I wrote about "The Deuce" on my Forbes blog here. I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag. Generally, I'm not much of a fan of David Simon; too much I AM TRYING TO MAKE A POLITICAL POINT and not enough internal turmoil. Where is "The Deuce"'s Tony Soprano? You will not find it in James Franco's porny twins sitting in front of a mirror in a bar. Probably the best thing about the show is Maggie Gyllenhaal's Candy -- that hooker with a heart of gold and, in this case, a complicated soul. She's probably the most nuanced thing about the show, refusing to fall prey to Simon's terminal heavy-handedness and forever case of the seriousnesses. Candy is sweet, and predatory, and careful, and reckless. There's a sweetly complex scene that Gyllenhaal drives in which Candy turns a young trick, and deftly. Something about the scene where he squeezes her boobs, and when she subsequently subverts what you think the sex worker-john dynamic is demonstrates the humanity you find in unlikely places. As for porn, there's little of it. That's coming, apparently. For now, the players are setting the scene. I'm curious to see where it goes. I try and remain optimistic.
Someone sent me a link to this podcast that covers how the porn industry has been reshaped by technology. I listened to one episode and didn't think much of it. For the most part, men struggle when it comes to covering porn. Example 1. Example 2. Exception 1. Exception 2. I'll give the rest of "The Butterfly Effect" a listen.
I enjoyed watching "The Defiant Ones." It's a kind of mini-series on the parallel-ish careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine and what led them to sell Beats by Dre for big bucks. It's got some interesting material on the rise and troubles of NWA and the various musical permutations of its members that came after, a fun origin story from Eminem, and a peek inside the rollercoaster ride reality that is success. At one point, as things get really troubled with rival rappers feuding, Iovine wonders: "Am I defending free speech or am I funding Hamas?" While the investigation is frequently gritty, it mostly ignores the more troubling aspects of both their privates lives and sheds little light on what fundamentally makes each man tick -- beyond that he's a hustler. The second half of the last episode is the weakest, turning into something of an ad for their shared product. But, whatever. We don't really get them, after all, but it's fun to bear witness to how they made it there.
If you haven't already, make sure to read David Roth's "The President of Blank Sucking Nullity." It's my favorite thing I've read on Trump thus far, and it really gets to the ... uh, heart of the man.
"To understand Trump is also to understand his appeal as an aspirational brand to the worst people in the United States. What his intransigent admirers like most about him—the thing they aspire to, in their online cosplay sessions and their desperately thirsty performances for a media they loathe and to which they are so helplessly addicted—is his freedom to be unconcerned with anything but himself. This is not because he is rich or brave or astute; it’s because he is an asshole, and so authentically unconcerned. The howling and unreflective void at his core will keep him lonely and stupid until the moment a sufficient number of his vital organs finally resign in disgrace, but it liberates him to devote every bit of his being to his pursuit of himself. Actual hate and actual love, as other people feel them, are too complicated to fit into this world. In their place, for Trump and for the people who see in him a way of being that they are too busy or burdened or humane to pursue, are the versions that exist in a lower orbit, around the self. Instead of hate, there is simple resentment—abject and valueless and recursively self-pitying; instead of love, there is the blank sucking nullity of vanity and appetite."
Over on my Forbes blog, I wrote a bit about why I enjoyed "Ozark." It's dark, it's violent, and it's surprising. A financial planner gone bad doesn't sound interesting -- but it's the underbelly that's fun.
Financial planners are fun
"Hey, I've got this great idea for a show about a financial advisor, and --." Somehow, everyone in the room at your pitch meeting has already fallen asleep. The reality of "Ozark" demonstrates the opposite, though. Instead, a knack for enterprising approaches to doing deals is what makes Marty able to survive when -- well, people start getting killed in gruesome ways, the family must relocate from Chicago to the Ozarks in order to launder a massive amount of dirty money, and a pregnant, half-naked stripper appears. Who knew finance could be so ... edgy?
A lovely piece by Jacqui Shine on the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.
"The chapel is lit only by a skylight, designed to match the one in Rothko’s New York studio, where he built a partial mock-up of the chapel interior to work from. No matter where you stand, the room’s irregular geometry seems to thrust you into its center. Comforts are few. There are usually two tidy rows of backless benches in the center of the room, a handful of meditation cushions on the brick floor. It is quiet but rarely silent. It is not an easy place. Nothing tells you how to see."
I've lost some weight lately, over the last few months, which is a positive. Most recently, I was able to fit back into these camo pants. They're from The Gap and sit low and fit the leg tightly. I had to go meet some people I knew at a bar, so I wore these pants with some black heels with straps around the ankle. Oddly, I can't remember what shirt I wore. I tried on several before deciding. I think I wore a top I got years ago in Texas. If you keep things around long enough, they come back to you, apparently. As for the weight, that's due to a membership at a gym, doing Pilates, and walking. And not eating bread. Or, you know, cake. Mostly.
I intend to write a review of "Ozark," but haven't done so yet. I highly recommend it. It's about a financial planner who gets involved in some trouble. It's better than the trailer. Give it a look. It's on Netflix.
If you're interested in getting an uncensored (well, except for the fact that it's Instagram) peek into the life of a sex worker, I recommend The Uncensored Stripper's Instagram feed. Filled with photos new and old, immediate-feeling anecdotes of sex work done and undone, and the complications of providing emotional labor, give it a follow here.
The other day, Dave Winer wrote about writing a State of the Blog. Intrigued, I expressed my interest in it. In return, Dave noted: "A good way to get the State of the Blog thing going is for everybody to think about the SOTB from their POV and then (of course) blog it."
I started blogging in 2002, as I recall. At the time, Salon had a clunky-but-cool blogging platform, and since it was attached to a publication, there was some promise of traffic, so I launched my blog there. It was called The Reverse Cowgirl, and it was rather successful. I remember getting a kind of high off what we called "hits" back then. I believe my first big influx of traffic arrived when I posted images of a woman who had streaked or half-streaked a golf tournament. Maybe she was a porn star. I remember I got something like 5,000 hits. Wow! I was really impressed. As it turns out, with a blog, you could do your own thing. You didn't really need an editor, or permission to write something, or a budget. You could just churn, and the world would burn. It was ... fun.
That blog, as one can surmise by the name, was about sex, mostly, as I recall. That's what I wrote about as a freelance journalist, and the blog was kind of a way for me to funnel some energy into an outlet where someone wasn't telling me "No" all the time. I really liked blogging. It felt like I owned it. It felt like it was all me. It felt kind of true.
Blogging isn't really like that anymore. Along the way, it got eaten by corporations, and some of the greats I loved died over time or were killed. What was once an outlier's art became a series of cubbyholes in which millennials sat to crap out shit that passed for what we used to think of as blog posts. What's a blog today? I don't know. The New York Times does it. Those idiotic sites for bros do it. Some people still do it for love.
These days, the blogs I read are limited, because I, too, get most of my feed of news from social media. For me, that's usually Twitter. But I do read some blogs, still. One example would be Kottke, which remains about as true to its original self as a thing can. (I've guest-blogged there a few times, and it was like praying in church.) Another blog I enjoy that is distinct, original, and unfaltering is BLDGBLOG. What is it? That's hard to say. It's about curious places in the world, and our curious place in the world, and how the curious never fails to delight us. Sometimes I read GOMIBLOG, which is like an anti-blog blog. Its primary stance is calling out bloggers for ridiculous or scandalous behaviors. It is the ouroboros of blogging.
For the most part, though, gone are the distinctive voices that rose to popularity in the early days of blogging. Its practitioners got hired away or started writing sponsored posts. And the very idea of a blog got sucked into the maw of capitalism, which has never really done anybody any good -- not creatively, anyway. Once upon a time, blogging was an act of rebellion. Nowadays, it's a lost art sacrificed to the gods of selling out and getting ahead.
Which is too bad, really. Because blogging was the bridge that brought us here. Social media gave everybody a platform, but when the chorus sings, the most singular, strident, and spectacular voices get lost in the din of the many clamoring for attention, showing their abs in hopes of parlaying their status into influencer, exposing their thirsty status in a short-term hustle for likes, clicks, and views that, in the end, signify nothing but vanity and vapidity.
What's next? A return to blogging! Or, no. Scratch that. Blogging is dead! Or, well. Maybe not. To blog or not to blog is the question I sometimes ask myself. Maybe the answer lies in pornography. When I started writing about the porn industry, it was the late 90s. A boom was underway, and the internet was taking X-rated content to the masses. But after the turn of the century, Porn Valley found itself flooded by production companies. The barrier to entry had lowered with the affordability of the technology required to make it, and "porn movies" rapidly morphed into "content." Then: piracy, the Feds, the economic apocalypse. By '08/'09, the adult movie industry, like much of the rest of the American economy, had shit the bed. But something interesting happened in the years after that. The competition was wiped out, and only the strong and the stalwart survived. Few remained, but they persevered. And in a lovely sort of mirroring, the audience changed, too. Tired of dreck smut shot on cum-stained couches, exhausted by masturbating to crap content shot by fly-by-night operations, bored with the ubiquity of gonzo-porno starring gaping assholes and cam-girls-gone-wild, consumers of porn surmised what they wanted was more. Not more of what had come before: the outrageous, the explicit, the deranged. They wanted quality, they wanted stories, they wanted craft. Now, the pornographers who survived the apocalypse are learning that if they make better porn, there are people out there who are willing to pay for it. Slowly, but surely, it appears, some 20 years (to the fucking month!) since I first set foot on a porn movie set, the industry has come circle. You can hear the wheels churning from here.
Maybe that's where blogging is. A few of us have hunkered down to wait out the storm. We watched from the sidelines when the clowns showed up and hijacked the show. As the masses move on to the next hot thing, we are finding there is a little elbow room in blogging again, and we are stretching ourselves -- tentatively, at first, to see if these muscles of ours still work -- and we are trying to figure out what it is we have to say. I'm still here. I know you are, too. I am setting out on a journey that is the unfolding story of my life. Will you come with me?
Here's a fun interview with the delightful painter John Currin. It covers sex, porn, and eyeballs. Oh, and painting, too.
GQ Style: Two decades back, did you feel like it was easier to show X-rated paintings overseas?
John Currin: That was more about my elegy to European painting and my naive idea of European libertinism.
So it wasn’t you tiptoeing around American conservatism?
No, and I subsequently got interested in making the convex-mirror paintings, because they’re less about a social reality and more a reflection of how my own ideas have changed about porn. I thought of the mirror’s distortion almost like an invasive eyeball.
Read Olga Khazan's "Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work?" It's an interesting, insightful, and illuminating investigation of how women relate at work -- in ways that are not infrequently toxic.
Large surveys by Pew and Gallup as well as several academic studies show that when women have a preference as to the gender of their bosses and colleagues, that preference is largely for men. A 2009 study published in the journal Gender in Management found, for example, that although women believe other women make good managers, “the female workers did not actually want to work for them.” The longer a woman had been in the workforce, the less likely she was to want a female boss.
The other night I volunteered for Planned Parenthood. Usually, I'm an escort for those who are going to the clinic to have abortions. This time, I went to a house where maybe 40 or so mostly women were trying to stop one of this red state's senators from voting for legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. Typically, I would've joined the group of folks writing letters to the senator, but because I had recently read this article, by a guy who chose phone calls over emails and discovered a greater intimacy, I decided to stand on the back patio in the heavy humidity and call people to ask them to call the Senator and tell him they stand with Planned Parenthood and they don't appreciate his attempt to defund it. I actually haven't really done anything like this before. Sure, I've cold called, but this was more like chilly calling. Some numbers had since been changed. Sometimes, I left a message. Occasionally, I got a person. My favorite response on the no end of the spectrum was: "Honey, I'm 90 -- click." Clearly, she had better things to do. Sometimes, you got an enthusiastic response. More often than not, that was from a woman. Yes, she would call. Clearly, she was delighted to hear from Planned Parenthood. She understood that this was a call to action. She was ready to go.
I had fun writing a new post for my Forbes blog in which I asked porn industry insiders if Anthony Scaramucci has a future in being paid homage in a XXX movie. You can read that story here.
In Scaramucci and his graphic diatribe, Myers saw the potential for a sex parody that would be right at home alongside his long line of other successful pop culture parodies: "Game of Bones," "The Big Lebowski: A XXX Parody," and "Spongeknob Squarenuts" among them. He even went so far as to reach out to Tommy Pistol, a porn actor from Astoria, Queens, who has a background in sketch comedy, with the goal of casting him as Scaramucci. Pistol has been performing in adult movies for the last 12 years. "I think that was like the shoo-in for me," Pistol recounts of getting the call, "being a New Yorker and being able to act."
I've been watching Amazon's "The Last Tycoon." It's not perfect, but it holds the attention. It's Old Hollywood, and lots of drama, and it's very easy on the eyes. Two standout performances from Kelsey Grammer in the role of Executive Blowhard and Jennifer Beals as A Woman with a Secret. The series is based on F. Scott's Fitzgerald's last and unfinished novel of the same name. Beals is the show's shining star, and her storyline, which is based in truth, is really interesting, and, I think, deftly handled. Lily Collins has really impressive eyebrows that tend to be scene-stealers. What the series does best is paint Hollywood as a complicated, rough, siren-esque place where dreams can be made and dashed all in the course of a day on a movie lot.
"A Ghost Story." Annoying hipster horror-ish movie or intriguing meditation of the meaninglessness of life? You've got to see it if you want the answer. The Other Affleck plays a dead guy under a finely draped sheet. That Girl With Those Cheekbones plays his widow. Neither of their faces are on camera for long. Shooting location: Austin, Texas. How very Malick of you, dude. The guy dies, the girl is sad, and time whizzes past us. There's a note, but in the end, you'll never know what it says. (I guess that's a spoiler.) I admire the intellectual reaching, but I feel like this movie ghosted me. That said, I enjoyed much of it. So, see it ... maybe?