Monthly Archives: February 2015

50 Shades of Dismay

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to radio four and they were discussing the new Fifty Shades of Grey film. The conversation involved two film critics, one male and one female, and the presented of the discussion show. What is interesting about this film is that it seems to have split opinion almost as much as the books did, but for different reasons.

The consensus of the male critic, who had already seen the film, is that the Director had managed to ‘rescue’ a good film out of a relatively poor book and managed to make something really rather credible. However the female critic, who hadn’t seen the film, seemed more interested in proclaiming that the books, and therefore by association the film, were anti-feminist pieces of filth that were derogatory to women, portrayed an immensely stupid and naive character in Ana Steele that undermined women everywhere and that Christian Grey is the worst kind of man imaginable. Her view was very much that there is no place for that kind of sexual relationship in society.

Now I have to take issue with her views on more than one level, but as a starter why don’t we focus on another feminist comment made very publicly recently. Yesterday Patricia Arquette used her OSCAR acceptance speech as an opportunity to make a point about equal rights for women in pay in the USA. Now this is a point that I can completely get on board with. The concept that because you are a woman that you should be paid differently to a man is abhorrent. The idea that your gender can in some way dictate your ability and skill level is laughable, at best and should have gone out with slavery. It certainly has no place in a supposedly modern and forward thinking world. My issue with this ridiculous film critic suggesting that 50 Shades of Grey is derogatory to women and that it is an anti-feminist story is that she has firstly completely failed to appreciate the fundamental focus of the book, and secondly she is using the feminist movement is completely the wrong way.

So let me examine this in a bit more detail. The premise of this woman’s objection to E.L. James’s book is that the story features a man exerting power over a woman. Her view is that it suggests it is ok for a man to use violence in the context of their sexual relationship and that the male is repressing her and taking her power away from her by degrading her, simply treating her as an object and possession. Perhaps she should read the book again and actually take note of what is happening.

There is no doubt that Ana Steele is a naive woman, but stupid? No. If you strip all of the sex out of the trilogy you end up with two things; a much much much shorter story and also a compelling look at how two characters, through love, completely change through their dedication to each other.

The interesting thing about this critic’s stance on 50 Shades of Grey is that she has completely failed to see that the power in the story lies not with Christian but with Ana. Unintentionally, and at times completely intentionally, Ana manipulates Christian. She puts him under a metaphorical spell that he has, by his own admittance, never been under before. She transforms his world, through a reluctance and refusal at times to engage on his terms, from one where he is always in control to one where he must accept the control, or at least involvement, of others. And by the end of the story Christian is a very different man, whereas Ana is by and large the same woman.

So what about the sex? There is a valid argument that Christian exerts his power and influence in order to coerce Ana into taking part in acts that she wouldn’t otherwise choose to do, but she does this mostly willingly. She certainly lets him know when she is not happy about it or when something has gone too far and the consequences are emotionally harder on him than on her. In fact in many parts of the story Ana is the one yielding the power, teasing Christian or suggesting that she would like to do things. She becomes the leader as her confidence grows and Christian has to sing to her tune.

The idea that the more risque end of the sexual spectrum is anti-feminist is simply unfounded. It is not at all unhealthy for a couple to engage in these sorts of acts if they wish to and to suggest that this should not exist in society displays a lack of understanding. Different people are turned on by different things and, as long as those are legal, there is nothing wrong with that. The reaction of thousands of women to the books shows the repressed attraction many people harbour for playing with their partners in this way. And the DIY stores did well out of it as well.

So what is my point? Well mainly this. Feminism has an important role in a society where women still do not receive the same professional respect and benefits as men to. It serves a valid purpose, one which Patricia Arquette quite rightly used her fame to make comment on yesterday. The problem though is when someone cheapens it by taking half-truths, misunderstandings and a completely lazy reading of a story to then try and suggest that a story is anti-feminist, when it clearly is the opposite. As a writer I find it amazing that someone can criticise a work so fiercely without understanding it, as a film lover I find it amazing that a critic could be so against the film without even having seen it, and as someone who believes in fairness I find it annoying that feminist movements that are doing a huge amount of good constantly get tarred with the same brush as this foolish woman!

At the end of the day this is a story that reveals a compelling lifestyle, one which clearly affects a large group of us in many ways. Like all good stories it gets us talking, we feel involved and we feel compelled to watch, read and discuss. We don’t need anyone telling us how we need to feel about it though, we can judge that for ourselves.

In the pursuit of mediocrity

For the next 90 something days we have to put up with an ever increasing amount of what politicians would like to think is rhetoric, but which is largely just hot air. That is because the circus is coming to town again, as it does every five years, and all the favourite clowns are on the bill again, with some new ones making their debuts as well.

One thing is certain, this election is going to be quite different to any other we have seen before. Chiefly the reason for this is that more people are taking notice than previously because they genuinely believe there may be an alternative vote to red or blue. The rise to public notoriety of the beer drinkers choice, Nigel to his mates, has opened an interesting new door. He is a moderate version of the outright racist BNP and more importantly his views are resonating with a disaffected and growing population who might previously have relied on Labour. But there is also appeal from Tory defectors who feel the blues have gone soft on immigration. UKIP won’t win the election, but they may well be the balance point in who becomes our Prime Minister in May.

So what choices do we have? Realistically Ed Milliband or David Cameron will be Prime Minister, but how they get the title will be the more important issue. It will either be a hung parliament or, more likely in my opinion, we will get another coalition. And this is where UKIP could make the biggest difference. But the major concern for me is that whichever party gets in, it looks like we are in for five more years with a lack of ambition, a lack of commitment and a continuation in the decline of a once great nation.

Let’s start with Labour, English politics’ answer to Henson’s workshops. Leading them, in the loosest sense of the word, is someone who seems incapable of eating a sandwich and generally doesn’t seem to have any actual points to make. The problem with the Labour party is that they don’t seem to have any answers or any detail. They talk about sweeping changes they will make, but no idea of the actual detail of what they are going to do. They have the map and they are sailing towards Eldorado, but the problem is the map doesn’t have any details on it. The most concerning thing about what they promise is that it is entirely at the expense of the wealthy and the elite. They plan to punish big business, handcuff wealthy individuals and force high performing institutions to focus they time in areas that will distract from the good they are already doing. Take private schools, responsible for a high percentage of the highest academic achievers this country outputs. Labour plan to force these schools to engage with mainstream schools with the aim to help them improve through resource swapping. And if they don’t do it? They will lose their charitable status and relevant tax breaks that brings. This is blackmail which palms of the problems inherent in the current mainstream schooling system rather than actually dealing with them. They plan to do the same with the NHS, a hugely wasteful institution currently, rather than dealing with the actual issues. If the issues aren’t dealt with then a short-term sticking plaster will fall off and the wound will be festering underneath. Labour have got some great ideals, but without actual answers they won’t be able to fix the problems. One thing is certain, they won’t listen to the people, they don’t even intend to ask the question of whether we want to be in Europe, a question that the public deserve to have their say on. More worryingly, their process they will alienate the wealthy and cripple the high performers. Wealth drives economy, that is a fact of economics. They will be like the blind man walking through a field of cow pats.

So what about the Conservatives, led by a toff, protecting the toffs. Their big pledge is an in/out vote on Europe. The irony about Dave is that in very many ways he is very similar to Tony Blair. He likes to talk like he is one of the people, despite the fact we know he isn’t. But he genuinely tries to be one of us and to understand us, even when his butler brings him the milk in the morning he will ask how much it costs for a pint at the shop now!

Unlike the Labour outlook, the Tories are interested in fixing the problems we face without crippling the country in the process. Austerity isn’t something any of us like, but it is better than running to a pay day loan lender when we realise we have completely cocked it up and there are no rich people left to chip in because they’re all moved their bank accounts to Luxemburg. Tighten the purse strings and we’ll get there. The problem with the conservative plan is that it is just that, too conservative. With UKIP offering anything for your vote from a Berlin wall installation at Dover to personal beer delivery every Tuesday (ok, that one isn’t real) and the Labour party pandering to the working classes by telling everyone that if you have money you’re evil, the conservatives need to stand up and show the people they also care about the most talked about issues; namely immigration, the NHS (which they haven’t yet mentioned) and tax avoidance.

I grew up with the ethos instilled in me that doing the best you can is the only outlook to have. My daughters attend a school where the motto is “In the pursuit of excellence”, and they truly mean it. The results are excellent because the environment is setup to encourage that very outlook on life, not just in the pupils but in the families as well. England was once a great nation on the world stage and that was largely founded on the same principles. We had the best armies in the world, the best education in the world, one of the best economies in the world. That is driven from the top down. Unfortunately, looking at the current outlook of the election pledges, England’s new motto is soon to be “In the pursuit of mediocrity”.