Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reclaiming the word "slut"?

A recent NY Times article about the state of the word "slut" caught my eye, naturally.

"The Taming of the Slur" was penned by Times staffer Stephanie Rosenbloom who covers American social trends for The Gray Lady. Her piece examines how the nature of the "slur" has changed over the years as teens claim it for their own use and meaning. Writes Rosenbloom:

“Slut’’ is tossed around so often and so casually that many teenagers use it affectionately and in jest among their friends, even incorporating it into their instant messenger screen names.

Like “queer” and “pimp” before it, the word slut seems to be moving away from its meaning as a slur. Or is it?

The piece goes on to discuss the even more fascinating issue of how women today navigate the contradiction between the need to be liberated, sexual beings and the desire to be respectable, married women desired by a set of men who would date but not marry a slut. One man Rosenbloom interviewed said exactly that:
“When I think of the word slut,” wrote Don Reisinger, a student doing accounting and law work in Albany, in an e-mail message, “I think of a woman who has been around the block more times than my dad’s Chevy. I might date a slut, but I certainly wouldn’t marry one.”
It reminded me of a post I wrote over two years ago about what it really means to be a "slut" today. Mine was a technical analysis of how many sex partners means you've crossed the line into "slut" territory - if the parameters are even about sex partners. As I re-read it I tried to think about the last time I'd referred to someone at a "slut" - even jokingly - but I couldn't remember.
Sadly, I think the truest part of Rosenbloom's piece is this quote from Susan Schultz editor in chief of Cosmogirl! Magazine:
“Once you get into your 20’s and 30’s, you just have better things to do.”
And apparently better things to talk about.
That said, the reclaiming (or not?) of the word remains an interesting issue, as does our perception of what it means to be a "slut" and how we behave in the context of the male/female sexual dynamic. Give a read and leave a thought in comments!

Monday, July 25, 2011

L.A. Almost 11 months in: The sub 10 minute agenting

This weekend I experienced my first Comicon.

For those unfamiliar, Comicon is intended to be a massive festival of the popular arts (specifically comic books) and all the forms of media that they inspire (TV, film, digital). In reality Comicon is a marketing platform for the major networks and studios and a party for anyone in Los Angeles who could come up with an excuse to go (...or girls whose boyfriends have a legit reason and a bay-facing hotel room).

This weekend I also experienced my first of another entertainment industry phenomenon: the sub 10 minute "agenting".

R and I went to a few parties thrown by the major agencies in town (ICM, CAA, UTA, etc). These are "parties" in that there is free alcohol, a specially arranged DJ and people milling about in a manner befitting of parties, but in reality these are networking events in that you have an opportunity to check in with people you do/would like to do business with, make connections with new people you might do business with and interact with people who you have no intention of doing business with but must still treat pleasantly in case they want to do business with you or currently do business with someone you know. (Just read it twice) And among the people you may/may not currently/eventually do business with are the agents. I won't get into the nitty gritty of what an agent is and what an agent does, just know that everything you see on Entourage is 100% accurate.

The agent has a lot of "work" to do at these "parties." They have people to check in with, people to meet, and people to introduce to other people. Each encounter requires a different set of conversation elements. A check-in conversation with a working writer client is completely different from a meet and greet with a new piece of talent and nothing at all like a hello to a producer with whom they're hoping to do business. It's all a delicate, choreographed dance with secret moves all performed in a slick suit and skinny tie.

As a result of all this, the agent's time with each person is very limited, and as a result of that they are known to perform the sub ten minute "agenting" - an impressively compact convo in which all necessary pleasantries are exchanged and questions addressed before the agent slips seamlessly back into the night.

"You realize what just went down there, right?" R said to me as the black suited figure we'd been talking to sashayed away.

"We just got agented, didn't we," I said.

"Yep," he said. "Big time."

I want to be clear about something before we go on. Agenting is not, in-and-of-itself, a slimey act. R and I had a very nice conversation with a very professional person who paid close and uninterrupted attention to both of us throughout the chat. It is the nature of the agent not the act of agenting that induces eye-rolls. Think of it like the shaking hands and kissing babies of the entertainment industry. When a pro does it well it's a thing of beauty. When a slime ball does it like a slime ball, it's slimey.

And now without further back story I give you the parts of the agenting act:

1. Salutation - fast, direct, and complimentary. The agent wants you to know that he knows who you are, is excited to see you, and intents to engage in conversation.

"Jessie Rosen! Great to see you. You're looking fantastic tonight." (smile, clink of glasses, cheek kiss)

2. Humorous acknowledgment of event as segue to conversation. This is where we collectively laugh at our surroundings.

"Welcome to L.A. south, right?" or "I trust you've seen everyone you've ever met?"

3. Acknowledgment or awareness of the significant things going on in your work life.

"Hey, congrats on the ___________. I was talking to ______ and ______ about you just the other day. Really great stuff.."

This is followed by a few lines of detailed insight into whatever work you've been doing. It's the agent's goal here to let you know that they know what you're up to and to provide a little insight/advice into how they feel that is or should be going.

It doesn't matter whether or not an agent works for you, wants to work for you or has no interest in your career what-so-ever - it is their goal to prove that they know what's up and can provide a valuable opinion. I'm generalizing here, of course. A music agent obviously doesn't need to know all the details of someone's screenwriting career, but a good TV/lit agent would know about a writer's popular, independent digital project.

4. Brief personal check-in

"And all's well otherwise? You guys doing any more trips or vacations this Summer?"

The agent will add pieces of their own Summer plans and life update into this part of the conversation. Detail varies based on how well you know the agent. This is the part of the conversation meant to prove that the entire conversation wasn't about business.

5. Polite excuse to exit

"Well I'm sorry to say I've got to make the rounds, but please enjoy yourselves. I'm sure we'll bump into each other again over the weekend." (smile, clink of glasses, cheek kiss).

And in a flash he's gone. It really is a thing to behold.

Of course, I'm in no position to poke fun. Ask anyone in L.A. what conversation stereotype is even worse than a sub 10-minute agenting and they'll all tell you the same thing: the way over 10 minute conversation with a writer who just started working on/is about to start working on/is thinking about starting to work on a brilliant new idea and wants to pitch it to you in the middle of a crowded party.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Are there people who turn a blind eye to hot cheaters??

This time the back story is short but not particularly sweet:

I heard a story through the grapevine about a guy who, upon finding out that his girlfriend cheated on him, essentially shrugged it off. I know very few details, so I'll leave it at that.

In reaction to hearing this story I said something like, "OMG That Is Ridiculous Why Would He Let Her Walk All Over Him Like That Has He No Decency?! No Self Worth?!"

To which one or two or more people in my general vicinity responded with something along the lines of, "yeah, but she's really hot, and he probably figures he's never going to do better than her."

(Fine, the people were men.)

Is this a thing?! Like an understood thing that bros have known bros to do? And if so, how many? If you are a man and you are reading this, how many friends do you have who have stayed in a relationship with a cheating girl because she's hot? I want numbers.

Because I can't believe this is actually something men choose when given the option between cheating girlfriend and less attractive girlfriend. And if some men choose it then does that mean some women do too? Do some women know their boyfriends cheat but stay with them simply because they're hot?

I realize people stay with cheaters because they're too insecure to be alone, because they think they are somehow to blame for the cheating or because they believe the cheater will reform, but is there really, truly a 4th category for the, "but he/she's just so hot," rationale?

And then if this is all true, do these cheatees cheat right back in a sort of unspoken open relationship? Do they only stay in these relationship until their friends call them out? Or is there an understanding/respect/get out of jail free card for dudes who stay with their hot, cheating girlfriends - a, "listen it sucks, but I get it bro" code. I can't say the same applies among my girlfriends, but perhaps the code exists for girls as well.

I am befuddled and confused. I feel like I felt that time I learned that some people lie about bad experiences at places like hotels and restaurants just to get refunds or additional deals. People do that, I thought, and get away with it??

Please assist in correcting my naivete by sharing your stories of first, second or third person knowledge of these "arrangements" in comments.

Thank you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Are today's movies inundated with strong, female characters? And if so, was Natalie Portman's character in No Strings Attached one of them?

Last week (or so...) there was an article in The New York Times magazine about the "plague of strong female characters." "Tough, Cold, Terse, Taciturn and Prone to Not Saying Goodbye When They Hang Up the Phone," was the title.

In it the author specifically references the character Natalie Portman plays in the recent romantic comedy "No Strings Attached". The movie is about a girl (EMMA/Portman) who tries to do the "just hooking up" thing with a guy (ADAM, Ashton Kutcher) she ultimately realizes she loves. SPOILER ALERT: she fails.

I read the article and agreed with most of the point the author was trying to prove. Yes, there are a lot of female characters doing the cold, hard, and pissed-off routine. They seem to be independent and extremely guarded. They obviously don't like to follow the status quo.

But her specific use of Natalie Portman's character Emma raised a question that I'd raised but forgotten to post about when I first saw the movie.

See - I'm still not 100% sure about this, but I don't think that I think Emma is a strong, female character. I realize she is the version of a strong, female character that the New York Times article was referencing; she is what Hollywood is calling a strong, female character today, and there are lots of examples of her out there. But I think that I actually perceive her as being pretty weak.

(As you can tell I'm still working through my thoughts on the issue, so bear with me as I use this blog post to do so.)

The movie - with my editorializing - goes something like this:
  • Emma is a hard-working intern of the doctor variety who has little time for life
  • Emma likes men very much, but does not have the time to really date one because she a. doesn't have time and b. doesn't like the idea of dating people. Case in point:
Go on a date with me.

Why? So I can wear make up and act perfect all night?
  • Emma likes sex with men because it's physically pleasurably and she needs/wants it
  • Emma and Adam have instant chemistry but because of Emma's issues/needs they agree to be BLEEP buddies. (You know what I mean if you know what I mean.)
  • Ultimately Emma and Adam realize they have real feelings for each other, and Emma breaks it off with Adam because she can't handle that
  • Shortly thereafter Emma realizes she was wrong and goes crawling back to Adam
There's an interesting evaluation of the story from the perspective of ADAM, but I made a pact early on in the development of this blog to never write post about Ashton Kutcher, so I can't get into it.

Back to whether or not Emma is a strong, female character. Emma is definitely head-strong. She does what she wants. She is absolutely resilient in her medical profession. She tells it like it is in most circumstances. She bucks convention in many ways. She does not cry (until the end).

But I don't think the choice she makes - the central choice of the movie, to avoid really dating Adam - is the choice of a strong, female character. I don't think it's the choice of a strong person, period. Feel free to pounce on this statement, but I think it is much easier to arrange a no strings attached relationship than it is to actually date someone. I also think it's much easier to lie to yourself about how you feel about someone than it is to confront those feelings.

The way I see it, Emma starts the movie guarded and ends the movie strong. There is a significant difference between those two characteristics, and I think it's one the author of the New York Times article misses a bit. A female character isn't strong because she's tough, cold or terse. She may be acting strong. She may believe she's strong. But I think strength comes from maintaining your true sense of self while still being vulnerable enough to admit what the deepest parts of that true self want. Emma's true self is an independent woman who's never going to be a typical girly girlfriend. But Emma's truer self wants to be with Adam. A truly strong, female character would find a way to be who she is yet have what she wants.

Emma stays as headstrong as she was in the beginning of the movie even after she confesses her love to Adam. And though our time ends when the credits roles, I believe she and Adam went on to a balanced relationship in which she does not compromise herself for old ideals of romance.

But there's a difference between strong and strong-willed just like there's a difference between strong and stubborn or strong and guarded. And - brace for soap box moment - I think it can be a little dangerous to woman (and men and humans of all kinds) when we confuse those definitions. We all aspire to be strong people and we all aspire to be Natalie Portman... it would appear that the moral of this entire post is that we must play very close attention to when Natalie Portman is and is not playing a legitimately strong person. (Note: Black Swan = NOT).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why one 20-something up and quit his job, and why he's glad he did

Below is an essay that I asked one of my favorite guy friends to write upon hearing that he up and quit his job two weeks ago.

Some context: this friend is a hard-working go-getter who has worked non-stop since we graduated from college. He is self-made (read: sans trust fund) and knows the importance of paying one's dues (read: not an entitled jerk).

But for all the reasons you'll read below, he decided he was done with working inside corporate American for the time being. Here is his story. If you have a similar story of your own, I'd love to hear it for a series I'm doing on "checking out." Send them my way!

Thanks to this friend for this very honest and interesting first story.

Note: my query to him had a bunch of questions. He answered with the below.

When did you leave your job?

I had my "day of clarity" on two Sundays ago, and I quit two days later. It's been two weeks, then.

What reasons did you site for leaving?

There are multiple levels to the decision - and seeing the questions below I'll just knock this out all in one. For me, it's probably best for people to first understand what I was going through. I spent six years in the post-college world having success. Working for several agencies I was going to places and attending events that people would kill for. I was setting up meetings with some of the world's biggest bands, entertainment companies, and brands. Ultimately, though, something was missing. It was missing at the first job (5 years). It was missing at the second job (1 year). I'd constantly obsess over what that thing was. Looking for an answer. Worrying about my "path" in life and my career.

For me - as wild as it is to admit it - I think I lost some of my confidence. I've always been a confident person, but there's something about the corporate world and certain working environments that can bring people down. There are so many people in leadership positions that shouldn't be there. There are so many situations in which common sense is ignored. There are so many people that are happy just floating through the system.

I'm tired of giving way to others. I'm tired of being held back. Whether it's not being able to contribute across all facets of a company, having people around me that aren't that smart, not having proper resources - I refuse to let my happiness and success be in the hands of others. I'm taking control and I'm going to be damn proud of the things I help create from here on out.

When I had this "day of clarity" - I realized something that I've never been able to fully admit to myself. Even if I said I admitted it, I didn't. I was scared.

While up until this point I had never seriously considered leaving my job - it entered into the equation and I looked at it point blank and began to think about it. Not worry about it. What would I do for insurance? I called a couple people who had done this before and I did some research. While not ideal, the options really didn't seem that bad. The big bad scary insurance thing that I had thought about forever now was one less excuse.

Well, what would I do? Can I go without pay for very long? I thought about it. I focused. I thought of a few things I might be able to do to at least make some cash and prevent me from crushing ramen for the rest of my life. I made a budget - a budget, for god's sake. I'm the least financial dude I know, but it turns out when I think about it I can figure it out. Similar to the insurance thing, the scariness was abstract. I had to be careful, but I didn't have to be afraid - especially if it felt right.

I talked to my parents and told them what I was going to do. I didn't ask what I should do - which is what normally would have happened. I knew what I wanted to do and needed to do, and I walked into work the next day and handed in my letter of resignation.

Despite not having a plan, I've had the busiest two weeks of my life. I'm learning about the startup world. I'm bringing to the surface skills that I have that haven't been utilized in quite some time. I've barely slept due to all of the ideas that are swarming through my head - ideas for businesses, ideas for potential career paths, etc.

I have no clue what is next - or if it will be the "right" thing - but I know when I look back in 20 years I'll be calling this the best decision I've ever made in my life (that is, after the decision to marry the woman whom I have yet to meet). I'm in control for the first time in a while, and as scary as the uncertainty is I know myself too well to think for more than a second that the things that I end up doing will be anything less than great.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What major life status issue stresses you out the most?

Every six months or so I decide that I need to be saving way more money than I'm currently saving, and so I go on a fear-fueled Google binge of every Roth IRA and high yield savings account available until I ultimately decide that I can't really afford to save much more money and just re-sign up for Keep the Change from Bank of America (which I periodically cancel because the idea of losing my money to myself is bizarre and confusing to me).

The reason I go through these bi-yearly panic attacks is because having enough money is my primary source of 20-something anxiety. It's not rooted in a maniacal desire to be an island-buying billionaire with a house for a closet (though I wouldn't pass up a shed for a shoe rack). I'm just consumed with having a healthy bank account, proper savings, and some semblance of investment so that I don't end up like one of those weepy guests that Suze Orman yells at for being foolish with their finances.

My stress comes from the fact that I was once foolish with my finances. Though I'm not sure the word is "foolish" if you're making 30K a year with 12K in student loans in an apartment that costs 1K a month. I think it's called Manhattan, but the place is pretty foolish as a concept, so I guess the word holds. Regardless, I spent the first five years of my post-graduate career living pay check to pay check (note to youth of America: don't be a Comm. major if you're primary stress in life comes from having enough money).

But this whole issue got me thinking about whether or not my fear is the same fear most 20-somethings feel or if there are specific fears for specific personalities.

Are some people more consumed with being single than being poor? Do they prioritize all else in life around finding the special someone because the idea of ending up single is their greatest young-adult fear? Are there people who obsess over being successful above being in a stable relationship or having money? By successful I don't mean rich. There are fashion designers, artists and writers who have fame long before they have money. What about people who can think of nothing else but achieving the highest education possible?

And then, how can you be sure what your strongest stresser really is? At the end of the day we all want all the elements of a stable life, but are the things we prioritize now indicators of the focus of the rest of our lives? Will I always put a stable job before my creative pursuits? Will the singer-songwriter ignore all else until she's Natalie Imbruglia ("Torn" came on my iTunes shuffle)? Will the Phd. pursuer go bankrupt in his pursuit of the highest possible title?

Or will there come a time when all this intense focus flattens out and we find ourselves living a life where everything is equally stressful??

For now, I'm just going to continue to plan on saving more money while secretly hoping I sell a major motion picture within the next 10 years. Unless I have a baby within those 10 years, in which case all focus of any stress will shift to ensuring that baby is as stress-free as humanly possible.

Monday, July 11, 2011

L.A. Month 10: The Top 10 Things I Hate About L.A.

I'm back today after ten days on the east coast with family and friends - back to the new city and coast where I've now lived for ten full months. And so in honor of these facts and the fact that I have zero brain power to write a legitimately thoughtful post (though one is coming about how it feels to watch the first of your very best friends get married. Preview: awesome), I give you:

The Top Ten Things I Hate About Los Angeles
  • 10. All the brunch menus here have several egg white options that are just part of the regular menu versus East coast menus which only feature the option to turn any egg dish into an "egg whites only, please" dish for the added cost of approximately 2 dollars. So while I used to order the real eggs I and the rest of egg-eating civilization prefer because I am painfully cheap, I now have no excuse not to choose the healthier option.
  • 9. More than 50% of all drivers here do not use their blinker. That's a fact I've determined by dividing the number of drivers who do not use their blinker by the total number of cars I see on the road in a given driving session. I'm not kidding. There are only so many podcasts in the world...
  • 8. I now get really pissy when it isn't 75 and sunny on any/every given day. This is a back-handed complaint, but it really is an issue, plus I had to get to 10 things.
  • 7. My hair still isn't quite sure what to do in this climate. It's less frizzy than it was in the soup that is East coast air, but now it's sort of flat in some places and somehow perma-greasy in others. I believe this has something to do with the water here, which is among my greatest enemies in L.A. on account of the next thing I hate here:
  • 6. The bagels and the pizza. It is the most cliche complaint, but the most true. They're not as good. None of them. Not even Vito's, R. Sorry. The silver lining of this hate is I don't eat nearly as many bagels or slices of pizza as I did when Murray's and Ray's were each a quick walk away, so when I really want real eggs I justify it that way.
  • 5. It is much more difficult to make impulse purchases here in L.A. When I lived in New York I could walk out of my apartment and find food, alcohol, clothing, accessories, office supplies, and everything offered inside a CVS within 100 yards. That is not an exaggeration. I now have to walk at least one block for food/alcohol and must get in my car for all the other items (note: I do live on the corner of the street where Fred Segal is, but I have developed enough self control to prevent myself from impulse shopping there. God bless the fact that I moved here at 27 and not 23...).
  • 4. Hollywood vernacular. You don't go to a meeting, you "take a meeting." You don't place several phone calls in a row, you "roll calls." You're not leaving a voicemail, you're leaving "word." If two people are trying to get a hold of each other it isn't called phone tag, it's called "trading." When you want to know what's really going on with a given situation you say, "give me the real." The list goes on and on, and there's no avoiding it. Sort of like when I worked in marketing in NY and used the term "ideating" instead of coming up with ideas. Same shit, different coast.
  • 3. At least two of your friends are on hiatus at any given time. This is not to be confused with "unemployed" which is a generally negative thing. Hiatus is when the show/film/project you work on is taking a break. TV shows do this for a month at a time. Filmmakers and writers can be on hiatus (or, in their case, "between projects") for...ever? These people are horribly, horribly annoying because they're terribly, terribly lucky, and I aspire to be just like them.
  • 2. Everyone has a script. This is not to be confused with, "everyone is a writer." The number of people in this town who actually make their full living off of writing film and/or television scripts is small and terrifying. The number of people who, "have a script" or are, "working on a pilot," or are, "in the outline phase with their writing partner" is massive. Part of this is because L.A. is a creative town where many to most people have good to excellent ideas for TV shows and movies. Most of this is because if the right person in this town gives your good to excellent idea the time of day you can go from being an underpaid person whose name appears way at the bottom of the credits to an overpaid person who is always on hiatus. Or at least that's what they told me to get me to move here.
  • 1. It's between $350-600 from home. It's not the distance nor the time it takes to traverse it that bothers me. I'm happy to fly east for a long weekend on a moment's notice. Unfortunately that's an expensive proposition these days. Do you know they even charge $50 to go stand-by?! Not to fully change your ticket. That's one half of $100 for the chance to fly earlier. If you don't get on the flight you just paid $50 for less sleep and an nervous stomach! The gaul!
Today, after a whirlwind vacation with my family, R's family, and my family of B.C. friends I miss all that's back east more than I have over the past ten, happy months. But among the hundreds of things that I actually do love about my life here is the fact that 99% of my new friends and "family" totally get it because they too call the East coast home.

Also, I'm writing this from my backyard ;)