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The 50 Shades film trailer shows us Grey's decor is almost as bad as his BDSM rope-work

Not only does the film look like a bunch of sexist tropes strung out in a row, but if Christian Grey's knots are anything to go by he's rubbish at kink as well.

If the trailer for 50 Shades of Grey is anything to go by, the film looks to be awful. From the offset, it’s packed with sexist film tropes and lazy stereotyping.

Dowdy brunette female protagonist? Check. Stylish, slim, blonde female secretary? Check. Smartly dressed man, his face hidden because it’s important that we immediately understand, as viewers, that looking at the women on screen is going to be far more important than looking at the men? Check.

The opening images we see of Christian Grey, the leading man, are as hilarious as they are unoriginal: with faceless cutaways, we are offered up his environment as clues as to what sort of man he might be. Big man, big office, big… desk. Voiceover saying he’s “intimidating”. Ooh, scary. We see a close up of his finger tapping on his desk. Such a powerful, impatient, dominant man, can’t possibly keep him waiting. Or maybe he just needs to pee?

Anastasia Steele, however, takes up little space, and meekly says “there’s really not much to know about me - look at me”. She’s not being self-deprecating, just self-critical - because all submissive women are like that, obviously. “I am,” he replies, staring at her - because clearly she can only be interesting if a man says so. And that surely is all a woman wants, right? To be seen as something attractive to a man.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We barely have time to explore the politics of on-screen gender representation because we immediately get thrown into a montage of exciting activity. Grey is in a photo shoot; wears expensive suits; gets driven around by a chauffeur; jumps in a helicopter; strides around a penthouse suites; plays a grand piano; pilots a two seater airplane. So much man. Wow. But there’s nothing transgressive in having wealth displayed as aspirational, and particularly in having a rich male character seducing a less-well off female one. It’s the premise of many a rom-com and of the book itself, but the trailer goes one step further: Grey’s opulence is seen as desirable, as wank-fodder for the viewer. It’s as if capitalism itself had ejaculated all over the screen.

And we haven’t even got to the fleeting sexy bits yet.

Set to a breathy remixed version of "Crazy In Love" (where Beyoncé sounds like a cat hacking up a particularly large fur ball) we see in the barely-kinky part of the trailer a series of brief shots, cut together in the hope of appearing tantalising - but watching it frame by frame (I did it so you don’t have to), they are painting by numbers. “My tastes are very singular”, Grey says, taking out a silk blindfold, because obviously that’s unique and unusual and nobody ever does that in bed. A moment later, it’s clear Ana can see out the bottom of the blindfold: not so much a BDSM fail, as incompatible with the character of Grey.

In addition, the rope work we momentarily glimpse is dreadful. You’d think the producers would hire a consultant to at least make it appear convincing; if a character is supposed to be a Big Bad Dominant, then at least make that look persuasive. The trailer really doesn’t bode well for the sexual content.

But, you see, it’s not about accuracy, it’s about fantasy. “I don’t do romance”, Grey says, as he slides his hand up under Ana’s skirt under the table. Apparently, sex and romance are incompatible, and only in films, where men are supposed to be rich and mean and bad boys who don’t want relationships, can women’s fantasies get truly satisfied. There’s nothing progressive about that. It’s not empowering. It’s not even authentic - those who enjoy BDSM have little hope that the film will represent kink in an accurate way.

Worse, though, this trailer offers an entirely unoriginal promise, one that just reinforces the status quo: women - find a rich man and you will have your fantasies fulfilled and discover true happiness. I have little doubt that this film will be successful at the box office, but I fear the impact it will have on how young women see their sexuality: if sexual contentment and wealth are always conflated, then we’re dooming a generation of women to disappointment - and of not having their sexual needs met.

Zoe Margolis is a journalist and writer, famed for writing the Girl With A One-Track Mind blog. You can find more information about her work, including on sexual health, at her website. She's on Twitter as @girlonetrack.

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Man in the mirror-ball: Simon Armitage's The Unaccompanied

With this mature, engaging and empathetic work, the poet softens the pain of passing years. 

The Unaccompanied, by Simon Armitage
Faber & Faber, 76pp, £14.99

“The centuries crawl past,” Simon Armitage notes in his new collection, “none of them going your way”. After a decade of acclaimed travelogues, transgressive prose poetry, and above all translation, Armitage has combed those centuries to produce innovative versions of ancient and medieval texts: Pearl, The Death of King Arthur, Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Georgics. In The Unaccompanied he returns, refreshed from his sojourn in the past and bringing the classics with him; in the book’s dystopian present, in “Poundland”, Odysseus meets the ghost of his drunken comrade Elpenor not in the Underworld, but “slumped and shrunken by the Seasonal Products display”, the poem’s pseudo-archaic English underscoring its ironic rewriting of Homer. Meanwhile, the protagonist of “Prometheus”, holed up in a post-industrial wasteland, sees his father retrieve not fire, but a Champion spark plug.

To lighten its nightmarish visions, The Unaccompanied offers the same beguiling playfulness that has characterised Armitage’s verse from his 1989 debut, Zoom!, to the “Merrie England” of Tyrannosaurus Rex versus The Corduroy Kid (2006). “Tiny”, for instance, reads like an old-school Ladybird Book (“Simon has taken his father, Peter,/to the town’s museum”) and “The Poet Hosts His Annual Office Christmas Party” makes a mischievous nod to Yeats. As ever, there are pinpoint references to popular culture; in “Gravity”, it is the “six-minute-plus/album version” of Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” that plays on the stereo in the sixth-form common room. Yet Armitage’s concern for the socially excluded – the “skinny kid in jeans and trainers” from “The Ice Age” to whom the poet offers a spurned coat, “brother to brother” – burns unabated.

This collection articulates a new anger that is more personal, a lament for individual mortality, the sadness of time moving on too far and too fast. In “The Present”, the poet attempts to take an icicle home to his daughter:

a taste of the glacier, a sense of the world

being pinned in place by a
diamond-like cold

at each pole, but I open my hand

and there’s nothing to pass on, nothing to hold.

Armitage’s fluid poetics are pitch-perfect and his imagery remains incisive. The bare winter larch trees become “widowed princesses in moth-eaten furs”. In “Poor Old Soul” an elderly man sits, “hunched and skeletal under a pile of clothes,/a Saxon king unearthed in a ditch”. This is the measured poetry of late middle-age, in which only the promise of more loss fills the “white paper, clean pages”. In “Kitchen Window”, the poet’s mother taps the smeared glass before she falls away “behind net curtains” and then further “to deeper/darker reaches and would not surface”. “Emergency” (published in the NS in 2013) could almost be his audition for Grumpy Old Men. “What is it we do now?” he asks as he details the closed banks, and pubs where “tin-foil wraps/change hands under cover/of Loot magazine”. W G Hoskins’s gentle topological classic is referenced in “The Making of the English Landscape”, though a very different country is seen at dusk from a satellite:

like a shipwreck’s carcass raised on a
sea-crane’s hook,

nothing but keel, beams, spars, down to its bare bones.

In “Harmonium”, the poet’s father – who, in 1993’s Book of Matches, berated him for having his ear pierced – helps his son lug an unwanted organ from their local church and reminds him “that the next box I’ll shoulder through this nave/will bear the load of his own dead weight”.

Armitage’s poetic world is instantly recognisable, always inclusive. We know the faded ballrooms that turn into even sadder discos in “The Empire”. Or the clumsy children’s shoe fitter of “The Cinderella of Ferndale”, who leaves her own footprints of disappointment. As the poet stumbles on a farmers’ fancy-dress parade for a breast cancer charity in “Tractors”, the slight incident bleeds into the universal shock of diagnosis: “the musket-ball/or distant star/in your left breast”. Critics often cite Philip Larkin as an influence on his work, but Armitage’s highly tuned sense of such “mirror-ball” moments – small but refracting repeatedly across time and lives – is all his own. Thankfully, with this mature, engaging and empathetic work, he is back to record them for us, softening the pain of passing years. 

Josephine Balmer is a poet and classical translator. “Letting Go: Mourning Sonnets” will be published by Agenda Editions in July

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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