When considering Seattle’s legacy in popular culture, a few things may come to mind: grunge, coffee, Macklemore, the enduring earnestness of Russell Wilson. On film, there’s Nora Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle. Maybe 10 Things I Hate About You and Safety Not Guaranteed if you’re looking for some deep cuts.
Well listen up, people. You’ve got it all wrong.
These days, the Emerald City might as well be known as the city of BDSM.
The Fifty Shades trilogy of erotic Seattle-set novels by E. L. James has sold well over 100 million copies and been translated into 52 languages since the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, became a best seller in 2012. The first two film adaptations combined netted nearly $300 million in domestic box office sales, more than Ephron’s 1993 romantic comedy ever made, even adjusted for inflation. With the release of the final film, Fifty Shades Freed, it’s time to reckon with the reality that Seattle’s most significant silver screen appearance doesn’t feature a widowed Tom Hanks on a Lake Union houseboat. It’s Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele blindfolded in Christian Grey’s sex dungeon.
What does this mean for a city so accustomed to being portrayed as a soggy fisherman’s town full of single dads looking for love or a soggy fisherman’s town full of marauding serial killers? It means maybe this is an opportunity to lighten up a little! I bet Milwaukee would love to be known as home to a terrifyingly handsome billionaire who slips into a pair of “dom jeans” worn expressly for sexy time and acts out power fantasies in his luxurious penthouse.
That apartment, by the way, is the Escala on Fourth Avenue and Virginia Street, a few blocks from the Seattle Met office. I’m no Fifty Shades fanatic, but I still think of Christian and Anastasia knocking boots and cracking whips up in that Red Room every single time I walk by the lobby.
So yes, we’ve become a city where at least some percentage of the tourist population skips the Space Needle to embark on the Shades of Romance Rendezvous at the Edgewater Hotel, a couple’s package replete with champagne, an Audi, and some sailing on the Sound (BYO dom jeans).
But you know what? Good. Seattle of all places should embrace the lowbrow with the high. We’re a wealthy, cosmopolitan city of freaks who go on a big naked bike ride every year. So, one last time, let’s all embrace Ana, the modest Washington State University Cougar who undergoes a sexual awakening in a dom-sub relationship and then (spoilers ahead) turns that into a healthy life full of money and family. Dismissing this iconic Seattle couple means we risk going back to talking about Russell and Ciara. And you know he’s not up for anything weird.