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ONLINE VIDEO: Porn 2.0 September 22, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Porn 2.0

By Aymar Jean Christian

Talking about porn is like talking about money. In America, it just isn’t done. So it’s a special day in life of every boy—and some girls’—when one day a friend pulls you aside and asks: “have you heard of XTube?”

Or YouPorn, YouPornGay, RedTube, Pornotube, Pornhub, Megarotic, Spankwire, TNAFlix, even DList, well, you get the idea.

What are these sites? If you don’t have friends like mine, then maybe you haven’t heard of the newest wave in porn, or Porn 2.0 as it’s being called. It’s YouTube but hardcore, Vimeo uncensored, and it’s become extraordinarily popular. Some of the sites attract about as many monthly viewers as popular news sites like WashingtonPost.com, and by my count the top six sites get as many eyes as CNN.com (27 million), though far less than the smut-free YouTube (75 million). That’s pretty impressive for a bunch of sites that have few outlets for advertising. Most people find out about them during indecent conversations with friends or lovers, samizdat-style, the same way porn’s been historically disseminated.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been living in a cave. These sites aren’t that new. They started getting noticed in the second half of 2006, according to Fleshbot, who’s been documenting the trend with diligence. They grew quickly in 2007. Now in 2008 it seems like it’s past the trend stage and become a staple of porn consumption.

XTube is, in my view, the best of the sites, even though it’s not the most popular. It is the perfect synthesis of what the Internet means today: connecting with others, generating your own material and, in some cases, profiting off that material. Of the top 25 XTube videos viewed recently, only three were clearly “industry” porn, the rest were uploaded by less (financially) endowed individuals. The top five videos have gathered a collective 25 million views, and only one of those was professional. Amateur porn has been around since the home video, but until now most of it has been confined to industrious entrepreneurs with lots of time to market and distribute. Now distribution is easier, the audience bigger and more eager to watch. Amateurs can actually sell their videos online for a few bucks on XTube. Those homemade sex tapes have become a business venture.

That’s because today—correct me if I’m wrong—people are yearning for authentic, sincere experiences. XTube allows people to create profiles, make friends, comment on videos, and subscribe to channels just like YouTube. And most comments are celebratory, a pat on the back for someone else’s good fuck. Sure, production quality isn’t always fantastic, and while some of the most popular videos on XTube will never win awards, they are visceral and raw (yes, very often not “safe” in the traditional sense). Some are sloppy—in real life things don’t always slip in as easily as with professionals! Most of the sets are dull—no posh couches and fantastic lighting. But you get the sense that the aches and groans are genuine, and that makes it hot.

Of course part of the appeal is that it’s fast. Remember the days of getting porn off P2P networks like KaZaA? Waiting 30 minutes for a download could really kill a hankering. No longer. Porn 2.0 sites promise thrills in seconds.

One of the greatest pleasures, besides the obvious one, of these sites is the chance to encounter something new. XTube has a fairly open door policy. There are fat people, ethnic people, old people, fisters, gay people, bi people, ugly people, hot people, S&M people, self-suck fetishists, dildo-play lovers, etc. all one site. Community sites like Ning, which hosts all sorts of communities have flourished by offering people with specific tastes a venue to share videos. (A large part of Ning’s four million regular viewers partake in porn). Porn on the web used to be quite segregated. If you wanted interracial porn you went to this or that site, straight porn at this site, twinks at this site, silver daddies at another one. But many of those sites dump short clips of their videos onto porn 2.0 portals like Redtube and YouPorn. The industry does it for promotion, to drive subscriptions. But for cheap people like myself, a 30-second to one-minute clip is all that’s necessary! You know what I’m saying!

All these sites constitute a profound development in the history of film and porn. Yes, porn is still, mostly, a solitary act, but these sites tell us that we all like sex—all sorts of us—and it’s all okay. It connects us through intimate networks. In the early 20th century, porn entrepreneurs would travel from town to town with a projector, round up interested men, and they would watch it together. Things have come full circle, and we’re all watching each other get off. It’s time to be honest about it.

WRITING UPDATE: In Defense of Woody Allen August 13, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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In Defense of the Nebbish

A string of mediocre features and some, ahem, questionable personal decisions have caused younger people to overlook Woody Allen. It’s their loss.

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From Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

Who hates Woody Allen?

I forgive you if you screamed, “I do! I do!” After all, he married his stepdaughter. He casts beautiful young women as his lovers in films, despite having never been attractive—not in 1970, not now. He’s pessimistic. He hasn’t bought a new pair of eyeglasses in at least 40 years. His portrayal of women is highly suspect. It took him decades to write his first decent black character, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s in Melinda and Melinda (let’s not count the hooker in Deconstructing Harry). He revels in stereotypes: of New Yorkers, Jews, intellectuals, older men. I think he even revels in people’s disgust of him. I can’t name one Woody fan among my group of twentysomething friends.

Finally, no one I know is as excited as I am to see Vicky Christina Barcelona—coming out this week with the best reviews Allen has received in years and the fourth film in a world tour that started in London with Match Point.

I’m here to publicly declare my crazy love of Woody Allen’s’ films. No, I’m not 72 years old, or Jewish, nor a white man attracted to young Asian women. The exact opposite actually. I’m simply a film lover who appreciates a writer-director flexible enough to cross genres but self-assured enough to have a recognizable style. Allen has done thrillers, slapstick comedies, Chekhovian tragedies, and mixtures of all three. Most of all I love his consistently mature outlook on life. For years he has had the heart of old man: miserable, fickle and cynical. “To live is to suffer,” the latest Newsweek has him saying.

Most people my age haven’t even dipped into the vast ocean that is Woody Allen. They likely know the recent not-so-great Woodies—Scoop, Match Point, Melinda and Melinda. More will know Annie Hall and Manhattan, his two bona fide, canonized classics. If they are a little more sophisticated, they may know Hannah and Her Sisters, Deconstructing Harry, and a sprinkling of others.

All can be forgiven for wondering what the big deal is. To most, there isn’t a big deal. Allen’s movies don’t make much money: few gross more than $20 million, which is about how much The Dark Knight made in its first two and half hours.

Okay, so you’ve seen Annie Hall. But have you seen September and Interiors, two of Allen’s darkest dramas and tiny masterpieces in their own right? In September an emotionally weak Mia Farrow—was she ever anything else in his movies?—pursues a man unattracted to her while her mother torments her with horrors from her past. Located entirely in a summerhouse in Vermont, the film delves deep into the torment of living, even as the incomparable Elaine Stritch gives a hilarious performance as a vicious diva. Interiors explores similar themes of misery and loneliness but employs much more artful camerawork and lighting. Both films do what I like the most: carry the plot crisply and calmly to a logical and cathartic end. It’s what Kafka, Chekhov and Strindberg did best.

Wait a minute, you say, Woody Allen is supposed to make us laugh! Yes, he is funny—kind of, sort of. I don’t think he’s the funniest director of the century. Maybe not even Top 10; many more are funnier. But Allen is at his best when his outlook on life—relentless, agnostic—is so extreme that all one can do is laugh. The best example is a scene in Deconstructing Harry with Kirstie Alley. Alley, playing Allen’s ex and a therapist, is so enraged at him she cannot sit still in a session with a patient. She keeps getting up and yelling at him in the next room. We hear her screams from the patient’s perspective, as he lies patiently in another room. Each time Alley returns to continue the session she is increasingly upset and inconsolable. It’s absolutely hilarious. She’s a therapist who can’t keep it together. Fun!

Let’s not forget the obvious. Allen is perhaps the single most dedicated documenter of New York in film history. He’s captured many of the city’s flavors: its romance and lyricism in Manhattan, its gentrified cleanliness in Anything Else and Melinda and Melinda, the industrial emptiness of Soho in Hannah and Her Sisters, and the charm of the boroughs in Radio Days. One reason I probably love Allen so much is I often long for New York. I grew up right outside the city but went to school in the Midwest and now reside in Philadelphia. Watching Woody is like coming home.

Now in Vicky he ventures to Barcelona, in what should be another shot into left field: a steamy, amber-hued romp with three of the hottest actors working today. Where has the old man’s heart gone? Has he finally found joie de vivre? Unlikely, I think, and I’m eager to see how film’s great cynic manages to squeeze realism from the lips of Penelope Cruz.

So for anyone who has yet to jump headfirst into Allen’s whirlpool of delightful misfortune (40-plus films and growing at a rate of about one film per year): jump! For those who are old at heart, or who want to know what it feels like to be 72, there is no better way to enjoy the pleasures of misery and meaninglessness.

WRITING UPDATE: We are a generation of hustlers August 8, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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New piece for Splice.

http://www.splicetoday.com/moving-pictures/hustlin-not-mumbling

Hustlin’, Not Mumbling

There’s a lot to like about mumblecore, except that its depiction of today’s 20-somethings couldn’t be more wrong.

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Youth, wasted on the fictitious young. A still from Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation.

If you’ve never thrown a small object at a movie screen, perhaps you should watch Funny Ha Ha. No offense to Andrew Bujalski, the film’s director, who managed to do something fresh with film and whose talent I don’t doubt, but as a movie written, directed and starring twentysomethings living in the digital age, Funny Ha Ha paints a pretty bleak picture of my generation. Restless, meandering, inarticulate, emotionally stunted and utterly unprepared for the real world. We are a well-meaning bunch, but we can’t quite articulate what we mean, Bujalski suggests.

Why do I care about a tiny indie film few people have ever seen? Because the critical establishment—old people—seems to think this is an accurate portrait of my generation. A small bunch of films have followed in Funny Ha Ha‘s footsteps, in a genre often called “mumblecore”—after each character’s general inability to communicate—or “Slackavetes” (after John Cassavetes) or “bedhead cinema.” The genre’s directors—Ry Russo-Young, the Duplass Brothers, Joe Swanberg, Aaron Katz, among a few others—paint similar portraits of an ineffective, urban, over-educated youth who don’t know who the hell they are and have little idea where they are headed. They are the arty cousins to the stoner films of Judd Apatow.

I like Apatow. And I admire a lot about mumblecore. Stylistically direct and clean, emotionally sincere, the films are a powerful antidote to the Hollywood machine, as most realist films are.

There’s one problem: we are not a generation of slackers!

We’re hustlers: eager and willing to do anything to get ahead, desperate for self-publicity, optimistic about the prospect for change, worldly, forthright, and well-equipped with enough episodes of Tyra and other pop culture psychology to know how to run our lives. Maybe Bujalski is a slacker—but probably not, since at 30 he has directed two major feature films and acted in several others.

The older generation is taking notice. “Today’s whippersnappers—they all take their cue from Monica Lewinsky, who had regular sit-downs with Vernon Jordan to discuss her career trajectory—are the most careerist, focused and entitled generation in the history of the planet,” Barney’s fashion guru and pop culture opinionista Simon Doonan wrote in the New York Observer in 2007. “Why can’t young adults just be the big, fat, freewheeling losers that people in their 20’s are meant to be?”

We are not the baby boomers. We are their children—Chelsea Clinton spring to mind. Have you ever seen someone in their 20s more mature and together than Chelsea Clinton? I can imagine her rolling her eyes at her less-than-perfect parents: “Ugh, you guys are so immature.” Our parents told us we could be anything we want to be. It was a lie, but it motivated us nonetheless.

Among my friends I can count a successful investment banker with more in savings than my parents, an aspiring comedienne who produces her own stand-up shows, a playwright who co-runs a theatre production company, an architect working in downtown Manhattan, a director working at marketing firm and applying to graduate school, a graduate student who makes art and freelances op-ed pieces, and on and on. All under 30, everyone has job. Everyone’s hustling.

Think of the new digital working-class, young people working tirelessly for no money whatsoever in the hopes of achieving fame. YouTube’s most productive vloggers produce hundreds of videos a year and often without pay. Several young people have—also without pay—created web TV series and become quite successful. Bloggers like Perez Hilton work 10-hour days just to provide information to the greedy masses. The founders of Google and Facebook were all under 30 while developing their companies, now collectively worth about $200 billion. Who’s slacking? When our parents were our age they were smoking weed, having copious amounts of sex and living in bad apartments. We’re only doing one of those things.

But we aren’t only about money and fame. Consider Barack Obama’s campaign, fueled as it is by the efforts of young people. When I went canvassing for Obama before the Pennsylvania primary, almost all of the volunteers were students. Obama even has volunteers under 18 and unable to vote helping his campaign. His progressive message of “working” for change struck a chord with an optimistic generation tired of baby boomer cynicism: “We gave peace a chance, it doesn’t work. Now lower my taxes, please.” Even Hillary Clinton had her avid youth support, and I have several activist friends participating in groups in Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C. who refuse to accept the world as set in stone and who are willing to put in the hours to change it.

So tell Judd Apatow—however brilliant he is—and his cadre of stoners that they are a minority. My generation is working to make the world a better place—or make ourselves rich. Either way, we’re hustlin’.