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FRANSEN: We deserve better than ‘Fifty Shades’ for romance

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elena color sidedSmack dab in the middle of February, the shortest and arguably one of the most miserable months of the year, Valentine’s Day seems like just another over-hyped way to get through the winter.

Sure, the tradition goes back centuries, but the way American culture celebrates it has definitely changed and evolved over the years. Flowers and candy remain staples, but the film industry has also cashed in on the commercial benefits the holiday suggests, marketing romantic movies for couples and singletons alike to enjoy.

The result has been questionable movies such as 2014’s “Endless Love” and 2010’s “Valentine’s Day” for people to escape into some pure and simple romance. Typically, there is not much substance to these films, just some attractive celebrities suffering through the trials of love and the big message that love conquers all except death, of course. These movies are fun for the day, but like conversation candy hearts, they don’t have much shelf life past St. Patrick’s Day.

Looks like 2015 will be no different as a little film called “Fifty Shades of Grey” hits theaters Feb. 13, offering an alternative to a candle-lit dinner or eating ice cream home alone.

The film is based on the novel of the same name, which started out as “Twilight” fan fiction. That, in and of itself, is a red flag. The plot centers on the turbulent relationship between successful businessman Christian Grey and college graduate Anastasia Steele. Oh, and the kicker is that he’s into BDSM–bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism–and wants to control her life while she wants to be her own person, yet still be “his.”

It is pretty much as ridiculous as it sounds, with lots of graphic and somewhat violent sex. If you are interested in checking it out for the sole purpose of making fun of it, might I suggest listening to Gilbert Gottfried’s reading of its excerpts? It’s genius.

The “Fifty Shades” series is wildly successful among women from college to middle age, and many plan to see the movie, which boasts the highest online presales in history.

This bodes well for the movie’s success, yet it is concerning how many people connect with this story. If it were not for the fact that Grey is wealthy, attractive and relatively mentally stable, “Fifty Shades” would fall into the category of “Fatal Attraction” as a movie-reminder that some people should not be in relationships.

While “Fifty Shades” may be just another holiday escape movie, people should not use that as an excuse to mindlessly consume its content like marshmallow Peeps. At its core, the story is ultimately one of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship through its trials and tribulations.

The BDSM community was quick to condemn the “Fifty Shades” representation of BDSM sex, as it ignores the importance of explicit consent and mutual trust within the relationship. For example, Grey often punishes Steele for disobeying him outside of a sexual context, like for speaking her mind and not telling him where she is going. She goes along with it but she accurately considers how he could really hurt her. This is not exactly the poster child for a healthy or sexy relationship, where there should be trust and open communication.

A scary thing is that some people think this is OK, giving value to this portrayal and believing this is the kind of love of which to aspire. Part of that is because of how this movie has been glamorized and promoted, and that it almost seems like we as a culture support abusive relationships or want to be ignorant to the reality of intimate-partner violence. We need to rethink what content we validate by reading books or seeing movies, even for the excuse of a guilty pleasure.

With this in mind, maybe “Fifty Shades” does serve an actual purpose. It could be a springboard for better media depictions of love and relationships to be mass-produced in the future. We, media consumers of America, should demand better than an abusive relationship masquerading as true love and now is the perfect chance to make that clear by not being complicit with the display of “Fifty Shades.”

So, in the case that your Valentine’s Day plans include seeing “Fifty Shades of Grey,” try to maintain a critical perspective even while enjoying the pretty celebrities and unbridled passion.

And for those boycotting the movie, try seeing “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” also out Feb. 13. Mr. Darcy, aka Colin Firth, is in it and what is a better way to spend Valentine’s Day than that?

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