Sunday, May 01, 2016

Collaborated

Today is a new day. Today I am someone who has succesfully collaborated with another artist. It is a weight off of my mind.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Age of the Anxious

Today, needing something to get me to sit at my studio desk for the last ten minutes to get the last drawing of the day done, I started watching the series 'Luke Warm Sex' on ABC iView ('A' for Australian in this case)

I like it, and I like the host. Having just seen anomalisa Kaufman's latest film, I've now seen two things in quick succession that are positively dealing with people who are awkward at sex.

Now, I should disclose, I have a gripe. I'm tired of awkward protagonists. Put them away. My overwhelming feeling after I watched season one of Mr Robot, was that the main character was shitty, more so than the shitty twist (spoiler alert it's Tyler Durden) in an otherwise entertaining and interesting show.

I found that character shitty because he was a drug dependent dude that had social anxieties. But I understand the rise of these anxious protagonists that are only going to populate TV screens as much as they dominate slice-of-life indie comics now. Because we live in an age of anxiety, and it doesn't seem like the one-eyed-man is king.

Interestingly, this podcast from YANSS corelates the sudden explosion of interest in mindfulness to the rise of the smart phone - and posits that it has become a necessity because we for the first time in the western world we have an anxiety inducing addictive device in our pocket at all times. Which was interesting.

To jump about again, (and I don't know if I'll be able to circle back) I was watching a clip from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert where he took a Myers-Briggs personality test. Nothing about that is relevant except that it reminds me of a common failing of personality tests - Myers-Briggs describes the stable behaviors that make up a 'personality' being that 'we are what we do' and as such it measures preferences. The common failing of having your own personality described is that you focus on your personality whether it is one of the 16 nuanced personalities of Myers-Briggs or one of the more general 4 personalities of most quick-and-dirty and generally reliable personality tests administered in many business settings - is that it's just preference, it's how you tend to behave. That's what your personality is, it isn't a medical condition other people need to be sensitive to so if a test describes you as a task-oriented extrovert, doesn't mean everyone else should get the fuck out of your way.

What it means is that you are going to get tripped up in predictable ways if you fail to adapt, which is to say, work on adjusting your non-preferential behaviors in order to accomodate other people's preferences. That's where a lot of personality tests fail - to really drive home the point that you need to adapt your behaviors where your personality lets you down. Everyone will have to even with the weakest preferences.

In the same way consider this:


This video, like Mr Robot, left me with a shitty impression. Because even though I too wish that Airlines would fucking get rid of the reclining capacity of any cattle-class seats, it's perplexing to me both that these features exist and how adamant passengers can be on reclining as soon as their ass hits the seat. As a person who can be awkward but would never use the word 'awkward' to describe myself - the world should not be catering to awkward people. Awkward people need to actually engage the world until they aren't awkward anymore.

Conversation is a skill, a practice, it can be practiced and you can get better at it over time. Joining a group is a skill that can be learned, everything social can be learned. 'Neuroplasticity' the amazing scientific breakthrough that discovered that practice results in changes in the brain. Resulting in us having a fancy name for the word practice.

But it has also been on the backs of discovering the brain is more changeable that many people assume. Such that I posit that 'Awkward people' don't exist, just people who got discouraged and gave up early on the necessary practice required to attain social competence and confidence.

So I don't like Mr Robot's sexy protagonist that does drugs to stave off his depression and anxiety while working for psuedo-anonymous hacker group trying to take down corporate something something-blah-blah. Interesting TV yes, good for my mental health no.

But I don't mind an awkward person like Luke McGregor hosting Luke Warm Sex, it's perfect because he's actually getting homework and shit to practice and doing shit to get comfortable with sex and have better sex. That's better than the ABCs other show 'Redesign My Brain' interesting though it is, featuring a handsome can-do go-getter amassing a carbon footprint to demonstrate in seemingly the most expensive way possible that neuroplasticity is actually just practice shit and you'll get better at it.

It's hard to say that watching a successful graphic designer supposedly improve his creativity is more therapeutic than luxurious, whereas watching Luke meet a group of nudists and how often he apologizes during a ten minute segment for who he is and for wearing clothes or not wearing clothes or not being in shape etc. It's clear that this guy is doing what almost nobody I feel, is recommending, which is rather than accommodating anxiety, overcoming it.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Anti-Porn

It is hard to defend the porn industry as it exists, and I certainly would throw in with those who advocate individuals quit porn. However, I am not generally a consumer activist. To me, pornography is simply a good habit for an individual to break. I could almost expect some period of porn curiosity to be indicative of healthy sexual development, particularly in young teenagers. The caveat attached to almost is that the standards of pornography are not static, I personally feel the on camera misogyny has increased over my lifetime of pornography consumption.

I got told by a friend that some study had found that close to 100% of pornographic video depicted some form of violence against women. I would refute that from personal experience, but only if using a narrow definition of 'violence' include spitting (even for lubrication purposes) and manhandling and yeah, pretty much 100%. It would still be very high if you narrowed the definition to include violence that appears part of 'rough play' because even as play, it doesn't matter, you are depicting violence.

But consumer activism I reject, also an end goal of eradicating the supply of pornographic content seems unfeasible and impractical. Addressing the existing problems of the porn industry, is going to be really difficult one way or another. Consider by analogy the problem of music piracy, I don't believe that abolishing digital theft is ever going to be feasible. Providing legal alternatives to piracy like iTunes thru to Spotify style streaming services are not ideal but are going to be similar forms of solutions to those that are the problems of the porn industry.

For example the post-porn pornstar career. As far as I can discern as an observer, the biggest improvements made regarding the negative legacy of being a porn star, have been in de-stigmatizing the adult industry. (a process that comes with it's own new problems). But I'm sure I'm repeating myself blog wise, but for me the porn industry calls into question the entire concept of consent. Putting on my economist hat (for illustrative purposes, economists should generally not be listened to) trying to figure out the wage at which a young actress should book a shoot at is quite a difficult undertaking.

You'd need to consider your industry appropriate working lifespan, and then forecast your post working income requirements. Also your medical expenses given a calculation of the occupational risks. Potentially you could offset this by the expected value of fringe benefits derived from your celebrity - basically your ability to profit from your fan base. Reducing the stigma of being a pornstar may for example increase the expected wages earned in your post-porn career, meaning that pornstars of the future may accept less wages. Then you would have to figure out the supply and demand premiums of specific acts you are agreeing to in shoots.

I would extend full credit that most young actresses intuitively understand that work as a porn actress should be compensated at much higher rates than work as a waiter. But as an economist my suspicion is that earning $1500 for a days work as an 18 year old, is actually not much money. But I have no idea how much money for a shoot is enough to compensate an individual for the costs/risks of doing that shoot. I sincerely doubt an 18 year old (or 17 year old making bookings for their 18th birthday) is capable of figuring out these complex equations.

And that's just the money, economists in reality simply assume that the market has determined the most efficient wage that all the rational individuals mutually consent to. We as a species though, are all afflicted with a really poor ability at 'affect forecasting' or predicting future emotional states. It's why we believe our new car will make everything better forever, but after two weeks we stop noticing any of the differences between it and the old one. Or why so many marriages end in divorces. It's also how a lot of young girls sign up to star in porn, and 6 years later are anti-porn advocates. Mainly though, to me it throws a cloud over the concept of 'consent' because it fundamentally questions whether an individual knows how the decision they are making is going to affect them emotionally for the rest of their life.

Here is a string of spaghetti I will throw at the wall as a suggested fix. Make the porn industry, or agents, cover the healthcare costs of the actors and actresses they employ including mental health cover for up to 10 years post their retirement from the industry. Or if not outright, at least the health insurance. The target being not just to improve the welfare of those working in front of camera, but to erect a cost to exploitation. At the moment an agent can recruit a large number of vulnerable teenagers, book them solid until they are used up or burnt out, at little to no cost. They can treat their talent like light bulbs.

Better yet, utilise the same accreditation/regulation scheme for mental health as they do sexual health. I would suggest, have a mandatory requirement that all adult industry actors complete 6 months to a year of psychotherapy before they can shoot. And similar to sexual health, if an actor is found by their therapist to be a sadist or self-destructive etc. It should disqualify them from shooting just as syphilis would.

Consider the current industry. Somebody of age and that can prove a clean bill of sexual health can book a shoot for tomorrow to star in a 'gang-bang' scene. That means it is an open avenue to people who are vulnerable because of finances and also vulnerable due to trauma or mental health issues. That many adult actors have histories of abuse I don't doubt. But again as the stigma reduces I find it increasingly possible that more women may enter the industry with no history of abuse. Here is one of the points where I find Anti-porn campaigns make a common tactical error, they will have former industry members report that 'almost all' actresses and actors have histories of abuse, and 'almost all' are often high and dissociated during their shoots.

Doubt is all that's sufficient to change the viewing experience, and I personally feel it would be much more effective if former adult-industry anti-porn campaigners spoke exclusively for themselves. That one self-medicating former abuse victim can enter the industry substantiates a problem that needs addressing, it is not a stronger argument to generalize.

I feel even with non-nude modelling careers, it would be interesting to see a study that tried to identify from the photo output at what point the models start depending on cocaine to perform their job. Prior to quitting porn myself, I feel there were a few actresses where I could see written into their facial features a dependency on some drug of choice.

Thus the current industry has a current solution to the problems that arise from affect forecasting leading young people into consenting to unforeseen costs. Self-medication through drugs. There's an interview with former porn actress Jessie Rogers that is actually not good enough to embed here, largely because the interviewer did more talking than asking. But she did make some succinct illuminating statements. The first being that to earn the kind of money touted by the craigslist ad she responded to an actress would more or less have to book shoots every day of the month. Also that that was only possible with an agent, however the agent would take a cut of your fees, meaning the figure was still inflated (yet, that inflated figure was used to recruit her into the industry). The second major point was that she was still paying medical bills from her brief time as an adult actress.

Thus despite the high wages, given the equally high workload, the high incidence of medical expenses (in the US's admittedly terrible health care system) meant that she acquired debt rather than savings as a result of her work in the industry.

My hypothetical reforms, would no doubt drastically change all the equations currently used in the industry. However being that they represent drastic changes, they are highly unlikely to be adopted, and they still have limitations.

Though an advocate of psychotherapy, I would earnestly say, it is pretty ineffective. Where it is of great effect, is in making salient our issues rather than resolving them or relieving them. To me there is a huge difference between being an alcoholic and not being aware that your are and being an alcoholic and being aware that you are one.

Also, such reforms inevitable create demands for workarounds to reduce costs. Thus maybe you wind up with a sudden influx of 'specialist' psychologists, that are great at doing bullshit sessions and signing off on forms for a small fee. In much the same way that Australia's permanent visa requirements fertilised the ground for a bunch of bullshit 'schools' to certify people in whatever helped them land a visa at exploitation prices.

The thing is, the current porn industry is problematic and unethical in practice. I can't jump on bandwagons such as 'all porn is rape' and many anti-porn arguments to me seem so fallacious as to be counterproductive. I also simply believe that the demand is clearly there, and attempts to eradicate such an industry no matter how better off we'd all be in its absence are unlikely to succeed. Or by comparison, as likely to succeed as the war on drugs.

Thus we are left with moving porn to ethical porn, and I'd rather see this achieved through top-down regulation rather than grass roots consumer activism. Simply because consumer activism is where you drive demand for vague and poorly defined non-legally binding terms like 'certified organic'. I know there are production houses engaged voluntarily in making ethical porn. I do not personally know enough to vouch for it having produced many successful prototypes.

But just because ethical porn may not exist, and the industry does not produce it, doesn't mean it can't exist and can't be produced by an industry. The challenge is in finding means to enforce ethical standards on producers in a manner that is more appealing than ignoring those standards, or going black-market. In other words its shifting costs around, to create an ethical practice and incentivise ethical behavior, without threatening profits sufficiently that the industry collapses.

For example, assuming you like me feel moving the cost of injury to the actors off the actors themselves and onto the production companies is a step towards ethical porn, say California introduces this as a legal requirement but Florida does not. Adoption of this standard will eat into the bottom line of the production companies, they then need to decide to pay the cost of being ethical or paying the cost of relocating to Miami. I would dare say you are comparing some relatively negligible one of cost of relocation, vs a not insignificant ongoing cost. And the US is fucked because State rights mean it's hard to get a coast to coast regulation on a non-constitutional issue.

Having said that, I believe it to be the best way to address the problems inherent to the porn industry.

As for 'consumer activism' I'm never going to believe in having conversations to try and mobilise bazillions of nodes in a network of consumers to all switch off a product as the best and most effecient way to address real world problems. What I can say is that any individual is simply intrinsically better off without porn in their life. It is a behavioral addiction, and the adverse effects are in my own case quite noticeable. By contrast quitting porn (insofar as one can in the western media culture) has had quite noticeable benefits. I'd recommend it.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Just Like Run DMC said...

The line isn't blurred. Sex and really, all intimate physical contact requires consent. And sure, much of this consent can often take a non-verbal form. But I am not really qualified to expound the details of this consent, I would simply say - if in doubt, don't. And if you've ever been accused of sexual harassment, try doubting.

Now, beyond the line, there is a hazy terrain called flirtation, and I would argue is problematic. At the very least, tricky like Run DMC said.

A friend of mine tagged me on facebook soliciting my comment on a news article from some tech news site type thing. fb no longer seems to have an easy way to navigate through old posts so I couldn't really trawl it up for yall. But the article wasn't that interesting, just another iteration of what Chris Rock called 'dumb guys trying to get laid' I think in the same bit Chris Rock defined sexual harassment as 'sleep with me or I'll fire you' and the rest just dumb guys trying to get laid. I'm sure the law and most of society would at this stage of the game reject Rock's definition, and furthermore. Being no longer a business person, I can now say with luxurious ease, is that I would fire an employee for being a dumb guy trying to get laid.

Which is what happened in the article, a dumb guy commented on a lady's linked in profile pick when she solicited an 'endorsement' or whatever it is and he was like 'sweet cakes' and worse. She went to the press, guy got fired.

That ain't interesting, nor may I ad, incorrect in any way. As my old Director used to say to his sales reps on the issue of accepting gifts 'think how it would look in the papers' which I actually think in the absence of a robust moral compass and sense of professionalism, is a good test for us mortals to question our own judgement - how would this look in the public sphere?

Same same if you accidently cc'd all on a steamy email you wrote to a colleague.

What I do want to comment on is a comment that was made by my fb friends' fb friend who wasn't solicited for a comment. He said, and I paraphrase 'it's because this dumb guy was an old dumb guy, if he was a young handsome guy there'd be no issue.'

For the record, I submitted to the record, the observation that commenting on somebodies reproductive value is never professional (unless you work in the adult industries I guess, but it's not like that industry isn't riddled with a lot of problems beyond professionalism).

What I did have to concede, is that the same behaviors can illicit different responses depending who they are coming from. But because some people can get away with murder, and others don't doesn't make it okay for those who can to do it. Know what I'm saying.

Enter flirtation, a largish smallish part of the spectrum of interaction between people's of all gender identities and orientations. From the conscious and calculated to the subconscious and involuntary. It's both enjoyable, but can lead to trouble and it is tricky even when you are a natural at it.

I flirt with far more people than I ever intend or even desire to be physically intimate with to any degree. I imagine I am not alone, part of this is that walk or sit long enough in any public place, I hear people trying to decipher the meanings of behaviors of somebody they probably flirt with.

I don't wish to delve at all into the impact of technology, text based communications and constant access to communication channels has done. I have listened to Aziz Ansari's book 'Modern Romance' and it gives a good coverage of much of that shit.

But I don't think these conversations between people about whether other people are into them or not is new. At the very least not as new as the adoption of the internet. Getting fired for sexual harassment is perhaps newer, and actually choosing a partner is probably the new thing that started to spark these conversations.

Maybe contraception? When the Marriage market and Sex Market divided, empowering men in the marriage market to a far greater extent than the gains women made in the Sex Market.

Anyway, I've sidetracked quite a bit. There's a simple solution to sexual harassment in the workplace, and that is a zero-tolerance policy. A hard, sharp, distinct line. Which makes things like somebody writing in electronic form their harassment to you - an easy problem to dispense with. Conceivably even with IM services it's as simple as grabbing a screen print. I don't use LinkedIn but with the cost of data storage way down, I don't know too many IM platforms that don't archive conversations anyway.

Slightly trickier when you are cornered in the break room or copy room with no body around, for a he-said-she-said debate over 'serious allegations' but I've heard enough stories now to be assured that the future promises more managers of moral courage to actually take a complainants word and dismiss an employee for their unacceptable behavior. I doubt though this is the norm yet.

This is an ideal solution to the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and this would also have I believe an actual powerful effect on the culture of sexual harassment outside of the office. The culture would bring the message home, it'd get taught in schools and so on.

This then though, creates problems for desirable flirtation, which I will simply describe as the flirtation that occurs in the presence of reciprocal (though not necessarily exclusive) attraction.

Though I won't be ageist, here that random fb friend of a fb friend made a in part valid observation. We tolerate or even welcome a set of behaviors from people we find attractive that we don't from anyone else. I would assume it follows a spectrum, and if you consider the very idea of a 'relationship' this observation becomes obvious - albeit formalised.

A relationship between two or more consenting adults consists entirely of privileged behavior towards one another. That's what a relationship is.

I'm not an expert, I'm not sure what the actual expertise is - social anthropology, evolutionary psychology...? But I will assert here that flirtation is at least in part, preamble to physical intimacy. A fact finding, data gathering phase for two people to gain the confidence to actually overtly approach each other.

How much confidence? Depends on the context, a platform like tinder or a singles bar in the physical world require a lower threshold of confidence because there's a tacit assumption that there's a reason to be in these consequences. At work, particularly with a zero tolerance of sexual harassment in place, you'd need to be extremely confident.

Here though, it gets tricky and cruel. I can only testify to heteronormative relationships, and unforch, most data and research on sexual interaction and behavior is heteronormative too. Making it hard for me to find out 2nd hand with any confidence.

But I was progressive, but after learning a bunch about body language, actually conceded to old-fashioned thinking. It falls to men to take the risk of asking outright for a date (or whatever) simply because the subconscious cues are skewed to make an attuned male much more confident than an attuned woman to the reverse.

It is oft reported women's body language gives some 50 cues that they are attracted. Men are reported to have 10. A few I can vouch for is the torso orientation (or honest feet) they will be oriented towards the woman they like even from a distance and even while engaged in conversation with others. Jealousy also, but I would have to say is a perilous one to test. Jealousy can drive a guy really stupid and is really not the most flattering way a guy can betray his affection.

Whereas women provide a wealth of data with which you can build a constellation of confidence. You really only have to discount contexts where it might be somebodies job to butter you up a little - like a retail assistant.

Even so, asking someone out is never not a risk. Someone may betray that they find you attractive, this does not mean their conscious mind is on board, and doesn't have any pull. People for example are pretty resilient (despite angry rants on the internet) to cheat on their partners. And they can be quite pragmatic too about getting involved with certain people, much as they want to because of complications or conflicts that may arise.

But while I do think it at the very least natural, that men assume the risk of approaching women (risk of rejection) this starts to clash with the statistic that men (I assume) are the primary instigators of sexual harassment.

Drop in a zero-tolerance policy that is effective in stamping out sexual harassment, you will reduce approaches by men to only those emotionally competent enough to know and intuit when the attraction is reciprocated, and reciprocated in that way - and that is I suspect, a minority.

I would expect that the men who do best, simply in this domain are the most risk seeking ie. they don't feel the hurt of rejection to any extent they really care about. I would suspect those men good at reading the emotions on another persons face do next as well but for different reasons, and I would speculate that they may not even correlate.

(My speculation is thus, that the men/women who feel the least aversion to the risk of rejection do so not in most cases by higher order thinking and rationalization, but because they do not invest much of themselves in each solicitation. It is not important what that person thinks of them, they just think it would be fun to go on a date or have sex. Conversely people who are good at reading the emotions on other people's faces are for reasons I can't really justify the same kind of people who discriminate to a higher degree the people they want in their lives, and also form attachments easier, ratcheting up their investment in their potential partners.)

What's cruel is that the adoption of a zero-tolerance sexual harassment approach (society wide, and an actual functional one - as in practiced, not just preached) to me necessitates that women start approaching men, as in initiating the formal recognition of a relationship, not just being more overt in their flirtations.

And that is cruel, because though women are I'm told, proven to be better at reading the emotions on other people's faces, men simply give off less signs that they are attracted to somebody. As in to a greater degree, when women ask out men, they may be not just uncertain, but blind. The fallback may be observing that men are much more up for sex (even with a stranger) than women are, so they are likely to say yes even in the absence of a previously felt attraction.

But women that have asked me out have reported that the act is terrifying, and that having to do so, sucks. Most of us I feel would naturally prefer to recieve an offer that we are free to accept or reject, even if this preference left us culturally deciders rather than choosers.

Currently though, all of us can choose who to flirt with. Personally, I do think that men should remove the dimension of touch from their flirtation. I feel that is the hotbed of sexual harassment. But even bawdy talk etc. Not everyone has the tact to not make this a potential powderkeg, it is not really safe to experiment with.

I personally have been sexually harrassed, and I'm sad to say, that as a man my earnest reaction was vicarious embarrassment. For me though, being sexually harassed by a woman does not come with it, a sense of loss of control, nor physical danger. It is for me, really, a non-issue. Only women with histrionic personality disorders scare me, and I try to distance myself from crazy. Fortunately, I've met only one that I know of.

That to me, says that part of the solution to sexual harassment demands a redefining of gender roles. Demand is a strong assertion, and I'm not confident I can back it up. But can you imagine how long sexual harassment induction videos would have to be to preserve office romance as a possibility when initiated by men. "If you make eye contact and she looks down and then back up, consider talking to her. If she sustains eye contact for longer than normal durations, you may experiment with flirtatious banter, if she..." (more important than that long list is the extra long list of tacit do-not-approach signals).

So, to me if you want to keep office romance possible in society, rather than depending entirely on online match making services (and maybe you do) it would mean women have to overtly initiate the romance. Assume the risk of rejection.

Perhaps what makes that trickiest of all, are that we are living in the age of anxiety, and I believe some 60% of women suffer from it (beyond the anxiety that is normal to the spectrum of human emotion). The most anxious thing I do, is ask women out. And I do it. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Untrue Crime

Fargo the tv seriesis entertaining, but ultimately does not work as well, I feel, as the original movie did. Where the movie needed only William H Macy's character to be a singular incompetence to spread out like a contagion, the first series of fargo needed multiple incompetent characters to screw and counter screw up everything for the prolonged duration of the series. Same same but to a lesser extent with season two.

That said, Fargo is entertaining, the one thing that annoyed me everytime is leaving in the affectation of 'This is a true story, out of respect for the survivors the names have been changed, out of respect for the dead everything else has been told exactly as they happened' which was not true of the original film, and is not true of the fargo universe. Painting Minnesota as a place more dangerous than cartel controlled territories in Mexico.

Hannibal, is also entertaining enough. But those lauding a golden age of television needs must keep in perspective that a golden age of television is still far short of a golden age of cinema. There is a great show in Hannibal, it spans from midway in season 1 to midway in season 2.

Having never seen the movie 'Hannibal' as in, the third of Harris' novels, nor read said novel, I can't really tell if anyone ever did a good job of turning Hannibal into an anti-hero, or 'Dexterising' him.

But (spoiler aler - Hannibal does what is in the book) in the latter half of the second season, that tells the backstory of Mason Verger, we find a typical device of writers dealing with an anti-hero. Create somebody worse.

So we have the tasteful and elegant Hannibal, who by this stage of the series has done some evil things set against Mason. Who upon entering makes a child cry and absorbes his tears with a piece of paper. Which he collects. His history as a peadophile and abuse of his sister are alluded to, but not shown. Presumably due to it being a tv show.

Then he does more horrible stuff to his sister, and in steps Hannibal. Whom partly through self defence abducts Mason, disfigures and cripples him. We are as an audience at least, invited to feel conflicted, in part some visceral satisfaction that somebody did something horrible to horrible Mason, but also that that horrible thing is quite horrible.

But still, I struggle to enjoy or engage with Hannible, or Harris' greater universe of FBI profilers. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article of how the profession of profiler is essentially reducible to that of psychics, and indeed based on the same 'cold readings' that clairvoyant charlatans use. The article is much more worth a read than this blog post if you can find it in the New Yorker, or get yourself a copy of 'What the Dog Saw'.

The other is that it much like Dexter, celebrates a portrayal of serial killers that makes them seem like eccentric artists. If you watch any serial killer documentaries, they are generally not at all admiral, captivating or even really interesting beyond the gruesome details of some of their crimes.

And as one tumblr feed of one of the more activist artists I follow once pointed out, in TV and movies if crimes are being committed by a white person, they become an 'anti-hero' somebody for audiences to try and identify with and root for. Sympathise with even, but not for people of colour. The closest we've ever been invited to sympathise with african american criminals by the post - was the Wire. Even then while The Wire brilliantly frustrates the viewer with all the short sighted frustrations within our society that block simple and viable solutions to crime, and makes the problem of drug related violence in Baltimore (and presumably, places like Chicago, Phillidelphia et al.) as a never ending multi-generational cycle, the ultimate rewards of the drug trade, for any individual gangster are prison or death.

Which brings me to Walter White of Breaking Bad. And here, there'll be spoilers galore. Thus if it's taken you longer to watch the finale than me, perhaps you should just go and watch it.

Thing is, that Vince Gilligan I believe set out wanting to do a series on the 'unmaking' of a man. Something like 'Mr Chips into Scarface' was the ultimate story arc. An interesting thought experiment, made for an entertaining narrative.

For me the last time I felt sorry for Walt was when he found out he was in remission and was going to live. He had a form of breakdown at that moment realizing his desperate measures to secure his families finances, were undertaken in vain.

After that I never really felt challenged about whether I was rooting for Walt or not. Walt had to die. Logic told me he would make it to the finale though.

There's a bunch of problems with Breaking Bad, non of them writing, directing, acting or even cinematography. But rather, the 'true crime' aspect. For example, the numerous arguments Walt and Jesse have about the people that get hurt from the conduct of their business. These people are never the numerous end users of their product. Though there are some episodes where the impact of meth on individuals and communities is portrayed. Jesse for example, is more concerned with the peripheral people in his life that get hurt by Walt and others (via poisoning and what not) or various other players they've had to kill.

Part of what makes Walt so evil, is that he does not operate exclusively in the criminal world, like most of the people he kills throughout the series. But is living a double life so we get to see the impact his choices have on people the mainstream audience presumably can identify with.

Otherwise, the main offended by the actions of Walt and Jesse, are kept at quite a distance. Though Jesse himself struggles with addiction, he also receives fat stacks of cash through his illicit activities. Thus his struggles with addiction are more reflective of a rock star's struggles than those whom are not in a socio-economic position to sustain their habit.

My understanding, is that Meth is horrible. I've read a few articles by one Australian journo that demonstrates how quickly one can descend into delusional psychosis while using meth. Louis Theroux's documentary on meth is pretty illuminating as well.

Much as we may have felt some sense of satisfaction as Walt found a way to use his old friends turned billionaire owners of Gray Matter that Walt sold out of, amusing. Where Walt used his gritty street smarts to convince them their lives were in constant danger should they not deliver his cash for him to his children. A fat cat Meth cook being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for producing a product that does as much damage as meth is probably far more reprehensible than overpaid CEOs actions that indirectly impoverish peoples or reap economic devastation on communities.

I feel Walt ultimately does take responsibility for his choices, and he feels a lot of pain resulting from the consequences. But Gilligan also used the 'someone worse' device to make Walt into a finale anti-hero. Introducing Todd and his Uncle, a gang of white supremacist bikers that don't just hurt Hank (like Walt and Gus did) but kill him. And don't just manipulate Jesse into being a cook, but actually imprison him. And don't just poison someone Jesse cares about to motivate him, but kills them in front of him.

After 6 months to a year (whatever the Time-skip is) it allows Walt to cruise in as a relative hero, a much lighter bad guy to rescue Jesse.

I can't help but feel that if it were the Wire, the series would have ended with Walt's arrest by Hank. Being stripped of his wealth, family, freedom and made account most of all to Jesse.

Instead, we have this extra bit tacked on, with extra bad guys, that Walt tidily resolves as a lone gunman against a crew of Bandits. Getting back everyone who fucked with him and granting Jesse his freedom.

Just before he dies. No good. No good at all.

At least Marlow was left in the Wire with the promise that his thug nature and personal ego virtually ensuring he would wind up in prison like his predecessor Avon Barksdale.

There's a place for crime in entertainment. Under a limited scope, a place to glorify it. I don't want to see nothing on TV but CSI Miami, where bad one liners and sunglasses acting result in proving criminals can't get away with anything, ever, anymore.

Just that criminals that do often get away with shit, pay a tremendous personal cost - which the Wire did brilliantly and Breaking Bad did well up until it's finale. Despite the fact that you run a tight criminal operation, the risks have to be ratcheted right up and this makes you constantly vulnerable (or fragile) to your whole world falling apart. Game over needs to be game over, and more or less the only things that fucked up Walt's attempt to retire and walk away, was that he was a family man, with a brother heading up the DEA.

Tomorrows future cooks can watch breaking bad, dream of turning some barrels of chemicals into millions of dollars, and the fact that they are young unattached university students means they don't have to worry about having their brother in law snoop around their house and discover a crucial batch of evidence.

Lacking from Breaking Bad, where the 'three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead' wisdom of Ben Franklin that would inevitably lead to any of the various arrangements the two get going coming undone.

Same goes for Hannibal, that while set in the modern era, doesn't appear to have him encumbered by all the various public surveillance that might prevent somebody from moving their people dismantling equipment into somebody elses basement, or even basic precautionary risk management from their FBI captain, deciding to pull everyone from future cases that has an existing relationship with an agent that is incarcerated pending trial for a series of murders.

The suspensions of disbelief are getting subtler. You have to notice how ludicrous it is that Gus would let Walt or Jesse into his home where he lives by himself. Or talk on mobile phones to any of his business associates. Or that the Cartel would bring their entire membership together to meet with one distributor from New Mexico. Or that Gus could walk into a nursing home and repeatedly visit one of the most distinctive residents and not be noticed or known. Or that Billy Bob Thornton can repeatedly walk in and out of his crime scenes, on foot. Or that it's possible to drive away from any crime scene without hitting some kind of police cordon.

Increasingl, the audience is required to notice an absence, in the implausible, rather than the presence of the implausible. Which is good writing, but if you are writing a show with criminal anti-hero's and you wipe away some of the commonplace things that would render their activities untenable in day to day life, you are to some extent being emotionally and socially irresponsible as a writer.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Dispensible

Think about it man, you get in traffic behind somebody. *Honks* *Honks* *Honks* *Honks* *Honks* *Honks* *Honks* *Honks*
Shut up and smoke that, it’s the law.
Oh, sorry. I was taking life seriously.
Is a relevant excerpt from a Bill Hicks rant on drugs. Every day (just about) I go to my studio and work furiously on drawings. Working furiously, is actually slowly and methodically, while watching TV shows on my tablet, but none the less, I generally do upwards of 5 hours a day at the moment. In fact I've figured out ways to more or less be working on art round the clock. Even at home, for which I'm now taking a break to write this post.

A rare privilege I have as I work away, is a very salient awareness that absolutely nobody is sweating on the output of my practice. The closest I come, is me. And should I die in my sleep tonight, at most the grieving stakeholders in my life would be inconvenienced by the unfinished work I leave behind.

Though I'm often impatient to leave for the studio, and reluctant to leave it for other commitments, I just can't feel stressed about the work I do. I could never convince myself that anybody was depending on it.

People enjoy my work, some even have a seemingly ravenous appetite for it. People have an insatiable lust for art and entertainment worldwide.

But it's easy for me to perceive a basic truth about the nature of what I do. Nobody is actually depending on it.

Then I re-watched Carpenter's 'Escape from New York' and the part of the premise I struggled most to suspend disbelief over, was accepting that the US President was vital enough to warrant Snake Pliskin's rescue effort. As compared to it's inferior sequel where the presidents' daughter steals a weapon to put in the hand of terrorists, I really can't see why the US President is regarded is indispensable.

And this leads to a fact I feel everyone should embrace. If you are currently reading this, it means that nobody that ever died, ever, was indispensable to our civilization.

I do not mean that individuals lives have no value, or that they are unimportant. Just that we can, and will take the hit of losing certain members.

What we shouldn't do, is maintain an illusion of importance. At least I don't feel so. I like to think of 'the stressed executive'. For me he is the driver of that car honking at the somebody in front of him. My particular favorite is the executive that works for a distributor of manufactured plastic garden hose attachments.

I know nothing about the industry, I don't need to. I can imagine that there are dominant players in the business, that move enough units through enough retailers, that their executives could drive Audi's or Mercedes and stress about Unit Sales, the threat of disruptive technologies, forecasting sales to meet production and shipping order deadlines etc.

I can see the person, that through the combination of limited promotion opportunities, mortgage stress and other economic pressures. Feels highly stressed about meeting some arbitrary sales target, achieving some bonus or landing some retail distribution deal.

This executive lives most of his/her days in a world populated by people that also think these things important but may have conflicting agendas.

Yet never in their lives will any of these people see a TV show in which there is a post-apocalyptic scenario caused by a worldwide scarcity of their product.

You and I, hopefully have the capacity to imagine that the world would indeed by inconvenient if we could never attach garden hoses again. Plastic attachments certainly have value, and though I would never describe myself as a gardener, or even somebody who plays under sprinklers in summer, I have experienced the inconvenience of a broken hose attachment in my life. I can envision a future where I buy these devices.

And my purchases in the marketplace send a signal to strangers to keep producing these things because people want them.

But I don't need them. A lot has to go wrong before I would truly bemoan the disappearance of this industry.

The storeowner (or increasingly, franchisee) that loses a sale due to being stocked out of a hose nozzle, that gets on the phone to blast his sales rep about their stock out, who kicks it up the line to the executive that sat in on the forecasting meeting that chose conservative figures based on a forecast of a wet summer three months prior, are all suffering from a collective illusion.

That these things matter is not the illusion. That they matter enough to get angry about is an illusion. Our lives are robust, as is our civilization. Much of what has made it so is a lot of inherent redundancy. It's not just likely, but actually essential that most of us will spend our lives on causes that actually don't matter at all. In part, because predicting what will actually be important or matter is incredibly hard.

While there's definitely a suggestion, but hard case to argue coherently, that art is somehow essential (many of us treat it as such), I'm aware that what I do is not very important in the grand scheme of things. And I enjoy what I do. It maintains the capacity and potential to be quite lucrative as well. Would the world notice it's absence? No. At best it might feel it. As I feel it, the very motivation to try and create what I want to.

I'm not arguing to find and follow your passion. I'm making the argument that accepting some humility can help you relax, and also help arrest a contagion of urgency highly likely to come both down and up the value chain of whatever it is you do.

One simple distinction that helped me when I was corporate was 'to know the difference between urgent and important'. Few do, they oil the squeaky wheel, feed the crying child.

Few people in my experience pull back to the large picture and think things through to their consequences. As such many people are stressed and anxious beyond any level that is actually useful.

I could relate this to the epidemic of anxiety we appear to be living through, but that feels like a separate post.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

My defenses of Pin Up Art

2 years have passed since I quit KFC, with no backslides. It was a habitual, behavioral addiction, but note that I quit a particular franchise, not Fried Chicken. Not fast food. In the following months I escalated my commitments to behavioral sobriety by quitting McDonalds, caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar and pornography.

Those last two are tricky though, refined sugar is really a shorthand for 'confectionery, desserts, cakes, soft drinks etc.' I will for example, use condiments like tomota sauce and bbq sauce, I will eat bread but not donuts. etc. My 'no refined sugar' creates some confusion, but is more convenient in explaining to people why I won't accept whatever treat or beverage is being offered me.

Similarly, 'pornography' suffers from being an undefined term. Like sugar, it is in some form or other, everywhere and perhaps if one was to go absolutist and hardcore, it would be even harder to remove from your consumption than sugar.

What I quit is probably quite a narrow definition - the content of pornographic sites and materials. Everything explicitly marketed as porn, and generally labelled as the 'adult' industry.

The broadest definition I can think of is 'masturbatory aids' which would include things like lingerie catalogues (and subsequently a lot of outdoor advertising) in fact it would include anything that alludes overtly or even subtly to reproduction, including the cut of some garments hung on mannequins - that emphasize hip to waist ratios or cleavage.

My suspicion is that most post-tween males, consume pornography of the 'narrow' definition I quit. I also suspect women increasingly consume porn, even that created explicitly for a male audience for a range of reasons. But I also suspect there is a sizeable minority of women who do not, and possibly have never consumed pornographic material, but are none-the-less exposed to the ideas of porn, certainly affected by the broader definition of masturbatory aids.

I will not defend the adult industry as it exists, though I could certainly criticize much of the anti-porn arguments presented, not for their validity but for their execution and effectiveness in regards to the stated aims.

I would almost certainly recommend that men quit their consumption (and almost certainly addiction) to porn. Particularly adult video, that I would have to say, is more or less indefensible for 98% of the existing content.

Furthermore, in the internet age, the adult industry calls into question for me, the very notion of consent. Given that all people are terrible affect forecasters, and also it being a domain where the decision to enter porn is probably mostly driven by subconscious decisions, and conscious consent is largely rationalization. If that was a parade of meaningless words to you, essentially what I'm saying is, I question the validity of consent given by an 18 year old, on behalf of the same person that lives with those consequences. It's the most extreme version of Daria's "My goal is not to wake up at forty with the bitter realization that I've wasted my life in a job I hate, because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens." except that girl wakes up at 19 not forty.

But what of the broader definition? All body ideals that allude to a woman's fertility. The spectrum of pornographic photography - from porno stills to 'gravure' photo sets, to erotic art, to lingerie billboards? And particularly in the genre of art I myself create and contribute to - being pin up art.

I don't know if I could or would defend these, if seriously under threat. But here are my defenses, many of which are not intelligible arguments but simply the incongruities I struggle with.

1. Pin Up Artists

The Golden Era pin up artists, like Gil Elvgren I don't know much about except that he painted from live models or reference photos. That I presume were paid gigs for the models and if he was not the photographer, I see little evidence of exploitation. But I have no idea what he was like as a person, nor any of the others of his time. The same goes for Dean Yeagle, who started much earlier than many other contemporary artists. But when I look at Bill Pressing, Chris Sanders, Luis Gadea, Shane Glines, Tim Sale etc. I see artists that aren't misogynists, or overt chauvinists, often happily married and as far as I have materials to form an impression of their personalities, none are sleazy or creepy.

In short, being a pin-up artist does not appear to require one to be, or associate with negative people, nor even have the ideals portrayed in pin-ups with their overall attitudes toward women.

I also find the anti-porn argument that rapists and violent offenders towards women are often found to have hard drives full of porn to be a weak one. I'm sure the content of the argument is all true and valid. I would be super surprised if rapists and violent offenders proved the exception to the consumption of porn rule. And I'm sure the marketing of pornographic videos does not help, and possibly escalates the incidents of these kind. I just reject it as confirmation bias, I would have to see the statistics as to what percentage of men consume similar amounts of porn and never sexually assault or harass anybody. I suspect I know people that would make this argument while simultaneously making the equivalent counterargument as regards recreational drug use.

2. Sunk Costs and/or Absence of Evidence of Exploitation.

One arguable form of pornography along the spectrum I haven't quit are the photographic offerings of Van Styles and Cherie Roberts (potentially NSFW) whom shoot a lot of scantily clad models, with a similar lack of graphic content and most notably an absence of violence towards women, as pin up art.

At this point I'd like to acknowledge that specific differences of opinion would arise. At one extreme, I'm told there exists feminists that view all sex between men and women as rape, I can't present this argument myself, it was something like the patriarchy exists, therefore all women are oppressed therefore all sex is rape. I can't drive the premises to the conclusion, I feel and assume that even in gender studies academic circles, this would be a fringe position. But I would acknowledge that there's going to be people out there that will quite easily and readily reject the idea that there's a spectrum or continuum of porn, where some is okay and some is bad. I can't argue against people who object to the broad definition of porn in its totality.

The other difference of opinion, is that while I believe in consumer preferences, I don't believe in consumer activism, I'm firmly in the caveat vendor camp, not emptor camp. Of course, where consumption is a crime in and of itself, vis-a-vis theft, or street narcotics or snuff porn. But speaking to the general case, I don't envision a world where the onus is on the consumer to do the research many if not most consumer activists do, to consume ethically.

In that regard, there are photographers in a similar vein to Van Styles and Cherie that do what I will simply call the 'creep shot', I believe Terry Richardson to be a reputed creep photographer of women, but I've never checked out his work to see if he does it, and I won't name other offenders because I'm not speaking to their market. It basically involves the photographer reaching in and touching the model - pulling on their underwear or pinching their nipple, touching their ass etc.

I personally just find it creepy. That for me is the line, between a photographer being a professional and a creep. Even if it is some premeditated performance consented to by the model, what the performance conveys I don't like.

In it's absence, I cannot conclude with certainty, that the photographer is a professional, that the model is consenting is an equal collaborator in the project and fairly compensated. I can believe it though.

Thus there's much material out their that involves celebrating women's reproductive value that I at least, am okay with, and okay with consuming. I'm okay with it on the absence of evidence that it belongs with the body of pornographic material that I personally prefer not to consume.

But then you move onto pin-up art. Drawings, that do not necessitate a live model, nor actual woman to be objectified. You are creating a symbolic representation and literal object. That this can impact given people's sensitivities on viewers can't be ignored. But I am not in the censorship camp or game. The producer however can do so, without harming a woman in the production process.

Which is optional, there is still scope for pin up artists to employ live models, sexual harass them or harm them in other ways. It's just wholly unnecessary.

Now least you be a layman in terms of art and unaware, many if not most artists draw from reference materials. I myself when drawing pin ups most often use photo reference, more occasionally I draw women from memory.

While I generally avoid references drawn specifically from the adult industry, preferring reference mainly drawn from lingerie, swimsuit and fashion photography, here then an image exists - and there is an argument that this reference material used to inspire pin up art, is a sunk cost. Even if there was some exploitation or harassment involved in the process of creating the images I and other artists use as reference, it is in economic jargon, a sunk cost.

The artist using the reference in other words has no power to undo the harm done to the model, should that harm have occurred. I would like to think that if a reference image of mine were created involving harassment, psychological abuse or even physical violence, that it would taint the image. But I don't and can't know. I'm not going to accept the blanket solution, which is to draw pin ups entirely from memory.

Similarly my actions going forward will never erase the history of the pornographic industry which I have in part been exposed to, along with most of our society. Milt Kahl the arguable greatest of the Golden Era Disney animators urged artists to know their reference so well, that they didn't actually need it anymore. I'm sure I could draw many pin ups till the end of my days without actually having to look at a single reference image. Why don't I? Because I believe my creative output would narrow. Reference helps me break out of ruts.

3. GJ

I occupy a very priveleged position in this world. Having a practical if not divine dominion over pretty much every animal on earth. I'm also a cis-gendered Caucasian heterosexual male. Thus, though I believe evolutionary psychology to have valuable things to say on the matter of sexual politics, I acknowledge that it is distasteful for somebody as privileged as I am to make arguments along the lines of evolutionary determinism etc.

I believe in the modern technological era, the vast majority of gender is culture, or a social construct.

But in the crime drama 'Top of The Lake' by Jane Campion, there features a scene where GJ informs an underage girl that is pregnant and coming to full term 'there is wisdom in the body, it will know what to do.' or something to that effect, that's an argument people can't have both ways.

I concur with GJ, but to me that carries an obligation to acknowledge in the superficialities (and pragmatism) both genders exert in partner selection, the wisdom 'of the body' has to be respected.

For example, the obsession with youth, in women particularly the working life of most models happens to coincide with their peak fertility - 18-25. Most of what gets emphasized and in the case of pin up art, exaggerated, are fertility cues with women, followed closely by health cues.

Long lustrous hair 'average' faces (somewhat of a misnomer, given that the ideal average faces are actually the ones with high levels of symmetry, indicating a lack of gene defects - ie healthy complete chromosomes) ample bosoms, large hip to waist ratios, are not mere cultural indoctrinations. They have a biological basis, all suggesting the healthiest genes to pass onto your children.

Pin ups can create super-normal stimuli, which is to say hip to waist ratios that can't exist in nature yet nevertheless can hijack the viewers biology and turn them on. Same with the gravity defying breasts of female comic book characters and so on.

What I believe is generally lacking 'out there' in public awareness, is an awareness of the limitations of our biology as regards the consumption of erotic imagery. Not that there aren't enough plus sized models, overweight models, fat pin up girls etc. Because attempts are made to create these products and they don't succeed because they are created under the assumption that marketers have decided the market wants iddy-biddy waists and big butts, double d breasts and cherry red lips.

Our biology decided we like these things, the adverse health effects are in the saturation of the market, much like the refined sugar added to all foods.

The one person I know to speak of a preference for drug free, Midwife driven births, does not appear to have objections to pornography.

Thus it is only in my imagination that I see a population of people that are pro-standing water births, natural births etc. but anti-modern day fertility idols and iconography.

...

As I said, these aren't wholly formed, and fully intelligible arguments or defenses as to what I do, but these are the general themes and sticking points that I haven't reconciled yet with how I feel about some of the art I create.