Tuesday, 23 September 2014

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Dear Facebook,

Dear Facebook,

(This happened before you were anything.)

The man got more belligerent as the game progressed.

The bar, which Albert Cadabra calls “The Regal Beagle” (what’s its real name? Doesn’t matter, we both know what we mean) is a few blocks from his apartment in Queens. Three of us, two burlesque performers and a magician, stumbled in late one night, a final stop on a bender. The man, a stranger when we walked in, had joined us for a two-on-two game of pool.

His frustration had nothing to do with the game. As we played, he asked us the same question over and over, with rising intensity.

“No, but what are your real names?”

Those are our real names, we had assured him, supporting our introduction with business cards, websites, google searches, and even recent issues of Time Out. Those are the names we call each other when you’re not around. Those are the names by which our friends know us, the names by which the vast majority of those who know us, know us.

“Why can’t you just tell me your real names?” he demanded. “I told you my real name. Just tell me your fucking names, what the fuck?”

“Calm down, man,” said Albert. “Everybody calm down, it’s a friendly game, okay?”

The man became more insistent. We were messing with him, insulting him, disrespecting him. WHAT ARE YOUR REAL NAMES? It bordered on threat. I dropped the stick, and stepped in close. (Yes, darlings, I can be butch upon occasion.) We stood face to face. Perhaps we could feel each others’ breath against our skin.

My diatribe, framed in the clarity of cold anger, went something like this:

“Who are you? No, not what’s on your driver’s license, who are you? Who? That’s a job, not a person. Who? That’s something your parents gave you, not who you are. Are you happy with your life? (Not really.) Are you happy with your job? (Not really.) Are you happy with yourself? (Not really.) Me, I’ve worked hard on my life, worked hard making this name for myself, a career I love, building the person I want to be, not the small pink thing that got shoved into this world and designated before anyone even knew him. This name wasn’t handed to me as a gift at birth; I made this name, I built this name, I’ve worked hard for this name, and I’ve earned this name. I’m proud of this name. It’s mine; it’s me. You’re insulted? You’re insulting us, insulting our hard work, insulting our lives. You want my real name? I’m Jonny Porkpie, pleased to meet you. You want to ask again?”

He did what Albert and the other performer did not expect, as they hovered close, ready to break us apart if it got physical (for my sake more than his, I would imagine.) But I knew he would, I could see it in his eyes.

He apologized. To me, to Albert, to the other performer. He apologized profusely, and he meant it. He understood us now, knew he knew our real names, which is all he wanted. We finished the game friendly. We might have played another. I don’t remember his name. Perhaps if it had been more like him, I would.

Facebook, you’ve got less sense than a drunk guy at the neighborhood bar.

Yours,

Jonny Porkpie

 

(P.S. When you take into consideration the much more important issues not addressed above, of safety and gender identity, Facebook, you go beyond lack of sense into depraved indifference.)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Marketing vs. Humanity, Part 1

In which I ponder the question: Can one inhabit a world requiring incessant marketing and remain a viable human being?

It was the age of intolerability, the epoch of desperately trying to prove oneself. It was my twenties, when every interaction was another chance to practice pitching, in neither the sporty nor the sexual sense. High school reunions were an opportunity not to impress (as fictional portrayals would have us believe) but to hone sales skills. If I can get the people here to buy my shpiel (even those who remember what a goofball I was know what a goofball I am), so will that big investor waiting just around the corner.

Eventually, no matter how charming you are, their eyes glaze over when they realize it’s all just a sales pitch.

LESSON LEARNED: MARKETING IS ANNOYING*

This became abundantly clear when I stopped blogging to embrace the much more lucrative world of burlesque (nope, not kidding), and my site transitioned from being a daily clearinghouse of written inanity to a monthly conduit for information about live-on-stage inanity. In theory, those who enjoyed the style of humor presented in the blog would be excited to see it in person.

Perhaps they might have been, had I continued my daily output. The promo-lithic era featured painfully infrequent updates regurgitating press releases, and readership declined precipitously. Visitors fell out of the habit, and habit is the lifebood of the internet.

“former fan” comments: “i see ur humor has gone down the wazoo. do me a favor dont lead us on if ur not gonna complete the job dude… i stil lcheck this site but i may stop if things dont change a round here dude.”

Perhaps a chronicle of my burgeoning burlesque career (similar to 2003’s Buddy Cianci: The Musical coverage) would have retained my readers, but the problem—as discovered when running that earlier production blog—was that the juiciest offerings were the things we least wanted publicized. The result: occasional and tepidly — often passive-aggressively — optimistic updates from the staff that came across as what they were; an ill-conceived marketing scheme. As the choreographer said, in her final entry two days before opening:

 “I’m hyper-conscious of the fact that other members of our production team, the cast, any other random people are reading what I write, hence I don’t always write what I’m “really” thinking. I aspire to be positive and try to put some PR spin on what I’m saying…because I never want anything I say to come back and bite me in the ass.”

LESSON LEARNED: HONESTY IS UNTENABLE

So:

  • Using a relationship you have built with an audience purely for the purpose of selling them something will result in the loss of that audience.
  • From a production point of view, public honesty is an unworkable policy (even those bordering on the edge of sanity hesitate to air their dirty laundry mid-production).

If neither honesty NOR marketing works, what remains? A tightrope, to be stumbled across in a future post.

——-

*(This is true for everyone and everything. Large corporations take notice.)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tuesday, 09 September 2014

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Tales From The Established Normal

It’s difficult to tell whether the Gap’s atrocious new “Dress Normal” campaign is a corporate demand for conformity, an epic failure of irony, or a vicious attack on individuality*. If meant to be ironic, it is so cataclysmically unsuccessful that it achieves a meta-irony which renders it painfully sincere.

The ads, though print, somehow ring in one’s ears, echoing the mocking yet insecure tone of The Most Popular Kids In School, the tenor of an incompetent parent attempting to force-form a young mind, or an Orwellian regime suppressing revolution. In short, the tone of an enemy.

Certainly, it is a bold statement in celebration of privilege, especially when placed in the populist locale of public transportation (as I first encountered them) — an implication that those without the means to drop $79.95 on a pair of plain jeans are subnormal.

The grammar, of course, is incorrect. This is a ludicrous charge to level against a tagline, especially one of only two words. Such things obey laws other than those laid down by Strunk and White, however, it brought the critique on itself. One who implores normality should at least uphold it. Normal is a noun or an adjective. To modify the verb “to dress,” you need the adverb. To put it succinctly: Write Normally, Gap.

A more appropriate pairing of Ms. Huston and the word "Normal".Its misuse of Anjelica Huston is perhaps criminal; here is a woman who has so delightfully portrayed much glorious weirdness in her career, and yet the Gap corporation has clothed the strange right out of her.

“Let your actions speak louder than your clothes,” The Gap paternalistically demands in the long hallway of the West 4th Street station. But Gap, my actions include the wearing of extremely loud clothes! Is there no place for me in your new society? Will you smother me to death in the dismal hues of your fall line?

The lecture continues on Gap.com: “Join the rebellion,” a pop-up ad implores as it attempts to extract my email address and insult my fashion choices direct to my inbox. Normal is Rebellious. Art is Putting on Blandly Inexpressive Clothes. Ignorance is Strength. (The doublespeak continues in their defense of the campaign, as Tom Silva points out on HuffPo.)

One thing is certain; it is an affirmation. I am moved — nay, inspired! — to continue my normal practice of never shopping at The Gap. Dress weirdly, my friends, because normal forgot rainbows. Or better yet, Undress Normal.

—–

* I am well aware that, at its base level, its intention is to sell clothes.

Friday, 05 September 2014

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On Failure

“If that’s true,” says the man who has shaved close to not appear balding, “then god is not fit to be worshipped.” The train rattles on towards Coney Island.

There, we return to a failure, of sorts; a place whose very name conjures images of strange fun, of marvels, of twisted wonder. A playground, for all ages, by the sea. The sideshow star with the giant moustache, just returned from a “Coney Island” built on the banks of the Thames, reports that the copy embodies the vision brought to mind by that name far better than the Thor-Equities-sanitized near-mall which grows less interesting with each passing year. We know their plan, though we forget (as they know we will); they want no amusements. They plan to chip away at this carnival as it has been chipped away time and time again. Those co-ops were once Luna Park, that empty field was, less than ten years ago, a glorious skeleton, a decrepit wooden roller-coaster torn down in the middle of the night by a city that found the view of it from the new baseball field — inhabited by a team named after another roller coaster — intolerable. And so The Thunderbolt fell.*

A sideshow stands. Flooded during Katrina, dampened mid-renovation, water rising to the second floor, home of the museum filled with the remains of ancient rides, sheet music for old burlesque tunes, two-headed dogs. It lives, the only building of its kind still running a ten-in-one in twenty-minute rotations dozens of times every day; every summer day, this seaside draws few visitors to the terminus of four train lines during the colder months. It still feels right, though the beautiful decrepit beaux-arts building across from it has been torn down to make way for a glorious empty lot. Who would not have saved that incredible shell, sandblasted its stones and created an inside to match its lush exterior? Those to whom there is no magic, inside or out.

At Kings Highway, the train goes out of service. We wait for its replacement as the sun sets in the distance, a russet glow behind the Verrazano Narrows bridge. We go to watch the burlesque which takes over the sideshow twice-weekly in the summer months. Tonight’s edition features exclusively women performing as men. Next door, also run by the sideshow, a hundred-year old shooting gallery. Next to that, bumper cars. “Bump Your Ass Off!”

Across the street, an Applebys. A Grimaldi’s that isn’t as good as Grimaldi’s, which sold out again. Further down, the grammatical and dental nightmare of every mall in America, it’Sugar. Nathan’s began here, and remains here amongst the last tiny fragments of its intestinal soul.

Still, the Cyclone clatters up its tracks as we pass. The Wonder Wheel is closed for the night, perhaps the season. Fireworks are supposed to begin soon. Banners hung on the exterior walls of Sideshows By The Seashore depict self-made and natural-born Freaks, those who have reclaimed that epithet for ten-acts-in-one, over and over throughout the summer days. September is here now. A sideshow stands.

———-

The title, “On Failure”, was originally intended to precede a treatise on my failure to post three out of the five days of my first week of reviving a daily blog. It failed to do so.

——-

* We find, on arrival, a new Thunderbolt, raised just this year next to the grave of the old. Orange and white, it appears to be a perpetrator of that worst of all roller-coaster offenses: it looks a little boring.

Tuesday, 02 September 2014

On Blogging Every Weekday

The challenge is the time, or the commitment, or the mental space. To make a priority that which was abandoned nearly a decade ago. The challenge must be daily, or at least every weekday. As proved many times in this space (amongst others) an occasional blog is a dead blog; though it may jerk haphazardly as those final electrical impulses run through its corpse, no one is looking any more. Unobserved, it falters; faltering, it is unobserved.

Looking over my non-public self-forced output of the past few years (saved under the title “spew”), I find that much of it is writing about writing. Not the philosophy of writing, nor the craft, but the physical act, considered as something akin to pushups; a morning ritual to be suffered through in order to increase the strength of the muscle. Running a close second is writing about the fact that writing about writing is self-indulgent and deadly dull. The preceding sentence, which can only be described as writing about writing about writing about writing, must therefore bring this paragraph to a close, except for the promise — more to myself than to you, dear reader — that this shall be the last post about writing for the forseeable future, requiring that I cast a wider net for my daily output.

Liz Spiers also jumped back in the blogging saddle last week, which makes my re-entry some sort of hat trick; perhaps one which will set off an avalanche of personal blogging unlike any seen since the early 21st century.  Then again, perhaps not. Liz contemplates her revived blog’s potential subject matter, and concludes that she will write about, and I’m paraphrasing here, whatever the hell she wants.

Sounds good in theory. But what do I want to write about, if not writing?

Burlesque (my career) will likely make an occasional appearance, but I have no intention of making this a promotional outlet, as social media serves that purpose much better. Perhaps an occasional contemplation on the nature of the art form is in order, but it will certainly not comprise the bulk of the output.

I’m still fond of movies and TV, but no longer feel the obsessive need to track down every detail of the upcoming Doctor Who series or James Bond movie — these days, I’d rather just watch the damn things when they come out. Nor did I write about those things online anyway, preferring instead to satisfy that perverted lust in secret, in the privacy of my own home.

Much of my online reading (due in no small part to Joey) is about racism, sexism, transphobia, ableismstreet harassment, slut-shaming, rape culture, and privilege. I have a sneaking suspicion that the world doesn’t need another straight-coding white man to weigh in on these particular discussions. At the same time, I don’t intend to avoid them, as that too is problematic.

Humor is still good. Is it a skill that atrophies with age? Probably. But there is hope:

“Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.” 
― Steve MartinBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

File Under: #YourGuessIsAsGoodAsMine, #ThisTookFarTooLongToWrite, #TuneInTomorrow

August 2014

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Indexed by archive.org Jan 28 2003 @ 12:56am

A Bit of History

Since the decline and fall of our eponymous blogs (his final post December 2008, an inane quote about the Red Sox, and mine from January 2006 December 2009 (though the semi-monthly show promo of the previous four years could hardly be considered “blogging”), an inane celebration of the unearthing of a lost episode of Fred The Obnoxious Goldfish plug for my murder mystery, JVG.com relaunch instigator Lockhart Steele and I have gone our separate ways, professionally. Lockhart transitioned an obsessive sidebar feature of LS.com called “Below 14th” into a web empire which he sold last year for between twenty and thirty million dollars; whereas I take my clothes off for money. Rereading our original blogs, this is only somewhat surprising.

Mine was founded on a simple premise.

Because I had:

A website named after me.

I came to the following revelation:

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that I am famous.

And made this promise:

I have chosen not to fight it. Generous to a fault, it is clear to me that it is my obligation — nay, my duty — to chronicle for prosperity every moment of my inevitable rise to even greater heights of fame. As a close friend said recently after I emailed him for the first time in four years, “jonathanvangieson.com. Sheesh. Who woke up and made you president, hah?” To him I reply: no one woke up. How true that is.

“Now That I’m Famous” included such groundbreaking features as “The Gallivants of Fame” which obsessively namedropped my friends as it described our barhopping in far too much detail, A Dreamlog which insisted that the general public would be interested in my inane subconscious output, Photos (mostly of myself), a comic strip (starring me and on occasion, Lock), and a level of self-eggrandizing self-obsession not hithertofore seen on the internet. Gawker couldn’t stop linking to me.

Back then, it was satire, though not everybody got the joke. It has since been well and truly eclipsed by reality.

The question, then: what can be blogged in a post-parodic world? Sincerity? Well-researched cultural commentary? Contemplations on the very nature of humanity itself? Poop jokes?

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A Gauntlet, Thrown

The text message arrived last Saturday, part of a barrage following the self-imposed tech exile in which I spent the preceding week. “Nice shoutout today,”—it declared—“on LS.com!” This communication came from none other than the proprietor of said web presence, Mr. Steele himself.

Lockhart, it seemed, was following through on his recent threat to revive his “web-log”, and had featured me in his very first post, even going so far as to imply that our conversation on the rooftop of his South Street Seaport apartment was in some way culpable for his perpetrating this crime against the internet.

By calling me out in the very first sentence of his relaunched blog, was Lock hoping to pressure me into making good my counter-threat, to re-launch my own? Having known him for two decades, I could come to only one conclusion: yes. The gauntlet had been thrown down.

Well, Mr. Steele, consider that gauntlet picked up, spit polished, and worn as a thong. As I did once before, I follow you into the blog-o-sphere, where I have no doubt that together we can — even in this day and age — raise the general level of inanity on the internet yet again.