Friday, December 3, 2010

On Spontaneity

I'm currently re-reading Keith Johnstone's Impro. This is one of the books that really affected me most in my formative years.

Here's an excerpt:

It's possible to turn unimaginative people into imaginative people at a moment's notice. I remember an experiment referred to in the British Journal of Psychology - probably in the summer of 1969 or 1970- in which businessmen who had showed up as very dull on work-association tests were asked to imagine themselves as happy-go-lucky hippy types, in which persona they were retested, and showed up as far more imaginative. In creativity tests you may be asked to suggest different ways of using a brick; if you say things like 'Build a house', or 'Build a wall', then you're classified as unimaginative- if you say 'Grind it up and use it for diarrhoea mixture', or 'Rub off warts with it', then you're imaginative. I'm oversimplifying, but you get the general idea.

Some tests involve picture completion. You get given a lot of little squares with signs in them, and you have to add something to the sign. 'Uncreative' people just add another squiggle, or join up a 'C' shape to make a circle. 'Creative' people have a great time, parallel lines become the trunk of a tree, a 'V' on its side becomes the beam of a lighthouse and so on. It may be a mistake to think of such tests as showing people to be creative, or uncreative. It may be that the tests are recording different activities. The person who adds a timid squiggle may be trying to reveal as little as possible about himself. If we can persuade him to have fun, and not worry about being judged, then maybe he can approach the test with the same attitude as a 'creative' person, just like the tired businessmen when they were pretending to be hippies.

Most schools encourage children to be unimaginative. The research so far shows that imaginative children are disliked by their teachers. Torrance gives an eye-witness account of an 'exceptionally creative boy' who questioned the rules of the textbook: 'The teacher became irate, even in the presence of the principal. She fumed, "So! You think you know more than this book!"' She was also upset when the boy finished the problems she set almost as quickly as it took to read them. 'She couldn't understand how he was getting the correct answer and demanded that he write down all of the steps he had gone through in solving each problem.'

When this boy transferred to another school, his new principal telephoned to ask if he was the sort of boy 'who has to be squelched rather roughly'. When it was explained that he was 'a very wholesome, promising lad who needed understanding and encouragement' the new principal exclaimed 'rather brusquely, "Well, he's already said too much right here in my office!"' (E.P. Torrance, Guiding creative Talent, Prentice-Hall, 1962.)

One of my students spent two years in a classroom where the teacher had put a large sign over the blackboard. It said 'Get into the "Yes, Sir" attitude.' No doubt we can all add further anecdotes. Torrance has a theory that 'many children with impoverished imaginations have been subjected to rather vigorous and stern efforts to eliminate fantasy too early. They are afraid to think.' Torrance seems to understand the forces at work, but he still refers to attempts to eliminate fantasy too early. Why should we eliminate fantasy at all? Once we eliminate fantasy, then we have no artists.

This excerpt certainly had an affect on me before I formally became an instructor in any of the subjects that I teach. More than that, I find it important outside of the classroom as well.

Friday, September 10, 2010


This is improvisational team L. Ron Jeremy on their record breaking night. They've beat 47 weeks worth of teams in their regular Cagematch: Omega battles at IO West.

They're set to retire at the end of their 52nd week, September 20th, 2010. They're a real high energy act, and from everything I've seen a decent bunch of fellas.

Anyway, these guys kick ass. Watch them. They'll definitely be playing the Cagematch: Omega Battle this Monday at 11:30pm. I expect them to win and finish up on September 20th. The shows are free. Come and cheer them on!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Longest Road - part 2

Local gaming hero David Zevin won the Settlers of Catan pre-qualifying event at Gamex in May. Since flying to Indianapolis to compete in the qualifying round of the Settlers of Catan Worldwide Championship at GenCon, he comes home a champion. He won the GenCon event and will be heading to Burg Wildenstein in Germany to represent the United States in the final rounds! David met with Neil Figuracion at Game Empire in Pasadena to share his experiences.

You can read the first part of the interview here: The Longest Road - part 1

Strategicon: So here we are again, David. Things have gone your way it looks like.

David Zevin: (Chuckles) A little bit. A little bit.

S: Since you left the Settlers event at Gamex, you went on to win GenCon. That was just last weekend. What was your experience like getting there?

DZ: It was a little weird. Actually I was doing some volunteer work for the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles and there was this big tournament of the Maccabi games - Jewish junior olympics and a friend of mine needed a tennis coach. So I kinda volunteered to do that. So I was in Omaha, Nebraska for five days leading up to GenCon and I missed the first day. I flew directly from Omaha to Indianapolis and I was kind of exhausted. I got like 5-6 hours of sleep for like five nights leading up to GenCon. So it had been a wild week.

S: So you got to GenCon. What was your first impression? This was your first trip, right?

DZ: First trip to GenCon, yeah. I was a little overwhelmed when I first got there. Just 'cause it was much bigger than I had thought it was... It was like Comic Con, basically - tons of people dressed up. It was just this room full of vendors and everything. I wasn't expecting quite that. I was expecting things to be more like our Strategicon, where there's a lot of gaming going, but not a lot of other things.

S: What do you think GenCon is focused on?

DZ: I'll say it's focused on making money. Every tournament you enter costs a ticket, which will cost you about two bucks or more. The whole room is just full of people selling you stuff. Mayfair games has a giant booth there and Rio Grande Games and all these other [companies] have all these giant displays there. They'll demo games, but they're doing it in the hope that they'll sell it to you. Everything there is set up to make you spend a lot of money. It's kind of tough to get off cheap at GenCon.

S: How different is that from the Strategicon conventions?

DZ: Well, one thing I like a lot better with Strategicon is that to enter a tournament is free. And then at GenCon, when you win a tournament you actually get nothing but a ribbon for the most part, unless it's a big event which costs a lot more money to enter.

S: So what do you think the Strategicon conventions are doing right?

DZ: It's just a lot friendlier atmosphere. It's kind of a very laid back atmosphere where you can just jump into a game. You can even play a game you've never heard of before in a tournament and win your first time out.

S: What was it like competing in the Catan events at GenCon?

DZ: Well, it was a little intense. I found out when we got there that everything was going to come down to two games, single elimination games. One thing I liked about the pre-qualifier was that we would play four games and then take the winning percentage. So even if you didn't win... if you scored well they would actually take that into account.

S: How would you describe the players that you met?

DZ: You know, there were some good players, like you would find anywhere. My last couple of rounds at [Gamex] were much harder. A little luck went my way [at GenCon] but I won pretty handily. No one had more than six points in my first game and seven points in the second. I was a good three to four points ahead of anyone. In Catan that's a good, wide margin. I was never really worried, but I was in a couple of games at Gamex.

S: What was the experience like - winning at GenCon?

DZ: It was cool! It was a little overwhelming knowing that I was gonna go to Germany as one of two Americans representing the U.S. I think there are going to be a pool of 40-50 people in Germany. Yeah, we're gonna do our best.

S: You are one of the two American players going to Burg Wildenstein in Germany. What do you imagine?

DZ: I think it's going to be a lot of fun! We're staying in a castle. We're gonna do some fun stuff around there I would assume. I think it's about a three hour train ride to the nearest airport. It's in the middle of nowhere in this castle playing Settlers of Catan. It's gonna be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

S: ...with forty or fifty people from...

DZ: With forty or fifty people from other countries. Trading is gonna be interesting. Gonna have to brush up on my romance languages.

S: [laughter]

DZ: We'll see how things go. I'll learn "sheep" in a lot of different languages. That should be useful.

S: Do you have any messages to send to your potential competitors around the world?

DZ: I'm just gonna send the same message I sent in our last interview: Watch out! I'm coming to Germany. It's gonna be trouble for you guys.

S: Thanks very much and congratulations!

DZ: Well, thank you!

The next Strategicon convention is coming up in just a few weeks: Gateway is scheduled for September 3-6, 2010 and has a host of great events scheduled! Special guests include Race for the Galaxy designer Tom Lehmann and Looney Labs, who will be launching their new Back to the Future card game!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Longest Road - Part 1

This was originally posted at the Strategicon website. In case you didn't know, I organize all of the board game tournaments for Strategicon, including the upcoming Gateway Convention, September 3-6, 2010!

After decades at the table, Dave Zevin won the Settlers of Catan Worldwide Championship pre-qualifiying round at Gamex 2010. We sat with Dave for a while to hear about his experience.

Interview conducted by Neil Figuracion

Strategicon: Dave, how long have you been gaming?

David Zevin: I've been gaming since I was three or four. I was playing the games that we [Eurogamers] don't really like as much any more, like Monopoly. I was kicking people's butts at Monopoly when I was like five or six, I would say.

S: How did you get introduced to Settlers of Catan?

DZ: Settlers, I was introduced to by a friend of mine in High School, pretty close to when it came to the United States, I think. I liked it then and I continue to like it today.

S: Have you played a lot of Settlers?

DZ: I have played a ton of Settlers. I would have to think that I have played more Settlers on an actual board than almost anybody that I can think of. Almost every day in college, me and my roommate would play two player Settlers, even though the box says 3-4. We would also play with our suite-mate a lot. One of them was Pre-Med and one of them was a Bio-Chemical Engineer. They both almost flunked out, because of Settlers, I think.

S: [laughter]

DZ: We would play just way too much. Like once, twice a day for that entire year. In college alone, I played 3 to 400 games.

S: What brought you to Strategicon?

DZ: I couldn't find enough gamers out here [in Los Angeles] that I knew. So I went online to look and found the SoCal Gamers. I found out through them that there was this game convention and I said "yeah, sure that sounds like something I'd like to do." It's just a very chill atmosphere and you can get in the games that you want to get in and you can win prizes. It's cool. I love it!

S: What inspired you to get involved in the World Championship competition?

DZ: I was kind of on the fence about it actually. I knew this would be a huge commitment. I know that I'm a pretty strong Settlers player. I won the Mega Settlers [tournament] a couple cons earlier. I was happy I did it, but it took up a good portion of my con and I knew this was going to take up even more. I wanted to do it. I wanted to see if I could make it to Indianapolis. See if I could represent the U.S. in Germany. I think that that would be awesome.

S: When you got to the pre-qualifier event last weekend, what was your experience like there?

DZ: It was positive. There were some good players. I was fortunate enough to have the best winning percentage there. The first game I lost. I won five straight after that. [joking] even I lose Settlers occasionally. Five out of six isn't bad.

S: [laughter] So what was it like playing with a group of Settlers players for hours.

DZ: It was kind of daunting by the sixth game in two days. You're kinda seeing sheep in your sleep. It was a good experience. I look forward to doing it again in Indianapolis.

S: You take it to the final table at Gamex. What was that final game experience like?

DZ: It was pretty easy actually. The semi-final was the scary one for me. There were a couple of instances... I kinda had to come out of nowhere to win that one. I had to use every trick of Settlers in my book to win that one. I wasn't getting the rolls. A lot of it comes down to initial placement and I got hosed. I was able to get some lucky cards at the right time and make some good moves and I won. The final game, I was ahead the whole game. People were teaming up against me the whole game and it really didn't matter beccause my placement was better and I was getting some lucky rolls. I started ahead and finished with a pretty healthy margin of victory.

S: So what does it feel like to represent your home convention?

DZ: I'm gonna do my best! It feels good. I'm gonna hopefully represent SoCal and hopefully take down these Midwesterners and Easterners. Show 'em what we're made of.

S: What do you have to say to your potential opponents?

DZ: I'm coming. You watch out!

S: [laughter] Thank you very much, Dave!

DZ: Thank you!

Click here for part 2, with the results of the GenCon tournament and more about David Zevin's journey on the Longest Road to the Settlers of Catan Worldwide Championships!

Also, check the Strategicon website for the board game events schedule. It's gonna be a rockin' fun weekend! See ya at the table.

An excerpt from the life of Scott Pilgrim

Above is a short video from Adult Swim that excerpts a flashback from the pages of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series. Below is an interview that I conducted with O'Malley for Broken Frontier a few years back.

One of the breakout comics of the last few years was a book called Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim combines action, romance and rock and roll into a package that puts the funny back into funny books. Bryan Lee O’Malley, creator of Scott Pilgrim met with Neil Figuracion at the San Diego Comic-Con to discuss his roots, his slacker friends and how vegans earn their psychic powers.

BROKEN FRONTIER: It seems like Super Mario was a big part of your life. Did you spend a lot of time with your friends…

BRYAN LEE O’MALLEY: [Chuckles] I guess so. I feel like everyone around my age did. Yeah, Super Mario 3 was a really big deal when we were all little kids. It’s just sort of like the fabric of my childhood, I guess.

BF: You were the artist on the second Hopeless Savages series. Was that your first comics work?

BLO: No, it was the first thing that I drew that… (hesitating) No, it wasn’t. I worked with my friends – they were in a thing called Studio XD, back in 2000-2001. I lettered their book Last Shot and I worked with Udon for a while doing various things. I did this Spider-man book for little kids. Then I inked an issue of Queen and Country and then I did Hopeless Savages.

BF: What’s the story behind Lost at Sea ?

BLO: I was in California with the Studio XD guys. I was really angsty and had a lot going on in my mind. So I wrote this book that was from the perspective of this teenage girl. Part of the thing I was feeling was just too ridiculous to be a twenty-one year old guy.

BF: Do you feel something like a teenage girl?

BLO: Oh, I used to. I used to be like an angsty sixteen year old girl. I was just really overemotional, over-thinking everything. I was lost at sea, so the book just came out of my mind set. So that was like trying to clear my mind out a bit. Same with Scott Pilgrim, really. Just trying to clear out some of the nerdy junk culture.

BF: Well it seems like Scott Pilgrim is a pretty big change of pace from that.

BLO: It is, but more like a change… like when I’m looking back at my teen years it’s more angsty and like [makes an agitated gesture] whoooo! Then when I’m looking back a little later, like in my twenties, I’m still kinda angsty but it’s not the main thing. I’ve had other stuff to do, other stuff on my mind - relationships and friends ships and stuff like that. So I’m kinda looking more outside of myself, whereas Lost at Sea is really, really internal.

BF: Scott Pilgrim seems like the first great action romantic comedy of the new millennium.

BLO: [Nervous laughter] Okaaay…

BF: How did you initially pitch the series to Oni?

BLO: I don’t totally remember. It was a bit smaller at first. I think it was going to be one book originally. The pitch was basically that it was Blue Monday, which is one of their books – Blue Monday meets Dragon Ball!

BF: Was the reader response surprising?

BLO: It has been, gradually. We’ve been doing it for two years now. The first one came out almost exactly two years ago. At first there was not much [response]. You know, a trickle. It’s just been snowballing really, really steadily. By this time, it’s pretty big.

BF: Your hero Scott seems to be on the tail-end of adolescence. Do you know a lot of guys like that?

BLO: Yeah. All my friends are like that, and I was like that for a long time. I don’t know if it’s always been like that but people in their twenties right now are not growing up, really. They’re still acting like teenagers, [but] they’re just getting apartments and getting drunk every night instead. Having nothing really to do, they’re working in the service industry and stuff. I’m just trying to take a look at that world. A lot of my friends, it’s just like you wish they’d grow up and do something with their lives but they don’t. So that’s kind of Scott Pilgrim.

BF: And then there’s Scott’s true love, Ramona Flowers. Was meeting Hope Larson like that?

BLO: I started writing the book before – not like the actual book but taking notes for the series – before I actually met Hope. But then it just naturally developed. The love interest became sort of my love interest for the time. So she became this American girl, but there’s bits of other girls I know. It’s kind of an amalgamation.

BF: Scott has to defeat Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends. Is love ever easy?

BLO: Not really. Not when it’s any good. It’s usually not Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends hard, but it’s never super easy.

BF: Is there a particularly Canadian point of view in the book?

BLO: I don’t know. I mean it’s one of those things that it’s hard to sort of answer yourself. Like other people look at it and maybe they’ll know. I mean probably [there is], because I grew up in Canada and that’s where I spent my whole life. I’d like to think so, but I feel like a lot of Canadian fiction in entertainment, like TV and movies and stuff, [portray] and attitude that I don’t really like; like really kind of meek.

BF: What would be an example of this meekness?

BLO: I don’t know. I’m probably just making it up?

BF: Well, Canadians are stereotypically polite.

BLO: They’re polite, yeah, and sort of subservient in… What’s that other word I’m looking for? I don’t know. They’re a little too nice – almost passive-aggressive. Yeah, I feel like Canada needs to, I mean not Canada itself but Canadian artists and writers need to stand up for themselves more maybe.

BF: Well, what are real Canadians like if they’re not meek and polite?

BLO: Well they are meek and polite but they’re not… I don’t really have my point of view on this formulated yet. I’m in the process of it. I might be doing some writing for my friend who works for the CBC. You know, I’ll figure it out as I go along.

BF: I actually served your vegan shepherd’s pie recipe for a family dinner.

BLO: Did it go over well?

BF: It went well.

BLO: Some people came over yesterday and they were like “We keep trying to make your vegan shepherd’s pie and it’s not good.” They keep screwing it up and it turns to liquid or something. And it’s like I think you might be using too much liquid. You just have to use a splash really. I don’t know what they’re doing wrong.

BF: Actually it wasn’t that hard for me.

BLO: Yeah, it’s not really that hard.

BF: I guess I’m curious about this whole vegan king fu mythology that you’re creating. Where does that come from?

BLO: [Chuckles] Well, my wife was vegan for a while. Some of my friends were vegan. Some vegans are dicks about it. Not my friends – not most vegans, but some of them are like… I’ve heard vegans say things like “Vegans don’t sweat!” Like that kind of thing.

BF: [Stifling laughter]

BLO: So I just kind of built it up in my mind. I was probably reading Akira or something and I was like oh yeah, so vegans can fly and destroy you with their mind. It was like a natural progression in my mind.

BF: If you could mash up a few different bands, what would Sex Bob-omb sound like?

BLO: Sh*t, I’ve done this before. I remember saying it was early Bis and Uncle Tupelo. I think that’s a good combination.

BF: I hear rumors of a Scott Pilgrim movie.

BLO: I do too. I don’t know. Someone came by [the Oni booth] earlier and said “Oh! They turned in a second draft of the screenplay!” and I was like huh? Then another guy asked “How many drafts? How many screenplays have they written?” I don’t know what’s going on.

BF: Is there actual talk about a real movie.

BLO: There is talk. There is [inaudible] signed somewhere. There’s a few people involved. Edgar Wright was at the show and he’s supposed to be directing it, maybe. If he decides to. It’s not green lit, so we’ll see – fingers crossed.

BF: Would you want to be involved in that process?


BF: More involved than you are right now, apparently.

BLO: I’m involved. I’ve talked to the writer and the director. I’ve been consulting. I’d like some more money.

BF: Who wouldn’t? What would you want the movie to feel like?

BLO: Well if you’ve seen any of Edgar Wright’s work…

BF: What’s he done?

BLO: Shaun of the Dead and Spaced which is a British show. It’s just started airing [on BBC America] actually. Spaced is a lot like Scott Pilgrim in a lot of ways. So I think he has my sensibility. I’d like it to feel like the comics, but in a movie. I think it’s do-able.

BF: So you’re not going to be involved in scripting the film?


BF: So what’s next for Bryan Lee O’Malley?

BLO: I’m just working on the fourth Scott Pilgrim book right now. I haven’t started drawing it yet. Everyone’s like “When’s it coming out? Is it coming out next week?” No, it’s not. It’s going to be out next year, sorry. It just takes a long time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

my thoughts, as captured by a porn star.

I had been thinking about women, beauty and sexuality for a few days. Then I found this quote on "Sex is Not the Enemy" (NSFW) that very succinctly corralled my scattered thoughts.

"The prevailing message women receive is that sexual aggression is unfeminine, that a woman’s primary sexual role is as regulator of male desire — to say yes or no, but not to pursue desires of our own. Women are still often taught that sexy is the same as “pretty,” that it means dressing a certain way and then waiting to be approached"

Here is a link to the larger interview, Lorelei Lee interviewed on about the recent John Stagliano obscenity case:

While I certainly find the John Stagliano case to be important, I'm much more impressed with the the quote above. It captured something that had been bothering me recently.

What bothers you, some might still ask. It's that entire notion, that the lone tactic a woman might have in her sexual arsenal is to look pretty and wait for suitors. That works my nerves on a couple different ends for me, since I don't really like to risk the rejection of asking someone out, and since a part of me wants to be approached by someone interesting and pretty.

For the last few days, I've had the song "Pretty Women," from Sweeney Todd stuck in my head. Here it is:

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rise and Fall

An excerpt from 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom, by Alan Moore:

Sexual openness and cultural progress walked hand-in-hand throughout the opening chapters of the human story in the West, and it wasn't until the advent of Christianity, or more specifically of the apostle Paul, that anybody realized we should all be thoroughly ashamed of both our bodies and those processes relating to them. Not until the Emperor Constantine had cut and pasted modern Christianity together from the loose scraps of Mithraism and the solar cult of Sol Invictus, adopting the resultant theological collage as the religion of the Roman Empire, did we get to witness the effect of its ideas and doctrines when enacted on a whole society.

If we take a traditional (and predominantly Christian) view of the collapse of Rome, then conventional wisdom tells us that Rome was destroyed by its decadence, sunk beneath the rising scumline of its orgies and of its own sexual permissiveness. The merest skim through Gibbon,* on the other hand, will demonstrate that Rome had been a heaving, decadent, and orgiastic fleshpot more or less since its inception. It hgad fornicated its way quite succesfully through several centuries without showing any serious signs of harm as a result. Once Emperor Constantine introduced compulsory Christianity to the Empire, though, it barely lasted another handred years.

Largely, this was because Rome relied on foreign troops - on cavalry from Egypt, for example - to defend the Empire against the Teutonic hordes surrounding it. Foreign soldiers were originally happy to enlist, since Rome at that point took a pagan and syncretic standpoint that allowed recruits to worship their own gods while they were off in northern Europe holding back the Huns. Once the Empire had been Christianized, however, that was not an option. Rome's new Christian leaders decided it was their way or the stairway, and si consequently, off in distant lands, recruitment figures plummeted. The next thing anybody knew, there were barbarians everywhere: the Huns, the Franks, the Visigoths, and worst of all the Goths, with their white contact lenses and Cradle of Filth collections. Rome, effectively, was over, bar the shouting.

* I'm not personally sure who Gibbon was at the moment. - Neil

Friday, July 2, 2010

A thousand invocations of Del Close

After reading Charna Halpern's two books, Truth in Comedy and Art by Commitee, I've been soaking up as much improv history and reading as I can. One figure whose name keeps returning again and again is the late Del Close. Apparently he was a key figure in American improvisation, especially in the Chicago scene after the 1960s. He taught at Second City and co-founded Improv Olympic with Charna Halpern in the early 80s. A lot of funny people that you may have heard of have studied under him, including John Belushi, Mike Myers and Tina Fey.

In conversation with my pal Mike, he likened Close to Socrates, in that he taught a lot of students and they carried on with their own traditions, but always invoking Close's name. I imagine Del Close as a bit more modern, like Aleister Crowley, the Great Beast himself. His entire mission in life might have been to fuck with the status quo, and generations after him take it for granted and can't even remember his name.

This is a promo for Follow the Fear, a tribute to Del Close.

An odd footnote (and one that I want to follow up on), I own a lot of the Wasteland comics shown in the clip. I was at IO West last week and noticed a name on one of their old cast lists that might not mean anything to any of my improv friends, Kim Yale. The other writer for the Wasteland comics was a guy whose work I admired a lot, John Ostrander. He had married Kim Yale, I remember and mostly I remember the tribute he gave her when she died. I really want to dig into this little side-story. If Ostrander shows up at Comic-con this year, then I'll have to chase him down.

Here's a radio tribute to him done for public radio: Studio 360.

This week I've been devouring a blog filled with interviews of notable improv luminaries. For those seeking an oral history of improvisation, Improv Interviews is invaluable. The site has gone dormant, but there are at least a few years of interviews available there. They include Ian Roberts and Matt Besser from the Upright Citizen's Brigade and Charna Halpern.

This is an amusing bit from The Devil's Dictionary of Improvisation.

In the meantime, I've just ordered Second to None and Something Wonderful Right Away. Much more to watch and read.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reactions to the call to censorship.

As a long-time advocate and consumer of pornography, I find it fascinating how politically polarizing the discussion can be. I remember once in college, when a fellow student in a class in sexual politics broke into tears because her male roommate had used porn. I don't remember the full context of the story, but my initial thought at hearing her weep was something like "he wasn't forcing you to watch it. How did he affect you?"

These memories are getting stirred up because in the blogosphere, folks are writing about the Stop Porn Culture conference happening in Massachussetts this weekend, June 12-13, 2010. The descendents of Dworkin and Mackinnon are alive and well. It's a little late to do research, but here's what I could quickly find.

Here is the mission statement of Stop Porn Culture:
StopPornCulture! is dedicated to challenging the pornography industry and an increasingly pornographic pop culture. Our work toward ending industries of sexual exploitation is grounded in a feminist analysis of sexist, racist, and economic oppression. We affirm sexuality that is rooted in equality and free of exploitation, coercion, and violence.

In the mid-to late 1970s, anti-pornography and anti-rape groups began to organize against pornography, arguing that pornography is degrading to women, and complicit in violence against women both in its production (where abuse and exploitation of women is common) and in its consumption (where pornography eroticizes the domination, humiliation and coercion of women and reinforces the sexual and cultural attitudes that are complicit in rape and sexual harassment.) Across the country, feminists formed groups such as Women Against Violence Against Women, Women Against Violence in Pornography, and Media and Women Against Pornography to educate people about the sexist and violent images in media and to demand social responsibility from media institutions. Feminists organized protests, marches, and group tours of pornography districts, picketed and boycotted films and presented slide shows on the pornography industry’s perpetuation of woman-hating and violence. Some groups engaged in direct action and civil disobedience against the industry to dramatically draw attention to pornography and its harms to women.

In 1983, grounded in the accumulated knowledge of pornography’s direct involvement in the subordination of women, feminists Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin proposed an ordinance that would offer women the chance to seek compensation for harm caused by the production and use of pornography. The anti-pornography civil rights ordinance that they drafted was passed twice by the Minneapolis city council in 1983, but vetoed by the mayor on the grounds that the city could not afford the litigation over the law’s constitutionality. In 1984, the ordinance was successfully passed by the Indianapolis city council and signed by the mayor. In 1988, the ordinance was also passed by a voter initiative in Bellingham, Washington. However, in both cases the ordinance was ultimately struck down as unconstitutional by the state and federal courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ rulings in the Indianapolis case without comment.

Despite the defeat of the Dworkin-MacKinnon ordinance, feminists continued to organize against pornography in the 1990s through individual and small group efforts. However, anti-pornography feminists lacked a large-scale, national movement to support and coordinate their efforts.

With the explosion of technology and increased accessibility of pornography via the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s, feminists from around the country began to organize meetings to discuss the proliferation of pornography and the increased violence associated with its production and consumption. Through these discussions, it became clear that efforts were needed to rebuild a viable, national movement to combat the harms of the pornography industry. Several feminists developed a contemporary version of the slide shows developed in the 1970s to be used as an educational tool and to inspire action against the pornification of our culture. It is out of these efforts that the new organization, StopPornCulture! was created.

I'd like to take a crack at deconstructing the arguments of the anti-porn and pro-porn activists.

To paraphrase the anti-porn arguments that I have read or heard, the pornography industry as a whole is exploitative of female performers. In addition to that, the very subject of pornography is seen as harmful to society at large by endorsing or facilitating views that women are merely objects.

A somewhat more moderate view is that sexuality as portrayed by the ("mainstream"?) porn industry has been an influence on the culture of sexuality as a whole. One website suggests that its readers Make Love, Not Porn.

As for pro-porn arguments, Sasha Grey is quoted in her picture above. Audacia Ray wrote some very interesting thoughts on Waking Vixen. Tony Comstock wrote a response on Koan of Silence (oh, I think I just got that pun.) Nikol Hasler also recently interviewed Ashley Steel on Crushable.

Here is a video of sex blogger Violet Blue drumming up support on the anti-porn side. She uses a healthy sense of humor in her derision of the anti-porn arguments:

This may be tangential, but Professor Lisa Wade wrote an article about the portrayal of sexiness in the media. What Does "Lust" Look Like? This isn't strictly about pornography, but it does seem germaine to the discussion. It appears that images of women as sex objects already permeate popular culture.

In my own thinking about porn, I often feel that the men are presented as pieces of meat; they are more often than not faceless entities. When I read how differently men are paid for their services in porn than women, I question the notion that women are exploited.

From the wikipedia article linked above:
Most male performers in straight porn are paid less than their female costars. Ron Jeremy has commented on the pay scale of women and men of the sex film industry: "The average guy gets $300 to $400 a scene, or $100 to $200 if he's new. A woman makes $100,000 to $250,000 at the end of the year. "Girls can easily make 100K-250K per year, plus stuff on the side like strip shows and appearances. The average guy makes $40,000 a year."

I'm ambivalent. Perhaps there are women who have been exploited. Like Audacia Ray's porn:blue jeans analogy, we don't know the conditions of the workers by looking at the product.

On the front about images and perception, there's a porn-meme called POV. These are films shot entirely from the point of view of the (male) cameraperson who is also a performer. I haven't ever seen evidence of POV porn shot from a female perspective. I'd be curious to see this made. I'm not sure that it has ever been tried before, but I'm very intrigued by the potential. Even if it didn't sell well, what about the erotic possibilities? Also, what questions would it invite about the portrayal of women and men in the media?

Monday, May 24, 2010

For a tenth of a sawbuck!

The reason I've been less active blog-wise is that I have spent every waking minute online working out the schedule for Gamex, which starts in less than a week. I've received compliments and had to fix many, many glitches in the schedule. It's tiring work that usually happens in the middle of the night. It has been remarkably stressful, but it's going to be an exciting event!

I'm most excited about the Worldwide Settlers of Catan Championship pre-qualifier we're holding. We had a ton of people come to Game Empire today for the pre-pre-qualifier, and my friend Dan won his entry into the event next week. If he goes all the way he'll be taking trips to Gen Con in Indianapolis and competing at Burg Wildenstein in Germany for the title of Settlers of Catan world champion!

(I remain impartial for the event that I'm running. I'll root for the winner of the Gamex event as they take their steps on the road to the championship.)

Anyway, I have to thank my pal Kevin Pimentel, who hooked me up with a gift certificate for a one-hour massage. My appointment is tomorrow and I can't wait!


After improv class tonight, I scored a hardcover copy of Stanislavsky's An Actor Prepares as well as a book of Viola Spolin's Improvisation Games this evening, each for a buck. Also, Mike Wolfe convinced me to add an hour of improvisation games to the Gamex schedule next weekend. We're just going to take over some space and make some theatre. We're guerrilla.

I'll be performing with my Monkey Butler classmates tomorrow night in One Buck Butler! That's the workshop class for the Monkey Butler level one classes. There's not much improv in Los Angeles at a lower price. It costs a buck, or pay $10 and nine of your friends get in for free!

One Buck Butler
5831 W Centinela Ave,
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Finally, I read Improvise, by Mick Napier, upon many, many recommendations. It's a light book with some genuine nuggets of wisdom in it. I was fairly irritated by it, because I feel that some of the passages can really be misconstrued. It seems like the kind of book that would be better read aloud by the author, but maybe that's just me.

However, the book can also be read in a sitting or two, which makes it easier to read than Keith Johnstone's Impro. Impro to me is a superior book, but Improvise is much more immediate.

However, I have been working on Mick Napier's solo exercises and finding them quite the challenge. I even made flash cards so that I can do them on the run! If you see me talking to myself, it's intentional.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My life in "Yes, And"

When I was newly resuming my studies in improvisation I spent a lot of time at the library printing out as much as I could find on the subject. Originally I intended to post a lot of those links here as well as a video clip or two for my fellow students. Before that I'm going to do a little navel-gazing.

It had been easily fifteen years since I performed comedy improvisation on stage. Nearly twenty years had passed since I floundered in my occasional performances with the Santa Barabara ComedySportz team. Let's be honest, I wasn't a great performer or team player in those early years.

I wasn't really sure what to expect on my return. In many ways things had changed, but who knew what would be the same?

I had dabbled with going out to the local improv houses in town through the years. I'd taken in shows at The Groundlings, Acme Comedy, IO and UCB. It was funny stuff, but it certainly had a different feel to the stuff with which I was most familiar. I hadn't really played or seen any long form improvisation in my early years. Harolds were something I heard mentioned in a sort of "have you heard of..." hush. All of the improvisation I learned at ComedySportz were short form games, improvisations that rarely lasted longer than five minutes at a time. Meanwhile, folks had been developing and building on the stuff that I didn't even know about when I was first performing. Yeah, it's nice to have a mountain to climb.

Even if I'm ambivalent about my own early performances and teamwork, I have to admit that improvisation became a very important part of my life. The "yes, and" impulse for as many years as it took me to learn and understand it formed a pretty strong portion of my worldview. The skill of listening took me even longer... is still taking my work. I could go on longer, but I really want to post some of those links.


The Skinny on LA's Impov Training Scene, by David Valdez. This is an article on Brains of Minerva, a cool site for actors in the Los Angeles scene.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at how much I found on Wikipedia. The links I found there at the time aren't visible now, but here's one of them:
The Living Playbook, edited by Randy Dixon. This is a catalog, up-to-date through 2001 in this version of various improv games and forms.

My earliest readings in improvisation were the books of Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin. I've written about Johnstone in previous posts,

Here's a video of Viola Spolin, circa 1987:

From my own experience with ComedySportz, I'd suggest that there isn't really competition in so-called "competitive improv." It's really more of a hook to sell a show to an audience.

One troupe that rose to prominence over the last decade or so is the Upright Citizen's Brigade. This is from their televised Bravo performance that I only caught because I had my DVR programmed to look for Tina Fey.

I'm really glad that this was on YouTube, since I lost the show recording that I made years ago. I've also got the ASSSCAT dvd, which appears to be a show shot directly for DVD at the UCB Los Angeles stage. I really dig it.

And lastly, since I wanted my Monkey Butler friends to see the game Five Things played, here's this:

I really dig the annotations. This game is slightly different than the version I played, but the skills are still the same. This seems like a pretty decent representation of the muscles I was hoping to get students to flex last week.

And again, Monkey Butler. Loving the classes I take each week. It's good to have a place to work out.

edited to add:


I love Tina Fey.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My latest topics of cocktail conversation

We were discussing art last weekend at a party, mostly because I had been inspired by famed film critic Roger Ebert's recent blog-posting claiming that video games could NEVER be Art. I won't say that I agree with his suggestion. I also won't say that I have seen evidence of video games that are Art to me. The difficulty in the discussion is that each person has their own view of what Art is.

Here is my own response to the original post and to some of the earliest comments in the list.

I really love the definition for art that Scott McCloud gave in his seminal work, Understanding Comics. I wish I could directly quote it. To boil it down somewhat, those things we do (or perhaps the works that we create) that do not specifically contribute to our safety or our property might be considered art. I'm sure that I've mangled that in paraphrasing.

As a board gamer, I think of the crafting of a set of human interactions. Perhaps the way that a good party host might be able to artfully entertain their guests with an amazing meal and elegant conversation. Role playing gamer friends of mine might be seen to use their game as a creative outlet. The results of playing a game may or may not be art, but players are moved in one way or another, and perhaps through asking the right questions we can explore the art or craft of games.

As a dancer, I wonder: does a staged ballet have a distinct artistic value that doesn't exist in a dance in competition? Are contestants in a talent show (or American Idol or what have you) not, for sake of being in a winnable-like-a-game situation, somehow artistically invalidated?

As an improvisational actor, does the fact that my rules of my interaction with my partners were developed by Johnstone or Close mean that my own creative output cannot be artistic?

I would argue that Donkey Kong is as much Art as E.C. Segar's Popeye. From me, that's high praise.

Maybe a more interesting question would be - what shifts might be made to create works (and I do think of games as works rather than products) might become more deeply meaningful than a pastime?

At this point there are at least a thousand responses, so reading the whole thing might be time consuming. Still, mostly rewarding and much smarter than reading the comments on YouTube.

edited to add:
Scott McCloud contributed to the conversation this morning. For those of you who don't know who Scott McCloud is, he created my favorite comic book of all time, Zot! and is much more famous for the seminal critique Understanding Comics.

Also, Allan Gonzalez posted a link to this video on his Facebook. I thought it was amusing and worth including here.

End edit.

The other topic of conversation was feminist porn. It seems that since I first considered the idea of Feminism, the loudest voices on this subject were the Dworkin and Mackinnon, the anti-pornography crusaders. I always felt that while the porn industry has certainly had many examples of exploitative behavior, that it needn't be seen as a completely unhealthy industry. To present a different point of view, I went and looked up this article, which breaks down a few of the different feminist views on pornography.

I really want to read your responses to these two articles. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Get Hed(wig)


I was recently disappointed to find that of 15 people surveyed, only 1 had heard of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hedwig is the creation of John Cameron Mitchell, whose voice I first heard on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of The Secret Garden, when I was in college. He went on to workshop another of my favorite films, Shortbus. Please go see this movie now.

I have a job interview in an hour. Wish me luck.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I suppose I've spent the last few weeks watching spoofs of superheroes. Specifically the funny movies and television shows that mock people who wear tights and fight crime.

My nephew James had recently pulled out The Specials from my DVD library. I hadn't seen it in a few years, but it's still pretty hilarious. The best thing about this movie is that the characters don't ever seem to fight crime. This morning, I picked out The Tick live action series. Still solidly funny, even though it doesn't seem like a show that most people would get. People often blame Fox for cancelling the show, but it makes sense. I still get a kick out of the episodes. I should probablu rewatch Mystery Men at some point. That's a movie that's intensely different from the source material, the obscure characters in Bob Burden's rigorously obscure comic masterpiece, The Flaming Carrot. Anything to do with The Flaming Carrot should probably be viewed through the lens of absurdism or dada. Mystery Men diverged from that. Honestly, I don't think the majority of the American public is smart enough to get Bob Burden's work.

I've never been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films. Think I saw the first one once. I was a huge fan of the comics, especially when they first appeared, but by the time they were a cartoon show they just seemed really watered down to me. However, the TMNT really do belong in the pantheon of comics spoofs. I just won't be watching those films any time soon.

There's this documentary called Confessions of a Superhero, that gets into the lives of the people who dress up in costume outside of the Mann Chinese Theatre, or whatever the place is called nowadays. Since I grew up on Hollywood and even worked the same block that these guys worked for several years, I find this movie quite close to my heart. I'm going to have to watch it again.

What weird stuff do you like to watch?

Of course, I forgot to mention Joss Whedon's fabulous web-series Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog. Worth watching again and again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Sort of Comics Oral History

I don't imagine anyone reading this blog was following my old blog on Myspace. I wrote an entry there about the very cool book Eisner/Miller , which was essentially a two-hundred page conversation between the late Will Eisner and Frank Miller, two of the most influential creators in comics.

Two very cool articles were recently posted on Twitter over the last few days and I thought they'd be worth re-posting here.

The first is a modern-day interview with Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and also the creator of one of my favorite comics of all time, Zot!: Talking Comics with Scott McCloud.

The second is a Rolling Stone article circa 1971 which interviews the queen of the Marvel Bullpen, Flo Steinberg: Face Front! Clap Your Hands! You're on the Winning Team!

In general, I think it's cool that there's so much oral history regarding the comics medium.

Completely unrelated to the articles is a YouTube video about improvisation. Haha.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Two blogs I have been enjoying lately:

These are two totally nerdy blogs written by folks associated with the porn industry and I love them. The first is written by Zak S, and is surprisingly thoughtful exploration of Dungeons and Dragons. I don't even really like Dungeons and Dragons, but I don't mind reading his posts about Vampires, being a good Game Master and the gaming sessions he has been running with folks like Sasha Grey, Kimberly Kane, Mandy Morbid and Satine Phoenix. The second is Satine Phoenix's blog about things that she digs. She's apparently a huge comic book nerd, perhaps a little less than I am. She has vegan recipes and makes recommendations for sex toys and comic books alike.

I totally get that.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Like Edison's

Here's a short thought:

My bias against discussion is something I've learned to see as very English. I've known political theatre groups in Europe which would readily cancel a rehearsal, but never a discussion. My feeling is that the best argument may be a testimony to the skill of the presenter than to the excellence of the solution advocated. Also the bulk of discussion time is visibly taken up with transactions of status which have nothing to do with the problem to be solved. My attitude is like Edison's, who found a solvent for rubber by putting bits of rubber in every solution he could think of, and beat all those scientists who were approaching the problem theoretically.

From Impro, by Keith Johnstone

I'm re-reading Impro, which can be considered one of the seminal books on improvisation. The last time I read it must have been close to twenty years ago. I consider this a formative book to the way I view the world. Reading about Johnstone's approach to teaching, I see a lot of his ideas have been present in my teaching, theatrical and otherwise.

What I enjoy about the passage is that it implicitly draws a distinction between discussion and communication. Perhaps Johnstone meant to draw a distinction between argument and work. That seems valid to me too.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What I've been up to lately.

I am loving yoga and improvisation classes. I'm also playing plenty of board games.

I'm taking improv classes through Monkey Butler, which offer many free classes throughout the week all over Southern California and in some other places too. I'm currently in the level one class in Sherman Oaks. I'd take classes closer to home if they didn't conflict with the LindyGroove Technique Class. I'm also backing up this with the I.O. West Improv Jam, hosted by my buddy Nando Velasquez. The Improv Jam is an opportunity for students to play with IO team performers. They're currently reconsidering their schedule, but at the moment the Jam is scheduled for every Wednesday at 11:30pm.

I'm learning a ton there and really putting in the work that I was never able to do in college. I feel like I'm hitting a lot of breakthroughs, so I'm pretty happy with my progress.

I'm taking yoga at Mission Street Yoga in South Pasadena. At the moment I can only afford the $5 lunchtime yoga classes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There's a donation class tomorrow afternoon that I'm planning to take and there are FREE classes every Monday through the end of the month at 10:45am. I'm planning to hit those for the next couple of weeks.

Also hitting breakthroughs here too. I may even soon be more comfortable with going upside down. Don't know why that's so huge, but even being close to it is a lot for me. I'm also returning to a point at which I no longer need the belt to reach my toes in a sitting stretch. It's especially wonderful to be in a place where breathing is so praised. One day I was experimenting with Crow position, a position with which I've never been comfortable and the instructor (without my realization) had pointed me out to the class as having a fully engaged breath. I didn't in fact know that she was speaking to anyone but me until I heard the applause of the rest of the class. It took me by surprise because I take my breathing for granted. That should be the case after having done it for so long.

I'm playing board games a lot. I just picked up Vasco Da Gama and I'm really looking forward to getting it on the table. We've been playing a lot of Power Grid: Factory Manager lately and mostly I'm just going with the flow and being a decent host.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Buy me stuff.

My birthday is coming up and I won't hesitate to say that most people never have any idea what to buy for me. This has been a common theme over the years, with one of my most recent holiday gifts being a Garmin, a pricey gift which I plan to never use, and perhaps to sell. Getting presents like this makes me a bit sour. I like to put at least a little effort into gift selection.

In aid of this, I've maintained my Amazon wish list, from which I believe the best present I can ever remember receiving came. Plenty of my favorite presents can be found used (and I prefer that if you buy, you buy used) for less than five bucks. One of my presents has been available for a penny. I don't care if it came from a library, I could use five of those Hikaro No Go books. No, I'm really not sure why the Adventures of Pete and Pete CD is listed over $11k. It must be a really good CD.

Probably the most immediate suggestions would be the improv books. I've been getting back into improv over the last several months and I'd just like to pick up the recommended reading for my classes. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm dirt poor. There's plenty of cool stuff on the list, and it's all stuff I plan to get sooner or later.

Even if you now have no interest in buying a present for me ever again, I think the list is still pretty interesting. At least it's interesting to me. If you have ever been curious about me (and at least some folks have mentioned facebook-stalking me in the past) this is certainly your opportunity for a massive info-blast!

I still haven't worked out my birthday plans yet. I'm thinking karaoke and some kind of food.