One of the perks of our jobs is that we occasionally get invited to various kinds of cocktail hours. Recently, we accepted an invitation to a celebration of the Fifty Shades Darker DVD release, not knowing what to expect. Below, Madeleine and Kate attempt to parse their night.
Madeleine: Hello Kate. How are you feeling on this rainy and slow Friday?
Kate: Since we’re journalists, I’m going to be very honest: Not good. It’s strange, given that last night started out as one of the best evenings of my life.
Madeleine: I like that you remind everyone that we’re journalists because you and I did some real gonzo reporting last night that resulted in us drinking our own weight in champagne…for the story.
Kate: I actually have “do it for the blog” tattooed on a part of my body that won’t be named on this family website. Since it was your idea, do you want to explain to everyone why we suffered in the name of content?
Madeleine: Suffered, she says! As if I didn’t bring her to the event of the year! Also, everyone knows about your labia tattoo—you show it to every person you meet!
But yes, I will explain: I recently received an email from a publicist inviting me to a “Live Like Ana” Evening—a celebration of the Fifty Shades Darker DVD release that featured a screening of a film that you and I have both already seen, as well as a Q&A with Fifty Shades writer E.L. James, or—as she was known around the party—“Erika.” Other than that, details were limited and I’m not entirely sure what made me immediately say, “Yes, I want to attend and I’m bringing Kate with me.” I guess that will remain one of life’s great mysteries.
Kate: It’s weird; beforehand I thought that was more than enough information, but once we got there, I realized I had no idea why anyone else was attending. Once we descended into the lower levels of the Whitby Hotel (conveniently located near Trump Tower on the day our fair president was returning to New York for a lovely visit), and were greeted by the first of what appeared to be dozens of masked men who would haunt me the whole evening, the whole thing got even more confusing. Was it for press? Fans? We knew why we were there, but the backgrounds of those who surrounded us were entirely unclear.
Madeleine: The masked men, who were all in tuxedos and brought guests drinks, were hired from a service called ManServants and the invite promised that they would “pamper attendees like Christian pampers Ana.” (Though we were later told that they were allegedly forbidden from spanking or pretending to spank the guests, even if they were asked to.) Did you feel pampered, Kate? Or just frightened?
Kate: By the end of the night, I had accepted their role as beautiful beings whose purpose was to wait on me. But I will admit that it took me several hours to relax into that conceit, as the photo of the two of us surrounded by them early on in the evening quite obviously indicates my discomfort. (Note the lower right, where my ManServant is attempting to smell or nuzzle me and I am distracted by a falling rose.)
A lot of the other women seemed to like it though so maybe I’m just a freak.
Madeleine: I definitely found it startling, as well, even saying something like “Oh, there are a lot of you” when we first walked in. At one point, I asked someone where the bathroom was and he told one of the ManServants to escort me. My immediate response was something like, “Oh, god, no.” Nice to know, though, that this poor struggling model from Iowa or wherever was willing to escort me to the can.
I want to explain the layout of this event for everyone because they had clearly put a lot of money into making it special. There were three rooms: The first was where the bar was. A second room featured costumes from the movie, a lot of black candles (which Kate accurately described as “very Kris Jenner”), a photo booth where ManServants would smolder at you and (questionably) pose like they were smelling your neck (see above), and a series of makeup chairs with vanity mirrors where makeup artists were cheerfully giving guests “Ana’s signature look.” The third room was the “Red Room” and it was terrifying.
Kate: It was super weird; it featured whips, a ManServant reading Fifty Shades Darker out loud to no one, and one mirrored wall that made it so that I thought the room was two times larger than it was. I wanted to get out of the room as quickly as possible, and made that happen.
Plus, we had to make it back to the other rooms to take part in the ACTIVITIES. And it was during one of them—getting our lips done in the same shades that Anastasia wears in the movie—that we actually learned who the hell this event was for: Fifty Shades superfans who are so committed to the brand that they do things like fly around the world on their own dime to watch the movie film! What a beautiful land we live in, where people can see their passions through and a kind stranger will explain to you what’s going on around you and why everyone is wearing considerably nicer clothing than you are.
Madeleine: We were extremely underdressed. A ManServant told me I looked lovely and you whispered, “I think he’s mocking you?” And, to be fair, you had a point—I was wearing sneakers at an event where everyone else was in cocktail attire. (A dress code was NOT specified on the invite.) So yes, it turned out that we were in a room with not only Fifty Shades fans, but the world’s BIGGEST Fifty Shades fans. This made me very excited to watch the movie with them because I had a feeling that things were going to get wild—and not only because they were giving us sippy cups full of booze (one cocktail with gin was called “the Christian” and the other, with vodka, was called “the Anastasia”) to take into the theater.
Kate: The intensity of their fandom got clearer and clearer as the night went on, through their laughter during the Q&A when E.L. James would reference moments in the book a layperson would not have recalled (E.L James: “It rains in Vancouver 99.999 percent of the time.” Fan: “I remember that”) or the set of women who brought a MASSIVE poster of Jamie Dornan’s face for her to sign. These are women who really truly love Fifty Shades—as the women who sat next to us during the movie explained, they’re part of “the 50,” which are apparently 50 of the biggest fans of the franchise, all hand-picked by James herself. This explains why she greeted some like friendly acquaintances instead of total strangers. It also explains why the women were not, shall we say, as light-hearted about chatting during a movie everyone there had already seen before as we were. Madeleine, you got a laugh when you shouted your now classic line, “Show us the dick!” but after that….things cooled considerably.
Madeleine: Yes. As I mentioned before, I was really excited to watch the movie with these ladies because I thought they were going to be rowdy. Before the movie started, I told you that attending events targeted at horny women is one of my favorite things and I was not lying. But “the 50” does NOT seem to have a sense of humor about Fifty Shades, which seems impossible considering how almost universally panned all of the books and movies are. Coincidentally, you and I ended up sitting next to the only two other non mega fans. One of them made a joke during the movie (hard not to do) and was shushed! Worth noting that at this point—having only eaten one passed hors d’oeuvres and a (delicious) cupcake—I was fucking hammered.
Kate: Don’t forget the popcorn, passed to us by a friendly ManServant. I don’t even like popcorn that much but this was delicious—the perfect amount of salt and butter.
To be honest, while I found their seriousness about the movie startling, in the light of day and through the pain of my hangover (I should have listened when the kindly bartender said “They’re strong,” when handing us our beverages), we were the interlopers. They were having a great evening doing something they loved; we were having a great evening doing something we love but for very different reasons. The event was intended for them, and it clearly delivered. I had intended to stay for the whole film, but wow did things take some time, and all of a sudden it was 10:30 and you were basically falling asleep in the chair next to me.
Madeleine: I was falling asleep ON you. And you’re absolutely right. I genuinely felt/feel a little like a monster because I was not prepared to take everything in earnestly, unlike those around us. And as you fairly point out, the event delivered and, even as a Fifty Shades novice, I had a great time! I can also appreciate that E.L. James knows how her bread is buttered and takes the time to make her hardcore fans happy. I thought it was kind of sweet, even though the night ended with me accidentally stealing a ManServant’s mask, sending some regrettable texts, and vomiting the second I got home.
Kate: I was greeted by a lease renewal with a significant, unexpected increase, which was unrelated to the events of the evening, but certainly soured my mood. However, in the light of day I called up my landlord, negotiated down the price, and you know what? That has nothing to do with Fifty Shades but I wanted to share because it’s an inspiring story of something I did despite being very hungover!
Despite the damage I did to myself, I had a great time, particularly because I am now the proud owner of one of Anastasia’s lipsticks and it looks great on me.
Madeleine: Yes, it does. Laters, baby.