Far More Than Fifty Shades of Comments

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On Thursday I published a blog titled “We’re Reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey. Here’s Why.” The response was … interesting.

First, a shout-out to all those who let me know that they were praying for me and offered encouragement (even if you disagreed with our decision to cover the film). Much appreciated. It was a beautiful thing to read and it certainly seemed to help. Sure, I’ve trained myself to be able to shake off movies pretty quickly: It’s part of my job, after all. But even with that preparation in place, I was surprised how quickly Fifty Shades of Grey receded in my memory. Less than a week later, I can barely remember what Ana looks like.

Frankly, some of the comments I read online will stick with me far longer than the movie.

Not every response was quite so, um, chipper. “How could you?” was a recurring theme, and Plugged In’s willingness to review Fifty Shades was compared to a lot of unpleasant things, from sticking one’s head in a toilet to shooting up heroin. And the worst comments didn’t even make it past the blog’s automatic language filters.

But I got off pretty easy compared to many. I bet almost everyone who wrote to me and about me, no matter how angry, was at least trying to keep me out of hell—not wishing I would go to it. My experience with those on the negative side of this equation was one of gentle public shaming—not the virtual flogging that many others have been subjected to for sins, both real and imagined.

Brian Williams has been eviscerated online for his “misrememberings,” as you might expect. But the Twittersphere was no less furious at Renée Zellweger for getting cosmetic surgery (or not), Anne Hathaway for accepting an Oscar for her role in Les Misérables (and for being, I guess, Anne Hathaway), or any number of celebrities for gaining or losing a few pounds. Shaming Internet celebrities is so rampant that Jimmy Kimmel hosts a segment on his talk show called “Mean Tweets,” wherein celebs read aloud the awful (if sometimes funny) things said about them on Twitter. Fittingly, R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” plays in the background.

Last week, indie rocker Beck beat out Beyoncé for the Grammy Awards’ Album of the Year honors. Queen Bey’s fanbase retaliated by vandalizing his Wikipedia page: For a time, Beck’s birthplace was listed as “Hell,” his occupation as “Theif [sic], stealer, life ruiner” and his musical instrument as “probably a gun, maybe a knife, possibly a crowbar, against the grammy committee.”

The crit I received, in comparison, feels like a particularly docile Care Bears episode.

The Internet can be a mean place. That’s no revelation. When you combine the charms of anonymity with a potential bullhorn to the world, it becomes a huge temptation to unleash thoughts we’d never actually say to someone else.

I don’t think Christians are immune to that temptation. I know I’m not: I’ve written unkind things in my reviews about celebrities for no other purpose than because I thought they were funny—usually purged by my editor. Who knows what I might be tempted to say under the cover of anonymity.

And in this Fifty Shades conversation, there’s another element thrown in, too: We, as Christians, are called to not just show one another grace, but to correct a fellow believer if we think he’s going astray. I understand, then, why some of you spoke up when you felt concern over the path Plugged In had chosen here. I understand the God-given desire to help me see the “error” of my ways. Besides, we literally invite you to say your piece on our blog—whether you agree with us or not. I love healthy, challenging dialogue—and the line between iron sharpening iron and iron jabbing into the gut of a blogger is not very easy to define. In fact, we all might define it differently.

But I do think that, in our frustration over the limitations of online dialogue—its brevity, its tendency to reward over-the-top comparisons, etc.—we sometimes stop even trying to talk with people and convince them and instead try to shame them into right-minded behavior.

Which, ironically, is the crux of Fifty Shades of Grey’s most troubling scenes: Christian’s desire to punish Ana for not thinking or saying or doing just what he wanted her to do, and her palpable sense of hurt as a result.

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