Fast-forward 20 years, and I was watching the original Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve with my kids. Suddenly I realized my childhood viewing of this movie was the origins of my prejudice in California: The whole premise of that movie is that Lex Luthor is planning to create an earthquake that will drop half the state into the ocean in order to create new ocean front property so he can make a hefty profit. I sat there in amazement and horror as I watched the film. Had one movie really influenced my thought patterns that much for the majority of my life?
More recently, Fifty Shades of Grey is a movie that is having a much larger impact on our society. When the book by E.L. James first became popular, friends of mine who are active in the local BDSM community came out strongly against the book. Many of these people are highly educated, and their first critique was always about how terribly written the books in the series are. Several told me not to bother reading the series because the writing errors would make the English teacher in me crazy. I trusted the friends enough to believe them, so I have never even perused the books. I don’t feel like I’m missing too much.
So how does this play out in its influence on our greater American culture? On one hand, by being an antithesis of positive sexual relationships, Fifty Shades of Grey has certainly promoted many enlightening discussions about what healthy romantic and sexual relationships look like. It has also brought attention to the abuse suffered by many women. The more that these issues are discussed, the more opportunities there are for people to learn and grow.
On the other hand, there has been an increase of Christian Grey wanna bes on dating websites. In some cases, these men are harmless: They’ve been inspired by the movie to explore their kinky sexual sides. More power to them for wanting to find out more about themselves. However, in many other cases, it’s clear that something much more sinister is at work. There has also been an uptick in angry sadistic men looking to vent their violent emotions on women as they mimic Christian Grey. In one profile I viewed recently, a very bitter man began his profile with a profanity laden tirade about how horrible all women are, but then he ironically wanted to find women who would submit sexually to his desires. His profile picture was a teddy bear whose face had been eviscerated leaving Polyfil stuffing falling out. I can only hope that any woman who reads his profile will recognize as clearly as I did that this man has serious issues and likely needs professional help, not a whipping girl. This is the negative side of Fifty Shades of Grey: People who feel validated in their anger and abusive actions against the opposite sex.
Movies have a greater power to shape mass and individual consciousness than many of us realize. Most people are well aware of the potential impact of violent video games upon children teens, but the impact of movies upon our consciousness is not as well recognized. Entertainment is not just fun: It shapes our culture, our ideas, our desires, and our prejudices. The titillating nature of Fifty Shades of Grey propelled it to the forefront of our discussions, but let’s hope that it also creates a positive impact in the long run by shining light on the issue of abuse in our society.
As for my part, I am now aware of the roots of my California prejudice. Recognizing the basis of that fear of mine has liberated me. I hope to travel to California in the next few years, and I've actually opened my mind to the possibility of even moving to northern California once my kids are grown!
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC