50 shades of awareness

on valentines day, which has long been my favorite holiday, the world will be treated to the film version of the best selling book, 50 shades of grey. if you’ve read the book, fine. if you plan to see the film, o.k. (as if it’s up to me to affirm or permit). if you’ve thought, studied, struggled, and come to a considered and positive position regarding bdsm i will absolutely listen. if, however, you are ready to queue up for the midnight showing of 50 shades just because you need some spice in your life or are curious about the hype, i’d love to talk. this conversation is, in no way, an exploration or review of the bdsm movement. it is, instead, about how we, in america, vote passively with our time, money, and energy and how much of our days are spent in mindless consumption of ideas and information. it’s about what we see and describe as “escapist.”

my vocation involves journeying with people through all kinds of life dramas and my personhood is such that i can’t help but love nearly everyone i encounter. i embrace valentines day because it gives me an opportunity to surprise people with loving gestures. i acknowledge that it is a “made up” holiday and that it has been hijacked by retailers attempting to capitalize on our collective sense of obligation. it is for this exact reason that i take a counter cultural approach to the day and celebrate everyone i encounter rather than only those i already know and love. i am aware of many others who take this same approach to many days in a variety of ways.

too often, however, we just go with the flow. we pick up the book or see the movie without really thinking. we contribute our presence, the pattern of our thoughts and actions, and our $12 admission fee to a cultural voting system that communicates “this is what i care about” to statisticians and content creators. we hear the ads for the 50 shades of grey/christian grey teddy bear never actually considering what is being advertised (“contains small parts. not suited for children”). we buy the kids meal with the bratz doll or halo toy never considering the age of the child it is given to. this mindless consumption matters.

the information and images that we consume make a difference in the way in which we live. children, raised on a constant diet of photoshopped images, grow to harbor unrealistic and hurtful body ideals (click here for research). movie goers and game players subjecting themselves to hyper-violent imagery are prone to develop calloused views and demonstrate exaggerated amounts of relational aggression (click here for research). these researched trends lead me to believe that there is no way that the messages we consume about sex are benign.

late last year an extremely popular media personality was let go from his post when 3 women brought sexual assault charges against him which included one charge of “overcoming resistance by choking.” a month later three additional women came forward with similar charges. and this is just one story. there are so many others.

i am perplexed by my own culture’s tendency to create entertainment that romanticizes abuses of power and violence of all kinds. exposing these abuses in order to invite critical thought and examination...brilliant. presenting them as mindless entertainment...in my book, not so much.

i frequently wonder if the clamoring that happens around these “spicy” themes has to do with a lack of excitement in our own embodied lives. the more we are presented with stories, movie and song recommendations, and clickable links drawn from the algorithms that our own digital histories create, the less we are presented with information that entices us. the brain is constantly looking for information that excites it. most basically, that is information that is new. while the internet brings with it the promise of farther reaching frontiers, i find that few of us set out to find them. we mostly stick with what is presented to us. 

we live similarly in our embodied spaces, preferring the familiar to the new. choosing the comfortable over the potentially awkward. this makes our lives bland. it makes us crave something tasty, complex, and different. movies, video games, even books are more than happy to provide us with an in vivo taste of the new without much “real” risk. or so we think.


there are so many ways to spend your time, energy, and money this weekend. what might it look like to invest intentionally? how might it feel to match every seemingly “escapist” form of entertainment with a mind building one? to take time and effort to consider the balance of your physical, intellectual, and emotional diet? to promote the power and beauty of the real life people all around you and to celebrate them. dominating and submitting are one thing...celebrating complexity, sharing power, and co-creating experiences are another altogether.  
Doreen Dodgen-Magee1 Comment