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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.

ED THOMPSON / LUZ / EYEVINE
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"We’ve got things in common": why one of the EDL's original members quit

An early supporter of the group, painter-decorator Darren Carroll has had death threats since he left. But why did he change his mind about the English Defence League?

Darren Carroll is a slight man with bright blue eyes and an urgent need for redemption. A painter-decorator in his fifties, he has lived in Luton his whole life. He was one of the original members of the English Defence League (EDL), the far-right street movement founded by Carroll’s nephew Tommy Robinson.

Recently, things haven’t been easy. Four months before our meeting at a café near Luton Airport Parkway Station, Carroll had a minor stroke that affected his speech and vision. It was the delayed fallout from an attack in a pub across the road, his local. A stranger, who seemed to know a lot about him, started a conversation. “He showed me his arm. It was tattooed. There was a little bit of white skin left on the whole sleeve,” says Carroll. “He said, ‘Look at that.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘White is right.’ I said, ‘Nah, mate, I know exactly where you’re coming from. There’s nothing wrong with being white but there’s nothing right with it.’”

The man pretended to leave the pub, then walked back in and hit Carroll hard on the back of the head with his forearm. Afterwards, Carroll suffered persistent headaches. It caused a blood clot that set off the stroke. When we met, he had mostly recovered but was still unable to work.

It was not the first attack. Carroll has also had his front door kicked in. He and his children have received death threats. “This is since speaking up,” he says. “Not leaving – that’s different.”

Carroll looks uncomfortable when we discuss the early days of the EDL. “It was an organic thing,” he says. “Lots of people were involved at the very beginning for different reasons. Personally, I was not happy with the way the town was being run on a political level. Looking back, I was disenfranchised from mainstream politics.”

Luton has the dubious distinction of being a centre of both far-right and Islamist extremism. The EDL began here in 2009, in response to a demonstration organised by Anjem Choudary’s now banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was a reaction against an army regiment marching in Luton.

A counterprotest led to arrests and the EDL was born, with sometimes violent neo-fascist street protests spreading across the country. Robinson insisted from the outset that the EDL was not racist, but only “against the rise of radical Islam”. Carroll says it was local difficulties, rather than national issues such as immigration, that unsettled and motivated him – and he didn’t articulate the core problem as racism against white people, not even to himself. The EDL has never had a formal membership, but the think tank Demos estimated that there were between 25,000 and 35,000 active members in 2011, a loose coalition of football hooligans and far-right activists. Today, the numbers are much reduced.

Carroll’s family was closely involved and it was a while before he realised that the EDL was an extremist, racist group. He describes being at a demo in Birmingham soon after the first protest. “I looked at the other lads there and I didn’t like them. They didn’t smell right for me, as far as integrity goes. I thought, ‘I don’t want this.’” Carroll’s parents are Irish and he considers himself the child of immigrants.

It took several months for him to extricate himself from the group and stop attending demonstrations. “It’s a relationship breaker, so you’ve got to accept that things are broken for ever.” On building sites, he was known as the EDL guy. Work dried up.

Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”

Carroll did so after seeing a Facebook post by a local activist, Dawood Masood. Masood had shared a video of an imam in Leicester speaking about terrorist violence, with a message saying that any EDL members were welcome to get in touch. Carroll met him and others from the Muslim community and they discussed ways to make Luton better. He told them that he wasn’t interested in religion, but invited them to what he considers his church: Luton Town FC.

“I had the idea it’s about setting precedents, because you never know who or what that affects,” he says. “I just thought, if I’m seen going to the football with them, it’s going to break a big piece of ice.”

As the EDL evolved largely from a football subculture, this was a bold step. They went to the match. “He’s Luton born and bred and he certainly don’t need his hand held. But I made him as comfortable as possible. Luton scored and he’s jumping up and down, loving it. At that point, I thought: ‘This is really Luton harmony. He’s cheering for the same thing and I’m cheering for the same thing. We’re both happy together at this moment in time. We’ve got things in common.’”

They have been to many matches since, Masood bringing his kids, Carroll his grandkids. Carroll has had a few threatening calls but remains undeterred. “The working-class Muslim lads are working-class Muslim lads. They’ve got all the same problems and social issues as us white, working-class people. It’s not just me or us. It’s everyone.” 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage