Should some stories not be told? I am not in favor of censorship. Yet, a number of popular entertainment options never come on my list. I am not much into “chick-flicks” or “mayhem horror” genre movies. My concern is the explicit and implicit messages that the themes in some book, movies, and music relay. While I can tune them out personally, I observe what I consider to be the adverse social effects of the lack of discretion of the authors, producers and movie studios and publishing houses.
A couple of summers ago, some of my wife’s female friends recommended that I read 50 Shades of Grey for romantic enticement. I inquired further, but decided that if I wanted to read porn, I would just read Anias Nin instead. Dominance-bondage sex never did much for me. From what I gleaned from discussions about the story, the basic idea is that a wealthy man solicits for a young, female sexual partner. He is into experimentation, but give her permission to veto any sexual act that does not entice her. Of course, he teaches her to get her groove on, with and without batteries. And, of course, she wins him over with her love. I gather they buzz their way down the road of romantic bliss.
With the ready availability of graphic pornography in our society, why pretend that a skin-flick is a chick-flick? My first objection is that 50 Shades of Grey pretends, under the guise of art-literature-cinema, to liberate women (and men) to engage in a variety of previously closeted or taboo sexual behaviors. Second, said sexual behavior is mostly for the pleasure of one person, rather than the enjoyment of the couple. Third, the greed of merchandising will not just increase sales of dongs, dildos, blindfolds, and soft handcuff, but taint other innocent gifts, such as turning teddy bears into vibrators (yes, I heard someone advertising her special teddy that touched her in a special way). This blurs the lines behind childhood toys and adult toys. Finally, I fear that woman who long to be in a loving relationship will listen to the lie that lying with him will turn him to love. No, narcissistic men are predators and are not likely to change. I would be cautious to respond to any on-line dating inquiries in the near future.
Wait a minute. Why I am writing about a book-movie that I have not and will not read-see? I’m supposed to be writing about John Webster’s 17th century play, The White Devil. Where did that rant come from? How did I get from The White Devil to 50 Shades of Grey? Hmmm.
If you are not into Jacobean playwrights, John Webster was one of the playwrights who came after Shakespeare. The Blackfriar Theatre in Staunton, VA is currently performing his play, The White Devil, as part of their tradition of including plays by playwrights from around the time of Shakespeare. Webster is known for preferring Shakespeare’s more gruesome plays, such as Titus Andronicus. The more dead bodies on the stage, the happier he was. By this standard, The White Devil is quite a success. But, did we need Webster to pen this play to begin with?
The play is essentially a lust and power-driven plot. Flamineo (Chris Johnston) is a scheming secretary who twists his powerful employers, family members, and just about anyone he can get his claws into. He convinces Duke of Branchiano (Rene Thornton, Jr.) that he can ditch his wife, Isabella (Bridget Rue), to pursue the love of Vittoria (Sara Hymes). The Duke just needs to dispose of Isabella and Vittoria’s husband, Camillo (Michael Amendola). Some other nobles and a Cardinal-future-Pope get involved. You guessed it right. Dead bodies all about, including the innocent and guilty alike.
While the characters have plenty of room for development, and the play has some zinging lines, their lack of self-realization leaves them as moral examples more than people. They come off as being as human as anyone in the numerous super-hero movies of the past couple of decades. Heroes are good. Villains are bad. No shades of grey. In the case of The White Devil, nearly everyone is just bad and deserves to be skewered eventually. The only good characters get the axe early, except for the son of the Duke, who will inherit the mess that the elder generation made.
We usually do not put “white” and “devil” together in literature. Evil is dark. Good is light. If Webster were trying to relay a cautionary message to us, we might want to consider this paradox. All of the characters on the surface are good, or white. But, as we learn of their inner desires and deceits, we realize that they, as we, are all devils. If we are to take any caution, we should recognize the devil in ourselves and guard against the lies which it tells us. Pretty common stock for a morality play.
But, most movies and TV drama today are essentially morality plays. The good cops, leaders, romantic heroes and heroines eventually triumph over the evils of the world. Just because most of the movie glorifies the details of the evil-doing, as does Webster in The While Devil, does not mean that good will end up on top.
This brings me back to my rant. 50 Shades of Grey plays on the idea that sexual behavior is not black or white. Do or don’t are restricting, rather than liberating. Shades of grey, suggests that a little evil in a certain context is a little good. Sexual dominance is okay, as long as it’s consensual, regardless if by definition dominance cannot be consensual. Blindfolding and tying someone to a bed is okay, as long as he falls in love with her. These are the same ideas that Flamineo whispers into the Duke’s and Vittoria’s ear.
The difference between The White Devil and 50 Shades of Grey that I discern is that no one is likely to be persuaded to kill his wife and mistress’ husband in order to get the girl. Beyond the 16th century stuff, few of us might identify with any of those characters. On the other hand, how many women might be willing to let some man tie them down in hopes that she win him over? How many men might be tempted to suggest that a woman try something that does not appeal to her because they saw the guy get away with it in the movie? How many children are going to find bondage teddy bears on sale at the big box stores and think, “That’s what Mommy and Daddy Do”? Some stories are not worth telling. But, once told, the best we can do is not attend the showing. I will excuse you, if you decide that The White Devil is not for you.