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Dealing with “WoMen” Part II: The Reckoning

After putting charcoal, a stack of newspapers, ocote sticks, flammable liquid and then firing up the propane in an already hot grill, I realize that many of you may not have the appetite for the promised Part II. Nonetheless, I have to face this scuffle to its end.

I wanted to attend Tokion because last year Graham Wood — one of the most picky designers when it comes to what he reads and hears — raised his eyebrows in a delightfully scorning manner when I answered “no” if we had attended Tokion, “one of the best conferences on creativity”, as he put it. My interest was then piqued with the online prelude to Part I, so Bryony and I made our way on a brisk weekend to the column-ridden Great Hall at Cooper Union, pen in hand, to take notes and see what the (positive and negative) fuss was all about. My intention from the start was to gather notes about what men would say being in the company of only men on the stage. As some pointed out in the comments of Part I, it is the subtle inclinations, small gestures and under-the-radar behavior that adds up to uncomfortable situations and, perhaps, in this semi-out-of-context blurbs there is an indication of this. While other blurbs, I must admit, are humbling manifestations of pure dude behavior — sometimes to comedic effect, other times to objectionable effect.

Here then, is some loosely labeled and grouped commentary from the conference.


It was evident that the only thing on these guys mind was sex…

“I dry-humped my skateboard”
Chris Pastras

“One of our sextras is here”
John Cameron Mitchell

“It’s as sexy as a person. It’s totally sensual”
“It’s a form of love”
Olivier Zahm

“Being intimate with the material is very important”
Justin Theroux

…and their genitalia

“It’s hard to just have the balls to do it”
Chris Pastras

“We can’t just sit here and dick around”
David Cross

Clearly that was impeding their ability to put together coherent sentences

“We can work together to work on… whatever”
Jason LaBeach

“Yeah, I would have to say… Yeah”
Natas Kaupas

“It’s just, like, yeah”
Jerry Hsu



“Or, whatever”

Or carry a linear discussion

“I forgot the question”
Jason Lee

Myth has it that men have trouble expressing their feelings…

“Fuck it. I’m gonna put my heart out there today. I hope you take it”
Dumar Brown

“I don’t know how to express it”
Mike Mills

“I was a little sensitive about the whole thing”
Jason Lee

“One of the most magical moments”
Justin Theroux

“What I would write would be kind of retarded”
Phil Morrison

“You are expressing your frustration”
Greg Foley

“We won’t propose anything that in our heart of hearts don’t think will work”
Alex Burnard

“It’s tough”
Chris Pastras

…or talking openly about relationships

“Trust is huge”
Jason Lee

“That’s the part I focus on: Engagement”
Alex Burnard

“It’s who we want to have a relationship with”
Doug Holroyd

“If we want, kind of, like a long relationship with you…”
Jason LaBeach

“It depends on the kind of relationship you have”
Doug Holroyd

Men find humor in the wrong places

“You made Hitler look adorable”
David Cross

“The First Lady’s cooch”
Vernon Chatman

“We’ll give you tits for scrotum
Chuck Tatham

“We are coming to get you motherfucker”
John Lee

“And shoot you in the head”
David Cross


“Really fucking funny”
Bob Odenkirk

Men also need to fulfill a curse quota, and these guys did not disappoint

“How much later, asshole?”
Jason Lee

“It doesn’t fucking matter”
“I don’t understand, like, what the fuck?”
“ It completely fucked me up”
Bob Odenkirk

“It’s fucking awesome”
“ These people are borderline retarded”
“You are a pretentious douchebag”
David Cross

“Holy shit”
“I was, like, fuck”
“Stupid shit”
“No, fuck it”
“Nobody gives a shit”
Various — very hard to keep track

At the end of the day, men are just insecure

“I feel like I shouldn’t be here”
Jerry Hsu

“I think I need my mom up here”
Chris Pastras
[Ed. Note: Chris’ mom literally walked on stage]

“Most comics have daddy issues”
Bob Odenkirk

“I’m rich”
Jerry Hsu

And Jason Lee may grow a mean mustache but he clearly doesn’t know his wordmarks from his fonts

“You came up with the Quicksilver font… um… the logo… um, thing”
Jason Lee


What is disappointing about my notes is not the ironic stereotyping or vast amounts of swearing, rather the lack of valuable insights that one could learn from what was, in theory, a defining group of creative minds. In fact, “creativity” was seldom addressed. The conference is set up as a revolving door of panels that take on a monotonous tone rather quickly: many voices all talking at the same volume. Perhaps one or two solo presentations would help enliven the format and help deliver a strong point of view. The panels became even harder to cope with because they were purely one-dimensional.

Whether it was first time feature directors, low-volume magazines, street art or skateboarding culture, all the participants in each of the panels had the exact same story to tell as they were all, more or less, in the same position. Rather than have five independent, first-time filmmakers it would have been good to have one or two filmmakers that had done a big budget movie for the first time, and see how that differed from the others’ experience. Instead of having five editors from small magazines it would have been beneficial to have an editor from GQ, Vanity Fair or any of the other high circulation magazines. What if the skateboarding panel had Tony Hawk, someone who has embraced the marketability of the sport? What about having a representative from New York’s Citywide Vandals Task Force contribute to the street art panel?

Creativity Now 4 had bigger problems than lack of women participants: the conference lacked coherence, a connecting theme, something other than “it’s a bunch of cool people coming together in New York”; it had little depth, as everything had the same volume, the same taste; the panels needed better moderators, ones that could take the conversation to interesting places as opposed to simply being one more voice who either wanted attention or simply disappeared (surprisingly, comedian David Cross proved to be an excellent moderator, knowing when to be funny, when to change the subject and how to divvy the questions); the conference was in dire need of a master of ceremonies and ring-leader, someone that could position each panel and set up expectations and carry the crowd from the first panel on day 1 to last panel on day 2 — specially when everything was behind schedule. Most aspects of the conference were lackluster and perhaps it is only a sign of how young the conference is and that they can improve in the coming years. Judging from the crowd — an eclectic mix of young and old, bathed and unbathed, Williamsburg and TriBeCa, black and white, male and female, professionals and students — that turned out in high numbers (and high and low style), there is a need and desire for this conference and, for its own good, it can only get better.

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.22.2006 BY Armin
ed mckim’s comment is:

the lack of valuable insights that one could learn from what was, in theory, a defining group of creative minds.

well it was basically david cross and a bunch of skateboarders...what did you expect ;-)

i think it would be hard to look past david cross' character on Arrested Development (the sexually confused, foot in his mouth, analystic therapist [which he shortens to analrapist] Tobias F√ľnke).

On Oct.22.2006 at 07:33 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Sounds like dialogue quotes for "Scarface"....

Oh well, the soul patch boys need to seem like they are manly about PSM colors.....

On Oct.22.2006 at 08:10 PM
Michael Swaine’s comment is:

That this conference was incoherent and the quality inconsistent is not unlike many I have attended. Few speakers or panelists really understand why we go to these things and I would be surprised if organizers prep their personalities to deliver on a particular objective. Save for the first AIGA conference in Boston, interrupted by hurricane Gloria, I have most generally come away from conferences a bit jaded. Yet, for some reason I still occasionally attend. Hope springs eternal.

This is not to say there have not been highlights. Milton Glaser is generally reliable to serving up insight and meaning and the San Francisco conference was charged with excitement when Tibor Kalman challenged us to new heights of responsibility and created a bit of controversy along the way. But, Tibor was always up for a challenge. Organizations are not often open to the serendipity that can erupt in an uncontrolled controversial environment. Too much risk if it goes dreadfully wrong.

A successful, insightful, inspiring conference is something of magic and only happens when the chemical composition of presenters and attendees is mixed just right. Like writing a hit song, if there was a prescribed formula it would be easy and it wouldn't be special. So we go looking for insight, hoping that this one will be different. When it not, we shrug and say, "Oh Well, another few hundred buck shot to hell, I'll try again next time". Such is our thirst for knowledge.

On Oct.23.2006 at 10:58 AM
Marika’s comment is:

I'm a second year design student at SVA and attended the conference hoping to leave with inspiration, or at least some valuable insight into the creative industries I want to be a part of...I got neither. The panels were flat, masturbatory, and dialogue between panelists generally lacked stimulation (with the exception of the comedians' discussion). But I definitely agree that this conference needs to happen, regardless, because it has the potential to be (and perhaps in the past it has been) better.

On Oct.23.2006 at 03:24 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Conferences are all fine and good, they make for nice breaks from the day-to-day realities of life in the office, but its not like one hears a speaker and then walks away with a brilliant idea for a client. That tends not to be where creativity happens.

Which isn't to denegrate the existence of such conferences.

Because the reality is, there's no formula for doing something creative. You can't Mapquest this shit.

So then, the outcome tends to be people either essentially saying nothing (the whole, "it's like, yeah, uhm, yeah, y'know..." or "I can't put it into words"), or saying the same things that we've heard since we were in school: "you have to say it from the heart", or "you've gotta be ballsy", and "its important to connect with your audience." Yeah. We know.

And yet these things, like commencement speeches at graduation, continue to go on because people go to them. And they pay to attend because they're quite reasonably looking for something they're not gonna find elsewhere. I guess you don't really pay to go to a graduation, but you know what I mean.

Speaking of graduations, the most insightful speech I ever heard at one was from David Foster Wallace at Kenyon a couple years back. He took a lot of cliches and actually thought about them in-depth and spent time talking about shit you consciously try to avoid thinking about in daily life. Like sitting in traffic or waiting in line.

So maybe the key with these creativity conferences is to talk about the equivalent of timesheets. Anything to get away from the rut its so easy to fall into with these things. Because there are lots of daily routines that we all contend with, and the way you handle them determines a lot of who you are.

As a final note: someone once asked Mike Patton (vocalist for Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and a pretty active musician on all sorts of frequently bizarre musical endeavors) where he went to find new music. He responded, "my recording studio."


On Oct.23.2006 at 06:22 PM
jn’s comment is:

the best thing that could happen to this conference is that it be cancelled in future years. wow. what a waste of a beautiful weekend in nyc.

and you forgot one mind-blowing quote from Chris Johanson:

"...um, like....um...yeah...like.....um....yeah..."

On Oct.24.2006 at 09:16 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Because the reality is, there's no formula for doing something creative. You can't Mapquest this shit."

Of course you can:


On Oct.24.2006 at 11:30 AM
Miss R’s comment is:

So, wait, you are saying the conference suffered because of its... homogeniety?


On Oct.24.2006 at 11:39 AM
Bradley’s comment is:


Cool. Looks like Iowa has the greatest concentration of creativity. Short drive for me!

On Oct.24.2006 at 12:18 PM
Maria’s comment is:

Reading Part I--and now this--makes me think one thing.

Anyone who has problems finding qualified women speakers or developing a cohesive agenda lacks management and planning skills. They didn't plan to omit woman, just like they didn't plan to be boring.

A conference is an event where interaction, learning, and exchange of information takes place in a public setting. When organizers fail to obtain a range of voices--whether that be in gender, skillsets, experience, perspectives, industry, etc.--they've stumbled in leadership and management of their event. The lack of moderators and a clear agenda only confirm this.

Strategic people know that public, community events like these benefit from diverse viewpoints and clear direction. So they manage their advance planning to ensure that diversity--and a proper dynamic--happens. Neither diversity nor good experiences happen entirely by chance. It's human nature to be homogenous...and dull. It takes deliberate choices to overcome this.

I'm glad there was outrage expressed over the omission of women...and the self-centeredness of this event. Both are an affront to the design community.

On Oct.27.2006 at 03:32 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

"It's human nature to be homogenous...and dull. It takes deliberate choices to overcome this."

I love that thought. Such a simple notion, but its nonetheless a really great perspective and would probably make quite a nice discussion piece at one of these conferences. "Choosing not to be boring." I wonder WHY, sometimes, there's such a strong, yet invisible draw to mediocrity...is it a safety thing, or what?

On Oct.29.2006 at 03:35 PM