usually i want to be caught up on current events. i don’t want to miss anything. even if i often feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information i consume via social media, blogs, podcasts, youtube, whatever, i press on, convinced that missing something means i’m not as informed as i could be. and not being the most informed person makes me feel dumb.
but i’ve come to the conclusion that there are some things i just don’t need to read, hear, or see. i’m trying to be more selective about the information i consume. do i need to know everything firsthand?
i’ve decided that i don’t.
there are times when we must bear witness. we need to know. but every bit of popular culture? every viral video? every meme? every controversy that’s actually a non-issue? what about consuming things that are garbage just because i can? because it’s there to be had? recently i read the suicide note that had been posted online by a musician i like who, thankfully, did not succeed in his attempt. after scrolling through it, i started to feel like a sick voyeur. i mean, he was the one who posted it for the world to see, but did i need to stop to see the train wreck? peering into a stranger’s personal pain is not something i need to do on the regular, for my own sanity.
what about consuming media that’s psychologically damaging in order to form an opinion about it? when is enough enough?
this has come up for me with the fifty shades of grey controversy. i’ve written a good bit on social media about the film and books. i haven’t seen the film nor read the trilogy. i’m not going to, either. i don’t need to see the sheet music to know how that song is played. there’s a part of me that feels compelled to shame myself because i feel i don’t have a right to discuss something i haven’t consumed firsthand. now that i think about it, that strikes me as the same ignorant, shaming attitude of people who claim that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. even though you totally do.
my meta-reading about the film specifically has been enough for me to find fifty shades ‘ popularity very problematic. feminist critiques of the film have been on point in the last few weeks leading up to the film’s release, which sadly was a record-breaker at the box office this past weekend. (think about how many organizations which help victims of domestic violence could’ve been funded with $90 million!!)
i’ve posted my own critiques all over the place. i’ve gotten into heated debates about the choices women make, violence against women, and bdsm and consent. however, this time i don’t care that i haven’t seen it. my own lived experience is enough to tell me that seeing the film or reading the books will do two things: upset me at a time when i don’t need it, and line the pockets of the people who have made this abysmal film. i refuse to give them a cent. in fact, even though i’m not seeing the film, i went ahead and donated the price of a movie ticket to my local anti-DV shelter/advocacy organization. (i urge to you to do the same if you can afford it. let them know why you’ve donated. the people who work tirelessly in this field need to know we’re angry about this piece of pop culture crap and that we support their efforts. go here to find a list of crisis centers or use google to find one in your area.)
anyway, the reason i used the term “feminist anthropologist” is that i was taught by some amazing feminists to dig deeper, to peel back the layers and examine what’s really there. i’m always looking for the underlying issue; i’m always on the lookout for the power dynamics at work in political and personal situations. but to me, the reason i find fifty shades so utterly off-putting is that it’s more of the same utter bullshit we’ve been dealing with all our lives. there aren’t many new things to discover in an analysis of the film and it doesn’t take a genius to understand the messages people could pick up viewing it. the hatred for women just keeps coming and it’s starting to feel like i’m drowning in media coverage about it. (to be clear, it’s coverage on left-centric media.) i’ve had small amounts of it directed at me on twitter. i can’t imagine what it’s like to deal with it in a more focused, personal way.
rape culture, intimate partner violence, the intimidation of marginalized populations – it’s like these are new topics for americans. (sorta side note: i’m thinking of lindy west’s powerful piece on a recent this american life episode. please go listen to it. if you think women are just being harassed in cyberspace and should just ignore it, you need to listen and rethink things.) it’s like they never knew it was happening before gamergate, before the spate of shootings perpetrated by MRAs like elliott rodger. it’s like they never knew women lived in a world where they’re sexually harassed on the street until the jessica williams’ segment on the daily show. (don’t get me wrong: it was brilliant.) but the phenomena feels too familiar for me, too close for comfort.
the controversy over the film is a short moment in popular culture, but i guarantee you we will see more and more and more of the assault on women and we will see more feminists – new and seasoned – pushing back. those of us who’ve been aware of this shit for a looooong time will continue shouting over the demands that we grow a thicker skin. and we will get very tired and very emotionally burnt out and figuratively hoarse from shouting.
i can choose what i consume. i don’t have to ingest this nightmare of a movie that depicts an insidious kind of psychological abuse that exists in some very unhealthy relationships. i don’t like that the film perpetuates the myth that a woman’s love can save a bad boy. i don’t want to take in those ideas again and again. i know these things. i’ve experienced them firsthand. i don’t need to dig further; it’s all right there.
[and to be clear, the “kink” subplot doesn’t bother me, because isn’t some twisted, vanilla idea of kink secondary to the dysfunctional, abusive relationship aspect? the sexual acts in the film are just hollywood’s backward idea about subversive sexualities. i support safe, sane, and consensual bdsm practices. i understand that well-negotiated and respected boundaries make up a healthy kinky relationship. i personally know people engaged in bdsm-focused relationships (and not necessarily monogamous ones, which are often perceived as the only healthy interpersonal choice) who understand that their relationships hinge upon a balance of power. being submissive doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to say no, to determine what’s safe for you and what feels good. and being dominant means you look out for your sub, you bring them both pain and pleasure, but you do so in a way that’s been discussed beforehand and that benefits everyone involved, not just you. without consent, these relationships become abusive.]
fifty shades portrays a relationship in which a woman initially chooses a relationship, but is emotionally manipulated by a broken, selfish man. it is not about what goes on in the red room; it is about what goes on in the minds of the characters. and it’s not good.
so yes, i’ve ingested the critiques, but not the film. i guess actually seeing it on the screen or on the page seems to me a waste of time and emotional energy. there’s a limit to how much of this stuff i can consume and i’ve reached critical mass.
the fiction will be forgotten, but women will still be assaulted and ignored and brutalized and intimidated. the only positive aspect of the fifty shades controversy is that it continues our culture’s conversation about women and violence. that’s it. that is the only reason the film should be seen, as far as i’m concerned. it’s a cultural artifact. it should be seen by those who can stomach it. by those who need to be educated about what abuse looks like. there is nothing hot about coercion and emotional manipulation. get off on something else.
the trigger warning on this film should read: same shit, different day.