One Shade of Gold: The Fetishization of Wealth

The movie, the cruelty, the helpless love given by sacrificing your body and dignity, the beatings, the tears, the sin, the surprises, the complex emotions and the unavoidable eroticism of pain… No, I’m not talking about “The Passion of The Christ” – but about the theater version of the best selling “50 Shades of Grey” received with an equal amount of zeal and fervor.

If I wore a business suit, people would say this was hot.

If I wore a business suit, people would say this was hot.

I’m not concerned with judging whether the book or movie was bad or good, harmless or sin. That’s not my business and there’s no critical analysis I can give that hasn’t already been printed. What really concerns me – the thing I want to make clear – is that we as a culture need to stop seeing without seeing. What I want to show you (which I can fortunately do with my clothes on) is the real reason it successful and what that says about us. Note: Before you start asserting YOU didn’t read/watched it – the sales figures indicate A LOT of people did – so it doesn’t matter – the herd has spoken.  

Money Power

The draw to 50 Shades isn’t the writing (reviewed as horrid), the story (reviewed as ridiculous), or the nudity (reviewed as <…you know…>). Despite what many churches are preaching – it isn’t even because it is taboo or represents something missing in our lives. Our societal impulse hasn’t been to flock to this because of what it says about sex, love or mystery. People respond to what it says about money – and that fetishization of wealth is the last thing this country (USA) needs right now. As many before me have pointed out: 50shadescriminalmids In a country with the economic disparity of the United States, where many struggle with working poverty, lifting up the adulation of the wealthy is calloused at best. We don’t need Wall Street to tell us the rich have the right to do anything they want. We learn it through media, celebrity culture, and a consumer driven world. Think about it: The wealthy can afford organic food, they can fly in comfort and get on the plane first, they can see the doctor of their choice and afford their medication. As a former HIV/AIDS worker – I can tell you first hand – the difference between thriving, surviving, and dying for those with HIV is money. The rich get better meds, better care, better odds. At a time when we should be questioning that – we are stampeding to theaters to celebrate it. When a poor man beats his girlfriend and plays emotional games to create her consent – we call it “abuse.” When it rich man does it – well – it’s “erotic fantasy.”  

Fear Driven: It is, in fact, our helplessness to financial disparity that makes wealth fetish possible (for an example of wealth fetish – go to Amazon and type “billionaire” in the search line. Pages of billionaire books make up their own highly successful subgenre of Romance). Human beings tend to revere what they desire based on what they fear. Ancient cultures were terribly susceptible to the ravages of the weather. While this harsh winter of 2015 has frustrated many of us – it would have killed a village centuries ago. The fear and dependence on nature led to a host of religions lifting up “nature gods” – beings who were powerfully able to control that which humans couldn’t. Those gods were sometimes beautiful, sometimes loathsome – but they worshipped them. Because it made them feel safe.

Throughout history war and plagues would periodically devastate societies. What became popular almost every time that happened? Vampire legends. Vampires should be gross and villainous – but every major facet of history that involved a precarious fear or loss of life – vampire stories, first oral, then written, then movies – filled public imagination. Vampires (even the nasty un-sexy ones like Nosferatu) have something we don’t. They rise from the dead. They are (with notable exception) immortal. Fear of death creates a lust for life. It is no accident that True Blood (published the year of (9/11) and Twilight (published as young adult literature in the age of school shootings, teen suicides and drug deaths) are so popular and romantic. Vampires almost always beat the odds. Who wouldn’t want that?

Now, after a recession that took homes from our neighbors, and during a time when our media reminds us nightly about our growing deficit, the shaky stability of the dollar and the terrible gap between the rich and the poor, the billionaire with a stable, unshakeable wealth is our new legend, our new god. Why else would the wealthy majority in Congress (backed by a conservative Christian base) which has shown its willingness to have a say about our birth control, our sex lives, and who can marry – suddenly be disinterested in the morality of its citizens? Legislators are challenging the AP History exam which questions racial and economic justice, but letting erotica with slippery consent issues flow unregulated through the land. It isn’t because it suddenly decided censorship was wrong – but because we are being taught to lift up, revere, and lust for the love of power, and the power of money. With 50 Shades, we say we are being entertained – but most of us are being “trained.”

That's not your working class Daddy's tie.

That’s not your working class Daddy’s tie.

So what to do? Am I calling censorship? Heavens no! That is the way of ignorance. Free expression is the only hope of our world. Personally, it doesn’t matter to me if you love 50 Shades or hate it. If you embrace it or ignore it. Watch it, live it, laugh at it – whatever. But what I want you to do – is be aware of what it’s really trying to sell you.

It was very easy to laugh at the idealistic, disorganized youth of Occupy Wall Street who raged against corporate culture while drinking Starbucks and tapping on an iPad. However, be aware when you are posting articles about the outrageous privileges of the 1% and the horror of economic disparity – that wealth fetish may be as near as the movie ticket in your pocket.


In Search of the Body Beautiful: What the Celeb. Photo Leak Says About Us.

pilloryImagine waking up one morning, stretching and battering the snooze button until you are forced by nature (your cat) or nurture (do I smell bacon?) to get out of bed. You stumble around doing necessary morning things until you find your glasses and take your pills. You open your laptop, hit the little blue “F” and BAM(!) your feed has been changed to “Top Stories” once again (dammmitttt) and the trending column is screaming:

 HOME INVASION! 100 Families Robbed. Children’s School Pictures Stolen and Sold Online.

 Wow. What would you do? You would be shocked, angry, want the criminals caught, and maybe go to the albums where you keep the school photos of your own kids just to make sure they were okay. 

 What wouldn’t you do?  Say, “What were those parents doing taking pictures of their kids anyway? They are a bunch of braggy mommy vanners and they deserve what they got.”

 Or perhaps you realize you read that wrong. What the news really says is:

 CYBER ATTACK! Hackers take bank codes from Target, Home Depot and TJ Maxx.

Thousands of Pin Numbers Sold Online.

Yikes! What would you do? You would call your bank, change your pin, ask for a new card number, hope the thieves get caught, and move money into a secured savings account until you’re feeling safe again.

What wouldn’t you do?  Say, “How stupid can you be to shop with a debit card? Why would you trust a store? Did these people really need more cheap-chic capri pants and garden gloves? What a bunch of phony balonies. They got what they deserve.”

And yet – when it comes to the celebrity nude photo leak story –  in comments and conversations all over – while everyone admits the hacker(s) is where the blame goes – it is somehow the fault of these young women for taking pictures of their naked bodies and putting them in an online storage program. How vain, dumb, opportunistic can they be??? They deserve it.

Why is our response to this story so different that it would be to other crimes? Because it involves the body. For people who don’t like their body (some folks hate their own frame so much they aren’t even on speaking terms with it – let alone taking its picture) this is a chance to express their internal anger by engaging in the act of shaming someone else.

Get your mind out of the gutter and off that last 10 pounds you can’t lose, and THINK for a moment. Other that being dumb, vain or slutty – why might a young female celebrity take pictures of her naked body?

She is comfortable in it.  Acting isn’t just a job you do by raising your eyebrows and scowling (Kristen Stewart and Hayden Christensen, excepted). Performance art requires your whole body and you have to be comfy inside your skin. The body is a tool. I am not afraid to take pictures of my computer or a screen shot of my writing and store it online. They are the tools I use.

She won’t have it forever.  Maybe it would be nice for these young women when they are fifty, sixty or eighty to look back at pictures of themselves and say “wow, look at me then,” or “still got it!”

Girl - you still got it! (c) 1981 Orion Pictures/(c) 2014 Broadway World

Girl – you still got it!
(c) 1981 Orion Pictures/(c) 2014 Broadway World

She is an adult person who has sexy fun with another adult person. Seriously. Intimate relationships aren’t just made up of Saturday Bath Night and accidentally kissing your lover’s pillow when saying goodnight. They also involve sex, games, fun, chocolate body paint, and yes – pictures.

Maybe, just maybe, these women aren’t really that different from us, after all. These women took pictures, likely with the closest, easiest camera they had (the phone) and stored it in a location they were told was private (iCloud). They didn’t put their pictures on Facebook then complain someone saw their body. They put the pictures in online storage. Not very different from the soccer mom who takes a picture of her kid and puts it in Dropbox. Except, because they are celebrities we feel the right to judge and throw stones. After all, that crappy movie they made cost me $12.50 plus popcorn.

Our reaction to this crime is another indicator of how much work we have to do as a culture in self-acceptance, body esteem and “getting over it.”  In The Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron says that if you get angry when you go into a bookstore and see all the “crap” that gets published these days, it’s really not about the books. It’s about the writer inside of you wanting to be on that shelf but fearing to do so.

Our reaction to someone’s nude pictures being leaked isn’t about their vanity – it’s about the body we inhabit– wanting to be accepted, cherished, and celebrated as well. We aren’t champions of modesty. We are uncomfortable with nudity – even private nudity – because when we look in the mirror we’ve been told we have something to hide. While we watch the FBI seek and destroy the wrongful violation of someone else’s privacy, let’s also pause and admit we have a need for a little private peacemaking with our beautiful bodies.

So give the ladies a break, give your beautiful naked body a big hug, and…look up that chocolate body paint. You won’t regret it. (Photos optional).