50 Shades of The Dark Knight

50 Shades of The Dark Knight

You might not think 50 Shades and Batman have anything in common, but you'd be wrong.

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We're super-smart humans living in a technological wonderland of abundant food, little disease and (historically) little violence. But we're also primates who have spent millions of years killing and screwing to stave off extinction, and you don't negate those primitive drives just because you own an iPhone and an espresso machine.

Shamus, I am a fan of your contributions to this site for years now. And I can say, unequivocally, that this is the best paragraph you have ever written. And this little thought exercise in today's column is one of my favorite things you've written here since I joined in 07. It literally made me smile. And I really needed a smile today, so thank you.

Cheers!

So it's not so much that Batman and 50 Shades have that much in common; it's more that the respective audiences for the two are not so different. They all seek to satisfy a desire that they know should not be acted on.

Great article, really. It's probably the best argument I've heard on the subject of how this kind of visceral art affects us. And you're totally right that almost everyone claiming that violent video games will make you a murderer, and that sexual media will make you a deviant, are speaking from a, probably not even recognized, place of assumed superiority. That everyone else is just too dumb and gullible to separate animal urges from proper behavior. And it's infuriating to hear it over and over from so many people.

Shamus Young:
50 Shades of The Dark Knight

You might not think 50 Shades and Batman have anything in common, but you'd be wrong.

Read Full Article

Sir, this is probably the smartest thing I've ever read coming from you. Congrats! You can take that in an offensive way, it the way I mean it: complementary. You took an idea that I originally thought would be head-deskingly idiotic, and make an eloquent point.I can see the similarities to the two. That's the problem, isn't it? Most see the world in black and white. There are also people that constantly see the world in a certain blend of colors. There needs to be a balance. Weird isn't bad in itself. It is how the weirdness is executed that makes a difference.

I dunno, Shamus. I'm sure there are plenty of people who read things like Twilight and 50 Shades and like it despite the awful relationships, and know perfectly well that they aren't ideals to aspire to in their personal life. But I also know there's plenty - plenty - of fans who don't, and wholeheartedly embrace terrible abusive relationships in their personal life.

That's...different. There are a handful of people who go out at night and try to emulate Batman. They show up in the news. They're anecdotes. People in abusive relationships aren't just anecdotes, they're statistics. They're legion. They're a serious educational problem. I don't think that's a comparative situation.

Basically what I'm saying is you should've gone with Grand Theft Auto instead of Batman.

I do think the article has a brilliant point about the condescending tone all of these arguments have in common, and that it is probably correct about a lot of situations (such as the fact vigilantism isn't a common thing despite being idolized in media) but at the same time I'm not sure that it's free of exceptions either. As an example, think of how many people believe Romeo and Juliet is an actual story about devoted love, as opposed to its true nature of 'here are some stupid teenagers doing stupid and tragic teenager things'. I hate to pick a target that paints me in a light open to accusations of confirmation bias, but Twilight I'd say is another exception in my opinion, as the number of times I've seen the relationships in that book legitimately called romantic by people lacking life experience disturbs me deeply.

To re-frame the conversation, I'd state it as media can't change beliefs, but it can reinforce them. I firmly believe no amount of violence in media can turn someone who has accepted that violence isn't a solution in real life into a killer. On the other hand, I'd say if a person already believes something, then seeing it in media (especially when its repeated countless times across different productions) can reinforce that belief. To pick a slightly less charged example, think about how first aid is presented in media: I'm willing to bet there are a lot of people out there who, because they've never been taught otherwise and don't have a reason to question what they see repeated in media, would do catastrophically horrible things unknowingly in such a situation. I'm willing to bet for nearly every example you could find on TVTropes' page "Worst Aid" there is a dishearteningly large percentage of people who believe it.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WorstAid

Edit: to clarify on my post, I'm not suggesting things like 50 Shades should be banned, since I acknowledge that there is probably an audience that can enjoy it responsibly. If someone finds it entertaining while understanding its purely fiction and portrays an abusive relationship, I'm not going to look down on that person just for liking it. My problem lies in the fact that while most people know 'vigilantism is bad', far less people know things like '50 Shades is abuse, not bdsm' and 'An epilepsy victim won't choke on their own tongue'. Even atop the obvious arguments against censorship, banning just sort of 'enshrines' something, in addition to making the people who enjoy it defensive rather than receptive. As for a solution, I guess the only one I can think of is to encourage more media with opposing portrayals.

The major difference between Batman and 50 shades is that Batman only claims to be a story about a guy wearing a costume and punching villains, 50 shades claims to be a BDSM love story when it is in fact the story of an abusive relationship. The problem with 50 shades is simply that it is deeply dishonest about what it claims to be and in how it portrays its subject matter. For someone with no idea about BDSM or relationships (such as teenagers, the target demographic) there's actually a risk that they might read the book and get the idea that this is how relationships should be. And that's even before we get into the gross misrepresentation of the BDSM-scene.

The main problem with "50 Shades of Grey" is not the stupid romantization of an unhealthy relationship, but that it's really badly written, thinly masked Twilight fan-fiction.

And here I thought this was going to be an article all about Batman's leather fetish...

Shamus, you say you will never read 50 Shades of Grey, but how can you resist listening to the audiobook. The sensual voice of Gilbert Gottfried is guaranteed to enrapture you in erotic passion, no matter who you are.

fractal_butterfly:
The main problem with "50 Shades of Grey" is not the stupid romantization of an unhealthy relationship, but that it's really badly written, thinly masked Twilight fan-fiction.

And if you've watched the film devoid of any romance, tension, an edge, acting or anything really it so devoid of life it may as well be an asteroid. It's utterly terrible and I've never hated a film more.

You make a fair point though and I hate those that mock my indulgences whilst having theirs and more importantly I get annoyed when those within the geek/nerd do it to others like to those who enjoy Twilight (I'm not one). You're not superior you're just an asshole and we've spent too long defending what we enjoy to mock what other people do.

I think Shamus hit the nail on the head regarding a lot of Internet arguments- what amounts to "only we enlightened few can make the call about what's good for you to consume." I think there's a place for genuine concern, but far too often it's less about actual harm than control, a intolerance that concepts one disapproves of can even find an audience. Doubly so with something like Fifty Shades, where a swell of popularity might force certain scolds to make one of two conclusions: That the public needs their enlightened protection because they don't know what's good for them... Or that they're wrong about what people "like them" actually like or want, and perhaps even that their complaints might actually be unhelpful and unwelcome.

Funny how much easier it is to come to the former conclusion.

Gethsemani:
For someone with no idea about BDSM or relationships (such as teenagers, the target demographic) there's actually a risk that they might read the book and get the idea that this is how relationships should be.

The "target demographic" for "Fifty Shades" isn't teenagers any more than the "typical gamer" is a teenager.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzanne-braun-levine/why-women-my-age-are-read_b_1434554.html

http://www.baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/crave-50-shades-of-grey-really/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-04/fifty-shades-of-grey-tickets-are-selling-fastest-in-the-south

The flaw in this argument is, that for most people, Batman isn't their first and only source of the world of vigilanteism. Even if it is, the belief that all people who take the law into their own hands dress like bats and have throat-cancer will most likely not put them in harms way... I think..

For most people reading fifty shades of grey however, it is their first and possibly only ever inside look at what a BDSM relationship looks like. It becomes their frame of reference, the thing that colours everything else they encounter in this world.

Also, Batman games releasing do not prompt a 70% increase in vigilanteism, fifty shades did bump up people stepping into the world of BDSM by that much. That means that roughly a third of the people on the scene are people that are there because they read that book. While most have probably done more research then that, it does have a measurable impact on the culture and the beliefs of the people in it.

:)

john heerens:
The flaw in this argument is, that for most people, Batman isn't their first and only source of the world of vigilanteism. Even if it is, the belief that all people who take the law into their own hands dress like bats and have throat-cancer will most likely not put them in harms way... I think..

For most people reading fifty shades of grey however, it is their first and possibly only ever inside look at what a BDSM relationship looks like. It becomes their frame of reference, the thing that colours everything else they encounter in this world.

Also, Batman games releasing do not prompt a 70% increase in vigilanteism, fifty shades did bump up people stepping into the world of BDSM by that much. That means that roughly a third of the people on the scene are people that are there because they read that book. While most have probably done more research then that, it does have a measurable impact on the culture and the beliefs of the people in it.

:)

This is the single biggest problem with this analogy. Whereas re-enacting Batman runs amok of multiple laws, several strands of common sense, and sheer physical/financial impracticality, ill-advised BDSM adventures are much more feasable.

Whether the extra attention and sympathy towards BDSM as a hobby / lifestyle is all bad is very much debatable. Idiots will be idiots, but ignorance can be helped.

There are certainly no grounds to call for a ban on Fifty Shades (apart from its crimes against literature), but I'm not entirely happy with the comparison to vigilantism.

There are two major problems with this argument.

First, Batman is doing things that actually help people and has generally selfless motives. The main characters of 50 Shades, Twilight and their clones are motivated by gaining money, the prestige of dating/marring the "hottest guy on Earth", and power (supernatural or otherwise). They put up with the control and abuse because that is the price that is asked for all the stuff.

Second, Batman's creators (and Batman himself) admit that what he does is not good in any normal situation. The authors of 50 Shades and it's ilk DO jump up and down claiming that the male leads ARE the perfect ideal to be emulated.

Weird that I missed this article at first, since it is pretty much exactly what has needed to be said by the games press for quite some time now. Yes, the argument may be old, but it's still plenty vigorous. Civilization has its discontents, and virtual catharsis is a wonderful way to alleviate those. Frankly, I'd expect a few more people involved in gaming broach the idea in these "controversies" we're currently enjoying. Besides, the patronizing counterargument that people ("except me and my colleagues and those who agree with us!") are morons who will just copy the behaviors they see in games is even older and less robust. It just trended easily in these "SocMedia" times, because joining in the chorus allowed people to claim they are in fact smarter than the average pleb. "It's OK for us elite types to enjoy Problematic media, because we are right here on record saying we recognize how Problematic it is." You can have your "misogynistic power fantasy" and revile it too!

As for the 50 Shades thing, cool to know that "BDSM" ("Soon, all things will be properly slotted under the correct acronym!") has gone up by 70% since it came out. I guess all that data from installed Kinect units is paying off. I wonder, though, how much of that 70% involves people signing over their sexual autonomy to a rich dude because they are in fact idiots, as seems to be the fear of many commentators. What, it's so different because it doesn't have Batman in it? And people only get their information about sex from 50 Shades, so they can't POSSIBLY be doing it right?

That's EXACTLY the assumption this article is questioning, so I don't think the author needs it pointed out.

Very good points. It's true that many of our instinctive responses ignore what is rationally apparent to an informed observer.

However, I believe there is an important distinction between Batman and 50 Shades, which while it doesn't detract from Shamus' argument it does leave 50 Shades open to criticism that isn't applicable to Batman: Some people know nothing about BDSM relationships/lifestyles beyond what the see/read in 50 Shades. For many, 50 Shades is an unusually mainstream opportunity to introduce the public to BDSM as something that isn't only practiced by sadistic fantasy villains. It convinced many couples to introduce a little "kink" into the bedroom (or wherever else the inspiration takes them). Unfortunately, it's still not a positive example for all the reasons explained in the article.

Very good article. Lots of good points.

One thing I'd like to refute - which doesn't invalidate your argument, but colours it in a different light - is the motivations behind the detractors of violent/sexual media. It isn't necessarily the unintelligent consumer of video games and movies that the Jack Thompsons, Joe Liebermans, and Leland Yees of the world are trying to reach. They SAY that it's all about protecting our youth and the idiotic masses from being exposed to violent/sexual triggers that'll turn them into deviants. But the real motivation behind the witch-hunts is political. Concerned parents and the morally righteous make up a lot more -and more vocal - supporters than teenagers and sexually curious housewives. Pick an easy target to be the bad guy, then shout loud enough till everyone shouts with you.

In other words, they don't really think the people playing games or watching movies are dumb, they're just counting on parents and religious-types to be dumb enough to go along with them.

 

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