50 Years of Shame

Raise your hand if you went to see the year’s most hotly anticipated big screen release, 50 Shades of Grey? Now raise your hands if you went purely for the storyline and not for any of the… other scenes.

Take a bow if you couldn’t want for Grey, the story from his side, to come out.

You shouldn’t. I’ve read (some of) the first book. It was a literary disaster. Despite being the best-selling book of the entire summer 2012, it was generally panned by both critics and readers alike, who labelled it a worse version of Twilight, the book series from where 50 Shades originated. Ouch.

I got to 20 pages before I cried and gave up. My mother had heard of the series and was curious. I told her if she could pass me, I’d give her my entire life savings. A bookmark still sits in page nine.

In my undergrad in college I did a module on the history of the media, and in it was a strand on banned reading and visual material. Without doubt, this would be on the list in both forms. Maybe that wouldn’t have been be such a bad thing in the long run. 

If a film of this sort had come to be just 50 short years ago, the entire country would be up in arms. The Pope would be called in for a special mass to cleanse the actor’s souls, the protest scene from Father Ted would actually be brought to real life, and Joe Duffy’s phone would be ringing constantly.

So how did we get here? In a world where it’s still taboo to mention female masturbation, and breast feeding is a thing only to be done in the privacy of your own home, how did we start losing the run of ourselves over a bunch of Mammy Porn?

Because it was different. Because it was “bold”, in whatever interpretation of that word your mind sees it. We could read it on the bus, or on our lunch break from work, and see a whole new side to sex. One we hadn’t seen before, with Irish TV only broadcasting its first homosexual scene in the late 90s. 

It was an escape from our humdrum lives of dropping the little ones to school, making dinners to rival that of Delia Smith or Darina Allen, and the comfortable rut we’d entered with our other halves. It brought us from the everyday to something more extraordinary. Something a little risqué. A little exciting.

This generation is much more liberal, though. We’re bombarded with sexualised music videos, courtesy of Rihanna and Miley Cyrus. We can stroll right past sex shops, one of which finds itself on our capital’s main street, and not turn a shade of red to shame a pair of underwear on sale in said shops. We’re totally accepting of the idea of extra marital intercourse, and children that may result from such. Hell, we can even legally buy condoms or take oral contraception. Things have come a long way in 50 years.

Back then, if you so much as had one impure thought, it was universally accepted that you were destined straight to hell and that was that. The film would be banned in many more places than just Bundoran, and the books wouldn’t even have made it past the front door of Eason’s. The series would never have made it past the judgement of the censorship board.

Would we be so intrigued if the book highlighted the fact that the relationship between Christian and Ana is actually a little manipulative, a bit possessive, slightly abusive, maybe a touch unhealthy? Is the image of this “perfection situation” slightly skewed if Christian looked less like our own Jamie Dornan and more like Kerry’s finest, Michael Healy Rae? Would we stand for this kind of treatment in our own relationships, or that of our friends’ or relatives? Why, then, is it ok to watch it being played out in front of us in the cinema?

Fear not though, ladies, we have two more instalments of the film to sit through before we can make any conscious decisions on our moral standing here.


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