The young miss alerted me to the pope’s remarks about spanking. She was not reading the full general audience address, but a boiled-down version of this:

Certainly, he also knows how to correct with firmness: he is not a weak father, submissive and sentimental. The father who knows how to correct without humiliating is the one who knows how to protect without sparing himself. Once I heard a father at a meeting on marriage say: “Sometimes I have to strike the children lightly… but never in the face so as not to humiliate them”. How beautiful! He has a sense of dignity. He must punish, but he does it in a just way, and moves on.

What is a light strike? Is it a tap? A push? A nudge?

What does humiliation look like? A parent can refrain from corporal punishment and still humiliate and abuse a child.

The larger context of the pope advocating for active fathers is a far better topic. But exploring corporal punishment a bit more, I would worry about the emotions raging out of control. There are times when children, beloved as they are, infuriate parents. Humiliation is tempting. Few of us pass the test with a 100% score.

Speaking of spanking, I’m curious about the furor over the film Fifty Shades of Grey. The students were planning a protest this week on “Fifty Shades of Chastity,” which is well-meaning, but perhaps misses some of the problem. Feminists and domestic abuse campaigners are also unhappy. As are booklovers, who, as far as  I can tell, think the series is trash from a sense of the abuse of literature as much or more than it is about the phenomenon of trashing and abusing someone in a relationship. So be it.

I’m not sure what my student friends will accomplish. The film company is raking in gross revenues. The local multiplex is selling a lot of overpriced popcorn and soda. Filmgoers are curious. To a degree, my own reaction is: it’s only a movie.

But is it? The Grey series, as far as I can tell, is romance fiction. My sister reads romance novels. It’s pretty lame stuff, but if it’s like the Hallmark movies I watch with my wife, it tugs at the heart, and aims at human affect. Even when poorly written or filmed, it can develop a sense of satisfaction in the consumer. Instead of a horse, a job loss, a chance reunion, or something bringing lovers together, EL James uses bondage tools and toys. I don’t think anybody’s ever written that yet in the harlequin series, so perhaps there’s a publisher’s curiosity to it.

I’m also curious that a book and film that are essentially a woman’s fantasy draws a good deal of attention, and in contrast men’s sex fantasies don’t usually find bishops on the warpath. By that I mean a concern about the glorification of violence–the spanking and worse that happens in gaming, films, and even super bowl commercials. I’ve seen the Kate Upton Game of War commercials. It’s pretty darn clear what that’s all about. Or maybe women are just an easier target when they’re in the creative backroom and not riding the horse. Christian Grey sure seemed to think so.

From wikipedia, the third book presents a happy ending for all. The fantasy is that a woman can change a man, that happily-ever-after triumphs again, and perhaps the stuff of addiction is overlooked or minimized. So the whole thing is just like another harlequin romance novel that cluttered the front porch when I was a teen.

Or maybe you readers see something beyond my tired cynicism that this is making a whole lot of money for some people, and they’re probably not vendors of sex toys.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Spanking

  1. Liam says:

    It’s melodrama and sentimentality – the cultivation of which is best suited to a consumerist culture. American popular culture disdains drama and tragedy, and prefers farce to comedy.

  2. Melody says:

    I haven’t read “50 Shades of Grey”, I try to stay away from poorly written trashy novels. It has been nicknamed “mommy porn”. My main objection to 50 Shades is the bad example it sets. We try to raise our daughters to respect themselves and stay away from abusive relationships. What kind of message would it send to a teenager if her mom was preaching to her about red flags to watch out for in a relationship, but this book was laying on the coffee table? Let’s see, a man who likes to hurt a woman in a sexual way, who doesn’t care about her feelings; don’t women go to shelters to get away from creeps like that? And later sequels apparently get even better; the woman can heal the man from his hatred of his mother and his sadistic tendencies by being kind and loving. Women who have deceived themselves that way have ended up dead.

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