Sunday, March 23, 2008
Little Girls With Cameras; Floppy Genitalia; and the First Black President: One Week In Portland

Actually, nothing much happened on Monday and Tuesday. I worked on Monday, and on Tuesday I just sorta puttered around. I splurged and made beef stroganoff for dinner. It was really good.

I spent Wednesday afternoon with a dozen 9- to 11-year-old girls, helping them make a video. This, if you've never tried it, is actually pretty fucking stressful. I'm doing it on behalf of the local film group I've been working with, and for the benefit of another non-profit that's kind of like positivity training crossed with the Girl Scouts. They try to teach young girls how about constructive competition and social ethics and stuff like that -- that's what I gather, anyway. Sometimes they bring in a local "artist" (scare quotes intended to signify that I can't quite bring myself to take that label seriously when applied to me) to introduce the kids to their medium. So we're making a video.

The whole thing has actually been kind of a clusterfuck -- communication via the group's office has been really poor, meaning that on a weekly basis I get some kind of difficult surprise. Nobody knows who I am or why I've arrived, the facilitator for the group (who's actually pretty sharp) hasn't been apprised of the project in any but the most abstract terms, the schedule's never been properly hammered out, etc. When I first discussed the project with the non-profit's coordinator, we agreed on five or possibly six sessions; when I finally met with the group for the first time, the facilitator had only alloted three. A session is 90 minutes, so that would leave me with four and a half hours to devise, shoot, and edit a couple of minutes worth of video with a bunch of little girls, to a degree sufficient to impart some sense of what filmmaking is about. If we were a trained and well-tuned production unit, that would be tough. Given that we were a bunch of little girls and me, it was impossible.

So I managed to coax another session out of the facilitator. So now I have six hours. Which is still impossible, but at least it's 33% less impossible. Or something like that.

So far I've managed to keep things on track -- the resulting film is going to be a total dog's breakfast, but they're all like ten, so they won't care. One little girl was acting as the "cinematographer" (seriously, I gave her my camera, showed her how the fluid head and record button worked, set the rest on automatic, and let her do whatever she wanted) another was the "sound designer", and two others directed. The footage that resulted is, in cinematic terms, unsalvageable. But they had fun, and they'll love it no matter what it is, so I'll just slap some fancy-looking titles and credits on it and they'll be convinced of its awesomeness. Ten-year-olds are easily manipulated.

At least, I hope they are.

I do this because I strongly believe that media literacy is every bit as important as basic literacy and numeracy, and even a brief introduction to the process can only help to arm these kids with some of the critical tools they need to navigate a media-saturated society. Any contact with filmmaking, any demonstration of the fundamental difference between reality and the constructed, edited image, can help these kids begin to deconstruct the onslaught of messages pushed on them in any given day. Even a taste of filmmaking can help them become more critical, thoughtful media consumers. Plus, I'm going to get paid at a rate almost three time my hourly wage at Fnorders. I'd have done it just for the money, really.

Anyway, after a couple of hours wrangling a bunch of squealing little girls (and watching them handle my camera without benefit a safety net), I was eager for some grown-up social time. The back story for this one isn't worth going into; the point is, I went out with a few peeps from work on Wednesday night. It wasn't the group I'd anticipated, but that may have been just as well -- the crew ultimately assembled consisted of a gay guy, a bi guy, a straight guy, and me. We went first to a gay bar apparently well-loved for cheap drinks, and then went to the other gay bar. The one with the strippers.

I'd never actually seen real strippers before, and it wasn't anything like I expected. I'd been around a few naked strangers, mostly in the context of a film shoot, so I knew that after the initial curiosity wore off it just became part of the background color, part of the ambiance. What I didn't expect was the tone of the performance. Maybe it's different when it's men stripping for men -- it wasn't at all the hyperactive, "oh my god, we're being so naughty!" giggling of a Chippendale's hen party. It was more like a locker room, except that checking out another dude's junk was openly encouraged.

There's a funny little mini-routine that every stripper went through at the beginning of his act. He'd come onstage wearing some variation of thin, clingy shorts that did almost nothing to conceal his anatomy. He'd squirm around on stage a little in an approximation of rhythm, though it's nothing I'd call "dancing," until finally he'd tug at his waistband, glance down, and give his audience a look that seemed to say,

"Oh my god, guys! Come look what I just found in my shorts!"

It was that feigned surprise that amused me, as if he'd merely been casually checking the status of his lower abdomen and had never dreamed that he'd find a penis attached. If he knew he was worth money, he'd keep his shorts on (for the most part) and only grant glimpses to men who came with bills in hand. If he seemed a little less confident, he'd get out of his tiny costume almost immediately and start wagging his tackle around like the arm of a kid in class who really, really wants the teacher to call on him. Even when they weren't on stage, the strippers milled around the floor and made a lot of "accidental" contact -- there was a lot of casual brushing-against going on. The gay and bi guys I was with took their turns at dollar-tucking, and more than once encouraged me to have a go. I declined, not out of prudery but rather disinterest -- the performers were beautiful, no question, but I argued that women just aren't wired that way. At least, I'm not. I can appreciate an attractive male figure on its aesthetic merits, but there's no erotic charge in it. Dicks all look pretty much the same; the draw comes from the person to whom they belong. And money wasn't going to get me any closer to that.

The coolest thing, though, was the reaction of the straight guy to all of this. He hadn't given the slightest hint of discomfort with the prospect of going to a gay bar with queer co-workers, or even at the prospect of other dudes waving their dangly bits at him. There was no obvious sign of awkwardness or insecurity in his demeanor. He was a little wide-eyed, maybe, taking it all in (errr... maybe that's not the best way to put it, but you know what I mean), but with an overall attitude of openness and receptivity (but not, y'know, like that.) I'm probably about to completely mis-characterize the poor guy, for which I hope he'll forgive me since I don't know him at all well. But my first impression of him was total farm boy, like Timmy from "Lassie" all grown up. I don't believe that's actually true, mind you, that's just how he comes across. Which is a roundabout way of saying, we'd have understood a certain amount of unease on his part, and I was impressed that he was so willing to roll with it. At one point I even looked over and saw him talking -- in a way that I can only describe as very "guy-like" -- to the buffest stripper of all, the obvious Alpha Male, the Stripper King. I couldn't hear their conversation over the music, but even the stripper had ceased to flirt and was just standing there in his banana hammock, talking as if about football. I pointed the scene out to Bi Guy and we both sat and watched and grinned until Straight Guy came back and said, "he's actually a really good guy!" And it was the most awesome thing I'd seen that whole day. He earned a good deal of respect from me with that one.

Thursday was uneventful.

Friday, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 AM to go see Barack Obama speak. The wait outside was long and cold, and people got grouchy after an hour and a half or so, though in the usual Portland style it was expressed more as vague bitchiness than outright hostility. I saw one of my co-workers in line behind me, and at least one other was present. Faced with a choice between a close seat behind the podium and a far-away seat that faced it squarely, I opted for the far seat.

I don't actually have that much to say about the speech -- I don't know how I could gush about Obama much more than I already have. It was damn good, and it still had a great deal of life and immediacy in it for being a well-worn stump speech. Even though I've heard him say a lot of those lines before, it still sounded if it was being said just for us. The thing I had to notice, though, was that I have never before imagined, let alone seen, the collective response of a crowd to any other politician. Years ago I saw Bill Clinton speak in Hot Springs -- his home town, mind, where I was living the year he was first elected -- and even that easiest of audiences didn't respond the way Obama's did in Portland. The only word that can approach description is "apeshit." The crowd went completely, unashamedly apeshit. They gave Obama not merely support, they gave him love. It was beautiful.

The week also saw a few anti-war protests of various sizes -- they all occured while I was at work, but for the first one I got to hang my head out the loading-dock door and watch as the protest went by. It looked like fun, and it was finally a glimpse of the "Little Beirut" I'd been led to expect.

I hope to make this coming week fairly low-key; I'm pretty tired. Next week I have to move, so if I'm going to rest, I should do it now. I'm not looking forward to dragging all my stuff around again, but at least this time I should be able to move in properly and set myself up the way I'd like. It also means a new round of living-space negotiations, but that's unavoidable. I just hope I don't have to do it again for a while.

So how was your week?
10:38 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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