By Tom Demerly.

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I don’t care who owns Ironman. Here’s why.

Years ago I saw the race on TV. It was 1982. A woman stumbled to the finish and fell. A blonde man from California won. He was a lifeguard and drank smoothies. Another man from Brazil was the fastest swimmer. The day after the race he rescued a woman from drowning in the Pacific.

I watched them on TV, in the race. Their faces. The clothes they were wearing. The bikes they rode. And I realized something; this is really cool. This is special.

I grew up fat. So fat they put me in a special education phys ed. class in junior high. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher in that class. He taught me to believe in myself. He taught me to never give up. He taught me that with work come results.

Later, in the Army, I learned he was right. I also learned that its what you do that counts, not what you wear or what you look like. Your actions define you. Not uniforms or special hats or patches or medals. Or tattoos or T-shirts or finisher medals.

The only thing that matters is what you do. Not your tattoo, your medal, your T-shirt.

Our sport has changed. People ask, “How little can I do and still reach the finish line?” They want the medal, the shirt, the tattoo. It’s important to them, and those icons help define them. That’s not wrong. It just is.

But I don’t care. I don’t care who owns Ironman. It’s still long, hard, hot and difficult. Every mile has 5,280 feet. It isn’t shorter, easier, cheaper (that’s for sure) or somehow “less”.

You can do an Ironman any day of the week. Swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 then run 26.2. When you’re done, you’ve done it. You finished. You don’t need a T-shirt, a medal, a tattoo.

You do need courage, determination, confidence, endurance and strength. You can’t buy those things anywhere. No one else owns those. No one needs to see proof. Just you. Only you really own it.

By Tom Demerly.

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Protesters outside Walter Palmer’s dental office, which is now closed, on Wednesday, July 29th in Minnesota.

Cecil the Lion is dead.

Cecil’s death and our reactions say a lot about mankind. None of it is good.

People are calling for the death of the hunter who killed Cecil the Lion. “He should die the same way Cecil died…” “He doesn’t deserve to live…” “I’d shoot him myself and not feel a thing…” are comments on my Facebook feed.

The hunter is a dentist from Minnesota. Social media and news reports say his practice is closed now, he has removed his social media and he and his family have received threats.

The people who write those threats aren’t far removed from the act they are criticizing. While these sentiments seem harmless and passionate on social media they are the violent rants of people removed from the harsh reality of much of the world. And they feed that harsh reality with their vitriol.

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A friend and wise man named Seth Y. observed on Facebook that the same week Cecil the Lion was killed a 12-year old girl in Nigeria blew herself up and killed 10 people in a suicide attack. The day before a 17-year old girl did the same, killing 20. There is also a civil war in Sudan, on the same continent where Cecil the Lion died, that has displaced 2 million people, many suffering from malaria, dysentery and cholera. There isn’t much about that in the social media feeds.

We didn’t grow up on charming Disney animated movies about Nigerian suicide bomber girls or cholera epidemics, so there is little sympathy for the suicide bombing or the refuge crises. Instead we are incensed by the crucifixion of a Kimba surrogate and, in our vast empathy and righteousness, call for the perpetrators head. That makes us not much better.

That’s no more right that killing Cecil in the first place.

Violence and cruelty only end one way: stop the cycle. Stop the cycle of revenge, retaliation, retribution. This includes the vitriol toward the man who shot Cecil. There is a great Arabic proverb, “The wisest is the one who can forgive.” And another that says, “It is wise to forgive, but unwise to forget.”

The sympathy for Cecil the Lion is well founded. He died a horrible and needless death. But the calls for harm to his killer have no more merit than the character of the man who killed him. That man lives in his own private prison. He carries the burden of every life he has taken. To threaten him is to join him.

Our outrage at Cecil the Lion’s murder is well founded. Our behavior surrounding it is shameful. Our cycle of justified violence and exploitation of nature is the downward spiral that could eventually end this illusion we call “civilization”. There really never has been much civil about it.

If you are truly outraged at the needless and tragic death of Cecil the Lion, then do something about it. Volunteer one Sunday at an animal shelter. Donate $50 to a fund that preserves wildlife. Write a letter to the Zimbabwean Embassy in the U.S. (Embassy of Zimbabwe, 1608 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20009 [202] 332-7100), adopt an animal from a shelter and give it a good life. Do something positive so the tragic and needless death of this lion becomes a rallying point for good rather than a lynch mob that destroys another life.

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By Tom Demerly.

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When he started, no one thought he could do it: Complete 50 Ironman distance triathlons in 50 states in 50 days. But he’s done it. And in doing so, he’s changed our concept of what is possible. He is James Lawrence from Utah, 38 years old; The Iron Cowboy.

Ironman has become a tattoo, a brand and an object of conspicuous consumption. A logo on a warehouse club fleece jacket bought after a race.

Before that, back on a beach in Hawaii on February 18, 1978, it was something else. And thanks to Iron Cowboy, it gets back to its roots of pushing through barriers rather than stopping at them to buy a logo-ed jacket and get a tattoo.

Iron Cowboy ran straight through all the marketing. Knocked down the barriers. He reminds us that Anything is Possible. And he did it without the licensing fees and waiting lists. He really Just Did It. The finish line is also tomorrow’s start line. It really isn’t over when it’s over. It’s only over when we stop.

One of the things he demonstrated is that we’ve been pretty lazy, pretty complacent, somewhat petty and oddly “consumer-ish” in our approach to Endurance sports. We just want the tattoo. And fleece jacket. And hat. And bumper sticker. And license plate. And bike number. And…

Ironman built it, and we bought it. Until The Cowboy, it had gotten stagnant, the needle stuck at 140.6.

There are longer races, there are harder races; Marathon des Sables is one. But without the mega promotion and the TV deals and the brand licensing they have remained off the everyman’s radar.

Iron Cowboy ran around the outside of the licensing fees that have been attached to the use of any reference to The Full Distance and made a mockery of dots and “M”s and tattoos. And in doing so he undid, in 50 days, what has taken nearly four decades to do. He reminds us that human limits exist only in our minds. That, unless we continue to push our concept of limits, that wet blanket we call “impossible” begins to settle heavily over us.

When Ironman Hawaii started it was also thought to be impossible by some, injurious by most. Now finishing Ironman is commonplace. It isn’t easy, but it is common.

So The Cowboy just raised the bar. And while Ironman, just one, lowly Ironman done in good conditions after months of training, good nutrition and careful tapering, is somehow made “smaller” in context by James Lawrence, the “Iron Cowboy”, it also remains a significant challenge.

But now we are reminded that there are many accomplishments beyond the finish line at Ironman, and that there is much more to our capabilities than logos or tattoos.

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James Lawrence, 38 years old from Utah, completes 50 consecutive Ironmans in 50 days in 50 states on July 26, Sunday.

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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Is road cycling dangerous? What are the chances of being hit by a car while riding on the road? Can cyclists manage risk while riding in a shared bicycle/car environment?

The perception is that road cycling is more dangerous today than a decade ago. And, that driver distraction and higher traffic volume have increased the risk and frequency of car/bike accidents.

There is one problem with this perception: The data does not support it. In fact, there is data to suggest that road cycling is statistically safer today per rider than ten years ago if you compare the frequency of reported accidents to the rate of growth in road and triathlon cycling.

Gina Kolata is a writer for The New York Times. In an October 2013 article published by the Times she wrote, “What remain [in cycling safety studies] are often counterintuitive statistics on the waxing and waning of cycling in the United States, along with some injury studies that could give cyclists pause.” By contrast, in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) 2004-2012 Final File, 2013 Annual Report File (ARF) published by the U.S. Department of Transportation we actually discover only a 2.8% increase in reported cycling fatalities, from 727 in 2004 to 743 in 2013. This statistic is particularly relevant since cycling fatalities must be reported by law, whereas non-fatal accidents have no formal reporting requirement even if the victim receives medical treatment.

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Compare this change in cycling fatalities with the growth in the cycling sports: The Outdoor Foundation.org reports a significant “174% growth in Traditional Road Triathlon Participation in the last five years”. The foundation went on to report that, “Activities with high percentages of first-time participants in 2012 included stand up paddling, boardsailing/windsurfing and non-traditional and traditional triathlons.”

Even if you discount the statistics for cycling fatalities and triathlon growth each by 50%, the trend remains clear: Serious road cycling/car accidents are becoming less common per rider.

Why has the perception of road cycling evolved into a belief that riding on the roads in more dangerous than ever? There are likely several reasons.

When you conduct a survey of the literature on cycling accidents you discover that cycling safety statistics are pretty dry, while Facebook and social media posts about accidents are pretty sensational. This proliferation of social media posts about cycling accidents contrasted with boring accident analysis likely contributes to the misconception that cycling is more dangerous than ever.

This last decade has produced a new culture of sport cyclists, many of them attracted to cycling by triathlons. Triathlon is fed by several demographics; participants completely new to endurance sports, participants coming into triathlon from distance running, participants coming from a collegiate sports background. None of these three backgrounds emphasize technical bike handling skills. Few triathlon clubs conduct bike handling and group ride skills clinics. As a result this new culture of performance cyclists are racing their bikes on the roads in triathlons but may not be practicing bike handling and real-world road riding skills.

Road cyclists often default to anecdote when discussing cycling safety in traffic: “Yeah, but my friend knows a girl who was hit by a car and…”

As it happens, I am fluent in the language of cycling accident anecdote. I have been hit three times by cars while riding my bike. My lifelong best friend was killed by a car while riding his bike. I’ve had broken bones, torn skin, destroyed bikes and lost my best friend. A cursory examination of my first person experiences might point to a knee-jerk analysis like this: “See… the sport is dangerous, and your experiences prove it.”

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But there is more to each of my experiences. In each instance when a car hit me I contributed, partially or entirely, to the accident. In one I was riding in adverse weather, another I rolled a stop sign on a residential street and the third was just after dark when I was caught without lights. In short, I was at least partially responsible for the accidents. In the instance when my best friend was killed, he was riding in the dark on a busy road with a high speed limit by a drunk driver with an obscured windshield. It was the culmination of the most dangerous factors; the perfect storm.

Therein lies a lesson: Risk can be managed and moderated, but that management must be willful and methodical.

Perhaps the best practitioner of risk management is the military. The military’s model for risk management is simple: Meticulous preparation. Training, learning techniques, drilling key skills again and again. Crawl, walk, run. As a result, soldier preparation and survival on the modern battlefield, the deadliest in history, is better than ever. On both the road and in the water, multisport athletes could take a lesson from military training doctrines in risk management and training for riding in a real world environment.

Cyclists have taken an opposite approach: Avoidance. New cyclists tend to seek ride environments they perceive as less risky rather than work on skills for riding in the real world. New cyclists gravitate toward perceived cycling preserves like Metroparks and bike trails.

There are three problems with the risk avoidance approach; it does not teach necessary cycling skills, it does not reflect the broader cycling environment and it creates a false sense of security at the possible cost of taking time to learn good bike handling and road cycling skills. In fact, in a strange flip-flop of statistical trends, it appears as though areas around Metroparks in Michigan tend to have a higher frequency of accidents than do remote, rural and even low traffic density urban roads like streets in Downtown Detroit and the Michigan Downriver area.

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Perhaps the most significant contributor to the cycling-risk dogma is social media. I’ve been a victim, and a villain, of social media misreporting on cycling accidents myself. Several weeks ago a multiple-fatality car accident at a local Metropark was initially reported on social media as a cycling accident. It wasn’t a cycling accident. I shared the reports that the accident was a multiple fatality bike accident. When I learned the accident didn’t involve any cyclists at all, I deleted it from my Facebook page. But the story had already been widely seen and shared. The damage was done. What I should have done is checked the facts before I posted about the accident.

What is the truth about road cycling safety? I interviewed the executive director of the National Bicycle Dealer Association (NBDA), Fred Clements, about trends in road cycling safety. Clements, an experienced industry observer and critic, characterized it well:

“I would consider road cycling to be reasonably safe, though it has much to do with your skills, where you are, and what routes you choose. With reasonable care, the risk can be minimized. The risk is not as great as some people may believe.”

While some may suggest Clements’ perspective is skewed by his position in the industry- that this is the fox watching the hen house- the statistics support his suggestion that road cycling is not as risky as the social media dogma has scared us into believing.

A key reality is that cyclists must assume responsibility for their own safety. Until they do through improved skill training, selecting better routes and being pragmatic instead of sensational then the inaccurate perception that cycling is increasingly dangerous will continue to proliferate.

 

 

 

 

 

BY TOM DEMERLY.

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A Victoria’s Secret ad run on Facebook after I used Photoshop to retouch back to what I thought were normal looking, physically fit females.

 

Top fashion brands like Victoria’s Secret have taken heat from consumers and media for manipulating the appearance of their models through both real diet and exercise regimes and also by using photo retouching techniques to make the models appear thinner, taller, and without skin blemishes.

I wondered what would happen if I used Adobe Photoshop to retouch a Victoria’s Secret ad seen on Facebook in the other direction. I wanted to make the models look more “average”, more like my impression of what physically fit females actually look like. Here are the results seen side by side.

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The original ad on the left, my retouched version on the right. It took a lot of work to get rid of all that “thigh gap”.

 

The project took about 20 minutes in Photoshop, and I am not a skilled user. I used the “liquify” tool, the rubber stamp tool and the masking tool. For an expert in Photoshop the results would be better and quicker.

When I put the two photos next to each other I was struck by how truly bizarre the actual Victoria’s Secret ad looks. The two girls in the center with bare midriffs look truly weird in the real ad, and look a lot more realistic in my Photoshopped version.

The thing that struck me the most was that the ad I Photoshopped now looked pretty reasonable. The actual ad, before my Photoshop, looked freakish.

I don’t know how much (if any) Photoshop is done in an ad like this one for Victoria’s Secret. I do know it took 20 minutes of work to restore the image to my perception of a more normal, fit looking bunch of girls on the beach.

 

By Tom Demerly.

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The heart and reality of modern triathlon is the everyday hero, not the thigh-gap supermodel.

Who does triathlons in the United States today? What does the “average” triathlete look like?

Industry dogma suggests all triathletes are high wage earners between 30 and 45 who aspire to race Ironman (or already have). They own a $10K bike, race wheels and a power meter. Their household income is above $120K and they have a graduate level degree. They are the marketer’s dream come true: Young, affluent, fit and shopping.

There are two problems with that “demographic”: it’s outdated and likely wrong. Why?

Set the way-back machine to December 2007. Economists agree this is when the Great Recession started in the United States. It ravaged personal discretionary income and decimated those just hanging on to upper middle class. Many haven’t recovered to pre-recession income and savings levels even though the recovery has thundered ahead, dropping them from the pack like a newbie on their first group ride. Those that have recovered or never suffered an economic loss may be reluctant to part with cash earned during the stock market gains of the past seven years. Americans seem less eager to carry debt, despite an ominous recent spike in credit card debt. Discretionary spending decisions have tightened in the post-recession era.

Many of the tired marketing statistics rehashed about triathlon were collected prior to the 2007 recession– and haven’t been updated since. The post-recession demographics for triathlon have changed.

Americans have also changed physically. We’re heavier- all of us. The number of svelte, uber-athletes is smaller now than it was 20 years ago relative to the general populace, who apparently has been spending what’s left of their shrinking discretionary incomes on Krispy-Kremes, not qualifying for Kona.

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Americans, including triathletes, have gotten heavier and may continue to as a population. Triathlon has failed to market effectively to that reality.

As a result of this economic and health demographic shift triathlon has filled from the bottom. The sport is growing from an increasing number of new athletes who are more average, heavier, less athletic but still inspired to participate– if not necessarily compete.

This is good news for the triathlon industry if they become more pragmatic about who is really doing triathlons. History suggests the triathlon industry isn’t very realistic about its own consumership. It continues to (try to) market to the svelte, Kona demographic in print and internet media- even though the inspirational stories that bring people into the sport are usually the saga of the everyman participant who had to overcome to participate, and doesn’t really compete.

This fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between Participation and Competition is what continues to hold the triathlon industry back. It is also why retailers have a hard time earning consistent profits from a market they are increasingly out of touch with.

There has never been an ad campaign in triathlon featuring realistically sized, average age group triathletes. In fact, the same rebellion that has happened in women’s apparel marketing with consumers raging against brands like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch is ready to happen in triathlon. The middle 90% wants triathlon to “get real” about who is actually participating, and they don’t care about who’s racing in Kona.

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Triathlete Niecia Staggs and his Ocean Swim Club at Torrance Beach, California represent the athlete constituency that truly pushes triathlon forward.

 

A gold standard metric for triathlon marketers and product managers has been the “Kona Bike Count”, a census of brands and models seen in the transition area of the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona, Hawaii each year. This increasingly irrelevant set of metrics is still used to (try to) sell everything from race wheels to bikes to power meters. There is one problem though- as the sport fills from the bottom the assumption that every participant aspires to emulate the couple thousand athletes in Kona is statistically flawed.

A bike company may devote six figures and more to developing the next triathlon “super bike” costing over $5000 (and even $10K) but they have failed to develop inspiring new designs in entry-level triathlon bikes. If a bike company introduced a comfortable, high head-tube bike with aerobars and a comfortable saddle with an aero appearance at the $1500-$2200 price point it would be an easy decision for new triathletes. New triathletes aren’t interested in the tired marketing paradigm of wind-tunnel white paper dogma that is debated ad nauseam among a shrinking number of triathlon Internet forum mavens. They just want to sit upright on their bikes, be comfortable, look presentable and have a good experience at their triathlon.

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Apparel and personal care brands have begun to leverage an inclusive, realistic approach to expand brand awareness and foster broader-appeal sales. Numbers say the approach is working.

Apparel manufacturers have missed the mark too, alienating prospective customers with images of sponsored pros with little or no recognition among average triathletes and building clothing that is too tight, too short and in size runs that are humiliating to try on. If a forward thinking triathlon apparel brand introduced a tactfully marketed apparel line called “PR” with upward-adjusted size runs, modest cuts and middle-road visual appeal they would outsell too-tight, mis-sized brands designed to fit anorexic Kona winners.

The idea of every triathlete being the “alpha consumer” isn’t accurate anymore. Triathlon has changed. The sport is filling from the bottom. It has become an “everyman and everywoman” sport. The vision of the triathlete as a super fit, alpha-consumer threatens the sport by becoming increasingly exclusionary. It fails to welcome new athletes and creates barriers to entry like body image and entry price.

There will be big and quick rewards for the first triathlon brands who acknowledge this in their product mix and marketing message. The money is there to make, but it must be earned through pragmatic product design and judicious, ego-free marketing. The first brands to reach the finish line of the new, realistic paradigm in triathlon marketing will be the new podium finishers on the top of the sales charts long after the “winners” of the Kona Bike Count are forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

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If you made it to this review, you’re somehow curious. And that is the premise that Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey works on: curiosity.

If you want me to tell you that Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad movie, then leave now.

Fifty Shades of Grey is every guilty dessert you’ve ever had, and crave again. A sticky, corny, breathless mix of horny inference and naughty voyeurism combined with a visual and aural experience that is incredibly satisfying for those open to admit it. For everyone else, Disney is releasing a new version of Cinderella on March 13.

But Fifty Shades hits all the grown-up hot buttons of Cinderella, Titanic, The Beach, Dracula and every other cliché’ romantic theme, and it spins these clichés freshly enough for two very rapt hours. On a cold winter’s night, that is pretty damn hot.

Firstly, Fifty Shades of Gray is a visual treat. With beautiful, escapist sets, wardrobes and music this is the 120+ minute escape from reality we buy a movie a ticket for. Every detail is at least well done, some so well done they are breathless. And while the bondage and dominance themes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, everyone but the most severely repressed will find naughty, voyeuristic fun in this corny fantasy. Even Anastasia’s Steele’s lilting and gentle voice is a method of seduction that punctuates the movie. The scene where Christian straps Anastasia into the helicopter is absolutely incendiary.

Casting is also superb, with Dakota Johnson interpreting Anastasia with incredible accuracy and function and Jamie Dornan as a perfect mix of hot, demented, tormented and tender as Christian Grey. 

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This is a movie of gems, from a beautiful scene where Christian Grey takes Anastasia for a ride in a glider to a lilting dance scene where wardrobe, music (Frank Sinatra, of course), set and characters make movie history. All of these scenes are stolen clichés, and all of them are done brilliantly. Interestingly enough, the bondage sex scenes really don’t push limits or get very racy, they just have a breathy inference that does the trick.

The mastery in this film includes a use of silence that is captivating, using it as an awkward negative space that anyone who has ever suffered obsession has felt.

A packed theater for a 10 PM showing contained only about 10 men- in the entire movie theater. The assembled hen party alternately giggled during the sex scenes and was in rapt silence during the heavy parts when the audience hung on the dialogue in virtual bondage- with no safe word. It’s pretty safe to assume that PTA meetings and knitting circles were poorly attended the night Fifty Shades opened

There is one disturbing sequence in the movie, when boundaries are bent just a little too far, and the movie isn’t fun there. But even this heavy moment can be forgiven- only in artistic context- as an appliance of punctuation in the story line.

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For those who are wary of the movie and fear it crosses lines that advocate abuse, I can respect and identify with that perspective. The movie is about power trips and control, and those are things easily demented. But this movie is also about tender themes of communication and honesty, and to lose those against the sultry and pornographic backdrop is to not get everything you paid for in the story. That said, for victims of abuse, this is not the right movie and should be avoided. The story itself does not endorse non-consensual abuse, and makes repeated and clear statements to that effect. And recall that there are more than a few epic and noteworthy romances that challenge boundaries and cross lines, from Gone With The Wind to Casablanca.

The movie does exploit gender role stereotypes, and there are victims on both sides; the innocent simple girl and the tormented powerful man. If you are offended by stereotypes then take equal offense at each. Both are exploited here. That is a function of great fiction. Remember- this is fiction. The fact is people control or attempt to control each other in many ways in relationships; this story expands on those themes. Its over-emphasized delivery of these themes is what gives it such unusual candor, and make it such a spectacle.

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The inspiration of this story includes themes from the life of Howard Hughes and borrows snippets from little known cult classics like the much more disturbing Boxing Helena from 1993. This is simply an updated compendium of all these themes. It’s been a while since we had something like this, so audiences are ripe for Fifty Shades.

What is so well done about Fifty Shades of Grey is its wide band of erotic frequencies. The hottest scenes have neither nudity or sex, although there is plenty of that too, and it is pretty darn good. Perhaps some of the most powerful scenes include a brand of honesty and openness almost never seen in real life relationships, and seeing that is incredibly hot. The “contract negotiation” scene is a fantasy I wager everyone has wished for. There is also the dramatic back-and-forth of control, and the concession that having it is usually an illusion, and always ephemeral. In that regard, Fifty Shades of Grey is a documentary.

Ultimately you are either a fan of this romantic theme or you aren’t. For fence sitters I wager Fifty Shades of Grey will win some people over to the dark side and sell a lot of bondage gear. If it’s not your thing, avoid it. But if you are curious, then submit to the cliché and caricature of Fifty Shades of Grey and get ready to be strapped down for two hours with a racing heart on a wild, romantic and naughty ride.

 

 

 

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