Monday, June 29, 2015

COLUMN: 50 Shades

Ladies, we need to talk.

I thought I'd finally been around long enough to have you estrogen-addled people figured out. Okay, sure -- some things, such as your inexplicable love of baskets, your unquenchable need to cover toasters in cozies, and the general appeal of Ryan Gosling -- will forever remain a mystery. But for the most part, I thought I possessed at least a basic understanding of what makes your gender tick.

I was wrong. As it turns out, I don't know the first thing about women. This was made painfully evident when I recently snuck my way into a demographic that few men have had the guts to enter. I have come face-to-face with the fantasies of the female mind, and the entire experience has left me shaken to my very core.

That's right... I finally watched "50 Shades of Grey." And boy, do I have questions.

I'd always been a little curious as to what the fuss was all about, but I had to bide my time to find out. I wouldn't allow myself to be seen hoisting a copy of the E.L. James novel up to the counter at Barnes & Noble. I'm curious, sure, but I've got standards. Same thing with the movie. Come on, did I really want to be the 44-year-old single guy showing up at the theater like, "One, please!"

It's the same reason I couldn't bring myself to buy the DVD. "Yes, mister video store clerk, I'll take the unrated version if you please, because I'm a SUPER weirdo pervert." But once the movie showed up on pay-per-view and I could watch it with no one being the wiser? THAT was when curiosity got the best of me. Now that I've seen it, I kinda wish I'd gotten the best of curiosity.

"50 Shades of Grey" has been called everything from sexy to scandalous, erotic to extreme. Entertainment Weekly said it was in "a class by itself." Huffington Post called it a "sad joke." One thing's for sure: The world ate it up -- to the tune of over 100 million sales and counting. And let's just call it like it is: the prevailing stereotype, whether right or wrong, is that women are responsible for the VAST majority of those sales.

"50 Shades" is the story of Anastasia, a milquetoast English Lit major who gets roped (no pun intended) into interviewing Christian Grey for her school newspaper. Grey is a young and successful business tycoon, and we know this because he wears a suit, sits at a desk, and owns a shiny helicopter. He is also, I am told, super hunky. During the interview, he's kind of a creepy jerk. This never changes throughout the film.

After the interview, they have a meet-cute (except it's more like a meet-creepy) at the hardware store she works at. For reasons unknown, she's smitten. I'd like to think that the first-person narrative of the book (which I've never read) might contain explanatory lines such as "I'm smitten because ________," but I somehow doubt it. All I know is that there's no discernable reason in the film version as to why this girl would fall for such an egregious jerkwad (other than the aforementioned super-hunkiness.)

More meetings follow until he whisks her off in his shiny helicopter to his evil penthouse lair, and that's when the red flags really fly. There are at least a dozen moments here where any rational human being would go, "Hey, wait a second. You're super creepy." I may not be a whiz at romance, but I'm pretty sure that whenever someone says, "It's important that you know you can leave at any time," you should probably leave at THAT time.

Or how about when Grey demands that she sign a non-disclosure agreement upon entering his home? Personally, that strikes me as a home not worth entering. Clearly, this is a home that is up to no good. People don't draw up non-disclosure agreements because they're afraid of the world finding out how super fun and awesome they are.

Sure enough, he eventually takes her down a creepy hallway and unlocks a creepy door.

"This... is my playroom," he says.
"Like your X-Box and stuff?" she questions.

And yes, younger readers, that's exactly what lies inside. His X-Box. And stuff. And for pretty much the rest of the movie, they play X-Box. They play X-Box a LOT. They play X-Box so much, in fact, that you occasionally worry about the structural integrity of the playroom. Eventually, the film turns into pretty much any flick you'd see on Cinemax at midnight, except for the fact that those movies at least have some semblance of plot.

First off, wouldn't a "playroom" of this nature require some serious labor? Maintenance and upkeep of a well-stocked and fully functioning penthouse sex dungeon clearly must involve a staff of handymen, interior designers, and God help the poor housekeeper. And you're going to tell me that every one of these people abides by their confidentiality agreement and no-one goes running to TMZ about the weirdo millionaire pervert? I don't buy it for a second.

But let's pretend that I do. Ladies, and I'm being serious here, is this REALLY the sort of thing that you fantasize about? Because this is really the sort of thing that I laugh about. Have I been going about this dating thing all wrong? My first dates usually involve, I dunno, dinner and a movie. I certainly can't recall a single one that involved a riding crop in any capacity. Do I need a rethink? Because I just don't know if I could pull off creepy-perv convincingly.

Imagine me sidling up to a girl at a club and saying (real lines from the movie), "I have rules. If you follow them, I'll reward you. If you don't, I'll punish you. You want hearts and flowers? That's not something I know." If I tried that, I'd be picking my teeth up off the floor ten seconds later.

If you find this kind of stuff titillating, I guess I'll catch you titil-later, 'cause this is just NOT my scene. I can't do 50 Shades of Grey. I fear the best I can offer eligible bachelorettes is 50 Shades of Brown (wait, that sounds WAY worse.) But don't write me off entirely, ladies. After all, my house has a playroom with an X-Box, too. Except mine really DOES have an X-Box in it. I might be incapable of an "erotically-charged masterpiece," but I AM willing to punish you... at Guitar Hero. Dibs on first song!

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