Let’s call it free advertising – not only for BDSM, but also for NBC.
On Feb. 2, “Today” launched “Fifty Shades of Grey Week” in anticipation of the film’s “big release.” Co-host Natalie Morales introduced Monday’s four-minute and thirty-five-second segment by advertising an “exclusive world-premiere clip” obtained by NBC. NBC’s sister company, Focus Features, is producing “Fifty Shades” – the one thing Morales did not say amidst her oohs and ahhs.
Based on the series by E. L. James, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” stars Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, a BDSM-practicing billionaire. Dakota Johnson costars as Anastasia Steele, a college graduate who serves as his lover. The bondage flick hits theaters just in time for Valentine’s Day: February 13.
To prove the extent of the “sensation” of Fifty Shades, Morales began the segment with certain statistics and recognitions:
- 100 million copies sold in 52 languages.
- The author, E. L. James, made Barbara Walters’ “10 Most Fascinating People,” TIME Magazine’s “Most Influential People in the World” and Publisher Weekly’s “Person of the Year.”
- Books became “biggest and fastest-selling book series ever.”
- Fans included Oprah, Ryan Seacrest and Victoria Beckham.
- Sales of duct tape, rope, silver-grey ties and sex toys “sky-rocketed.”
- Online survey showed 44% of women preferred the books to actual sex.
- Film “already breaking records” as “fastest-selling R-rated title in Fandango history.”
At one point, Morales oohed, “I can’t wait. The anticipation is killing us.”
Co-host Carson Daly reacted similarly after playing the “exclusive” clip – or, in other words, showing “the moment you’ve all been waiting for.” The clip showed Christian buying rope, duct tape and cable ties from Anastasia at a hardware store.
“We have exclusive clips all this week” Daly gushed, and directed viewers to NBC.com in case they wanted to see it “over and over again.”
Making the movie’s release into a game, Daly invited viewers to create their own captions for photos from movie. Winners go to fan screening on Friday, he swooned, “which I know you guys are waiting for.”
Pushback for the film was noted once – by Morales. As a side-note, she admitted that the “edgy content was not for everyone,” citing library bans and the books’ “mommy porn” nickname.
What she didn’t mention were the more serious claims from outlets like LifeSite, which sponsored a petition boasting 40,000 signatures and counting. The petition argues “there is nothing authentically romantic about the tale of a sado-masochistic sexual relationship between a young, vulnerable student, Anastasia, and an older billionaire, Christian Grey.”
“Critics,” the petition continued, “have described the book as misogynistic, pornographic, exploitative, sexually violent, and anti-romance – and there is little reason to expect the film will be anything different.”
Dawn Hawkins, executive director of Morality in Media, criticized the film's "R-rating." “We’d like to change the MPAA rating for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey‘ to read: ‘Promotes torture as sexually gratifying, graphic nudity, encourages stalking and abuse of power, promotes female inequality, glamorizes and legitimizes violence against women,’” Hawkins said in January.
Even feminists voiced concern over the message. The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore criticized, “Fifty Shades of Grey peddles the tired old fantasy of romance that keeps women in their place.” “Is this what women want?” she asked. “A man who orders them to see a personal trainer four times a week, has a Red Room of Pain (who doesn't?) and, after a good thrashing, offers arnica and Advil?”
In a more recent piece, The Guardian reported how the film allegedly “has more sex than all the 18-rated movies in 2014 put together, making it the raunchiest in over a decade.”
Jezebel’s Kelly Faircloth ranted, “I'm not going to pretend that, if you take Fifty Shades of Grey at face value, it represents anything remotely like a healthy relationship.”
Christian Grey is a grade-A creeper and I can't help but wonder whether maybe he's hitting on a college kid because he's been bounced from every reputable fetish club/meetup in the Seattle area. Picturing some 18-year-old girl with submissive tendencies being introduced to kink via Fifty Shades of Grey makes me anxious to the point of actual physical discomfort.
From the beginning, NBC has hyped this new film favorite. And on “Today,” Entertainment Weekly correspondent Nina Terrero anticipated the film would “dominate at the box office” while EW Senior Editor Tina Jordan called Fifty Shades a “cultural phenomenon.”