50 Shades of Grey and Guys as Success Objects

The underlying story about guys within the popular movie.   

By Henry Adeleye on February 27, 2015 


Spoiler alert:  Well, you've had two weeks to see the movie.  So, yeah… 

50 Shades of Grey has been causing a bit of an uproar the past couple of weeks.  A lot of it has to do with the fact that the movie just wasn’t that good.  There are also many recurring themes even the most lenient feminist would be concerned about.  However, lost in the narrative about a hipster journalist named Anastasia Steele and a guy with weird fetishes named Christian Grey is an underlying story about the objectification of Grey as a success object.  In a nice article by Noah Brand over at the Good Men Project, this idea is explored.   

In the movie, Grey slowly gets Steele to succumb to him by buying her expensive gifts that she repeatedly insists she doesn't want.  Corny helicopter rides, rare books, and new laptops somehow happen to fall out of the sky and into her possession, all at the whim of Grey.  He even manages to trade her vintage car for a newer but less cool one.   

According to Brand, Grey is the stereotypical alpha-male hero that dominates romance novels, usually portrayed as either a cowboy or a billionaire.  The fantasy of the perfect guy is, more often than not, the perfectly wealthy guy, because the epitome of a guy's life is made out to be his vocation.  In other words, guys are success objects.  As Brand states, "a success object is the male version of a sex object," where someone is judged based on his or her assets, rather than his or her character.  Sex objects get you Victoria Secret ads.  Success objects get you Christian Greys.  Both are influential in forming society's opinion of the ideal man and woman.  Both are misguided.  

Throughout the movie, we're reminded continuously of the extent of Grey's wealth, and it's a driving force in getting Steele to be a part of his fantasy world.  The way in which non-consensual gifts turn to consensual fantasies is made OK primarily because of Grey's status.  How different 50 Shades of Grey would have been had Christian Grey worked for minimum wage.  Being powerful has a way of making us look the other way at one's indiscretions.  It's what makes the relationships between the characters in Scandal something to be cheered on rather than protested against.  It probably played a role in why it took so long for people to speak out against Bill Cosby, and maybe some other famous guys who also go by Bill.      

Gender roles affect us all to some extent, whether we'd like to admit it or not.  Sometimes what's expected of us can be as confusing as figuring out why everyone is claiming a white and gold dress is actually black and blue (sorry, couldn't resist).  And while the director fought very hard to eliminate any non-consensual relations from the movie, the antiquated element of the forced gift-giving and gift-accepting still remained.  Though society has become more adept at calling out archaic rhetoric on many fronts, the issues about men, women, and money still persist.  We've got to do a better job at fixing that, even if it is "just a movie."