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20 Nov 13:00

I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died.

by Dennis Perkins

Actually building relationships was the best (really the only good) thing about working retail. It's something that retailers know about, but it costs so much money to train and retain staff that few are willing to invest to keep brick and mortar interesting when they see immediate benefits in growing online platforms.

I think I'm working on my thesis by tying this into cultural institutions and I need sources and someone to be my reader. Hmm

The independent video store where I've worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the "disruption" of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.

Videoport, of Portland, Maine, lasted longer than most. It was better than most. It owed its longevity to a single, engaged owner, to strong ties to the local film scene and a collection that put others to shame. I was proud to work there, alongside a staff that paired film knowledge and exceptional customer service skills like few other places I've known. We were a fixture in town, until we weren't.

It hasn't been so long since independent rental joints had the opposite problem. Before Videoport, I spent 10 years working at Matt & Dave's Video Venture. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that our downfall came at the hands of a buyout by a major rental chain. Suspiciously well-dressed guys with clipboards started dropping in; soon enough, we were gone, one of the estimated 30,000 video stores in America gobbled up by Blockbuster or Movie Gallery or Hollywood Video, each eager to dominate the booming VHS rental racket. If only those chains knew that within a decade, they'd be goners too.

I spent 25 years of my life in an industry that no longer exists. Maybe I'm not the most ambitious guy. But that time has provided me with an up-close look at not just how the industry is changing but how people's tastes, and the culture those tastes create, have changed with it.

Here's what I've learned.

1) Video stores are about investment

The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice.

We watch Netflix like we used to watch television on a slow Sunday night, everything blending together as we flip aimlessly through the channels. At first the choice is overwhelming: all of these options and nothing but the questionable "You Might Like" cue to guide us — we stare at the screen like idiots, paralyzed. But then when we make a choice, if we make a choice, it feels unimportant. Another option is only a click away.

If you're actually in a video store, the stakes are different. You're engaged. You're on a mission to find a movie — the right movie. You had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to a store. You had to think about what you want, why this movie looks good and not that one, perhaps even seeking guidance or advice. Whether it's from nostalgia, advertising, packaging, reputation, recommendation, or sheer whim, a movie chosen from the shelves attaches you to your choice. Before the film even starts playing, you've begun a relationship with it. You're curious. Whether you've chosen well or poorly, you've made a choice, and you're in it for the duration.

With online streaming, we don't decide — we settle. And when we aren't grabbed immediately, we move on. That means folks are less likely to engage with a film on a deep level; worse, it means people stop taking chances on challenging films. Unlike that DVD they paid for and brought home, a movie on Netflix will be watched only so long as it falls within the viewer's comfort zone. As that comfort zone expands, the desire to look outside of it contracts.

2) An algorithm is no substitute for human interaction

In the last days of the store, daily life at the store got pretty intense. Longtime customers were bereft. We tried to comfort them, explaining how our owner had ensured that our whole collection would soon be available at the public library — for free, even! It didn't help much. Almost to a one, they had the same reply: "But you won't be there to help us."

That was flattering and sad, and ultimately all we could do was agree: Yeah, we wouldn't be there. There were tears and gifts and genuine concern (not unfounded) about what my coworkers and I would do to survive, a phenomenon both touching and illustrative of how identified we were with the role we played in their lives. A great video store is built on relationships, in some cases relationships that had gone on for years. Our customers were losing the people who'd helped shape their movie taste, who'd steered them toward things we knew they'd like and away from things they didn't know they'd hate. We were losing the people that we, in our small way, had been able to help. We were all grieving the loss.

Over the years, we'd come to know our customers' tastes, their pet peeves, and their soft spots. Our experience and movie expertise helped us make informed, intuitive leaps to find and fulfill entertainment needs they didn't even always know they had. I've had parents hug me for introducing their kids to Miyazaki and The Iron Giant. Nice old ladies have baked me cookies for starting them off on The Wire. People knew they could come in with the vaguest description — "This guy has an eye patch, and I think there's a mariachi band" — and we'd figure out they were looking for Cutter's Way. Other times, they'd take a recommendation for Walking and Talking and come back saying, "Just give me everything Nicole Holofcener's ever done." If someone asked me for a great comedy, my first question was invariably, "What's one comedy you've seen that you think is hilarious?" I've spent 20 minutes refining exactly how scary was too scary when picking out a horror movie. It's a skill set you develop, a sensitivity to just the right vibrations of interest and aversion.

If you think I'm overrating the power of these connections, consider this: Years ago, I helped a lovely, seemingly upstanding woman choose from several Shakespeare adaptations. The next week she returned, asking about the relative merits of zombie movies. Interesting, I thought.

She started coming in regularly. After months of recommendations and some earnest cinematic dismantling ("Like a handful of romantic comedies thrown into a blender," she said of Love, Actually), I became her go-to movie guy. A year later, I became her go-to everything guy when we got married.

This phenomenon isn't uncommon. We at the store ended up dating and/or wedding customers so consistently that it became a running joke from the boss that we were taking money out of his pocket. (Significant others got free rentals.)

3) A great video store is pop culture in microcosm

A good video store curates culture. Subjective? Certainly. But who do you want shepherding the legacy of TV and movies — a corporation or a store filled with passionate, knowledgeable movie geeks?

Standing at the center of a video store is to watch the world change, a time lapse of people's taste. As the years pile up, some things, even popular things, simply fall out of the cultural consciousness. Videoport fastidiously stocked new releases, but the heart of our store was its permanent collection. Not just a "foreign films" header but subsections of Japanese and Hong Kong exploitation. A dedicated Criterion Collection section next to British comedy. Anime and Bollywood, documentaries, the dark, glittering jewel that was the renowned cult movies section. It took years to build that inventory: A great video store spends its entire life span building up a representation of film history shaped and curated and always there. Things left, of course, but always in response to viewers' needs and our design.

In a store with limited space, the decision to keep a movie or TV series on the shelf was a constant battleground, a microcosm of the battle between economics and artistic integrity. It was tough to get cut from Videoport: A DVD case is just half an inch wide, and if one person a year rents a copy of the weird little 1980 cop comedy The Black Marble, then we'd ride that out because enough employees went to bat for it. Even the decision to cut loose an insignificant, frankly abysmal little comedy like Jury Duty was agonized over — before it would end up in the sale bin, that movie had to pass through any number of filters.

The final filter was the pull list. Every so often the list would appear, a printout of movies and shows that hadn't been rented in a long time, typically a year or more. Any titles crossed off the list were saved. Any still there at the end of the week were out.

The list appeared with some titles crossed out already by the boss — he was more business-minded than we were, but no philistine. Then the rest of us gathered around, gaping and sniping and complaining about things we were aghast could even be considered for the sale bin. And then we'd set to work.

There were different strategies for staying the execution of an underperforming title. On the earnest end were pleas for mercy: "I promise I can make it rent" was our version of, "I swear I'll feed it and clean up after it." At their most devious, staffers would simply cross titles off the list without approval, or wait until the movie had been pulled and then just put it back on the shelf.

(I was sometimes guilty of that last tactic. During one pull list session, I was complaining about the imminent execution of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, ready to launch into my reasoned argument about leaving a hole in our Robert Altman collection, when the boss smiled and said, "Well, I assume you'll just do when you usually do.")

A great video store's library of films is like a little bubble outside the march of technology or economics, preserving the fringes, the forgotten, the noncommercial, or the straight-up weird. Championed by a store's small army of film geeks, such movies get more traffic than they did in their first life in the theater, or any time since. Not everything that was on VHS made the transition to DVD, and not every movie on DVD is available to stream. The decision to leave a movie behind on the next technological leap is market-driven, which makes video stores the last safety net for things our corporate overlords discard. (That's why the chain stores died first — like Netflix, they peddled convenience and "all new, all the time" — Netflix came along and just did what they did more efficiently.) A real video store buys a movie and saves it, regardless of such considerations.

It was a point of pride that we had everything and could turn people on to some obscurity we knew would appeal. A video store had sneaky cultural punching power — movies championed by our staff got watched. They stayed alive. You know, as long as we did.

By contrast: Netflix routinely adds and removes films at a whim based almost exclusively on licensing agreements. These agreements just don't mean that movies any respectable video store would have remain "unavailable for streaming," but that a substantial portion of Netflix's (rather small) 10,000 film inventory is garbage: direct-to-DVD movies (or movies that bypass DVD for streaming entirely) accepted as part of package deals to get the rights to titles somebody might actually want to see. Although not everything you might want to see. As of this writing, you can't watch Annie Hall, Argo, The Exorcist, This Is Spinal Tap, Taxi Driver, Schindler's List, The Muppet Movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Fight Club, or Frozen on Netflix. You can, however, stream Transmorphers or Atlantic Rim, two suspiciously titled low-budget knockoffs of the movie you meant to watch.

4) Customer loyalty won't save you

Videoport had loyal customers, customers who didn't abandon us, even at the end. Sensing the air of growing unease at the thinning lines at the store made some regulars come in even more, sometimes dragging friends along and extolling our virtues. There was an elderly couple who loved my recommendations so much I'm genuinely worried they're just staring at a blank screen right now. But video stores — like bookstores, record stores, and arthouse theaters—have died as the lure of online convenience overcomes even the most stalwart patrons. In the final days of the store, we saw a lot of once-familiar faces as they showed friends the great video store where they used to rent. A few had the decency to look sheepish, but the depressing, infuriating, majority offered nothing more than platitudes about us lasting longer than they'd expected before taking a few photos.

The dwindling number of employees who stayed through the ever-leaner years did our best to stem the tide. Being overeducated, underemployed movie geeks, this meant counting on the power of passionate reason to counter the flood of fleeing customers. I started a weekly blog/newsletter for the store. I intended it to be a place for customers and staff to continue the ongoing movie conversation through movie reviews, debates, and think pieces about the store and movies in general. In theory it was, apart from being a chance for me to exercise my brain and writing skills, a way to bind customers to the store by giving them a sense of ownership in the place. In practice, as the customers drifted away, it became more like a running, increasingly desperate 10-year argument as to why our video store deserved to exist, written by me.

But even in our small, art-friendly city, we were abandoned, at first slowly and then very, very quickly. By our last year, each month was down some 30 percent from the already meager takings of the previous year, and it became increasingly clear that there was simply nothing we could do to stop the slide.

In such circumstances, you look for divine intervention — the well-known indie video stores that have survived have needed (and gotten) extraordinary help. Vidiots in Santa Barbara had announced its closing before Annapurna Pictures producer and fan Megan Ellison swooped in to fund it, seemingly in perpetuity. (Ellison refuses to discuss details, only saying that the store will remain "as is.")

The legendary Scarecrow Video in Seattle staved off the end by going nonprofit, allowing it to accept donations and pursue grants (and for some customers to write off their memberships in their taxes). On the more eccentric side, Jimmy Kimmel and Matthew McConaughey decided to make a national ad for Austin, Texas’s Vulcan Video for free as a bit for Kimmel’s late-night show. (We kept waiting for Portland, Maine-based celebrities to save our day, to no avail — Judd Nelson and Anna Kendrick, it’s too late now.)

All of these places were facing closure, suggesting that to make it in the age of Netflix, video stores’ only hope is to become a vanity project, a sentimental choice for those willing to forego the lure of "good enough" — as viable commercial entities, they’re finished.

Videoport never found a patron. Its movies are now dispersed to the branches of the Portland library system. We donated our disc buffer, too, which may extend their lives a bit longer, even without us to worry over them. As for me, I buy movies on DVD, mostly, although my job as a TV and movie critic means I’ll have to sign up for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and all the rest soon enough. There are no video stores within 30 miles of me now, and that radius will extend, if not to infinity, then perhaps to Santa Monica or Seattle soon enough. In the end, after all the sweat and anxiety and doomed effort, what I learned was that movies are more than distraction or even simply entertainment. The loss of the video store severs a personal connection among the movies, the viewers, and the people who liked nothing more than being part of the conversation.

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife, writer Emily L. Stephens. He writes regularly about pop culture for the A.V. Club and the Portland Press Herald.

First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at

21 Nov 14:47

The importance of art on the T

by adamg

Elisa is one of my FPAC artist friends, and is probably the most optimistic, genuinely happy people I know. Write your reps and tell them this is bunk!

News that the MBTA is canceling contracts for art on the Green Line extension - and on the Fairmount Line - got artist Elisa H. Hamilton to thinking on how art in Red Line stations helped shape her as an artist, and what the loss of the proposed art means:

Public transportation is one of the great equalizers here in the Commonwealth - the artwork created for our MBTA stations is not only meant to beautify, but also to create a sense of place for people in every walk of life. The decisions we make now in renovating and rebuilding our MBTA stations will impact our communities for a very long time. Art in MBTA stations gives an otherwise utilitarian space a sense of soul, a sense of color, culture, and life, a sense of the communities that these stations represent and serve. It fosters a tremendous sense of community ownership - every time T riders see this art, it says to them, "you are home."

08 Nov 14:45

Considering Rewind at the Baltimore Museum of Art: Emotion and Learning

by Linda Norris

Shakia Gullette, Curator of Exhibitions at the Banneker-Douglass Museum,  is one of my 2015 mentees. We've had wide-ranging conversations, from career plans to meaningful exhibits to issues of inclusion within the museum field itself.  In this guest post she expands some of our conversations to share her reflections and analysis of Paul Rucker's exhibition, Rewind, at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  Please be aware that there are challenging and disturbing images included in this post.

 “Baltimore is America amplified—the good and the bad. It’s where the North meets the South, and has so much historical information. I couldn’t think of a better place to do this project”

Paul Rucker

In September, Linda shared her experience at the New Founde Lande pageant and she briefly mentioned Rebecca Herz’s blog post titled, Should Exhibits Tell Stories? Herz addresses three issues/advantages that may arise during storytelling, which include storytelling as kitsch, stories evoking emotion, and the anti-storytelling moment. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Paul Rucker’s highly anticipated exhibition Rewindat the Baltimore Museum of Art and immediately, I thought about Herz’s post. I knew this exhibit was designed to stir emotions and I wanted to truly examine how being led by emotions affected my experience.

As I was entering the exhibit, I wondered, how emotional is too emotional when you are already invested in the subject matter? How can you get past what you already think you know to learn something new? Rewind allowed me to explore both questions while confronting challenges we face each day as Americans.  

As I approached the entry of the Rewind exhibition, I was greeted by two people who appeared to be quite rattled. I asked them what they thought of the exhibit, the gentleman responded, “I didn’t like it and you should turn back around.” Initially, his response puzzled me, but then I knew this exhibition would challenge me to think differently. Yet, I wondered how this couple felt. Had their brief encounter with this exhibition scarred them? Where they so shocked by the content that they hadn’t learned anything? Even after I ran through these questions in my mind, I continued to pursue the exhibit.


Rewind focuses on race in America and how history repeats itself in different ways. Rucker uses a transmedia narrative, which created an immersive experience for the exhibition guest. He explains in his meticulously researched exhibition guide that his life’s work is meant to shock the attendee into thinking. Rucker began researching his exhibit content in 1992 after the LA Riots which were incited by police violence. He followed many of the outcomes and began to draw parallels with lynching. In the section titled Stories from the Trees we were able to see images from lynching’s magnified from their original postcard format and transferred onto throw blankets.  To honor the legacy of the story behind each slain individual, Rucker carefully placed the remaining throw blankets atop a safe which housed the artist’s Glock 22 semi-automatic gun which he used in another section of the exhibition. Stories from the Trees left me thinking about Baltimore native Billy Holiday’s song Strange Fruit and how 76 years after the songs release, the lyrics are still relevant. 

At this point in my visit it became apparent to me; there can be a balance of emotional investment and learning in exhibition storytelling. Sometimes, museum professionals take for granted the power we harness when we are able to bring a different layer to a past event in our history. Rucker was able to remove the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) from the confines of a text book and bring them to life with a very modern twist. Initially, the sight of 21 life sized mannequins dressed in KKK robes made my heart race. Rucker refers to this section as Birth of the Nation. Here, the artists recalls his experience as an onlooker at a Klan rally but through his creative lens, recast the KKK robes using camouflage, satin, and Kente.  After exploring each garment, I felt less threatened. I confronted my own definition of fear and white supremacy, and thought about how seeing these images in books as a child affected me. I then witnessed a father explaining to his three daughters that the KKK are “very bad people” and they are like terrorists. After overhearing his explanation, I tuned in as I had great expectation for the rest of their conversation. As the father began walking his girls through the exhibit, the mother came rushing in and demanded the children be taken out of the exhibit. Although the lesson had been cut short, I applauded the father for initiating the conversation and potentially changing the way the next generation will approach race relations.

The initial shock of the exhibition forced me outside of my own thoughts. In my mind, I thought I had a good handle on my knowledge base but I found myself deeply engaged in the exhibition guide—much like the artist intended. As I was engaged in the exhibition, I felt my perspective being challenged. I was no longer led by emotion because the artist armed me with a great deal of facts about lynching, unnecessary violence statistics, and how the number of prisonshas increased since the 1940s.  I looked around to see if others were having the same revelation that I was experiencing. Sadly, I witnessed numerous people walk past the exhibition as if the art were non-existent. I considered that the content may have been too heavy and then it hit me. Rucker’s point was proven—we do not directly address the issues that plague the United States and this intentional silence means we constantly make the same mistakes again and again—hints the title Rewind.  

30 Oct 17:02

Trippy, freaky animated GIFs from Zolloc

by Jason Kottke


Operating under the name of Zolloc, Hayden Zezula makes all sorts of cool, creepy, lovely, trippy animated GIFs. This one is my favorite. (via ignant)

Tags: art   Hayden Zezula
27 Oct 19:19

Are cats domesticated?

by Jason Kottke

We bought Artemis a collar yesterday because she's decided she loves to go outside, jump the fence, and run into the woods.

Some recent science suggests that perhaps cats aren't as domesticated as some other animals like dogs, sheep, or horses.

It appears that, following the advent of agriculture, wildcats in the Near East and Asia likely began to congregate near farms and grain stores, where mice and rats were abundant. People tolerated the volunteer exterminators, and wildcats became increasingly comfortable with people. Whether this affiliation began five or ten millennia ago, the evidence suggests that cats have not been part of our domestic domain for nearly as long as dogs, which have been our companions for perhaps forty thousand years.

After all, true house cats are only 60-ish years old, dating roughly to the invention of kitty litter.

Or, as one of my favorite short talks (by Kevin Slavin) suggests, perhaps it is humans who have been domesticated by a protozoan parasite that lives within cats, which, when transmitted to humans, makes us want to share funny cat GIFs online.

Tags: Kevin Slavin   science
21 Oct 18:35

Coin jar symphony

by Jason Kottke

This a commercial, but still nifty.

Is this for real? 43 people simultaneously tossed coins into jars while standing 15 feet away with only a single miss? Impressive.

If it is fake, how'd they do it? CG? Coins dropped from above each jar? It seems unlikely the broken jar near the beginning of the sequence was done in CG or resulted from a coin falling from above. The coins, jars, and tossing seems real. How about 43 motion-captured green-screened robotic arms accurately tossed the coins and the actors were added in later. Or was it magic?

Tags: advertising   video
06 Oct 17:00

On sexual harassment and public discussion


so i don't lose this


Last weekend, I made public on twitter some emails I had received from an overzealous fan who had been harassing me for a month through email. The response was overwhelming. Publicly discussing sexual harassment (or any form of harassment) is not new, it’s definitely in the current cultural lexicon, but the idea of openly addressing it still seems to shock some people. Women, for the most part, were not shocked, since they’ve been dealing with it their whole life, but many men were, which shows me that the current discussion of sexual harassment is not reaching as far as it should. So I decided to make a post about it, and address some questions I got after I went on twitter. Also, I will not be posting any screen shots of the conversation, like I did on twitter, because I don’t want to give him any more publicity than I already did.

For reference, the focal point of this post is not about the specifics of the emails I received. It is about all sexual harassment. Street calling has long been the bane of my existence, but I will not be directly addressing it, however I certainly do mean for it to be included in the overall discussion. The umbrella under which I’m addressing the situation is this: I’m a female cartoonist who has thousands of readers. I do autobio, which encourages an unusual level of familiarity, and often people get confused about where the line is when they contact me. I understand this, and I am often forgiving of blunders of this nature. On the other hand, because of my work, I deal with more crazy correspondence than the average person. However, women everywhere, regardless of their jobs or social standing, receive some form of sexual harassment on a regular basis. So if you’re reading this and you can’t identify with the particulars, please substitute any woman you know for my situation.

The specifics are this: He sent me over 40 emails, some were seemingly normal, complimentary fan letters, some were just links to youtube videos, one selfie, and some had graphic sexual content, such as describing sex acts he’d like to perform on me, and screenshots of explicit sexting sessions. A polite request to not receive any more emails was ignored. I blocked him, which just means the emails go to spam, they do not bounce back, but they should, so the sender knows they’ve been blocked. Gmail, fix this please!

The day it all blew up was when he ordered a book from me and wrote, “I’d be enchanted if you rubbed your vagina on it.” I immediately canceled and refunded the order. He responded by calling me an idiot, criticizing how I run my career, and claiming nothing he did was harassment. He claimed to know the rules of online sexual harassment, because of course he does.

Since there was no reasoning with a person like that, I decided to make the emails public. The minute I did, he responded to me on twitter, proudly claiming responsibility for them, and published part of an email where he explained that the vagina remark was meant to ‘enlighten’ me, and was not sexual, and saying I should have been flattered by the praise that preceded it. I blocked him immediately, but I continued to address the situation.

While seeing the response this kicked up on twitter, it became apparent that many people, men especially, have no idea this happens to women. They’re not to blame for not knowing. If they’re not exposed to any media on the topic, and/or if they don’t have women in their lives who openly discuss it, it makes sense that they would not know. But on the other hand, it’s 2015, the topic is everywhere, so to not know is to have your head in the sand. (Although not knowing the extremes of public figure harassment is acceptable, since that is not a common aspect of the subject.)

A lot of men responded by asking me if I was okay, which, don’t get me wrong, was sweet and very much appreciated, and I know they were just looking out for me. But it backhandedly proved a level of naivety that women have long since shaken. Women are accustomed to harassment, they already know the person being harassed is okay, and they just commiserate with the frustration. And that’s where people get the “angry feminist” idea, but what’s really happening is that we’ve long ago gone through all the other emotions, and we’re just fucking fed up.

Which brings me to why some people are afraid to address harassment publicly. The idea of the “angry militant feminist” is losing ground, but it definitely still exists. We’re also often accused of overreacting, which is infuriating and demeaning. All of it is infuriating, and sometimes it’s even scary, which is why when women address being harassed, we bring to it all the harassment of the past, and because we keep it all bottled up, it comes out with a lot of emotion and anger. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but hopefully the message will come through the (totally justifiable) anger.

Another condescension we receive is the claim that we’re generalizing- like saying being called “sweetheart” by an old man at a diner is just as bad as someone cat-calling. But we’re not. While the sweetheart thing might be mildly annoying, we aren’t dumb, we know the difference between an old man who has harmlessly called women sweetheart for 80 years, verses the aggression of a sexual email or remark. However when we address it, some of us lump it all together for the sake of brevity. Also we don’t want to give the impression that there is a level of harassment that is acceptable. So while we’re not trying to fight the old man at the diner, we are hoping that younger men will know better than to use the same terminology their grandparents did.

When you’re reading direct writing from a woman addressing sexual harassment, you’re often seeing a woman who’s at the end of her rope. She’s been pushed over the edge, and has gone public because of it. Unfortunately, that push is often what it takes to get people to talk about harassment. My generation, and the generations before me, grew up being taught to endure harassment quietly, to not provoke the harasser, and to just shrug it off. I’ve been shrugging off email harassment for years, due to this exact line of thinking. In fact, in my early twitter posts, I even apologized for upsetting anyone by making the emails public. It was a throwback to the way I was raised, a victim-blaming subconscious reaction. I had nothing to apologize for, and yet I did, because it is so deeply engrained in my behavior. And that behavior is what I’m trying to change.

Talking openly about harassment is changing the public landscape. It’s enabling young girls to fight back, and to not put up with it and to make it public. However, due to basic biology, women will always be afraid to fight back in some situations. Sometimes fighting back angers the harasser, and sometimes it leads to more harassment. I once confronted a man who was cat-calling me on the street, and his response was to follow me for two blocks, loudly hitting on every girl behind me, to prove his point that cat calling was “complimentary.” So my fighting back led to a wave of harassment, for which I felt erroneously responsible. Situations like that are why women will always be afraid, and that is sad.

I’m not delusional enough to think public discussion of harassment will affect those who are doing the worst harassing. Individuals like that are not mentally stable, and will not respond to reasonable appeal. But the hope is that by making it a bigger topic, we can reach the middle ground- men who accidentally harass women due to ignorance, or just bad judgment.

I sometimes get emails and drawings in which the sentiment expressed is that the sender saw a photo of me in real life and was surprised they were attracted to me. I understand that telling someone you find them pretty is relatively harmless, and sometimes even complimentary, if you know the person. However, being told by strangers that they’re surprised by my face is disheartening. It detracts from my work, and has a subtle demeaning undertone, like they can’t believe a pretty person could make work they like so much, as if someone who spends all their time and energy on faceless creative endeavor should be ugly. In short, it is mostly unnecessary, and occasionally offensive. Hopefully by reading something like this, the next time a guy wants to say that to a woman, he’ll think twice. (I keep saying men vs women, but I mean everyone. Men aren’t doing all the harassing, just the majority of it.)

The bottom line is this: I want public discussion of harassment to encourage women to be more open about it. I want younger women to recognize early on what constitutes as harassment, and to know it’s not their fault. I want the discussion to reach people it previously didn’t, and for them to understand how it feels, and why it’s important to think twice before engaging in what could be perceived as harassment. I want a new generation of women who are emboldened to not put up with this bullshit, who aren’t willing to just quietly endure it, and who aren’t afraid to fight back, and in doing so, will be supported by their community and the public. I want a new generation of men who fully understand why harassment is so damaging, and who treat women with respect. And that goes for everyone. Because of basic human nature, I know these are lofty goals, but this is me doing my part, and hoping you’ll do yours.

Addendum: I tried to address questions I received within this post, but if you have any others, or just general feedback, you can email me at juliajwertz(at)gmail(dot)com.


To support my work, go here, or buy books, photography prints, artwork, bric-a-brac, hand made jewelry, and more on either my website store or Etsy.

Bravo, God Damn.

Julia!! My heart swells.

You there, read this.

02 Oct 17:51

Vertical panoramas of churches

by Jason Kottke


Richard Silver Churches

Richard Silver Churches

From photographer Richard Silver, vertical panoramic photos of churches that emphasize their often incredible ceilings. (via ignant)

Tags: architecture   photography   religion   Richard Silver
17 Sep 15:31

The New Thigh Brow: Do You Have These Common Human Body Parts?

by Claire Carusillo

racked has been on point lately

The latest trend for people who have a body is the #thighbrow. According to the Daily Dot, "A #thighbrow refers to the crescent-shaped fold of flesh that happens between the thigh and torso when the leg is bent forward at the hip joint, appearing in photographs to look like eyebrows." Kylie Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Amber Rose, Nicki, Bey, Rihanna, etc. are all #thighbrow-havers, as several publications have pointed out. Is it body positive? Is it body negative? Is it a part of the body that hot people have (also uggos, but not now, you guys)? Don't hurt yourself trying to find out because as usual, it's on to the next.

Cover up that thigh brow, because a neck grin is the sexiest body accessory this fall. What's a neck grin? It's that slightly indented crease that bisects the middle of your neck, typically developed after 10 to 40 human years of looking down or nodding in affirmation at people. You're never fully dressed without it! Just make sure you have a hot face and an otherwise okay body first.

Neck grins are so out! This fall, it's about that thing you can do with the two bisected fleshy parts of your inner elbow crease where it looks like a butt. Send an arousing sext to a person of interest, and caption it, "This is my butt!" and then follow up 20 seconds later with, "Just kidding, it's my inner elbow crease! I didn't want you to get the wrong impression! Want to have sex still?" But wait! Make sure your inner elbow flesh doesn't get too fleshy. Lift seven pound weights designed for this very purpose by the flesh-eradication-industrial complex, coming soon to a Bed Bath & Beyond near your mom's house.

Comedy butt flesh, shmomedy shmutt shmesh. The hair knot at the nape of your neck, which develops after you've worn a shirt with a collar or a scarf, that you've never have the wherewithal to brush out after a shower? Put. The. Wet. Brush. Down. It's going to be major this fall, as long as your hair is long and not damaged by heat straightening or relaxers. Also, your face is a good face. "Hair knot" rhymes with "thot" for a reason!

Oh baby, and you know that hair that curls up around your temples when you've been sweating? That's the hottest new vibe, as long as you were sweating at a boutique fitness studio and you were wearing high-performance lycra while doing so. Also, your hair shouldn't be tied up with a normal hairband. It has to be one of those ribbon-looking ones with the little knot at the end.

Forget hair. (Seriously forget it. Shave it all off or laser it off if you're already rich.) This fall is all about that part below your knee that you accidentally nicked with a razor. If there's a little bit of blood trailing down your shin that you don't notice until a lady at Starbucks points it out, even better. Blood makes men think of apples, which makes them of sex.

Speaking of congealed blood, bluish under-eye circles are the real It girls of fall. Also hot: talking about how much you work and how little you sleep to colleagues and superiors.

The back dimples that some people have right about their tail bones? You need them now, girlie. They're not cellulite and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! Unless they are, in which case, there are creams advertised on Instagram to take care of that.

Oh, forget about back dimples, now we're dealing with the hump in the back of your neck that's grown rapidly ever since you took a full-time typing job and are hunched over for 12 out of your 16 waking hours. Doctors call it a dowager's hump. Yes, like the princess, baby! Modern American royalty, you are. Very Jackie O! Very Luann De Lesseps!

Stomach moles. Draw ‘em on in body chocolate!  GIGI HADID HAS THEM. THEY'RE NORMAL.

Two little pointy teeth on each side. THEY'RE COOL.

A deeper belly button than seemingly everyone else at the pool party. A SINGULAR PRESENCE!

Exaggerated 'Q' angle. VERY NOW.

You have one pupil that's smaller than the other and sometimes you go a little blind when you've been drinking? GORGEOUS.

I haven't talked to another human woman in at least four years. THAT'S WHAT'S HOT FOR FALL! I'M CALLING IT NOW! FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM!

Claire Carusillo lives in a bedroom in New York City. Follow @clocarus for an open discussion of books, bread, and eyebrows.

04 Sep 19:50

Lukhanyo Mdingi

by admin

// lukhanyo mdingi

// lukhanyo mdingi

// lukhanyo mdingi// lukhanyo mdingi

Freaking out over the S/S 2016 Lukhanyo Mdingi lookbook via F.Y!

07 Sep 00:30


08 Sep 18:50

Pop economics and the rebirth of the cover song

by Tim Carmody

Matty, I read this article, thought of the montetary uselessness of Spotify for you, and then remembered a convo I had with Kenny about the old reader!

Why are there so many cover versions of hit songs on Spotify, YouTube, and other streaming music services? It's not just because of searches and the artistic equivalent of SEO, but because there is an economic engine to support them:

Every time one of Scofield's songs is downloaded on iTunes, she makes around 60 cents, after paying a processing fee and, when it's a cover song, royalties to the original artist. But if one of her songs is streamed on Spotify, she'll make just a fraction of a cent. Both Scofield and Young have done the math: "You would have to play one of my songs on Spotify 150 to 400 times in order to equal what I would make from one iTunes download," Young says. Scofield agreed that to balance revenue on the platforms, she needed at least several hundred times more Spotify streams than iTunes downloads...

Spotify's microeconomy of cover artists gave rise to a cottage industry of easy-to-use online licensing services. Over the past several years, dozens of these services have emerged, like SongFile and Easy Song Licensing, an amateurish-looking website that promises it can clear a cover song for you in one to two days. Jonathan Young uses Loudr, a licensing and digital distribution startup that operates in the same way most of these companies do. For $15 per song, plus royalty fees (calculated by the number of times a song is streamed), Loudr will do the work of securing a license and putting the song up online. All Young has to do is pay and wait.

This is essentially an updated throwback to pop music in the 1940s and 1950s (and to a lesser extent the 1960s), where publishers would push hit songs on as many artists as possible to get maximum exposure/run it into the ground. It's fun to look at the recording history of a standard like "Baby, It's Cold Outside":

The following versions were recorded in 1949:
  • The song in its original form was released on the soundtrack for Neptune's Daughter sung by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams.
  • The recording by Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark was recorded on March 17 and released by Columbia Records as catalog number 38463. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on May 6, 1949, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number four.[8]
  • The recording by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer was recorded on March 18 and released by Capitol Records as catalog number 567. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on May 6, 1949, and lasted 19 weeks on the chart, peaking at number four.[8]
  • The recording by Don Cornell and Laura Leslie with the Sammy Kaye orchestra was recorded on April 12 and released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-3448. It first reached the Billboard Best Seller chart on June 24, 1949, and lasted 10 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 13.[8]
  • The recording by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan was recorded on April 28 and released by Decca Records as catalog number 24644. It first reached the Billboard magazine Best Seller chart on June 17, 1949 and lasted seven weeks on the chart, peaking at number 17.[8]
  • A parody recording was made by Homer and Jethro with June Carter; it went to number 9 on the country charts and number 22 on the pop charts.
Non-charting recordings were made:
  • By Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban on April 7, 1949 released by MGM Records as catalog number 30197.
  • By Pearl Bailey and Hot Lips Page on June 23, 1949 released by Harmony Records as catalog number 1049.
  • By Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton.

I mean, look at the cluster of dates! March 17, March 18, April 7, April 12, June 23. Some of the cover versions beat "the original" to market.

Then as now, the money isn't in the performance, especially on the record; it's in the song.

Today, the [star] artist retains more power than in the 1940s, and there's a stigma against artists who don't write their own material. But I wouldn't be surprised if at some point, we start to see more established artists get into the game of covering new (and old) hit songs, not just young artists looking for a little exposure. The economics of the thing line up the same way for everybody.

Tags: covers   music
27 Jul 19:16

Nick van Woert

by admin

Maybe I'll just start gluing everything to the wall.

// nick van woert

// nick van woert

// nickvanwoert

Steel, white bronze by Nick Van Woert at L & M Arts.

28 Jul 18:49

Quote of the week

by (Outi Pyy)


“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso

I try my best to keep my imagination alive by keeping the goblins, fairies and wizards in my everyday life. They help me create and see things from an open perspective. I hope I never lose the child in me.
14 Jul 18:53

Nail spine harness

by (Outi Pyy)

Made this over the weekend. Nail spine harness. Finished. This baby weighs a kilo. The base is felt and the spikes are stuck through it, 343 of them to be exact. Attached around the body with elastic bands. It´s a custom made trashion project for a Finnish female artist/singer. Hopefully I´ll get more pics to show you later. Surprisingly, this is not the heaviest piece I´ve made.

I also own a Pope thimble. Perfect for those holy Sunday sewing sessions and some heavy duty trashion action.
03 Jul 17:00

The Top Ten Writers Whose Success You’ll Resent This Year

by Mallory Ortberg

Professor at work10. The Maddeningly Gentle Food Blogger With The Completely Unjustified Book Deal Whose Posts You Read Every Day

“This is so stupid,” you tell your best work friend over gchat. “Why does anyone read these posts? It’s just glossy pictures of icing and domesticity porn.” Your friend does not respond. “Do you want to get lunch,” you write. Still no response. Seven minutes later: “Most of her recipes are just stolen from somewhere else. They’re not even original.” Your friend’s status changes to Busy. An hour later, you will see her at the Panera Bread down the hill from your office park with two coworkers you don’t know.

9. The Memoirist Who Is Your Age And Whose Life Eerily Parallels Yours

“Nobody should write a memoir before they’re fifty,” you announce to your friends over drinks. You are not fifty. “Everyone seems to think being 27 and unhappy in love is all you need to write a book about your life. You should have to get licensed before you can write one.” You are on your fourth glass of wine. It is Tuesday. “You should have to–be Gore Vidal, or a cultural attaché, or have invented genocide or something.” You spilled a little bit of your wine during that last remark, but it has landed on your napkin and you don’t think anyone noticed.

You have never been asked to write a memoir, but you would immediately if anyone seemed interested.

8. The Literary Short Story Author Who Pretended He Had Never Met You Before Once At A Party Even Though You Absolutely Did

It didn’t sell that many copies, you heard. You don’t know who you heard it from, or how they would know, but it definitely didn’t sell that many copies. And you two had definitely met before, so you don’t know what his whole thing was about, pretending you hadn’t.

7. The Unfunny Bro With The Unfunny Gimmick Book About Punching Mustaches Or Doing Something Stupid For A Year Whose Author Picture Is Smirking At The Reader As If To Say “Can You Believe It?” Which Is Really A Level Of Self-Awareness You Have Not Earned, Pal

Something about kicking robots, or which president had the most balls, or whatever. You reflexively sneer whenever you see it in a bookstore’s window display, which is often. It’s selling really well.

6. Oh Come Right The Fuck On, Nobody Read That

It was dystopian, or something? But not YA. Nobody read it. You refuse to believe anyone actually read it. It was so weird. It was unbelievably short. “A slim novel,” the reviews said. “A slim novel of surprising”…deftness or something. Slim novels are always deft, and powerful, like Joss Whedon heroines.

5. That One Poet Who’s Kind of Making A Living. Do You Know How Many Fucking Words His Fucking Book Has? Like Thirty. He Wrote Thirty Words About A Pond And Won An Award.

“Oh,” you say vaguely when his name comes up in conversation, which is never quite as often as you hope it will. “Him. I don’t know, guys. I’ve heard some stuff about him that if you knew…I don’t think you’d be able to think of him in the same way.” When pressed, you refuse to give further details. “It’s really not my story to tell. I really can’t talk about it.” Still, you never fail to bring it up.

4. His Fucking Dad Has Written Four Bestsellers, He Was Probably Born With An Agent

No, good for him, though. Good for him. Everyone in that family has a book deal, and everyone you know hates them. “He’s actually unbelievably nice,” your one friend who works in publishing and who has actually met him tries to tell you. You have never read any of his books.

3. The Woman With The World’s Last Tumblr-To-Book-Deal

Fine, you know? No, it’s great. You could have come up with the same joke (because the entire book is one joke retold in 85 different ways, not that anyone cares, apparently, because they’re carrying it at Urban Outfitters, which by the way is not a place for books, you don’t buy shoes at Trader Joe’s and you don’t buy books at clothing stores) in, oh, ten minutes, but that’s really great that she managed to spin that thin a premise into a successful personal brand.

Actually it would be kind of amazing, if Trader Joe’s sold shoes. Like TOMS, kind of, but good. That’s a really good idea. You should tell someone that idea.

2. The Writer of the “Unflinching” Debut

400 pages about an unrelenting total fucking bummer. Oh, the drug addictions. Oh, the horrible, grinding poverty as a four-year-old child soldier of fortune/undersea mine welder/burn victim. Oh, the meaningless and tawdry and horrifying sex. No one makes eye contact. Everyone attends horrifically tense dinner parties and throw their lovers out of ninth-story walkups. You wish it would flinch, even just once.

1. Everyone, everyone 

“What books do you like, then,” someone you don’t know well asks you. You laugh in a way that suggests he should consider it an embarrassingly incredibly pedestrian and naïve question. “What books do I like?” you ask, stalling for time. “That’s a good one.” You laugh again.

The post The Top Ten Writers Whose Success You’ll Resent This Year appeared first on The Toast.

01 Jun 08:49

DIY Mini leather purse

by (Outi Pyy)

I need to use up tons of fabric + giant zippers

Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess created this tutorial on how to make a small purse from leather and fabric for carrying pocket change, sunglasses, chap stick and other summer essentials. Projects like this are great to use old fabric scraps and to match a small bag to a bigger one.

15 Apr 06:11

I really like these Daily Metaltations from Steve Powers.  (via...


Luckily, I'm pretty good at this.

I really like these Daily Metaltations from Steve Powers. 

(via World’s Best Ever)

10 Apr 05:00

DIY concrete stool chair

by (Outi Pyy)

I want a porch and I want to make these to use as plant/drink stands.

This looks like fun. A homemade, very Scandinavian designer-looking concrete stool chair. Video and photo tutorial via Home Made Modern. Just imagine a couple of these for the garden or balcony. I bet they look so cool when the elements kick in. Moss and such..

09 Apr 19:46

We further buttress our status as world class - we're getting a cricket-themed sports bar

by adamg

I know this is technically my neighborhood, but Spice & Rice closed! And I had to watch a 4 hour Indian musical about cricket after a year listening to it at 10 am (very early for 18 year old me) outside my window to begin to understand the game.

Eater Boston reports some guy is setting up our very first sports bar dedicated to cricket. OK, in Inman Square, but that's right across the river.

27 Mar 00:54

No respect for elders on the Green Line tonight

by adamg


Guilty guy

A roving UHub photographer reports he watched young dude sitting on a D trolley between Kenmore and Hynes tonight as an old guy with a cane stood and struggled to stay upright:

Unbelievable. Man was clearly having trouble maintaining his balance while the trolley moved. The man even said: "I really need to sit down."

27 Mar 17:57


by KimFrance

My (totally heteronormative) marriage is more threatened by nuts for inequality who say marriages are for procreation than by homosexuality. Urf.

Screen Shot 2013-03-27 at 1.47.49 PM

This is what the Supreme Court building looked like last night.

27 Feb 23:45

You Are Boring


Trying to work on this!

Here’s the full text of a piece I wrote for The Magazine a few months ago. I really enjoyed writing it, and would like to thank Marco once again for publishing it there. If you haven’t checked out The Magazine yet, you should. Anyway, here’s why you’re a total snooze:

Everything was going great until you showed up. You see me across the crowded room, make your way over, and start talking at me. And you don’t stop.

You are a Democrat, an outspoken atheist, and a foodie. You like to say “Science!” in a weird, self-congratulatory way. You wear jeans during the day, and fancy jeans at night. You listen to music featuring wispy lady vocals and electronic bloop-bloops.

You really like coffee, except for Starbucks, which is the worst. No wait—Coke is the worst! Unless it’s Mexican Coke, in which case it’s the best.

Pixar. Kitty cats. Uniqlo. Bourbon. Steel-cut oats. Comic books. Obama. Fancy burgers.

You listen to the same five podcasts and read the same seven blogs as all your pals. You stay up late on Twitter making hashtagged jokes about the event that everyone has decided will be the event about which everyone jokes today. You love to send withering @ messages to people like Rush Limbaugh—of course, those notes are not meant for their ostensible recipients, but for your friends, who will chuckle and retweet your savage wit.

You are boring. So, so boring.

Don’t take it too hard. We’re all boring. At best, we’re recovering bores. Each day offers a hundred ways for us to bore the crap out of the folks with whom we live, work, and drink. And on the internet, you’re able to bore thousands of people at once.1

A few years ago, I had a job that involved listening to a ton of podcasts. It’s possible that I’ve heard more podcasts than anyone else—I listened to at least a little bit of tens of thousands of shows. Of course, the vast majority were so bad I’d often wish microphones could be sold only to licensed users. But I did learn how to tell very quickly whether someone was interesting or not.

The people who were interesting told good stories. They were also inquisitive: willing to work to expand their social and intellectual range. Most important, interesting people were also the best listeners. They knew when to ask questions. This was the set of people whose shows I would subscribe to, whose writing I would seek out, and whose friendship I would crave. In other words, those people were the opposite of boring.

Here are the three things they taught me.

Listen, then ask a question

I call it Amtrak Smoking Car Syndrome (because I am old, used to smoke, thought that trains were the best way to get around the country, and don’t really understand what a syndrome is). I’d be down in the smoking car, listening to two people have a conversation that went like this:

Stranger #1: Thing about my life.
Stranger #2: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger #1: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger#2: Thing about my life…

Next stop: Boringsville, Population: 2. There’s no better way to be seen as a blowhard than to constantly blow, hard. Instead, give a conversation some air. Really listen. Ask questions; the person you’re speaking with will respect your inquisitiveness and become more interested in the exchange. “Asking questions makes people feel valued,” says former Virgin America VP Porter Gale, “and they transfer that value over to liking you more.”

Watch an old episode of The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett is an engaged listener, very much part of the conversation, but he also allows his partner to talk as well. He’s not afraid to ask questions that reveal his ignorance, but it’s also clear he’s no dummy.2

Online, put this technique to use by pausing before you post. Why are you adding that link to Facebook? Will it be valuable to the many people who will see it? Or are you just flashing a Prius-shaped gang sign to your pals? If it’s the latter, keep it to yourself.

Tell a story

Shitty pictures of your food are all over the internet. Sites like Instagram are loaded with photo after photo of lumpy goo. What you’re trying to share is the joy you feel when the waiter delivers that beautifully plated pork chop. But your photo doesn’t tell the story of that experience. Your photo rips away the delicious smell, the beautiful room, the anticipation of eating, and the presence of people you love.

Instead, think of your photo as a story. When people tell stories, they think about how to communicate the entirety of their experience to someone else. They set the stage, introduce characters, and give us a reason to care. Of course, that’s hard to do in a single photo, but if you think in terms of story, could you find a better way to communicate your experience? How about a picture of the menu, or of your smiling dinner companions? Anything’s better than the greasy puddles you have decided any human with access to the internet should be able to see.

Expand your circles

Several years ago, my wife and I went on a long trip. We had saved a little money, and the places we were staying were cheap, so we could afford private rooms in every city but one. Guess where we made the most friends? In Budapest, where we were jammed into a big room with a bunch of folks, we were forced into situations we never would have sought out. I wouldn’t have met Goran, the Marilyn Manson superfan who was fleeing the NATO bombing of Belgrade on a fake Portuguese visa. Or Kurt, the Dutch hippie who let us crash on his floor in Amsterdam. Stepping out of your social comfort zone can be painful, but it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do.3

As you widen your social circle, work on your intellectual one as well. Expose yourself to new writers. Hit the Random Article button on Wikipedia. Investigate the bromides your friends chuck around Twitter like frisbees.

When you expand your social and intellectual range, you become more interesting. You’re able to make connections that others don’t see. You’re like a hunter, bringing a fresh supply of ideas and stories back to share with your friends.

The Big Bore lurks inside us all. It’s dying to be set loose to lecture on Quentin Tarantino or what makes good ice cream. Fight it! Fight the urge to speak without listening, to tell a bad story, to stay inside your comfortable nest of back-patting pals. As you move away from boring, you will never be bored.

  1. Lots of books exist because of how boring you have made the internet. Books like The Information Diet focus on the consumption side of things: how are we, your readers and friends, supposed to deal with the junk you keep sending us? Instead, I’d like to look at the supply side: if you were more interesting, then there would be less junk out there that we would have to deal with. 

  2. You don’t have to go back to the ’70s to find good listeners. My friend Jesse Thorn is a great interviewer who also listens in an engaged way. Check out his show, Bullseye. Or if you’d like to shoot for something a bit more academic, BBC’s In Our Time features great conversation led by another master, Melvyn Bragg. 

  3. These folks make a great case for the potentially life-changing value of meeting new people: Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, and the previously-cited Porter Gale’s “Conversations with 4C.” 

13 Mar 12:25

Fort Point Channel to get some fancy benches

by adamg

Check these out!

The Atlantic Cities reports on the new "streets seats" going in.

07 Mar 21:12

Citizen complaint of the day: Oh, dear, I do believe that gaslight, which is fed by a natural-gas line, has burst into flames

by adamg


Gas light go boom

A concerned citizen filed a complaint about a gaslight at Arlington and Beacon this afternoon:

Gas lantern appears to be on fire.

One can only hope he or she called 911 first.