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My life is full of grading. 55 sets of fresh assignments per class, ranging from film journals to full-out research papers to final exams, coming in every week from now til mid-April, YAY. And the parts that aren't grading are lectures. DOUBLE YAY.

So here, for your edification and/or amusement, is the intro to a lecture I gave last week on Nina Paley's wonderful film Sita Sings the Blues. Included are many links to try and build in the context covered in class. If you like Sita, copyleft activism, or criticisms of the "exotic erotic" figure in animation, I have an article about all three things that's in peer-review with The Journal of Postcolonial Writing right now. One more thing to look for later! (/shameless boost)

Last class, we began talking about Flash animation and how it opens up new potentials for animation. We looked at it in terms of how it enables interactivity, and in terms of how it perpetuates common stereotypes, in a kind of remediation of WWII propaganda, like Van Buren argued. Right at the end of class, I suggested that whatever the content, Flash has radically altered how animation can be produced and distributed, by putting the tools for animating back into the hands of ordinary people, instead of just the big studios.

If you've read the interview with Nina Paley for today, however, you'll know that the situation is in fact a little more complicated than just "Flash Power to the People!" We can't do just anything we want in animation, even if we have the software. And that's because visual culture right now is in a paradoxical position: we can make and share animation more easily than ever, but there are also more legal and corporate restrictions working against independent animators today.

The problem is this. On the one hand, postmodern film and animation have become more and more about intertextuality, references, and pastiche. CGI films like Shrek are all about the pop culture references. Even WALL-E builds on the relationship between Hollywood cinema and animation with the video clip from Hello, Dolly! he watches. Likewise, many amateur animators and filmmakers today get their start by working with the cultural materials available to them, doing fanvideos. People who don't have a camera or can't afford Flash can still learn to edit by making Anime Music Videos with footage of their favourite show set to their favourite music, creating some really interesting, creative transformative works. Independent animators like Nina Paley also draw on many visual and audio sources to create original digital animation. Animation today, be it professional, amateur or independent, is really shaped by the new media operation of compositing: putting together material from many sources to create something new.

But on the other hand, this is causing huge problems in terms of legal issues. Because just as our online culture is becoming more and more about referencing, sharing and collaboration, corporations are insisting more and more on enforcing copyright and policing intellectual property. It's partly a response to movie piracy, as those commercials they show in theatres suggest. But it has far-reaching impacts for artistic expression as well. Even just to use a five-second clip of a copyrighted song in your own film, you have to pay. And if you’ve been following the media news in the past few months, you’ll have seen the huge clashes around bills like SOPA and PIPA in the States, or ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, in Canada and Europe. We're at a historical moment right now where we have to question: who owns cultural expression? Or, who has the right to animate culture? Should only big companies like Pixar and Dreamworks, that have the money to pay for licenses, get to use popular music and film clips in their animation? Or should independents like SamBakZa and Nina Paley also get to use the key technique of compositing cultural influences?
Today, we’ll use Sita Sings the Blues to look at these issues of cultural compositing and intellectual property in Flash animation today.
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April 2014

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