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Fifty Shades of Grey Cult Theory
Upload Date June 16, 2015
Length 18:36
Link Fifty Shades of Grey Cult Theory
Episode Guide
Episode 8
Series Film Theory
Subject Fifty Shades of Grey
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"Hello, Internet. Welcome to FILM THEORY, the show whose host, aka ME, went to see Fifty Shades of Grey purely for research purposes, I swear!"

Fifty Shades of Grey Cult Theory (subtitled The Cult of Christian Grey) is the 8th episode of Film Theory on Fifty Shades of Grey on The Film Theorists, featuring CinemaSins.


Millions of women fell in love with Christian Grey, including the young Anastasia Steele. But was it his charisma that won her over, or deliberate psychological manipulation? Was it his rock hard abs she was attracted to or his cold, calculating psychological abuse? Throughout 50 Shades of Grey, Christian uses a very specific set of steps to brainwash Anastasia into loving him…the same steps that cults use to indoctrinate new members. Film Theory uncovers the dark side of 50 Shades of Grey…


Hello Internet, welcome to film theory the show whose host- aka me- went to see Fifty Shades of Grey purely for research purposes I swear. I know you don't believe me, but why else would I wilfully volunteer to enter a lion's den of hundreds of thirsty women, all looking to enjoy the r-rated exploits of a 27 year old billionaire playboy, with a BDSM urge. Trust me, I have better things to do with my time. But as I sat there awkwardly slumping down in my chair to avoid anyone recognizing me, one of the things I was dumbfounded by was that the audience saw this movie as romantic. Romantic! Maybe they were blinded by the fast cars, million-dollar penthouses, chiseled abs, perfect chin, tousled hair, cute little twinkle in his eye.  But what I do know is that Christian Grey in all his brooding damaged hunkiness, implements a clear pattern of behavior that goes way beyond bad influence. Throughout the movie Christian Grey engages in what's known as Thought Reform, otherwise called indoctrination, as he seduces the young Anastasia Steele throughout the movie. And when I say indoctrination I mean that Grey follows the exact steps, that real-life cults use to brainwash innocent people. The same steps cults use to get people to drink poisonous kool-aid, or worship this guy who said that aliens gave him a pair of sex robots, except Grey wants to, you know, spank Anastasia really hard. That's it. Really. She asks to see how bad it gets, and he just spanks her with a belt. Kinda expecting more from a guy with ropes, chains, and whips everywhere. Don't believe me? Well let me show you just how fifty shades of f---ed up this gets. As I just mentioned, Thought Reform is a kind of indoctrination. Defined as a series of manipulative techniques used to get people to do something they wouldn't otherwise do, and when you consider that the entire plot of the movie is one guy getting one girl- a girl who has never had sex mind you- to sign a kinky, sex contract, dictating all the things he's gonna do to dominate her? Yeah, there's a little bit of that going on. But before we get into the specific cult-like steps that Grey follows let's take a second to meet our victim: 21 year old Anastasia Steele. She's an immensely shy college senior, a loner...who only owns one skirt and still uses a flip phone in 2015. She lacks self-confidence... is unassertive, and honestly outside of that....and with her about to graduate, she's entering a very vulnerable part of her life with no clear direction on what to do next. She is, in short, the perfect subject for thought reform. Though cults will target anyone, researchers generally agree that those who are most susceptible, are individuals who are ignorant, unassertive, gullible, and lack self-confidence. All traits that we see throughout Anastasia's first scenes with Grey, and I'm not the only one to notice. Christian knows her type very well...and this is a man who explicitly states earlier that very scene that he knows how to manipulate people. So immediately, we're presented with a young, poor, unconfident girl looking for answers, being courted by an older, confident, billionaire. The power dynamic for indoctrination, is certainly there, which means we should look at the progression cults use as they indoctrinate new members. For that, we can follow a convenient eight step process. Yes, there's actually a standard psychological step-by-step guide, for building your very own cult. It's kind of like building an IKEA coffee table, but easier because there's none of those funny little L wrenches..called Allen wrenches.. anyway, the general philosophy about cult indoctrination is built on getting your target- in this case Anastasia- to get into the habit of saying yes. First, to small, harmless things which gradually over time become bigger, more extreme, sex slavey things. It's the classic story of frogs being placed into hot water. If you turn up the temperature slowly enough, the frogs never leave the pot until they boil to death. So, how does Anastasia boil? Let's see, step one: the cult recruiter gets the target to say yes to a non-threatening event. It can be anything from a workshop, to a poetry reading, to a party. For Anastasia, there are a couple early yes’s. She takes Christian’s offer of the pencil in the interview, she takes the business card at the hardware store, but the first big yes, comes when Ana agrees to have coffee with Christian for the first time. It's the first time they're meeting independent of other reasons, just to spend time together. “But it's just coffee! That's normal”, you're thinking. And yes, you're right, it is just coffee. If a cult were to just come out and say “Hey, you there, cut off all your ties with your loved ones and jump aboard our space love comet” then you'd probably run away immediately. Same thing with Grey, it's a slow burn. He can't just be like “butt plugs, activate” and expect that to work. I mean, you gotta at least buy me a drink first, and that's exactly what he does, but it's at this coffee when the next phase of Ana's indoctrination begins: the love bomb. No, we're not talking about a hippy’s nuclear strategy, this is when the cult showers attention, praise, even gifts on to the target. Basically, they're trying to create a positive association in the target’s brain, between the cult, and feeling good. That way, when the opportunity to spend time together comes up again, the target will be more likely to say yes. In Fifty Shades, starting with that coffee, Grey turns his charm beam, fully onto Ana, asking about her family, giving her food, and the next day, what does Anna find on her doorstep? A big steaming pile, of love-bomb, in the form of signed first-edition books by her favorite author. A gift that Ana recognises must have cost a fortune. She's being showered with presents as Grey works to associate positive feelings with her thinking of him, and that's before he really cranks up the pressure with new clothes, computers and even cars. Christian Grey be dropping love bombs all over this place, and with it comes phase three of his plan: dangling the prize right in front of her. For cults, that prize tends to vary from happiness, to a sense of community and purpose, to wealth or, even the answers to the world's mysteries. It's the value for joining the cult. So, what prize is Grey dangling in front of Ana? Well, it’s his mini gray, if you get what I mean... It's him, at least to begin with. It's the promise of being loved by a sexy, rich, powerful man. Ana admits to being a romantic, so to find her Mr. Darcy, the billionaire brooder with a cold exterior and loving interior is her dream. And Grey knows it. Twice, he almost kisses her, but then doesn't. The first time happens as they leave the coffee shop after a particularly romantic moment where he saves her from getting hit in the street. The second comes after he “rescues her” after a night of clubbing and drinking, scene we'll talk about more later. In both instances, notice that he lingers, even after he says things like, “I should let you go”. He tempts her, but ultimately refuses the kiss that she clearly wants. This is an important step in Ana's indoctrination, as he's dangling the prize just out of her reach, until she gets to step 4. Soon after his second denial, he becomes more explicit, saying “I would like to bite that lip”. Anastasia finally responds with “I think I’d like that too”. Then and only then does he bring up the contract...It's funny to us as the audience because it seems like such an odd thing to say, but for Grey, this moment is entirely calculated. Step 4 of the indoctrination process is getting an agreement from the target that they want the prize. Don't you want to be financially independent? You know you want the secret of life, don't you? You crave signing a contract stating that you'll be my submissive sexual object, right? Grey has led her on, taunting her with the prospect of kisses and sex, but it's not until she verbally confirms that yes, yes she wants that, that he drops the bomb about what his end goal is. She's enough on the hook at this point that he knows he's not gonna lose her with a weird comment like that. But then look what he does...he avoids it. He's planted the seed, but he knows there's still a longer game to play. But Ana doesn't walk away, doesn't ask further questions, and he rewards her good behavior with the long-awaited kiss. A passionate moment in the elevator. He appears like he can't control his urges anymore, but remember, this is a man who explicitly states that he has control over every part of his life. This kiss isn't a moment of passion, it's a calculated moment, of conditioning. So Ana finally has her prize, or at least the taste of it, and obviously she's being led on to want more. Then, Grey ups the ante with his next date: a helicopter ride to his private top floor penthouse, and in the process, he willfully changes the game. The prize he's dangling isn't just a pretty set of eyes and chiseled abs anymore. It's a driver, private flights, million-dollar apartments, the prize has gotten bigger and Ana's almost got the winning ticket, except for Grey's non-disclosure agreement on the table. He doesn't pull this thing out until he's laid out all the benefits of being with him, and watch this, she signs it immediately, with zero hesitation. I mean, she signs it so quickly I doubt she even read the thing, and after she puts her John Hancock on the line what's her first question after reading it? “Are you going to make love to me now?” Just like the frogs, the heats turned up and she's not even flinching. She signs the contract with the explicit expectation of reward, but Grey, is still dangling and once again refuses her the intimacy that she's looking for, because just having sex with Ana isn't his ultimate goal, and that leads to the introduction of the infamous playroom: The velvet gymnasium, and clearly she's freaked out, I mean who wouldn't be really. She just wants her roll in the hay, and he's pulling out the handcuffs and the legalese. Ana’s not ready. Enter step 5: shutting down your dissent by threatening to withhold the prize. This is where the cult starts to get serious, the sell becomes a bit more aggressive. The target is encouraged to do things they might not want to do. Devote more time to the group, recruit on their behalf, pay dues, adopt more extreme beliefs, but when the target expresses resistance to these greater demands, the cult shuts down their arguments by withholding that all-important prize. And in Fifty Shades, to Christian Grey it’s butt plugs or nothing. Oh sure Ana, you can have this apartment, but you'll have to live here between Friday and Sunday. And you'll have to be Grey’s subservient. And kneel for him. Oh and by the way, he still won't sleep with you even after you're done in the x-rated romper room. And when Ana hesitates, completely understandably I might add, Grey is like “No? Okay then, peace out dawg, this is how I do.” Seriously, she asks “What if I don’t want anything to do with that?” Nope, sorry. Grey has shut down her descent by threatening to withhold everything. No penthouse, no helicopter, none of that hickory-smoked Grey sausage. Not unless you sign that contract, welcome to the cult. Oh, and then he finds out that she's still a virgin, and just to sweeten the pot, has sex with her. A power play all on its own, just so she can see what she'll be missing, and, without getting too graphic, noticed that he pleasures her. Something he's made it very clear he's not interested in at all. As evidenced by this quote: “Why would I do that?” “To please me.”  It's just a tactic he's using to sweeten the pot to make signing the contract, a little extra-special. Then it's on to step 6: the establishment of guilt. The target is in the door, so now what do you do to reprogram their thoughts? By shaming them. Making them feel guilty for not appreciating the cult, its leaders, or its beliefs, enough. What this does is break down the recruit’s perception, and replaces it with one approved of by the cult leadership. In Grey's case, he makes Anastasia feel guilty by saying things like, “I've never anyone in the helicopter.. I've never had sex in my own bed” She's the only one to have received this treatment it should feel special about this gift he's given her. He also tells his personal sob story, that he's broken, that he's 50 shades of effed-up, making her feel guilty for questioning his tastes. He's just a poor wilting flower, and the strain shows. We repeatedly see Ana crying, on the phone, going to bed, conflicted about how she should be feeling. Is she wrong to be cautious of this man pushing her into a realm that she's not comfortable? Of course not, but those are the questions Grey wants her to be asking. It shows cracks in her resistance. That isn't love, that's the effects of calculated psychological torment. Step 7: the carrot and the stick. Let me cite, this word for word from one resource on the subject. “Behavior is reinforced by rewarding ‘good’ behavior and punishing ‘bad’ behavior.” That's a direct quote. Now, let's look at a quote from Christian, after he reveals his playroom to Anastasia. “I have rules. If you follow them, I'll reward you. If you don't, I'll punish you.” That too is a direct quote, need I say more? Actually yes, in psychology this is called Operant Conditioning. Basically, it's using rewards and punishments to incentivize one type of behavior over another. Rewarding your dog with a treat because it rolled over? Operant Conditioning. Giving your sex slave a new laptop because she survived a flogging? Operant Conditioning. Which leads to step 8, the final phase. Controlling the recruit’s identity, information, and environment. All these other steps are how the person gets sucked in, but this is how the cult keeps them in. Isolating them from friends and family, changing the recruit’s name, randomly alternating between praise and love, and scorn and punishment. Removing the recruit’s ability to choose, by controlling things like money, food, and career, and notice that Grey has been doing all of these things, the entire time. From the first moments of the movie, Anastasia repeatedly corrects Christian, saying to call her Ana instead of Anastasia. He willfully ignores this, continuing to call her by her full name. At the coffee shop, he gives her the muffin and tells her to eat. And again a few scenes later, there are the ‘eat this’ and ‘drink this’ cards. When it comes to alternating between praise and punishment, he appears interested in Ana in the coffee shop, but then rushes out to keep her off balance, punishing her for no fault of her own. By buying her new clothes, computers, and cars, Anastasia's financial independence is virtually gone. Grey is even so generous, as to get rid of her old car for her. And at the bar, like the fifth scene in the movie, he physically removes Anastasia from the party, blocking out longtime friend Jose, and having his brother run interference on her best friend Kate, taking Anastasia to a place he deems appropriate when, let's face it, there was zero reason for him to insert himself into that situation in the first place, let alone bring her anywhere other than her own apartment. He's already isolating her in the first 30 minutes of the movie, shaping her identity and managing her resources like the good cult leader that he is, but then things take on a whole new meaning once she's inside the happy little love nest. Cult members are told what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep, and look where Anastasia is. Her schedule is dictated by his demands. When he tells her to, she must do her hair in a ponytail, and wait for him kneeling by the door, hands just so. The contract requires that she only eat foods from a certain list, and when she seeks an escape, needs to clear her head with the help of her family back in Georgia because, you know, some of this she might need to talk to someone about, who's there to interrupt? I bet you can guess, Christian Grey. How romantic. But hey that's just a theory. A film theory.


External Links

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