It’s almost Valentine’s day and coming to a theater near you, is the second edition of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. That’s right, another one. Now, this post is not about the many reasons entire franchise is a mess, nor is it critiquing the movie, the script, the mediocre character arcs, or the inaccuracy on the topic it’s is bringing to light ( which is bdsm if you didn’t know. ) No, what I want to talk about is the extreme romanticization of abusive relationships in Hollywood.
There are a million and one articles of why Fifty Shades is wrong and how it is probably one of the most damaging franchises today. I have not read the books or watched the movies, but I have read articles which link back to excerpts, and from what I’ve seen it’s terrifying how people can make Christian Grey their ideal man. It’s not my place to judge others for their preferences but when they see a scene which is so obviously controlling and abusive and toxic, and then idealize it and say that is #relationshipgoals, that’s when I feel like I have something to say.
One of the things Fifty Shades does is create a fantasy for book-readers and movie-watchers alike. They put an attractive *white* man who is rich and well off and only thinking about the protagonist (which is a self-insert). But these traits that are attractive, such as his demanding nature, are also downright, scary. In the new trailer, you are told to forgive Grey of his previous sins of clear abuse and disregard of Anastasia’s preferences, and instead give him another chance. An article speaks about how there isn’t any change in the movie’s relationship between the two characters, rather it’s simply new clothes, new props, and maybe a new villain. He doesn’t seem to change his ways and yet fans are able to say that he’s the victim even though he’s the one doing the transgressions.
But the focus of this post isn’t about just Fifty Shades and how awful it is. It is awful and I could write an entire post on it, but that’s only talking about one movie, I’m here to talk about how Hollywood says: it’s romantic when a man is controlling or even abusive at times, because he does it out of love. And that sexual abuse is okay as long as it’s done out of some fantasy-like love. And even when it’s not said explicitly like Fifty Shades, it is implied and that lets the audience (notably fandoms) take the wheel and say “this is what I want in a relationship.” And that’s not okay.
I do enjoy watching Scandal , because I enjoy drama, I enjoyed watching How to Get Away with Murder, and over winter break I needed something to watch. But when I watched the show and I also saw how people on social media (esp. tumblr and twitter) reacted to the relationship of Olivia Pope (the main character) and Fitz (the POTUS) I felt disturbed. The premise of the entire show is that the president is having an affair and that woman is an influential fixer in Washington and yet I don’t understand why they would continue wanting to be in a relationship despite all the red flags.
When the show writers themselves categorize the relationship as “intense” rather than emotionally abusive, it makes me pause and think why they are doing this. Why are they making this abusive relationship into some epic romance that could never be understood. That it was done in a fit of passion or that it’s not abusive as long there was no physical assault. Or that it was an emotional and intense fight but nothing as taboo as abuse.
These are the same excuses that I’ve seen when I was working at a pro-bono law firm that specialized in helping women get out of abusive relationships. When I was putting together files of these women,they wrote journal entries of how they felt, of what their significant other said said, and how they made them feel. They felt as if they were being dragged around by their significant other’s words, and how they would start blaming themselves for mistakes that weren’t even there. They felt controlled and scared to even upset their significant other. When I frame abuse this way, it a tragedy, it’s a crime. And yet to the media and their audience, it is shown as romantic (because he knows what he wants and what she wants) and the fantasy rather than a relationship that someone should leave.
This romanticization can go to an extreme like the Joker and Harley Quinn, which is a notorious case for how abuse is seen and then how it is twisted (mostly by the audience) into something of “mad love”. There is not just emotional and mental abuse that the Joker plays against Harley Quinn, but also physical, where he hits her and threatens her life. It is not just simply the comic books either, but also the cartoons that children watch, and more recently Suicide Squad. And while the comic books and cartoons intend to portray this relationship as toxic and bad and awful, it doesn’t take long to see fans want and idolize the type of relationship as that of the Joker and Harley.
Yes, the Joker and Harley Quinn are an extreme case, but abuse is abuse no matter how high or low it goes on the spectrum. The micro-abuses that characters are forced to endure for the sake of plot, normalizes the micro-abuses, which are still abuses. When acts of passion are excused as true deep love, it means that a character could punch a wall and it be deemed romantic.
Now this is not to say that all abusive relationships should not be shown on media. No, I do think that Hollywood should show it, but don’t make it romantic, make it horrifying. Because it is. Don’t let an abuser “get the girl” without first getting help and apologizing and actually realizing that they was in the wrong. Stop letting abuse be excused simply because it’s a romance ( canon or not ) and that love overcomes everything, because it doesn’t.
I am not here to ruin your Valentine’s Day binge nights. Go ahead, but just be aware that some of the relationships that the media pushes as romantic, are not romantic. Learn about the signs of abuse and see if they match up or not. Abuse takes on so many forms, from emotional to physical to mental to financial and people really need to stop fantasizing and desiring an abusive relationship.
Media is one of the greatest influencers in an adolescent’s life and watching the normalization and idealization of relationships that have abusive traits teaches them that they can treat their significant this way or that it’s okay to be treated this way. It teaches them that it the dream or what a relationship should look like, when it isn’t.