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A few thoughts on John Lasseter's leave of absence

2017-11-21 22:47:54.244121+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

Before I start this ramble, I want to make it clear that my own experiences with John Lasseter have been overwhelmingly positive. Yeah, I've been around him when he was staggering drunk (not at an official Pixar event, at a festival up in Sonoma), but he has never been anything but gracious and generous with me.

I'm also not writing this to pick on Pixar. I think very highly of most everyone I worked with there. This is is a little rant about human dynamics and social interaction and being a young person trying to make it in the world.

A few days ago, on a forum of past and present Pixar employees, someone posted about being contacted by reporters. The ensuing thread was split between "I wonder what they were looking for?" and "If you don't know, I'm shocked..." and some subtle circling of the wagons.

Hollywood Reporter: John Lasseter Taking Leave of Absence From Pixar Amid "Missteps"

Hollywood Reporter: John Lasseter's Pattern of Alleged Misconduct Detailed by Disney/Pixar Insiders

There were some mentions in my Twitter feed. RT Mo Ryan‏Verified account @moryan:

"missteps" "mentoring" "irresponsible" "I've come to understand" "it has been brought to my attention" "I have been made aware" "I am an unfrozen cave man, I do not know your hu-man ways" blah blah blah blaaghghghhghgh

I saw this quote, didn't immediately tie it to Lasseter, and responded:

This has been the behavior strongly associated with career success, so the asshattery we're seeing exposed seems pretty core to "human ways", at least as they've been practiced.

So that's where I'd like to jump off.

Columbina‏ @EccentricFlower wrote:

When I read Lasseter's statement I did not immediately parse it as "he's talking about sexual harassment" it read to me more as "I have been promoting a culture here that ain't good for women." Not saying that's great either, y'understand

And needless to say, even if that interpretation is true it raises the question for Lasseter of "How big did your blinders have to be to not notice/admit that Pixar had become a toxic swamp well before now?"

When I left Pixar, there were some huge changes being set in place because the cost for workman's comp claims for RSI was rivaling coal mines. Nobody at Pixar set out to create an environment in which people worked themselves into early disability. I think I can can safely say that that was the furthest thing from Ed Catmull's vision of the company you could possibly create.

But if you have an amazing in-group, an amazing set of idols, and a bunch of mortals who want nothing more than to be like those gods, you get people willing, even wanting, to work themselves into total exhaustion to achieve this. And the established people don't want this, they don't see themselves this way, they're just people doing what they're awesome at. So a 20-something with imposter syndrome and probably some good shots of Dunning-Kruger dropped into this environment has the feeling of the one big break, and as an additional constraint: They can't show the pain to their coworkers.

Unless you've got a particularly emotionally sensitive leadership, nobody's going to see what's happening at the bottom. It's kind of like the way teenagers manage to hide the horrors of high school from the adults involved. Administrators and teenagers are clueless about the life and death struggles of high school, except when it actually ends in a death and then everyone's shocked, but even in my relatively well-off suburban high school there was a whole undercurrent of weapons and what-not that most adults were completely unaware of.

And Pixar at the time I was there was largely led by some of the most amazing technical minds, probably not the people I'd point to as emotionally sensitive.

Now add to that the circling of the wagons effect that I mentioned earlier: If we're in the "in" group, we're insulated from the negative, because the afflicted want so much to be a part of the "in" group that they will actively hide any struggles in order to stay a part of the cool crowd.

If we're not part of the "in" group, we desperately want to feel like we are, and to the outside world we've already made it. The ego boost of wearing a Pixar badge at SIGGRAPH (at least back in the late ྖs) is substantial. If there are some pains, well, that's part of being part of success, and we're not sleeping under our desks all of the time. Someone from the outside wants to tear down our gods? Not on my watch.

So I can't speak to the particular allegations here. I'm not saying Pixar had any more toxic environment than any other company that people really aspire to work at, and I think that's really the problem: The current rash of exposing sexual harassment is an exposition of the society we live in and the ways we relate to each other. The gender imbalance is real, and makes the transgressions worse, but the dynamics which keep it entrenched are a part of the myth of success of this culture.

And fixing that problem makes fixing sexual harassment look easy.

A friend on a private channel noted:

.. at least .. .and this is a low bar.. he's getting out in front of it a little bit..

I responded that I suspect (hope) that the Pixar culture wouldn't let him push through once it's public outside that space (once the wagon circle has been broken), but I think people are learning about disaster response. I also suspect that Ed Catmull could have been clueless (because of the social pressures I mentioned above), and got woke.

[ related topics: Pixar Children and growing up Interactive Drama Erotic Sexual Culture Animation Movies Nature and environment History Theater & Plays Sociology Writing Current Events Work, productivity and environment Graphics California Culture Community Guns Conferences Woodworking hubris ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: A few thoughts on John Lasseter's leave of absence made: 2017-11-21 23:04:48.850588+00 by: DaveP

I've been thinking the same sort of thing as various new stories come out. I don't know that harassment was pervasive in tech in the 80s and 90s, but at this point I'd be more surprised hearing of a place where there was no harassment.

Humans are kind of a mess.

#Comment Re: A few thoughts on John Lasseter's leave of absence made: 2017-11-22 00:44:20.849333+00 by: Dan Lyke

This is making me re-read some of the wage and hiring anti-trust stuff with a little more critical eye, and I'm thinking I was gentler on Ed than I should have been: REVEALED: Emails, court docs show how Sony stood up to Steve Jobs' and Pixar's wage-fixing cartel.

#Comment Re: A few thoughts on John Lasseter's leave of absence made: 2017-11-22 01:06:49.240308+00 by: Dan Lyke

Variety: Pixar’s John Lasseter Was the Subject of a ‘Whisper Network’ for More Than Two Decades

#Comment Re: A few thoughts on John Lasseter's leave of absence made: 2017-11-30 16:07:15.005367+00 by: brennen

I obviously have no inside knowledge whatever, but I thought this was kind of an interesting read.

#Comment Re: A few thoughts on John Lasseter's leave of absence made: 2017-11-30 21:51:00.957626+00 by: Dan Lyke

Thanks, Brennen! That's a good read.

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