Jason Porath

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Fifty Shades of Green

A mailing list that I’m on was writing a Fifty Shades of Grey parody starring the Hulk. Here is my addition, for posterity:

In the dim light of the morning, he somehow seemed smaller. Softer. More tender. He tiptoed back into his lavender pants, which hung baggy around his skinny waist. As he gingerly fingered the doorknob, she whispered don’t go – and he broke into a full-body blush. All that was green mere hours earlier was a burning shade of pink.

Steeling himself against the doorjamb, he dared not look back, lest he fall back into bed once more. “What, are you mad at me?” she teased out in her sing-song voice.

“No. I could never.” He tilted his head across his broad shoulders and locked eyes with her from across the room. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. And we can’t have that.”

And with that, he was gone, vanished into the streets without a trace.

Be A Man

Lately, every time I log on to Facebook, I see something like this:
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Or this:
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Or this:
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Without fail, these are posted by (intelligent! progressive! amazing!) women. Now, these are not bitter, hardened man-haters by any stretch of the imagination. Each has legitimately and honestly entered into relationships (or tried to) and been disappointed. Yes, it takes two to tango, but if you’ll put some faith in my judgements and their representations of their situations, the fault has almost uniformly laid with the men.

And again, a disclaimer – not all men are immature jerks! I don’t think I am one, although maybe that’s a sign I’m deluding myself. In any event, there are certainly enough jerks out there that nobody would argue the premise that it’s a real problem.

Each of my aforementioned female friends is expressing what I’ve come to think of as the “Ugh, Men” mentality. Such expressions are hardly uncommon. Wade onto an online dating site and read a couple womens’ profiles: inevitably, you will come across a long list of “don’t message me if”s that point to the root issues: narcissism; materialism; preoccupation with sex; obsession with their own bodies; a general lack of substance; inability to read (or write).

And many times, when I’m out with these friends, they turn to me, and ask, why? What’s the deal? What the fuck happened?

It’s always been a difficult question to answer. For one thing, having a penis does not make me an expert on the history of masculinity. For another: I’m not a good representative sample. I’ve never been comfortable with my gender’s roles and expectations, and have always been sensitive to the frustrations of women. The “Ugh, Men” mentality has hung around my neck like an albatross knotted to a noose.

And so I wouldn’t really answer, and I’d suffer the prevailing wisdom – which is to blame it on genetics. “Men are just wired that way.” “They can’t help it.” “That’s how they are.” Despite how reductionist, patronizing, and patently wrong that argument is, I’d accept it. Nobody ever seemed to give the matter any more thought.

Until recently, when a gathering of events conspired to give me a new perspective: not the least of which was the publishing of an article entitled All The Single Ladies, which explored the modern-day crisis of unmarried women. However, buried in the article (a scant few paragraphs in an otherwise exhaustively long piece) was a brief discussion of the twin crisis of “unmarriageable” men. How men are on the decline, economically, sociologically, and politically.

So I got to thinking. What the fuck happened? A couple things came to mind:

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1) Male Gender Roles Have Not Been Updated Since The 50s
Over the past several decades, women have seen an explosion of possibilities. While not every door is as open as it could or should be, many more are open than in years past. The same isn’t as true of men – while there’s been a small amount of movement, we’re stuck in a weird in-between place. It’s peppered throughout daily life in small ways:

– Careers. How many male cheerleaders have you met? Housekeepers? Househusbands? Kindergarten teachers? It is only a matter of time until someone accuses them of being a pedophile.
– Tastes. Not allowed: ‘chick flicks’, romance novels, anything related to fashion, or dancing in any way that engages your hips.
– Clothing. Dress well, but not too well – then you’re metro. Nothing too girly, or you’re gay. And if you need to carry around anything, it better be in a backpack or a valise. Purse? Fannypack? Forget it.

Now, how hard is it to imagine a female truck driver? Or a woman who likes action movies? A girl who wears button-up shirts and pants? Nobody bats an eye.

At the same time, the 1950s cultural expectations remain: for men to be breadwinners, to open doors, to pay for meals, to buy flowers and pop questions, to pursue and to woo. Understand: I can see no other cultural definition of what it is to be a man. Everyone seems expected to step up to the one-size-fits-all role of provider – a role that is increasingly difficult to fulfill.

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2) Male Prospects Are Dwindling
As the afore-linked article points out, men are, statistically speaking, on the decline. We’re less educated at a time where you need a college degree even to work at McDonalds. We’re competing for jobs at an increasing disadvantage against women. More men than ever are in prison. Fulfilling the gender role of provider is that much harder when you can’t afford your own place, when you make less than your partner, when you’re falling behind.

Yes, a certain amount of this is due to a societal shift to push things later in life. We’re living longer than we ever have before. Whereas one might get married at age 13 in agrarian times, and age 18 in the days when you could get a good job out of high school, nowadays it’s 22 before you’re out of college, and often upwards of 30 before you have a well-paying job. But even taking this into account, women are (at least massively anecdotally, as in, practically everyone I know) more ready to settle down at 30 than men are. One could simply attribute this to the biological clock, but humor me for a second, and assume there’s reasons beyond genetics.

My take? When a modern-day guy is staring down the huge expectation of providing for a family, with no ability to carry through on it, what does he do? Some tackle it head-on and lose themselves in work. Some get depressed and stop trying. Some decide the whole game’s rigged and try to get around it. Some get thrown in jail. And many wait it out, with the understanding that they’ll be able to provide when they’re older, better situated in better jobs. These guys often enter a prolonged adolescence, where they focus on themselves and the things they can control (their bodies) rather than those they can’t (providing for a family).

To me, the poster child for all of this is the comedian Louis CK. A recently-posted and oft-reposted blog entry posited that the surging popularity of Louis CK’s comedy is due to his striking a nerve with today’s society, and that nerve is shame. I tend to agree. Louis’s comedy is usually about his own perceived inadequacy and incompetence. He’s a well-meaning man who’s lost and confused in a rapidly-changing world, unsure how to satisfy the needs of those around him.

The world changed and he didn’t.

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3) Male Role Models Are Virtually Non-Existent
Watch primetime network TV and count the commercials and programs that portray adult men as morons or children. You will quickly run out of fingers upon which to count. In most circumstances, but nowhere more than in sitcoms, these men are paired with a wise girlfriend/wife/love interest, to temper their seemingly-inborn idiocy. In mere decades we’ve gone from father knows best to father knows nothing. Homer the Greek to Homer Simpson.

In all seriousness, who are men to emulate nowadays? Don Draper of Mad Men, serial adulterer alcoholic from fifty years ago? Walter White from Breaking Bad, a teacher who turns to dealing meth after proving unable to provide for his family? Barack Obama, a man so drowned in political and moral compromises that he’s disappointed nearly everyone in the country? Chris Brown, who beat his girlfriend to a pulp? Jack Bauer? Justin Bieber?

The only man who seems to address this is Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club. Obviously, Tyler Durden is not a role model, but he did capture the frustration of a “generation of men raised by women.” Palahniuk is the best thing we have to a mainstream Susan Faludi. And best thing? This ostensible forefather of the future Men’s Liberation movement, author of one of the most macho books in modern history, is an openly gay man.

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(apologies to Jean, whose forced repeat viewings of Mulan may make this image intensely painful)

4) There’s No Instruction Manual
Here’s where it gets personal.

During the heyday of the Women’s Liberation movement, many of the most vociferous feminists laid the groundwork for decades of confusion. Common courtesies like holding doors were painted by many as assaults on the strength of women everywhere. As ludicrous as that sort of hyperbolic vitriol may seem, its effects linger to the present day.

When I started dating, everything was a mystery. Do I pay? Go dutch? Offer to pay? Hold doors? Hold bags? Hold my tongue? Then and now dating often felt like walking through a field of invisible tripwires; playing a game whose rules I do not know, but whose punishments I soon would. Looking back at my parents’ marriage, I feel that my father was just as lost as me. The rules he learned growing up didn’t apply anymore. We are generations of men without direction. Chivalry is dead, and its replacement is late.

It quickly became evident that every person I encountered had their own, wholly different set of rules (duh). With each woman I met, I was never sure what I was up against, what preconceived notions she might bring to the table, how our base assumptions about gender might differ. Common sense wasn’t such a commonality.

Everyone reacts to this realization differently. Some stick rigidly to their worldview and find only people that fit neatly with that. Others date around in order to see what they like. Others still develop chameleon-like personas to ingratiate themselves. The accepted wisdom from movies seems to just ‘be yourself’ (although perhaps a more pliable, open-minded version of yourself), and love will find you.

Well, I was not content with simply ‘being myself’. I wanted to be more. Better. I was hellbent on being an ambassador for my entire gender.

I know how ridiculous that sounds. But realize that I grew up surrounded by women who, almost uniformly, were frustrated and disappointed by men, and that weighed on me heavily. As a self-defense mechanism if nothing else, I needed to show that not all men are monsters. I poured decades into proving that men come in many shapes and sizes, that we are not unfeeling cretins, that friendship and worthwhile relationships are indeed possible.

It was not honest with myself but it was not a lie. I genuinely was, and continue to be, completely platonic friends with a large number of women. Their well-being and feelings were, and continue to be, of paramount importance to me. I never hid any wolven ambitions, nor did I conceal some sort of bare-chested, narcissistic “true” personality. My interactions were, and continue to be, honest. They just were not as honest as they could have been.

As you could guess and my closest friends could attest, my ambassadorship sometimes made me miserable, usually in the context of my relationships. It was not a daily misery by any stretch. 99 minutes out of 100, I was happy with who I was and how I was acting. And yet, I found myself avoiding relationship situations where I would have to be the jerk, because I could never bring myself to be the jerk. I had to make sure that my partner was provided for in every possible situation, and take the blame for every problem to which I could conceivably tie myself.

I couldn’t usually communicate my unhappiness. Sometimes this was because I couldn’t be honest with myself, like being upset about being treated in patronizing manner – an ambassador would see that she meant well. Sometimes this was because men simply are never taught good tools for communication – we have to wing it. Sometimes it was simply because I am a man. And men are supposed to be able to take it. And take it. And take it.

And then one day, I woke up, and found I couldn’t take it anymore. From men who give the entire gender a bad name. From women who roll their eyes and say, “ugh, men.” From society’s expectations of me. And most of all, from my expectations of myself.

So I sat. And I thought. And I wrote this blog entry.

So what the fuck happened? I couldn’t tell you, exactly. But I’m glad it did. Feels like a step forward.

Edit: After re-reading the post, I worry that some might think I was saying that I had been some kind of perfect boyfriend, a paragon of virtue – no. I had a large share of failures, many of them abject and terrible, and many due to my inability and unwillingness to communicate. Just making that clear.

City within a city

The first thing you notice is the sound. It’s the air hundreds of feet up being chopped and diced to pieces, as surveillance helicopters endlessly circle the camp. It sets the tone – a soundtrack that never goes away, just gets drowned out momentarily.

That sound is the filler for in the gaps between events at Occupy LA. Even tonight, when the city is supposed to evict the camp, the happenings of note are few and far between. A chant here, a march there. A lot of waiting and wondering. There’s a lot of down time. Everywhere people are milling about, relaxing, shooting the shit. It could be a block party, except for that sound.

The police keep the pace slow. It’s not until 1am that the riot gear shows. They take 30 minutes to walk halfway down a city block. 6 hours of standing and staring later, they leave. It feels like a message.

But for those long hours in the middle of the night, traffic cut off for blocks around city hall, this tent city is a modern-day Brigadoon: an island in another world. Traffic lights continue endlessly cycling, disconnected from their raison d’etre, from the city in which they have a function. Trees become forts. Bus awnings become lookout points. Even just standing in the emptied street of this car-choked metropolis has an intense psychological effect. Everything transformed to a different purpose than its design. You question the why of things. Another world seems possible.

A human fence of black and kevlar keeps this alternate reality from spilling out to the rest of the world. It idly stands there, murmuring amongst itself, wordlessly denying passage. There is a psychological weight to its presence. While the occupiers organically form and reform into new disorganized shapes, everything about this man-fence screams order. Each link is spread out at even intervals. Outfits, posture, expressions identical. It’s a man-made thing. Built for what purpose exactly? No one knows for sure. For now, for hours, it merely watches.

The not knowing claws at your mind. Beats into it like the steady chopping sound of helicopter blades. I’ve faced down masses of police in many countries and many continents, but the situation is never so real as when it’s in your back yard; when it’s transforming your home into an alien landscape, and your neighbors into combatants. It’s easy to be brave for an hour at a time, but eventually you get tired and you need your family, your bed, your security. Holding your ground for days, weeks, months, forever? I don’t know the right word for it.

Tomorrow the papers and blogs will write the story of tonight. Catch it, box it, categorize it. All throughout the tent city, reporters roam, picking out their pictures and words with the discrimination of a trained chef choosing ingredients. To tell the story they want to tell.

This is the story I want to tell:

Once there was a city within a city. It was filled with vigor, and hope, and life, and disappointment, and despair, and the entire range of human existence. The people who lived there wanted desperately to make a better world. Though no man could know the way, though they had no power, though naysayers belittled them, they kept trying their best. Their words made them powerful enemies, who sought to end their new world. And then, one day, the walls closed in on the city, swallowing it whole.

One day. But not tonight.

Generation Daria

Her: “I can’t believe you like [that actor].” Or “[that TV show].” Or “[that song].”

How many times have I been on this first date?

Sometimes she’s a librarian. Sometimes a homebody. Always with the hierarchy. TV lowest. Movies lowish. Books above it all.

Life’s disappointed her. Sometimes her family has. Sometimes her job has. Eventually I will, too.

Sometimes I fail as a platonic ideal. Sometimes I can’t be platonic.

I say artistry is difficult. Good taste is like a good compass. It gives you direction, but can’t help you climb a mountain.

She’s never been one for mountaineering.

(this was a piece of 100-word flash fiction I wrote years back and never published. I’m up late, can’t sleep, figured I’d polish it up and put it online)

The Fox and the Crow

Here’s another storyboarding assignment. This one, we were given a fable, and told to make a faithful modern interpretation of it. The rules were:

  • The characters don’t have to be animals, but they must maintain the characteristics of the animals given.
  • The story must be faithful in spirit and in moral to the original – no fractured fairy tales.
  • It does not have to be slavish to the original dialogue, and there’s plenty of room for re-interpretation.
  • ┬áTry to flesh the story out.

So I’m going to present my storyboards without comment, followed by the original fable prompt. Then I’ll talk about what worked and what didn’t.

Continue reading

The Baby and the Balloon


As one of the first assignments for a storyboarding class I’m taking, we had to make a scene based on the prompt that a baby loses a helium balloon and a grown man wants to get it back for the baby.

The restrictions were as follows:

  • No dialog
  • Must have a clear beginning, middle, and end
  • Stakes must be raised throughout
  • There must be no way out for the protagonist

I was one of two people to actually complete the assignment, and although I had a huge number of technical mistakes (due to not understanding the format of the medium), I thought I’d still put it up here. I’m going to post the pictures, without explanation, and then provide a description of the scene, afterwards – as people are supposed to be able to glean everything from the boards themselves. Granted, the boards are supposed to have some description and sound effects on them (a fact I neglected, as I misunderstood the “no dialog” edict as much stricter), but hey. See if you can follow.

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On China

Since I’ve come back from my trip, a lot of people have asked me, “how was China?” I’ve struggled to answer each time. Usually I just said, “complicated.”

We in the west get a lot of the ‘what’ about China, but little of the ‘why’. In other words, we hear a lot about China’s totalitarian edicts, its sometimes-brutal crackdowns, its nonexistent copyright laws, and almost never does the reporting outlet even make a stab at the reasoning behind these things. We don’t hear about what the average people – not the shills employed by the Chinese government – say and think about it. Or what they think about each other. Or what their daily lives are like.

I’m going to try and write about China from a ‘why’ perspective, but realize – I’m a privileged white guy. I spent less than two weeks there. This is probably best ingested with a couple grains of salt. Maybe a brick.

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Chinese Rambo

I have met the hardest motherfucker on earth, and his name is Hu Da.

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Your Business

(wrote this one awhile back, never got around to posting; testing if that’s even possible from China)

Industrial Light and Magic is dead.

Not the digital effects company, but the old ILM – the model shop that did Star Wars. The one that spun off from ILM under the name Kerner Optical. The one that, I think it’s fair to say, for which moviegoers have more sentimentality.

I only got to visit once, in 2004, before the company split in two. The location of the facility was a closely-guarded secret, and the directions were confusing. One wrong turn and you end up at San Quentin Prison (we did). When we got to the address given, we thought we must be in the wrong place. It was a suburban neighborhood, with a street full of large, nondescript buildings.

As we approached, a pair of door-to-door salesmen were exiting one of the buildings, politely escorted by a plainclothes man with a walkie-talkie. As they left, they angrily yelled, in between hurling epithets, “I didn’t even know you were security! I bet your neighbors aren’t such dicks!” – only to realize that in the doorway of the neighboring building now stood another plainclothes man with a walkie talkie. The next building, too. And across the street. Suddenly these two were surrounded on all sides by security. And we realized, as we came to the doorway marked Kerner Optical Company as camouflage, that every building on Kerner Street was ILM.

It was a memorable trip.

I thought about this when sitting in the airport recently, when, amidst the news coverage, the business section began talking about the weekend’s box office receipts. Specifically, what movies had been flops, what wasn’t making money, in short, what was rotten about Hollywood nowadays.

Everyone has an opinion on the Oscars. Nobody has one about the annual chewing gum awards.

Hollywood is an odd place to fail. The industry’s failures are messy, frequent, public, and oddly personal. I wonder sometimes if financial analysts get told they’re forcing diarrhea down the public’s throat – because it’s happened to me. I wonder if BP employees have their opinions completely denigrated and told that they should shut up and go back to their, air-quotes, “job” – because it’s happened to me.

(Hell, I wonder if that happens to people at *Pixar*.)

It gets to me because if it didn’t, I couldn’t do my job. I work long, long hours, on projects for which I often don’t care. But I push. We all push. Because we love our work and even if it isn’t the best movie in the world, it is our job to make it the best movie it can be. We have to make our part shine. So we do. And then?

“Putting lipstick on a pig.”

“Polishing a turd.”

“Meh.”

I’ve heard them all. I’ve said them all, in spite of myself. I mean, I drew a picture of one of the main characters from the movie I just worked on – split into pieces, blood and entrails everywhere – and put it easy view of one of the most heavily-visited areas at work. There is an on-going joke about me doing an art show somewhere on campus titled “I am not a team player.” Mea culpa.

It’s easy to be a cynic. It’s easy to poke your nose into someone else’s business and proclaim your opinion. Hell, some people build their entire existence around it. Little Roman emperors, giving gladiators thumbs up or thumbs down. But it’s not sustainable. Just look at the tales of two Conans (one, two). How they took positive stands even when they had every reason not to. Because to do otherwise would destroy them. Would destroy what they love. Would render them incapable of doing their jobs.

It’s harder to create than to consume. It’s harder to wrestle with life’s imperfections than to dismiss the entirety of this sometimes-difficult, often-disappointing world with one queasy “meh.” It’s hard.

So here’s to the old ILM. Thank you for the good times. And to the new ILM, here’s looking forward to more stellar work.

All Together Now

There are very few moments in my life I’d consider to be perfect, but watching this concert live was one of them:

When I saw that someone had created a “master edit” out of the user-uploaded videos from people who were there, I had to watch it. And it sent chills up my spine, same as being there.

Watching this, I wonder if my children will be able to revisit all of the important moments of their lives like this – or whether the powers that be will manage to disable everyone’s cameras but their own and sell a managed, packaged, sanitized version of their experiences back to them.

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