Cover for all sorts of grime.

However the book series Fifty Shades of Grey came to be wildly popular, I’ll let social scientists figure out and help us sort through the ravages of our culture for the past five decades or so. But because it has turned into a heavily funded, slickly filmed and produced, and very cleverly marketed big budget film about to be released for Valentine’s Day weekend – a real twist of ironies there – people need to be aware of what this is all about. So many aren’t. Zac Alstin tried to help out here.

From its first pages Fifty Shades of Grey is firmly situated in the realms of mediocre fan fiction, beginning with an awkward and clichéd scene in which the protagonist helpfully describes her own appearance in the mirror. It continues with a quality of prose and characterisation that would be hard to reconcile with the book’s success but for the knowledge that the “erotic romance” genre is underpinned by readers’ sexual fantasies – in this case, the sexual fantasies of a hundred million Twilight readers already primed for an R-rated elaboration of their favourite tale of forbidden love…

As one author put it: “Two years ago, it was all vampires. Now it’s BDSM. Kink is the new vamp.”

Unfortunately BDSM does actually exist, whereas vampires do not…

Put those thoughts together and go to Miriam Grossman, featured here already for her expert insight and advice on the issues related to the themes of Shades of Grey. She speaks with expertise of those young readers primed for an elaboration on tales of forbidden love, without understanding the true nature of love. In fact, Dr. Grossman has written a four part series to help navigate this cultural minefield. It’s well done, from the first post, a parent survival guide on how to talk with teens and young adults about the subject.

There’s a lot for them to figure out, but they’re utterly lost. What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?

Please know, these are kids who by and large do well in other areas. They’re successful at school and with friends; some of them are accomplished musicians and athletes. But romance? That’s where they’re thrown off-track, and there are lots of tears, anger, and regret.

I often wonder to myself, I know this kid has responsible, loving parents…where are they?

Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.

Now brace youselves…

The perfect opportunity is here. Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day is Fifty Shades of Grey. With Universal Picture’s mega million dollar publicity campaign, and a soundtrack by Beyonce, your child is about to be bombarded with a dangerous message about romance.

That’s a gift?

Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates and threatens. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.

You know these are foul lies, but your kids may not be sure. If the world was a better place, they would never hear such awful things. But this is the world we live in.

The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.

You can prepare for this with a little homework.

1. Learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – this will give you credibility. Do this by reading a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia. If you want more than that, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).

2. Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time with your child. Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, consider a bribe: There’s something really important I want to talk about. If you turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat, I’ll give you five bucks. There’s nothing wrong with this.

My goal is this: by Valentine’s Day, you’re going to say: thank you, Universal Pictures. I used to procrastinate about talking with my child about this difficult subject. But Fifty Shades is so extreme, so over the top, that I had to step up to the plate. And I’m so pleased I did…because we had one of the most important conversations of our lives.

Good advice. Because these young people engaging entertainment media and pop culture all the time are sure confused. But so are their parents. I had Patrick Trueman on my program this week, former Justice Department head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and current President of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, to discuss how his organization is engaging this rollout of what he repeatedly called hardcore porn pitched as romantic fantasy. He said the film promotes torture, abuse and sadomasochism, normalizes domestic violence, and particularly violence against women.

That same afternoon, a young friend excitedly planning her wedding told me anxiously about two women she knew who were planning to see the film when it comes out on Valentine’s Day weekend. One was her mother-in-law-to-be. The other was a friend who works at an abused women’s shelter. This, declared my friend, is the extent to which people are clueless about the harsh, perverse and graphic reality of this film. And it highlights the need to inform them. 

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....