Cinema & Liberationism: The Presence and Significance of the Ideologies of Liberationism, Anti-Speciesism, and Compassion for Nonhuman Animals in Contemporary Film Culture (PDF Presentation)
In the interest of exposing that which corporations and marketers keep hidden because they know you will stop funnelling money their way if you have the information, here is a solid documentary (free on their site) on how we don’t know we are treating other sentient animals (because the product looks absolutely nothing like the process and marketers are brilliant distractors), narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. Killing other sentient lifeforms for food that is unnecessary for our survival is one thing, but that is NOT what is happening, it is not so simple, it goes so much further. This is extremely expressive of our cultural disengagement with and devaluation of empathy in the interest of profit, it speaks to how we treat each other as objects to be stepped on in the aim of power. If you have not seen such images (it’s not just factory farms either), you need to, because it will boil your blood to know that we have all been manipulated into supporting such atrocities that we could never commit in person ourselves.
You do not want to see this, it is very hard to watch, which is exactly why you need to.
Ignoring it while financially supporting it is still enabling it, and the devaluation of empathy that it entails, which has everything to do with your principles of social justice. To make the world a better place we must lead by example, so once we know better, we must do better.
Oh and this is just the empathy bit — our corporatocracy also keeps from you that our livestock are responsible for more GHG emissions than all of our transportation, among other problems like antibiotic-resistant superbug breeding and immigrant worker abuses and livestock-borne viruses like H1N1 and hundreds of thousands of incidental marine mammal and bird deaths in fishing and water pollution and the fact that if we weren’t feeding animal metabolisms then starvation and drought would be a thing of the past. Not to mention health issues to yourself. Is the taste worth all these costs, to yourself, to your future, to other humans, to other sentient creatures, and to the future of all earthlings? (You get over the taste habit within a month, by the way.) Additionally, if your identity is in any way attached to the term “the 99%”: Purchasing animal products supports the corporations and people who are manipulating you, who keep information from you, who profit on hurting you, who are trying to monopolize as much of your world as they can, who continuously convince people to be so egocentric that they hog their millions which as you know are worth nothing to their fulfillment but could mean everything for the poverty line or your student loans.
You can watch the 11 minute “Meat Video” or “From Farm to Fridge” vids swimming the interwebs for an intro to the abuses of other sentient animals capable of feeling pain and pleasure just like your pets and just like you if you don’t have the 1.5 hours for Earthlings, which is free for viewing online because it matters so much more than money.
Earthlings also offers incredible insights to animal shelters, the clothing industry, animals in entertainment, and vivisection.
(This essay makes a multifaceted argument for an expansive definition of fair-use that prioritizes cultural development over corporate profit.)
“The Congress shall have Power… To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (US Constitution, Article 1 Section 8).
Fan culture is exceptionally effective at augmenting and diversifying cultural spheres though active, creative, collaborative construction. Parody is omnipresent in contemporary culture, with the popularity of such shows as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park. All have made many for-profit unlicensed parodic references to Star Wars, just as College Humor does with its “Troopers” series and Eddie Izzard did in a stand-up tour. YouTube houses a plethora of fan-made parody videos made without an interest in financial gain. Whether for money or not, fans who create derivative work are not making reprinted substitutes of the borrowed item, but seek to “build on their enjoyment of particular media products, to claim affiliation with specific films or television programs, and to use them as inspiration for their own cultural production, social interaction, and intellectual exchange” (Jenkins 287-288). However, corporations fight aggressively to control the use of their creations as tightly as they can in the interest of maximizing profit. Through an analysis of societal context, I will argue that if an appropriated work of fan parody is transformative such that it acquires new meaning, it is original, and must not only be protected by the copyright law which corporations try to use to destroy it, but should further be encouraged in the interest of social progress.
All art is cumulative cultural creation (Baudrillard; Bordieu; Eco; Foucault; Lessig). Nothing exists without the context of what came before it, alongside it, and after it. Thus “original” herein refers to the object with a copyright stamp. As one judge determined, “Creativity is impossible without a rich public domain… Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on the works of those who came before. Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it’s supposed to nurture” (White v. Samsung Electronics). By repositioning borrowed elements into a new context, parodies instantly change those extracted pieces (Kurtz 429). Through reinterpretation, an original object acquires “increased significance” as it is “fragmented and reworked” to adapt to particular audiences (Jenkins 52-53). Narratively, the three extremely popular movie series Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars all share the following elements: a young orphan male protagonist; a wise and grey-bearded male guide, who also dies and returns; a supernatural object; an evil older male villain bent on universal domination; a fallen character seeking redemption; homogenized evil characters; and the use of black and white to signify evil and good. Each also has swords, a scar on the protagonist, an inseparable secondary duo, a pub, a physically repulsive evil character, an underwater monster, and a troll-type monster which happens to fall down face-forward upon defeat. They also share the same ancient plot skeleton, as follows: The hero starts in an ordinary life; is called to action; is introduced to a mentor, supernatural aid, and companions; heads into a new world where he faces various challenges; experiences a sense of futility and a temptation to stray; has a terrifying but abrupt encounter with Evil; achieves the goal; and returns to normal life (Campbell). We judge these three stories as “original” works because they are different enough. Anything too unfamiliar is difficult and marginalized, as the most “original” film in our present context means something more like a work of Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs, or Stephen G. Rhodes than anything produced in Hollywood, because instead of holding to the familiar conventions that Hollywood relies on to make a blockbuster that people go to see because they already know that they will like it, these “un-conventional” works are difficult to watch because we cannot draw from our practiced assimilation of the habits of cinema to understand it. So if a work is transformative rather than counterfeit, what is the difference between Disney appropriating Grimm stories and a Disney fan appropriating an image of Disney’s version of Rapunzel from Tangled? As Lessig notes, Disney keeps convincing the courts to extend its copyright on Mickey Mouse, so that “no one can do to the Disney Corporation what Walt Disney did to the Brothers Grimm” (“Free Culture”).
Today, consumers are the objects of the “culture industry” (Adorno; Jenkins 288; Free Culture 12). Brands try to regulate our culture for profit by forcing us to build our identities from a limited range of homogenized consumption options (Berger). We are thus prohibited from participating in the creation of our own culture. Actively engaged fans “reject the idea of a definitive version produced, authorized, and regulated by some media conglomerate” and instead “envision a world where all of us can participate in the creation and circulation of central cultural myths” (Jenkins 289). Fans embrace the fact that stories accrue value as they move through different contexts and retellings, opening up to a diversity of interpretations (Jenkins 289).
As decided in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, a new work is fair use if it “adds something new… altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message,” rather than merely superseding the original. Under Fair Use, using a direct copy of a work for “criticism” or “comment” is not an infringement (US Code Title 17 Section 107). Parodies comment just like reviews, just through a transformative reworking. Parody is able to criticize other texts by invading them (Watching the Simpsons 4). Parody comments on the boundaries we draw between our popular mythologies, and if commercially available, criticizes the for-profit monopolization of cultural production through copyright law. In one fan-made Star Wars film parody, the character Mace Windu, who in the Lucasfilm prequel trilogy is played by Samuel L. Jackson, delivers Samuel L. Jackson’s famous Pulp Fiction lines, and later as Darth Vader dies he gasps the famous Citizen Kane line, “rosebud” (Jenkins 303). This incongruous “mashup” is comical in its defiance, transcendence, and criticism of the taken-for-granted boundaries between these corporately separate cultural artifacts. Parody acknowledges that we do not exist without “the voices that shape our experience even as we parody them” (Rush 11). Significantly, both parody and pastiche are easily distinguishable from plagiarism as they are acknowledged borrowings (Hutcheon 38). If the new work is different enough that the public will not mistake it for the original, the market for the official product is protected (Tushnet 680). The Campbell case determined that the copyright purpose of promoting science and the arts “is generally furthered by the creation of transformative works,” even if used commercially. Transformation takes precedence over market effect (Tushnet 663). Copyright is not meant for the securing of maximum profit for the copyright holder but for the encouraging of creativity “by balancing the material incentives” and the “necessary access to the materials from which art is made” (Tushnet 662). When Bourne tried to sue Family Guy for rewording the lyrics to “When You Wish Upon a Star,” the judge ruled the transformation for comical use acceptable (Bourne Co. v. Twentieth Century Fox).
Allowing transformation for comical use must be the rule, because humour is immensely important. Humour expresses our abstract relation to our world, and laughter indicates an enlightening acknowledgement of our own limitations (Critchley). Jokes can produce the psychologically indispensable experiences of relief and intimacy (Cohen). Also, in humour we shift to play mode (Morreall). Play is extremely significant to trust and bonding, and “increases creativity and resilience” (Behncke). Play is the root of music, dance, games, flirtation, fantasy, humour, and storytelling (Behncke; Brown). Play energizes us, fills us with optimism, and is associated with intelligence and adaptability (Brown). The online fan culture of individual illustrators who build community through the digital sharing and discussion of their creative fan labours is a digitally mediated form of play. On sites like RedBubble.com, non-artist fans can join the community by purchasing t-shirts and posters of the creations that speak to them, and thanking the designers for making them smile, in a rewarding social exchange. Since play is so socially vital, and positive social communication so societally necessary, these creative, playful, positive and parodic fan communities must be protected.
For fans, passive reception is not enough, because identity is actively constructed (Butler). The creative expression afforded to fans by new media enables us “to transcend passive reception” (Tushnet 652). Interestingly, by producing toys, Lucasfilm encouraged Star Wars fans to enter its universe through avatars in between releases, allowing them to imaginatively expand that universe on their own (Jenkins 318, 287). DC’s Batman exists in licensed form in comics, television shows, movies, toys, costumes, t-shirts, posters, videogames, soundtracks, and ads, each of which is a site for the “creation, consumption, and enjoyment of the narrative” (“Texts that Sell” 308), and fans continue that expansion of the culture to which they purchased an initial licensed access through writing, illustration, cosplay, filmmaking, discussion and jokes.
Lewis Galoob Toys v. Nintendo recognized that new products improve markets by adding variety. Of course, as Lawrence Lessig elucidates, corporations do not aim to simply “protect what is theirs,” but “to assure that all there is is what is theirs” (Free Culture 255). The consumer must have the right to “participate fully, actively, and creatively within their own culture,” so we must check the financially motivated desires of the “culture industries” to suppress the new economic opportunities arising through new technologies and media convergence (Jenkins 309). Again, a fan creation “involves the productive addition of creative labour… and it does not act as an economic substitute for the original copyrighted work” (Tushnet 654). Further, through the sharing of their creations, active fans increase exposure and maintain consumer excitement for the original product (Jenkins 65-66).
When it suits them, producers “will court online fans as consumer afﬁliates,” yet otherwise attack participating fans as pirates (Shefrin 274). How are parodic t-shirts or films created by amateurs any different from references in South Park or Family Guy, excepting that they are easier to suppress because the creators do not have the financial means to risk a costly legal battle against a giant corporation? The American legal system favours those with the most resources (Free Culture 305). Contrary to the constitutional purpose of copyright law, as Lessig argues, our current use of copyright to confine access rather than expand creative opportunity is inhibiting innovation (“May the Source Be With You”). In this increasingly networked world of accessibility, fewer people control more of the development of our culture than ever before (“Free Culture”).
To ensure participatory democracy and sustain the constitutionally determined purpose of copyright law, we must find a balance between the underregulation that would dissuade artists who need to prioritize rent payments over producing culture and the overregulation which “gives dinosaurs a veto over the future” and “wastes the extraordinary opportunity for a democratic creativity that digital technology enables” (Free Culture 199). In the interest of broader social and economic progress, instead of pushing those insistent on having a say in their culture underground, our courts must allow Fair Use law to automatically include all freely shared and commercially available transformative parodies, and reject corporate requests for the for-profit monopolization of cultural development. We have seen it ruled so with Campbell, Family Guy, and South Park, but webpages still get taken down cease-and-desist letters still silence amateur artists. In spite of the potentials of our networked access, our current copyright use is asphyxiating our sociocultural development. Democracy has to be participatory, and learning to value sharing above personal profit will improve everything.
See: Magnifying the Universe
Unfortunately we are taught from a young age to value how our Superiors judge us over how enthusiastic we are about a subject or activity. We do not let students explore enough, so they lose interest in exploring. Instead, a focus on grades stifles creativity and leads to egocentric competition for approval, rather than a valuation of teamwork, learning, and creating. This habituated comparing also results in insecurity, and is augmented by an emphasis on sports competition. Students are judged on how well they assimilate information and given no more reason to do so than the reward of a grade. With Google in our pockets, class time would be more usefully spent encouraging children to explore their curiosities, think critically, and engage with other students. We teach our children that in order to access happiness, they must have money, and to make money, they must compete with their peers. But aren’t the most successful companies the ones with the strong teams, and the happiest people those with close social bonds? If an Earth in which individual human competition is secondary to broader social wellness and collaborative exploration is to be possible, we have to start by taking equalizing steps like Finland (The Atlantic) to encourage children to prioritize exploration and collaboration over destructively selfish competition early on. The desire to do better than others can take you far, but the will to do better for and with others will take us all much farther, and those principles have to start in the classroom alongside other students.
See also: Social bonding through play is extremely significant to creativity and to social well-being (TED Talk by Stuart Brown on creativity and play; TED Talk by Isabel Behncke on some of the evolutionary anthropology of play). Another TED Talk by the founder of Khan Academy demonstrates a way to revise our use of class time, and the three talks by Ken Robinson are very moving and insightful.
So much of our social progress is impeded by hubris. That is, attempting to enlighten someone by telling them that what they are currently thinking or doing is wrong makes them defensively convince themselves that they are right, no matter what information they are presented with. To effectively strip someone of harmful pride without making them feel so unconfident and vulnerable that they fall back to that basest of egocentric defense mechanisms, they have to feel that they are in a safe space, where being incorrect will not require submission or result in punishment, but instead be an opportunity to grow and attain reward. We are power-hungry and so averse to stepping down. When attacked we impulsively defend ourselves, so when you charge at an asshole with the almighty voice of Reason delivered by Disdain, you most often just propel them deeper into their position. Hence political polarization. To defeat your enemy, you have to know your enemy, so no matter how uninformed and injurious their modus cogitandi is, show them the unconditional love of listening to them — not just the superficial respect of sitting there waiting for your turn to speak, but the compassion of actually listening, which is both a welcoming gesture and an opportunity to figure out where the problem comes from, so you can pull out the roots rather than hack away at ever-growing leaves. Humans are not primarily rational creatures. Reason is always secondary, it is a means not a goal. If you want someone to treat others better, start by giving them more love than you think they deserve.
See also: Richard Lee studied pre-agrarian societies, which were and are so fundamentally egalitarian that a practice referred to as “insulting the meat” is used to encourage modesty and prevent narcissism. Unfortunately pride is little studied, though we can all see its significance.
From ads and news to tv shows and social media, images pervade our lives. This omnipresence of images (which are proxies of non-present or even entirely non-real spaces) compels us to habitually engage in simulated modes of relating to the world around us. This ultimately leads to egocentrism and excessive idealization, inhibiting our social bonding.Photographs of ourselves make us narcissistic, and photos of others motivate superficial judgements; we expend vast amounts of our time online and in front of the TV developing one-sided semi-relationships with the fantasy characters presented to us, who cannot engage with us mutually as a real friend does; cinematic presentations of dreamworlds and advertisements that promise to enhance our lives compel us to feel deeply dissatisfied with our selves and our lives and everything in them – including our family, friends and lovers. Habitual fantasy can partially supersede our relationships, but only superficially, ultimately leaving painful emptiness where we need intimacy. Ultimately, the more image-fantasy we engage with, the more detached we become from our real lives, but close relationships are necessary both to personal fulfillment and successful communities. The detachment effects of our overwhelming image culture are compounded by our societal encouragement of individualistic competition and focus on personal financial gain, as well as our mediated communications technologies and even our individually isolating apartments. Our creative pursuits must not be stifled, as we use the cinema to explore and communicate, but advertisements are created for profit, not cultural development, and since they do so much damage I would like to see them simmer down. Perhaps if we were not bombarded with readymade image-thoughts to assimilate left and right, we would have greater opportunity to think critically on our own about what matters to us.
See also: Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Jean Baudrillard, Jaques Lacan and Guy Debord discuss our mediated, representational relationships with the world and people around us. Erving Goffmann and Judith Butler address identity performativity and phantasmatic construction. John Berger’s Ways of Seeing explores glamourization and the production of envy in advertising.
As consumers in a culture of mass production, we are habituated to dissociating a product from its production processes. For instance, a beef patty looks nothing like a dead cow, and no cell phone retains any visible trace of a child labourer’s sweat. Even when we learn about the pollutions and abuses involved in the production of our items, although we want to bridge the gaps between our practices and our principles, we are still often reluctant to pay more for our clothes to be produced through more humanitarian wages and labour policies. This priority of the immediate gratification of a cheap buy over valuation of broader consequences can hurt us directly too. For example, if a pharmaceutical corporation presents us with a way to superficially combat depression without changing careers to something more meaningful, spending more time with family or engaging in a hobby, eating healthier or exercising more, 1 in 10 of us in this money-buys-happiness culture of shortcutting swallows it (NPR). Everything costs something, and that price is never limited to the dollar amount on the tag. To hit this close to home for most everyone: Every pound of beef costs, for starters, 100x as much water and 8x as much fossil fuel to produce as a pound of vegetables, in addition to 10 pounds of feed (for that final single pound of meat!), and 80% of our antibiotic use is in daily-pumped livestock (because their living conditions are so unsanitary – this excessive use results in extremely dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria) and livestock cause 10x as much water pollution as humans otherwise (EarthSave). And then there are the ethical concerns of our treatment of other sentient animals. So is information enough? If not, why not, and what can we do to make me less acquiescent about this MacBook I’m typing on? Perhaps we could regulate transparency, like we have done with ingredient labels, but extended to include production aspects such as unsustainable energy footprints, researched health concerns (as on cigarette boxes), waste hazards, and labourer wages and conditions.
See also: The documentary Food, Inc. surveys several elements of food production of which the consumer sees no trace on the product in the supermarket. Holistic Management ranches like the Savory Institute have found sustainable and ethical ways to continue raising livestock for meat, with the additional benefit of rejuvenating desertifying land.
Though we realize that verbal language is shaped by our need to express our thoughts, we often overlook how language in turn shapes our thoughts. Our languages guide our perceptions, of ourselves and the world around us. Language is symbolic, which is to say that the sounds “cat” and “gatto” and “katze” have nothing to do with the furry critters that fill your Facebook feed, until we consciously assign meaning to those words. We try to make sense of our environments by designating items that we deem similar enough to a symbolic category. Thus our labels are extremely significant to how we see and think. Nietzsche acknowledged that no two leaves are utterly identical, and yet in order to organize our thinking and communicate, we say “leaf” to define something by generalized similarities, disregarding the individuality of every “leaf” we have encountered (“On Truth and Lies“). In more directly relevant sociological terms, the words “black” and “white” delineate a constructed boundary line between two willfully established boxes. This boundary line between two separated “races” is entirely fabricated, as that “grey area” between albino and ebony encompasses nearly everyone, and no two people who are placed into one of the categories together have identical skin colouring. Continuing the use of these words of constructed “race” categories allows for the perpetuation of racism, a category bias. To use language to assert that difference is important to mention maintains the social significance of difference, and therefore racism and sexism and every other bigotry are permitted to persist. In the interest of developing equality it is therefore of the utmost importance that we leave behind such Othering speech, which formulates the person or people in question as “them” in an opposition to “us.” Affirmative action may be useful to kickstart equality reform, but only until sufficient momentum builds. After that, female-only colleges in a country with gender balance in education (actually, the US has more females enrolled in university (Forbes)) become sexist.
See also: TED Talk by Keith Chen on correlations between linguistic constructions of time and money-saving propensity. For further reading on symbolic means of relating to the world, look up Jaques Lacan and Judith Butler.