ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

Fifty Shades of Grey has been surfing a tidal wave of controversy since it was penned by E.L. James back in 2011, but the upcoming movie adaption has pushed debate about censorship to a whole new level.

The relatively tame erotic thriller has been banned in Malaysia and condemned by domestic abuse charities, but why has this movie, out of the thousands of flicks released each year, became the one to push people's buttons in all the wrong ways?

Let's take a walk through the various potentially offensive areas of [Fifty Shades of Grey](movie:391697) and try and dig out what people really find so distasteful about the phenomenon...

Morally Erosive Erotica?

There is one reason why Fifty Shades of Grey is controversial and that's SEX. We aren't just talking a tame little lower case sex here though, we are talking about sex that dares to gently put its toe over the line of boudoir 'norms.'

Despite the fact that books have been crammed full of far filthier sex scenes for decades - did anyone stumble across a Jilly Cooper when they were a horny teenager?! - Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the first novels marketed as an erotic novel to achieve mainstream success.

How and why it was just THIS novel that leapt over the canyon of disapproval to become socially acceptable is anyone's guess, but that is what happened.

The '70s answer to Fifty Shades
The '70s answer to Fifty Shades

Just like the countless works of erotic fiction that paved the way for its arrival, Fifty Shades does contain a storyline, but the only reason anybody would buy this book is for the sex.

Despite the fact that most of the world's population is pretty hard into boning, this still makes people feel very uncomfortable and gets tongues wagging about moral decay.

It really doesn't matter that Fifty Shades of Grey is about S&M, it could be about having sex outdoors, a serious kink for high-heeled shoes or having multiple partners. It's the fact that it is, by it's very nature, erotica that gets moralists on the rampage to ban the 'morally degenerate filth.'

Lowbrow Smut Vs. Highbrow Art

What's the difference?
What's the difference?

It is baffling to a lot of people why Fifty Shades has drawn so much attention from the censors when a movie such as Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac has remained relatively unscathed, orgasm posters and all.

No matter how much you like Fifty Shades of Grey, it would be impossible to argue that it is a great work of literature, and the fact that it originated from Twilight fan fiction makes it inescapably low brow to a lot of people.

Due to the status of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie's origins, it is more likely to be dismissed as 'smut' as opposed to worthwhile, challenging and artistic nudity.

In the eyes of a lot of critics and censors it seem like Fifty Shades is viewed as the titty poster on the wall of an auto-garage whereas other movies that revolve heavily around ideas of erotic sex are elevated to the level of a glossy, naked photographic print in an art gallery.

'Mommy Porn'

One of the things about [Fifty Shades of Grey](movie:391697) that seems to draw a huge amount of irritation is that it's aimed at women, and very popular with a slightly older demographic.

The idea that women, who are also nurturing mother figures, are getting off over erotic imagery of being tied up and aggressively rammed over the bathroom sink rubs a lot of people up the wrong way.

Even though Fifty Shades is about a woman taking a submissive role in the bedroom, just the act of reading something 'dirty' is perceived by some as an act of 'unfeminine' aggression.

The fact that it is undeniably less socially acceptable for women to watch porn or peruse pornographic images automatically makes a movie like Fifty Shades more prone to censorship.

At the end of the day, nobody wants to imagine their mom getting all flustered... but it's not really our business what our moms find sexy, is it?

Is S&M a Feminist Issue?

One of the most contentious issues about Fifty Shades of Grey is Christian's attitude and behavior toward women.

While I don't think the book is an example of a good relationship and agree that Christian pushes Ana's boundaries in a way that is totally unacceptable, I think it's important to remember this is an erotic fantasy.

Uncomfortably, erotica often revolves around taboos and we are aroused by situations in our minds that would downright scare us if we encountered them in real life.

I don't agree with how Christian stalks Ana, disrespects her opinions or starts spanking her before she has given any indication that she is into that sort of thing, but I think women are intelligent enough to realize this is a fiction about things that turn the author on.

Most people are having plenty of regular vanilla sex, so they want to read about something a little more extreme and that is what Fifty Shades of Grey caters for. If Ana was a real woman, I would tell her to run for the hills, but she is fictional character.

I really do care a lot about things that glamorize violence toward women, but I have faith that men and women are mature enough to handle their kinks responsibly without subjugating people or being subjugated.


When people tried to start banning Fifty Shades of Grey from Libraries the American Library Association's 'Freedom to Read' Statement below was used to fight their efforts:

There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression

At the end of the day, the entire reason movies are created is to escape from mundane everyday life and Fifty Shades of Grey is no different to any other film.

You've heard my two cents: what do you guys think?

(Source: CinemaBlend, The Federalist, Gender Race and Pop Culture, The Atlantic)


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