The ‘birds and the bees’ just got 50 shades more gray

The narrative of explicit and humiliating behavior in 'Fifty Shades of Grey'  is helping to reset the mainstream base line for acceptable sexual behavior, with implications not just for adults but for children as well.

Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

The erotic movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” sold a record $94.4 million in movie tickets over Valentine’s Day weekend, but that isn’t all it’s selling. The narrative of explicit and humiliating behavior is helping to reset the mainstream base line for acceptable sexual behavior, with implications not just for adults but for children as well.

“The media firestorm has pushed [the film] into the awareness of children of all ages,” says Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, via e-mail. “The sexual templates of children are being altered to think that sexual violence ... and fetishized practices are normal and healthy behaviors.” 

Much of this push has been driven by images from the pornography industry seeping into the popular culture, points out Gordon Coonfield, associate professor of communication at Villanova University near Philadelphia.

“We have been letting advertisers, who rip off the aesthetics, themes, and genres of pornographers, talk to our children for us instead of really talking to them ourselves,” he says.

Many parents find the issue inescapable, a trend only reinforced by the saturation marketing that accompanies a major studio film release. A study by the Parents Television Council found that 47 percent of TV ads for the film ran in the so-called family hour between 8 and 9 p.m. Merchandise from the film has raised the visibility of sex toys, which are now marketed to mainstream consumers in such outlets as Target. Even the cuddly Vermont Teddy Bear company is selling a bear in a gray suit with sex toy accessories. 

Los Angeles mother Rebecca Cody, shopping in Target with her 4-year-old daughter, Gwynne, and 9-year-old son, Tommy, says the film’s billboards, which are visible all over town, have made it impossible to ignore the movie. “The one that just says ‘Curious?’ is something I had to explain to them,” she says.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.