Noelle cannot wait for Fifty Shades of Grey to hit her small town’s movie theater.
The twenty-something waitress at Piggy Sue’s, a popular barbecue restaurant in Monticello, Ark., says she has waited “forever” to see the steamy chemistry between the controlling Christian Grey and the virgin Anastasia Steele on the big screen.
“That book: two thumbs up,” she says, giddily. “I don’t even read very many books, but I read that one.”
In Bill Clinton’s Arkansas, Noelle is not alone in her anticipation of the long-awaited movie adaption of the bondage novel. Theaters in the state have already sold hundreds of tickets to this weekend’s premiere that hits at midnight on Valentine’s Day with many women buying a dozen at a time.
According to online ticket seller Fandango, Arkansas is one of the top states for advance ticket sales. Only the state’s next door neighbor, Mississippi, has more impressive numbers. Alabama, where sex toys are still banned by law, is also a top seller for tickets, as is West Virginia and Kentucky.
Don’t be fooled by the Republican South with its conservative politicians. Sure, the Bible Belt is a region where a church sits on every corner, and scripture is pumped into children before they hit kindergarten. But that atmosphere also breeds repression that, in turn, creates an erotic underbelly of sin.
What you see is never what you get in Dixie.
It’s a place where children’s dance studios double as hardcore bondage clubs after midnight, PTA moms secretly work as strippers and office buildings masquerade as swinger clubs. Yet, even in this sexual hothouse where porn is consumed more than in any other region in the country, hardcore fantasies are still often kept to one’s self.
That is until Fifty Shades of Grey gave Southern women permission to dish about handcuffs and dildos in restaurants, beauty salons and at high-dollar fundraisers. Unlike Noelle, many won’t admit that they have read the book, plan to see the movie or get aroused by the thought of Christian Grey wielding a riding crop on them, but they still want to giggle about all of it.
Because of Mr. Grey, the sex toy business is thriving in Arkansas. One adult store franchise, Seductions, is using the movie to lure new female customers who may have been too timid in the past to visit the store. The chain launched a social media campaign to give away 200 tickets to a midnight showing of the movie in Little Rock if customers signed up for their online newsletter. Mandy Shoptaw, who is organizing the event, says that nearly all of the tickets are taken.
The chain also sells the popular “Fifty Shades of Grey: The Official Pleasure Collection,” which includes an array of lotions, potions, chains and whips in grey box sets. “Here in Arkansas, that’s the big thing for Valentine’s Day, especially the box sets,” Shoptaw says.
While women are buying Ben Wa balls, blindfolds and riding crops, could there be a subconscious psychological twist to the slaps and tickles?
If women follow Christian and Anastasia’s sex rules, their unleashed sexuality plays perfectly into fundamental Bible teachings where women are taught to be submissive and obedient to their husbands.
Anastasia, the innocent college virgin, didn’t even masturbate until she met the experienced Christian, who turns her into his sex slave. He sends her a contract that outlines her role as his Submissive, the relationship’s rules and his role as her master. The contract adds that he will take responsibility for “the well-being and the proper training, guidance, and discipline of the Submissive.”
Such contracts are required in BDSM circles for protection of both parties. However, in that world, women often play the role of master. In fundamental Christian relationships, like ones in Southern Baptist churches, women often still play the role of submissive. Women are sometimes told by church leaders to submit to their husbands, accept physical affection and allow their husbands to support and direct them. While Christian and Anastasia are not married, he certainly rules the roost in every aspect of their relationship.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” may promote submissiveness against a love story backdrop, but religious leaders aren’t buying it. They are still urging their congregations to boycott the movie, citing it as perverted smut.
“The marketing of this movie by mainstream media is leading to the normalization of pornography. Make no mistake, Fifty Shades of Grey is pornography,” Southern Baptist pastor Jay Dennis, founder of the One Million Men anti-pornography ministry in Florida, told Baptist Press. “There is absolutely nothing good that could come from exposing your mind to that which will lead to sinful sexual thoughts and temptations. This is not something where you go see the movie for fun or to see what all the rage is about.”
Tsk, tsk, Mr. Dennis. Such disapproval is only going to make hot-and-bothered Southern belles crave what they shouldn’t have even more.