, pretend, simulated, NOT REAL sex with Jamie Dornan, in an ancient ritual known as “ACTING?” Why won’t we blame Christian Grey for being domineering and possessive, but we’ll blame his victim for sleeping with him (fictional characters in a fictional setting, no less)?
Logically, shouldn’t we call out Christian Grey for having sex with the skank? It takes two to make a skank. One must sleep with another consenting adult in order to become a skank.
How is Dakota Johnson a “whore?” What is this, the 1300s? Porn stars and strippers are still “whores?”
What even is a “whore,” a woman who’s sexually active? Your mother is a whore, then, and so is your grandmother before her. I know this is a cliché, but clichés become clichéd for a reason, because they have an element of truth to them: a man who sleeps around is a player, but a woman who sleeps around is a slut.
Unless the penis physically penetrates the vagina on camera, it’s not sex, and it’s not porn. Even if it is porn, WHO CARES? The person you’re sitting next to probably has naked pictures of themselves on their phone – does that make them a “whore?”
If the person sitting next to you is a man, then the answer is most likely “no.”
We’re naked under all these clothes, you know. Sex and death are the alpha and omega of life, the beginning and the end, the ultimate truths. If there are any straight guys who are out there reading this right now, you best get down on your knees and thank the Lord for all the “whores” in your life, or else you’d never get any action.
For a culture that doesn’t mind using Paris Hilton to sexualize a hamburger in a commercial – a literal hamburger – we sure are sexually repressed. I think the AIDS epidemic and the conservative Reagan Administration of the 1980s led to the rise of two very destructive things: the Abstinence Program and big business worship.
Abstinence (which causes more teen pregnancy than it prevents by teaching kids that birth control doesn’t work) was a reaction to the outbreak of HIV/AIDS and the moral panic over STDs. Its puritanical overtones have demonized sex as an evil, sinful thing, when it’s kinda, sorta required for you to even live life – Americans are descended from Puritans, after all. Big business is allowed to use sex to market its products, but, if sex occurs in any other context – such as actually having sex – then it’s taboo and we start pretending that we don’t see it everywhere we go and we close our eyes and we cover our ears and we speak in tongues until it doesn’t exist anymore.
And then we wonder why our kids grow attracted to sexually backwards ideologies like the religious extremism of ISIS.
Boy, That Escalated Quickly
My point is, if you think sex is something new that the godless youth these days are into, you literally couldn’t be more wrong. Why do you think Roger Corman had a career in the 1950s and 1960s? Because teenagers went to go see movies like Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) at drive-in theaters, but nobody was actually watching them, since they were too busy steaming up the windows in the backs of their cars.
That’s right – this is our grandparents’ generation that I’m talking about here. A large percentage of our parents were very likely conceived at the drive-in, and, if your grandparents say things weren’t like that for them, then they are lying to you. How honest would you be to your grandchildren about your sex life?
Families back then were better at hiding stuff like teen pregnancy – there weren’t cameras and social media everywhere to air people’s dirty laundry for the world to see. Plus, Hollywood was under the control of the Production Code Administration until 1968, and its chief censor was an old-fashioned Irish Catholic named Joseph Breen. Nowadays, people watch movies from the Code era and believe that’s what the world was like for their grandparents, when nobody cursed and father knew best, but that’s not the world was really like – that was just the world according to Joseph Breen’s Hollywood.
Puberty happens for the purpose of turning you into a sexual being, and, so, naturally, your urges run highest at that age (it doesn’t help that your brain isn’t fully developed yet, either). Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961) is about an adolescent girl (Natalie Wood) from the 1920s who goes crazy because she’s horny and it makes the people around her feel uncomfortable. As long as we’re being honest with ourselves here, we all spend the majority of our lives wanting sex (unless you’re asexual), so don’t be salty just because Anastasia Steele gets laid and you don’t.
Welcome to America – we’ll give a PG rating Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and an NC-17 rating to Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (2010) because one has sex in it and the other one doesn’t. People lose life and limb to shark attacks in Jaws, but, hey, at least the kids who are allowed to see it don’t find out from it where babies come from. It doesn’t stop there – next, we ask ourselves why teenagers have sex, pretending that we ourselves didn’t spend every waking moment trying to lose our virginity when we were in high school, and then we still don’t understand why kids show up to school with guns.
A woman is permitted to objectify herself for the male gaze all she wants, but, as soon as she gets any pleasure out of it, she’s a harlot. No. Melanie Griffith should be old enough and professional enough by now to know that her daughter isn’t actually having sex in Fifty Shades of Grey, and she should be a supportive mom for her kid.
Dakota Johnson has nothing to be ashamed of. She’s – dare I say it? – a working girl, and even if her mother isn’t proud of her, she ought to be proud of herself for succeeding in the ferociously competitive film industy. She’s not a sex fiend for having make-believe sex in Fifty Shades of Grey, and, even if she is a sex fiend, aren’t there worse things in this world than promiscuity?
Like ISIS, for example.