The story around how the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon shot forth from the loins of Twilight is really the stuff fan-girl dreams and literary critic nightmares.
After becoming completely besotted with the Twilight novels, a four-book series in which a clumsy teenage girl falls in love with a brooding vampire sporting a bad attitude who sparkles in the sunlight, author E.L. James (not her real name) decided to let her imagination run wild and give the story a kinkier edge.
If you haven’t yet watched the latest Fifty Shades movie and have no plans to, here’s a step-by-step recap of every heinous moment.
So she started posting her own stories about a clumsy young woman who falls in love with a brooding millionaire, who doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight but still has a pretty bad attitude,on Fanfiction.net. An online forum which provides a place for rabid fans to post stories they have concocted themselves based on the settings and characters found in popular franchises.
Despite the fact that this site was littered with (often disturbing) fan fiction rips of Twilight, there was something readers clung to when it came to the BDSM filled story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.
The online serial, originally titled Masters of the Universe was eventually picked up by a mainstream publisher, for an obscene amount of money, and renamed as Fifty Shades of Grey. Both the book trilogy and the accompanying film franchise have been hugely financially successful.
As has the Twilight saga, and while even in it’s heyday it was never dubbed a critical success, it’s also somehow been able to escape the disdain, venom and abject hate this is always lumped upon the Fifty Shades franchise.
LISTEN: We debrief on the biggest, funniest, and most cringeworthy talking points from the second Fifty Shades of Grey film.
Which I think in many ways is an unfair way for the cards to have been dealt, because while I agree that neither series should have it’s name up in lights, the Fifty Shades franchise is ultimately less damaging and, yes I hate myself for saying this… more empowering for women.
At this stage of the story I’m sure you’re ripping your hair out in a very non-sexy red room of pain kind of way and rolling your eyes up to the heavens, asking why we are still giving these two less than stellar franchises any kind of air-time?
The answer is that as much as audiences continue to loudly proclaim they hate them… they still continue to consume them. Enough to keep them both at the top of Best Seller lists and box office takings, cementing their place forever in the pop-culture lexicon. So, you brought this all upon yourselves, people. Now may God have mercy on your souls and let’s talk this out.
In Twilight and Fifty Shades, leading ladies Bella and Anastasia are both emotionally abused and manipulated by their grump-faced paramores Edward and Christian. All under the totally forgivable and not at all disturbing guise of true love, of course.
Throughout their courtships, both Bella and Anastasia are forbidden from going to specific places and seeing certain people under the rules of Grumpy and Grumpier, and both are initially a little resistant to the idea of being locked up in a gilded love cage (in Anastasia’s case, I’m talking literally locked up) but in the end, both heroines give in.
After all, who would chose to be single lady when you could have a dark, dashing sociopath with mummy issues all of your very own? Sign me up!
Where Fifty Shades does pull ahead in the race against Twilight, is in the area of women’s sexuality.
In Bella’s case, sex is a privilege she is only granted after marriage. No doubt in a bid to send a message to the vast armies of teenagers who devoured the books, to gently implant the idea that waiting until after matrimony is the right and only choice to make, instead of just a perfectly acceptable option.
After Bella’s marriage and the loss of her virginity, she immediately becomes pregnant, has her body ravaged by pregnancy, gives up any chance of attending college or living her own adult life and essentially becomes a prisoner in her new husband’s home.
She is later allowed to enjoy the idea of sex, but not in her previously ‘too delicate’ human form, and not until after she has donned a white dress, turned her back on her own life and birthed a child.
This is the epitome of romance and true love that teenagers (and a whole lot of grown up women too, to be honest) held up as the relationship goal they wanted to reach. The idea that is was never fully called out as the problematic mess it really is is what makes it all the more damaging.
On the other side of the spectrum, Fifty Shades of Grey faced a torrent of abuse, critique and hand-wringing when the film adaption was first released. At the time, even I penned a think piece calling it “a sad tale of abuse set to a Beyonce song.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret writing that piece or calling the movie out, but when you compare it to Twilight, Fifty Shades is very much the less damaging franchise of the two.
After all, at least Ana is an adult when she enters into this (admittedly also troubling) relationship and at least she is not shamed for her sexuality as the series progresses.
In the latest film, Fifty Shades Freed the sex all seems quite consensual and throughout the series many of the scenes are aimed at her achieving her own pleasure.
Ana is often the instigator of these acts and sexual activity is not seen as a forbidden act that proper young women save for marriage. And at least Ana is allowed to have a job while she is romantically tangled up with Christian. I mean, she hardly ever goes to it... but at least she has it.
I also hate to say it but... Christian Grey is also a better leading man than Edward Cullen ever was. The simple reason being that Christian's flaws are more fully on display. He's messed up, controlling and emotionally abusive... but at least these are seen as red flags to Ana and force her to want to be away from him. His abusive actions are not always seen as appealing, and are sometimes depicted as downright repellent.
Where as with Edward, his hero hat is never once knocked off his perfectly quaffed head. His actions are also always manipulative and controlling, yet they are consistently depicted as romantic and aspirational.
You're supposed to leave the theatre wanting the improved and "changed" version of Christina Grey... and wanting the same old version of Edward Cullen who used to watch a teenage girl sleep at night.
And therein, friends, lies the problem.
Look, neither of these franchises are cinematic works of art and neither one should be held up as the ideal romantic relationship you should dream of being in.
But when it comes to which one is the less damaging franchise, Fifty Shades of Grey has Twilight totally whipped.
For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.