The Fifty Shades of Grey movie is one of the biggest box office successes of all time, but beyond the film’s popularity, what did the audience learn from it? We ask leading experts.

The Rise Of Romantic Fantasies

Fifty Shades of Grey is a quintessential piece of modern culture, and its success helped to elevate the category of romantic fantasy to prestige status. Prior to the novel and the movie, the romantic fantasy had primarily existed in literature and art, with films like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the Japanese anime Princess Mononoke being some of the few significant examples. Despite this, the romantic fantasy had largely remained a niche interest, available only to a small audience, and often criticized for being unrealistic.

Fifty Shades of Grey changed all that, elevating the romantic fantasy to popularity and ubiquity with its blend of literary and paranormal elements, coupled with the X-factor that is Christian Grey. The novel is credited with transforming the industry, and the film is widely considered a masterpiece.

What Is Romantic Fantasies?

Romantic fantasy is a broad category that includes fair isle, bodice ripper, and Dark Isle, among others. The common element is that the story follows a heterosexual couple as the woman tries to win the heart of the man, while the supernatural or paranormal elements add an extra layer of excitement.

The popularity of the romantic fantasy is evident in several ways. First, searches for romantic fantasy-themed weddings and honeymoons have increased by 54 percent and 77 percent, respectively, since 2010. Second, the wedding cake industry is worth an estimated £11bn annually, with the most popular varieties, such as white chocolate and red velvet, unsurprisingly becoming all the rage since the inception of the genre.

Why Do Women Prefer Romantic Fantasies?

In a nutshell, because of Christian Grey. The character was originally conceived as a dark reflection of billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Carlos Slim, and author EL James incorporated elements of her own life into the character, notably her relationship with hip-hop artist Wayne Coombs. What makes Christian Grey so special is that he combines a life of comfort and luxury with an insatiable appetite for BDSM (bondage, dominance/submission, and masochism). As a result, James crafted the perfect romantic partner for women – wealthy, powerful, and sophisticated, yet also a complete slave to his passions.

Whether through coercion or seduction, Christian Grey is always quick to offer women what they want – his wallet and his services. Indeed, he is often credited with kick-starting the sex trade in popular culture.

According to a February 2017 Loverslab study, women are more likely to respond to brands that feature strong male characters, prominent alpha-male imagery, and adventurous lifestyles. In other words, women are more likely to be attracted to brands that they perceive as being ‘boyish’, especially if those brands also feature wealthy or famous personalities.

Is This Genre BFF’s With Scandal And Political Dramas?

In the lead-up to the 2018 general election, a number of high-profile relationships were used as tools of political manipulation – from Theresa May’s dog-whistle campaign to the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism scandal to the various #MeToo revelations. But does this mean that the romantic fantasy is over?

Hardly. Although the genre has largely remained the realm of leisure reading and cinema viewers, dating apps and social media have ensured that the romance continues to be popular even in a political context. Take a look at the most-searched for online dating profiles in the UK over the last year, for example.

  • Horny animal – 173 searches
  • Scandal – 144 searches
  • Drama – 121 searches
  • Political scandal – 124 searches
  • MeToo – 119 searches
  • Thriller – 107 searches
  • Romantic fantasy – 100 searches

It seems that even in this febrile political environment, women are looking for a way to escape. Although the #MeToo movement and the various scandals that have ensued have undoubtedly raised important issues about gender inequality in society, for those seeking romance, the ideal man – or woman – is still very much in sight.

The Dark Side Of Digital Media

It’s fair to say that the romance genre has not been immune to misfortune in the digital age. Traditional outlets, such as book clubs and small-scale movie theaters, have been decimated by Netflix and other streaming platforms, and the way we consume content has changed forever. Can the romance survive the digital revolution?

Not so fast. Although the book and film industries have undoubtedly suffered, and will continue to do so, as a result of the pandora’s box that is digital media, technology can also be used to combat the issue. For instance, Netflix and other streaming platforms, while undoubtedly popular, are not invulnerable to piracy. If enough people want to avoid a certain story or character, Netflix (and similar platforms) can’t give it to them all – especially as they can’t control how many devices that their customers use to access the content.

As a result, the book and film industries have had to get creative, and new platforms have been developed that cater to the romance enthusiast, such as Lovereading and Bookworms.

Additionally, although the romance genre may have started as a leisure activity, today’s readers have increasingly demanded that their favorite stories be reflected in modern day issues. This resulted in the creation of numerous social media accounts, in the form of blogs and vlogs, that comment on current affairs through stories inspired by the romance genre.

The Future Of The Genre

Even before the advent of social media, the romance genre was in a state of flux, with the traditional ‘nice guy’ and ‘babe magnet’ archetype becoming less and less relevant, as dating apps and digital media enabled more individuals to independently court a potential partner. Despite this, the romance genre, as we know it, survives to this day, having adapted and evolved to fit the changing times – just like the rest of society.

Now, more than ever before, the romance reader and the romance movie fan have the power to shape the genre’s future, due to the increasing presence of social media, and the resulting influence that individuals can have on others. In other words, the romance genre is truly a microcosm of modern society, as individuals are able to express themselves through the media that they consume – particularly with regards to dating apps, where the ideal profile picture is often a smiling, well-groomed female, because, as we’ve established, women are more likely to be attracted to brands that they perceive as being ‘boyish’.

Whether through coercion or seduction, Christian Grey is still quick to offer women what they want, and if social media is to be believed, that desire is more powerful than ever before.