Fifty Shades of F#*@ed up: How the rating system and theaters chains are failing everyone (again).

Posted February 24, 2015 by in
A mother brought her 10-year-old daughter into Fifty Shades of Grey.  So says a friend of mine who works at a local theater and sold them the tickets.  Now that is fifty shades of fucked up…
     I’ve seen parents take children to movies that children have no business seeing on many occasions, and I’m sure you have, too, so I don’t doubt the veracity of my friend’s account, whom I’ve known for a few years now.
     Not that she should have sold the tickets to the mother and her child.  Sure, that’s her job, but that doesn’t mean she should have done so, in a moral sense, considering Fifty Shades of Grey’s subject matter.  More bluntly, she was wrong to have sold tickets to a BDSM movie to a child, with her irresponsible mother there or no.
     To be clear, I am not making a judgment against the behavior of consenting adults as depicted in the film.  Furthermore, I do not advocate censorship in terms of what adults can and cannot see in theaters.  Indeed, cinema needs more films for adults, about adults, by adults.  But that means for adults, and for adults exclusively.
     What we have instead are movies that are clearly meant for adults but have been cut down to an R-rating so that parents can somehow feel safe in taking their children to them, with an expectation of guidance and contextualization.  In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, the result is something that’s comparatively vanilla considering its subject matter and its source material—which was far more risqué—and yet something that’s still too risqué for an audience that can include youngsters of any age, even younger than the 10-year-old who saw this film.
     I once walked out of an R-rated “erotic drama” I was reviewing to find an usher to ask a mother to quiet down her toddler.  The film was Addicted, a movie about a sex-addict, largely consisting of sex scenes (of monotonous frequency, I’d add).  Had the sex been incidental, an isolated scene, then it would have been more understandable.  But this is yet another example of parents taking their children to erotica.  In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, fetish erotica.
     That fetish is, specifically, sadism and masochism (not to mention bondage).  He hurts her, she likes it, and it’s glamorized.  No part of that is suitable for children, who need to be taught precisely the opposite, that harming others is poor behavior.  That’s just common sense.  Something the mother who brought her child with her sorely lacks.
     What goes on in Christian’s playroom is as troubling (if not moreso) as the nature of their unequal relationship, in terms of what children should be exposed to.  Overall, the film requires explanations too complex for children, and creates models that are contradictory to what children need.  Is not gender equality, like racial equality, something that should be instilled at an early age?  Likewise, Christian’s treatment of Anastasia, how he stalks her, treats her like property, is far from exemplary.  Kids need role models, heroes.  Not this.
     A movie like Fifty Shades of Grey is inherently for adults-only, in its themes and sexual content.  No amount of cutting is going to make it otherwise, as the R-rating would make some believe.  It’s an NC-17 film, period.  There needs to be an acceptance by exhibitors and the general public of the NC-17 rating for the benefit of adults and children alike, an understanding that a film about human sexuality is not the same thing as hard-core pornography.  More importantly, a few parents out there need to realize that just because you can take your children to a movie, does not mean you should.


About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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