It's hard to celebrate Unloosen Awareness Month without recognizing Pork Pony, the website that started it all. Be warned, this one's long.
A COMPLETELY SERIOUS, TRUTHFUL, AND COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF PORK PONY, AT LEAST IN SO MUCH AS I CAN REMEMBER.
Pork Pony was the precursor to Unloosen, a raucous collection of absurd, comedic, and surreal stories, bizarre images, advice, reviews, and commentary. It died a surprising and untimely death in January 2004. This is its story.
THE BIRTH OF THE CONCEPT
Originally, Pork Pony was conceived as a public access television show. In October 1998, I moved from rural east-central Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, CA in order to pursue a career in the film and television industry. Upon arriving, one of my first orders of business was to seek out something I had always desired from a distance: public access television.
As a kid, I spent many a Saturday night watching Saturday Night Live and skits like Wayne's World led me to believe that public access television was one of the greatest forms of entertainment and some of the best fodder for comedy around. I knew being in a big city like LA meant a healthy menu of choices when it came to public access, and boy was I right. There was Father Lee: Egg Roll King, featuring a Chinese Catholic priest who disproportionally divided his show's focus between the holy trinity of cooking, martial arts, and religion; Journey into the Cosmos showcased a semi-Rastafarian African dude named Ogegeko who, through the power of video compositing, floated atop old Sun Ra films and nature and outer space footage while delivering sprawling, unscripted messages about the sanctity of our planet, the importance of mothers and God, and the awesome power of cosmic tunes; Nihilist's Corner was a bizarre window into the world of truth-free world of a bunch of would-be yuppies turned absurdists; and then there was a twisted, ramshackle mess of a show called Three Geniuses , a psychedelic blend of comedy, dissonant music, and art.
In retrospect, Three Geniuses probably should have been renamed "Three Guys Perpetually Tripping on Acid." Although I've never been a fan of drug-related or inspired entertainment, I'd have to say that Three Geniuses was a pretty big influence on me when I conceived of the original idea of the TV show Pork Pony. At the time, I really liked shapeless, stream-of-conscience comedy, stuff that was artful, arcane, and full of surprises. I was pretty naive at the time and I didn't make the connection between this sort of material and chemically-altered perception. So when I came up with the concept of a public access show and I told people I chose the name because of the "color of the words," I'm sure I instantly branded myself a stoner, which was and always will be very far from the truth.
WHAT'S WITH THE NAME?
Over the years, one of the most common questions I've been asked about Pork Pony is "Why is/was it called Pork Pony ?" There are actually two very honest reasons for the name.
First of all, I'm mildly synesthetic with regards to letters, numbers, and words. For those of you who are unaware of synesthesia, it's basically a cross-association between senses. In my case this means I instantly associate letters, numbers, and words with colors. According to some psychologists, this is normal in most children, but it "wears off" for the majority of people as they grow older and their minds become less playful. Creative people often retain it to a certain degree. Once again, due to my naivete, I figured everyone made the same sort of associations. I never questioned it until I was in college and I mentioned to one of my screenwriting professors something about the color of the words. He looked at me like I was totally crazy (rightfully so), so I asked around and found out that I was pretty much alone with regards to this condition. Incidentally, Ed Darrin, another Unloosen writer, eventually pointed me toward a Nabakov autobiography in which he writes in detail about having the same sort of synesthesia I have. So when I was thinking up a name for the site, I wanted a name that I would instantly associate with my favorite blend of colors, reddish-orange. I chose Pork Pony because it seemed to be a blend of reds and oranges with a hint of yellow. Yes, I'm fully aware of just how strange that sounds, but I wanted to set the record straight.
The other reason I chose the name is because it sounded a little bit shocking, but still playful. People made instant associations with sex and all stripes of sexual connotations, but that was never the intention. The color of the words and the juxtaposition of dinner meat-animal with cute, rich-girl animal seemed to me to be enough to startle someone into paying attention because they'd want to know what it was all about.
WHY NO SHOW?
When I came up with the concept and the name of the show, I mentioned it to some friends and they were instantly interested. But we were just out of college and we were all hunting for jobs. Basically, everyone got jobs and the idea got put on the back burner because we were poor and needed money. The name and different show ideas were bandied about from time to time, but nothing materialized until a few years later when I finally got my hands on some web-design tools.
THE WEB IS INFLICTED WITH A NEW DISEASE CALLED PORK PONY
The initial idea for the TV show Pork Pony probably materialized at the end of 1998 or the beginning of 1999. So what happened in between to push it toward the Internet? I was working for a small film studio, spending most of my time editing commercials and creating motion graphics for commercials and a feature film my boss was working on. I had also convinced my boss to let me direct a documentary about actor Jack Nance as part of my job. For various reasons during this time, I became disillusioned with the film and TV industry. I'd just been introduced to the incredible literary endeavor McSweeney's and it made me think that maybe the web was the way to go with the Pork Pony concept. It would let me marry my love of absurd, comedic, and abstruse writing with the bizarre miasma of art and imagery I wanted to inject into the TV show.
I eventually finished the documentary on Jack Nance, worked as a freelance motion graphics artist on a TV special called War Games, and decided to take a break from the entertainment industry. I ended up getting a job that was graphic-design oriented and, as a result, wound up having access to a full suite of web-design applications. I started tinkering with them and by the end of 2001, I had created the very first (and very rough) issue of the web journal called Pork Pony.
REFINING THE UNREFINED
Around the time I started getting visitors to the site, the Jack Nance documentary I'd completed, "I Don't Know Jack," was touring the film festival circuit. This allowed me to plug the site in various cities around the country and it also gave me a chance to meet some new writers and get feedback on the look and feel of Pork Pony. I tightened down the loose feel of the site a bit and polished the rough edges, but I made sure it retained a somewhat hackneyed feel in order to keep a little disorder intact. In the beginning, a steady stream of solid work flowed in and this helped add a little bit of credibility and variety to the site. Submissions were encouraged and suggested and we got some pretty good ones. But after a couple months of posting two new stories a week, material started to become scarce and as both editor and designer of the site, this provided me with a minor crisis.
Aside from bugging my friends for submissions, the only way I could retain the format and keep new issues coming according to schedule was to write extra material myself under various pen names. So I churned out a slew of stories, often dedicating entire weekends to writing and design. In addition to keeping the site maintained, I also promoted the hell out of it, placing banner ads and continuously looking for new humor and literature link sites on which to list Pork Pony. The promotion of the site actually paid off and we started to see 200 plus visitors to the site per day. All of the extra time I spent working on the site, however, did not bode well for its future
THE VARIOUS FACES OF THE PONY
Pork Pony survived numerous cosmetic permutations. At first, it was a one-page-per-issue affair. Just two stories and a bunch of weird graphics. Eventually, we incorporated the first iteration of the Intelli-head navigation device, a crude profile drawing of a head that lead to different areas on the site. The original Intell-head was flanked by ragged papers on which a menu of the week's new material was featured. As an April Fools joke, the Intelli-head was briefly replaced by the Intell-stick in April 2002. The stick was subsequently replaced by a revamped Intelli-head that was comprised of a mixture of drawings and photographs that lent a Monty-Python feel to the site. The interface changes were basically attempts at refining the look of the site while keeping interest strong. It seemed to work for a while.
A SLOW DECLINE
Web design was not my area of expertise in those days, so I painstakingly assembled each issue using Macromedia Dreamweaver every week entirely by myself. As I mentioned before, I was also writing a good portion of the material, not only the longer fiction pieces under my own name, Eli Lindy, and a few other pseudonyms, but I was also "transcribing" the Intelli-head's advice column, and "proofreading" Stuart Gimble's commentary. This started to wear me out and I felt like I needed to redesign the site to accommodate my own needs as a human being. If only I would have known of Movable Type in those days.
I went on a camping trip with some people from work in June of 2002 and it felt very good to relax. That was the first weekend I had spent away from the site in about six months. It made me reconsider my priorities and when I returned, I put the site on hiatus for a while. After that, the time table becomes a bit hazier. I don't remember exactly when I changed the layout and format of the site, but for one issue, Pork Pony existed on a simple blue background and various pants-shaped buttons were used as site navigation. I began to prepare the next issue, but for some reason I scrapped it again.
The next and final time it resurfaced was right after President George W. Bush declared war on Iraq. I removed all of the links with the intention of yet another overhaul of the site and in place of the main page, I put the site's name and two Photoshopped images of Bush and Saddam Hussein sharing tender, seemingly homosexual "moments" together.
PORK PONY, AS A NAME, IS INADVERTENTLY RETIRED FOREVER
I purchased the site name and server space from the same company in December of 2001. Being fastidious with regard to bills is a point of pride for me, so when I attempted to log on to Pork Pony in order to make some changes in the beginning of 2004, I was pretty surprised to find out that the site no longer existed. I immediately contacted my web host's support team who informed me that they'd split their company in two: one part for name hosting, one part for server space. Because I never paid the new name hosting company the money for name renewal, porkpony.com lapsed. This was explained to me as my fault. After all, I wasn't vigilant enough about keeping up with a minute web-hosting company's business dealings and they were obviously under no obligation to ensure that their customers were served the necessary information.
The name porkpony.com now belongs to a cybersquatter looking to make a quick buck off of me, but I'm unwilling to play. It may seem stubborn, but in my opinion, paying to reclaim something I created seems fundamentally wrong and I'm unwilling to give even one dollar to the trash who's sitting on it with the hopes of cashing in. Honestly, the money they want for it probably wouldn't buy them a dinner for two at Denny's, but at this point, it's all about principle. And admittedly, as much as I liked the name Pork Pony, it was hard to put "Editor and Designer of Pork Pony" on a resume without drawing a little scrutiny.
After the name debacle, I took the site as an entity into consideration and decided to choose Unloosen as the name for whatever was to follow Pork Pony. The word unloosen has the same sort of ironic appeal as "irregardless." If you think about it, it should mean tighten, but, of course, time has granted it this definition: undo; let free. In a way, the name Unloosen has proven to be very fitting because it allowed me to free myself of the bonds of compiling a weekly digest of creative endeavors by hand.
Pork Pony as a name may be gone, but regardless, or shall I say "irregardless" of what's happened, it would have eventually taken the basic shape of Unloosen. Personally, I think things worked out for the best in the end. Unloosen seems to focus the strengths of Pork Pony without the irregularities and misread intentions.
A GOAL ACHIEVED
As recently as a month and a half ago, I discovered something that helped me believe everything the Pork Pony team did was worthwhile. From the beginning, a big goal of mine was to have Pork Pony mentioned somewhere in print, without the use of money or coercion. This goal has been achieved and the result is better than I could have ever imagined. Ladies and gentlemen, according to the book The 505 Most Unbelievably Stupid Web Pages, written by a seventeen year old named Dan Crowley, Pork Pony is/was the 241st most unbelievably stupid web page on the entire Internet. Thanks to everyone who helped us to get there.