50 Shades of…Myth?

My Facebook is a-twitter (see what I did there?) with articles and responses to 50 Shades of Grey. While I did once read the Twilight series (and have since come to my senses about it), I refuse to read 50 Shades. One of my friends, posted this article, which perfectly captures why. But reading the article, and commenting on his post, has left me feeling something. The such of something that’s preventing me from grading student responses, or reading my book while I wait for a training meeting. I can only identify this feeling as anger? frustration? gas? So, I’m turning to the blogosphere to hash this one out, so this post may be kind of stream-of-consciousnessy. Here’s the reply I posted:

This is so much of why I just can’t condone 50 Shades. Now, I’m not one to blame society’s ills on a single piece of pop culture (I am a Disney Defender after all), and I see 50 Shades as an extreme example of so many wrong things in our society. What concerns me more is that there aren’t counter-myths being played on the same stage. Sure, there are stories about love and romance, but they aren’t on the same viral level of 50 Shades and Twilight. And it concerns me that people see these as good… But looking at it from an Aristotelian perspective, these series have helped bring the conversation about women’s roles to the national, mainstream conversation. They have raised awareness through their warped attempt at catharsis. From a mythic perspective, I would hope this would help usher a new era, but my fear for the media-saturated generations is that their complacency will lead to our downfall–Hellenistic America, perhaps.

Like I said, I’m not one to blame the ills of society on one piece of popular culture. I’ve posted here a few times about why I can’t blame Disney Princesses for America’s warped relationship with itself. They are one cog in a larger problem, a problem that manifests in all areas of media. We *want* a media-savvy society that equally respects all of the various differences people have, but we don’t want to *live* that equal society. For example, if Disney constructs a utopian, populist kingdom that celebrates people for playing to their strengths, they aren’t being diverse enough in their portrayal (and when they are diverse, they do it wrong. Can’t have it both ways, people!). Similarly, the waves of feminism over the last several years have advocated for a certain image of Woman in media, which is all well and good…until the new generations decide they want to be a different kind of woman. We’re in a phase of feminism that seems to want to strike a balance between perfect women who can be both June Cleaver AND Hillary Clinton at the same time, which is causing massive amounts of burn-out among young women. We’re in a phase of hyper-media in which users have developed a disconnect between the permanence of technology and the fleeting moment of “Feels.”

As I become ever more a “Fuddy-Duddy,” I find myself looking down my nose at young women. Don’t they know that pictures last forever on the Internet, so keep your boobs in your shirt? Don’t they know that Edward Cullen and Christian Grey are exemplars of the kind of boyfriend you DON’T want?

The greater problem I see with this current generational divide is that there is SO MUCH media to sift through. How can we expect any one to grow up media-savvy? What means “media-savvy” anyway? Sounds kind of like an adultism–something the “grups” would say–to me.

It occurs to me that stories like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are epic tragedies. They are epics because of the extent to which they communicate cultural norms setting a larger-than-life character against a mere mortal, reminding us of our place as lesser-beings. They are tragedies, because they certainly aren’t comedies. They focus on the bringing down of the female protagonist, not on her elevation.

So, here’s a thought. Are these stories more shocking because they are written from the perspective of the submissee as opposed to the dominant character?

A friend of mine posted THIS post on her blog, and I fully agree. I wrote about Twilight and “Cupid and Psyche” while I was at Pacifica, I am fascinated by the seductive power of the Demon Lover. What is it about us today that we even need a Demon Lover? What is so unfulfilled about us that we are trying to find thrilling experience from stories that promote the wholesale mistreatment of women? There’s some serious shadow stuff being worked through in this culture. I wish I could offer solution, but maybe the best solution is to ride it out? To teach our children the counter-myths to the stories that us Fuddy-Duddies think shouldn’t have been made in the first place.

It’s timely, then, that my friends just published the book based on her dissertation, in which she challenges the accepted model for the Heroine’s Journey (you can get her book HERE).