Fifty Shades Too Much?

Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic romance novel by British author E.L. James, has been proclaimed a guilty pleasure for women across the world. It’s explicit, it’s erotic and quite often it’s raunchy. Despite its nontraditional content, people can’t seem to put it down.

It seems really strange, at least to me, that an erotic novel could become so popular in the U.S. There seems to be a uniquely American prudishness regarding any mention of one’s sex life outside of the bedroom.

Films aren’t able to show nudity without being bumped up to an R rating (besides the occasional butt in a PG or PG-13 movie). Even if they aren’t in a sexual context, a shot of someone’s breast, vagina or, heaven forbid, penis changes a film from something that you can talk about in polite conversation to something shockingly explicit.

For the record, I believe nudity and sex are natural, and having them discussed or portrayed in popular media doesn’t bother me one bit. For that reason, I struggle to find the difference between sex in literature and sex in films. Sex is sex, right? Is it somehow less explicit when you are describing it with words than when you are seeing it in a movie?

While this prudishness seems to be ingrained in our culture, for some reason people aren’t nearly as offended as you might expect them to be regarding the content of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Early last year it was announced that the erotic novel would be adapted into a film, which is set for release around Valentine’s Day of 2015.

In a culture that has become incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of discussing sex in a public setting, will people actually want to watch this film? It is entirely different to read a book in the safety of your house than it is to go out to a theater with other people to watch a movie.

I suppose the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey might suggest that Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of sex, but that seems unlikely. People might be more accepting of erotic novels than erotic films, and people might be really interested in Fifty Shades of Grey, but I can’t imagine people will feel the same way about the Fifty Shades of Grey film when it’s released.

Even though sex in novels can be just as explicit as sex portrayed in films, people seem to treat it differently. Describing something with words can leave an action or event up to interpretation. You have to use your imagination to visualize the meaning of the words you’re reading.

Film and visual images are significantly less subject to interpretation. Perhaps sexual acts, like those portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey, could be more damaging if they were to be seen by children. These actions would be seen as “more real” because they would include real people, even if the images portrayed are dependent on various film techniques.

But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a young person were to get their hands on a copy of the book. While you would have to be able to read to really understand what is going on, there doesn’t seem to be much regulation on who is able to buy erotic books.

Because of American film ratings, movies are harder to access. If Fifty Shades of Grey gets an R rating by the time it is ready to be released, only those individuals 17 years of age or older will be able to see it. As far as I am aware, anyone can go into a bookstore and pick up a copy of the book.

I’m not even upset at the way people view sex in popular media, but there doesn’t seem to be much consistency. If you are going to view one thing as bad but not another, where is the line being drawn?

I understand the desire to protect children from mature content, but when we are also making sex and nudity—natural parts human life—shameful to adults, I think our priorities might be a bit skewed.

I’m curious to see what the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie will mean, not because I am particularly interested in seeing the film, but because I’m interested to see if the people who read and enjoyed the book will feel the same way about the film.