Art of Animation

Why animation is a powerful medium for cultural resistance – Waging Nonviolence

Why animation is a powerful medium for cultural resistance - Waging Nonviolence
Written by Noah Roy

In the music video for “Lee 199”, Rap Against Junta rap artist 882021 performs a powerful mix of animated sequences and video recordings of police and military violence against the people of Myanmar. Subtly, the video clip confronts viewers with brutal beatings and shootings by government forces during peaceful actions in the streets of Myanmar. Rap Against Junta is a coalition of artists and producers who, amid the fallout from the illegal seizure of power in February 2021, chose music as a way to express their political frustrations.

The video is a powerful example of cultural resistance, which can be defined as the widespread use of art, literature, images, and other culturally embedded elements to oppose oppressive ideas and express criticism of political, economic, and social issues. Cultural resistance is very powerful in raising awareness of an issue and inspiring a call to action.

Banksy’s mural “Anger, the Flower Thrower” in the West Bank. (Wikimedia Commons/Zabanker)

One of the most famous examples of cultural resistance art is the Banksy stencil, originally sprayed in the West Bank, titled “Anger, Flower Thrower.” It shows a man wearing a scarf and baseball cap, aiming to throw a bouquet of flowers at someone/something in anger. The stencil conveys Banksy’s well-known dedication to peace and nonviolent conflict resolution. Cultural resistance takes many shapes and forms, and as different means of communication gain momentum, so does their application in the fight for social justice.

Rap Against Junta chose animation mixed with real footage to express anger, disgust and fear, among other difficult emotions, arising from the atrocities committed by the junta. The power of the animation is enhanced and used to express the symbols that words often fail to capture. Furthermore, because symbolic visual animation is used, it inspires a different kind of understanding and solidarity, one rooted in empathy rather than reason. Therefore, animation is well positioned to become a powerful vehicle for cultural resistance.

In solidarity and symbolism

Talking about general issues such as gender equality, climate change and mental health is often accompanied by emotions and feelings that are difficult to absorb. A recent example from Poland illustrates the power of animation in educating and building awareness about topics where words are an imperfect means of communication.

In response to a decision by the Polish Constitutional Court to restrict abortion rights in late 2020, around 50 animation students have gathered at a film school in ód in a work of fear, anger and solidarity to produce a set of animated short clips. It reached a large audience after posting it on .’s Facebook account G’rls . rooman alternative Polish feminist magazine.

The video vividly depicts the feelings and emotions felt by Polish women and men in the wake of the anti-abortion bill. The content of the cartoon varies widely from depictions of drowning women and exploding bellies to wicked priests and self-mutilation, and the character phrases accompanying the animation range from “I embrace you all” to “I am afraid” to “My body belongs to me. No priests and no politics!”

The medium allows the viewer to get a better idea of ​​how he feels on the other side, which may lay the foundation for a future democratic dialogue. Cultural resistance pieces like these have the potential to raise awareness beyond their local and national boundaries. The short animation package was so well received that it inspired two other groups to put together their own collection of animated clips on the topic of abortion. One by animators from Pozna, a city in west-central Poland, and the other by a group of creators from Hungary, who decided to create their own version in support of Polish women.

The mix of animation and real life footage can also be valuable. In recent short videos featuring Roger Rabbit from Myanmar, an animated Burmese activist alongside Ivan Marovic, a veteran of the Otpor movement in Serbia, discusses the urges to use violence against repressive regimes, distributed resistance tactics and the frustrations he is experiencing. With an animated character. Marovic posted on an anonymous YouTube channel called “Pots and Pans,” where he shares personal stories and explains “group allies,” a strategic framework often used by organizers as they plan actions to define social groups and strategize how to change the movement’s power direction.

misinformation

Despite all the benefits it offers, the world of animation also has a dark side. Autocratic regimes and right-wing troll factories are quick to learn and, in some cases, just a few steps forward. Organized farms and governments have resources that social movements can hardly outperform.

For example, this anonymous pro-Russian YouTube video, loosely translated as “The Russian Invader,” is designed to convince viewers that Russia is the greatest country in the world. It complements the Russian government on dubious grounds and calls into question the integrity of Western democracies. The video indicates that the presence of Russia in the Baltic states brought prosperity to the people and enabled the production of advanced electronics. On the other hand, the video indicates that the arrival of democracy has impoverished the country, forcing part of the population to clean toilets in Europe. Animators use the latest visual effects to make propaganda more “believable”, effectively weaponizing animation and video content.

When opponents of democracy use their freedom of expression in this way, the risk of backlash or censorship from democracies is minimal. Democracies have and still struggle to defend themselves against online misinformation. Censorship and content moderation are highly contentious topics in contemporary liberal democracies. On the one hand, liberal democracies should stand up for their citizens and ensure that the digital space can be enjoyed free of intentionally harmful content. On the other hand, governments should not have the power to decide what information is or is not available online.

Self-censorship and monitoring

Large-scale success in social justice campaigns often comes with the attention of malicious actors. For animation clips to exist and become widely shareable, they require space on the network of servers that host the Internet, also called the cloud. Having a video on the cloud is crucial, initially as the digital footprint grows with every view, every like or dislike, and every post.

Even if an individual or group of creators try to remain anonymous, once the video leaves their direct possession, it is up to the rest of the people to ensure that content is shared through end-to-end encrypted communication channels like Session, or anonymous file sharing platforms like OnionShare. A network of actors is only as secure as the security levels of the weakest link in the network.

Once social justice content spreads, it becomes very difficult to reduce the risks to the network. When animation attracts enough attention, it can potentially become a trap. Malware can be embedded within the video file once it has fallen into the hands of bad actors. Then, when you download the file locally and manipulate it by clicking on the content, malware or spy trackers start collecting data. Ultimately, when enough data is collected, by triangulating the data and verifying it with other tracking platforms, it is easy to map user networks, and in some cases indicate specific identities.

Online monitoring and tracking is nothing new. In July 2021, Pegasus – another form of spyware, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group – was exposed. Once installed, Pegasus allows full monitoring of all mobile activities. It can, for example, be installed on a device via video file sharing. When the receiver clicks on the video and downloads it before watching it, Pegasus is also downloaded. It is widely believed that Pegasus was purchased by at least 10 different countries. Therefore, the use of data triangulation and mathematical modeling in mass surveillance makes animated videos an ideal vehicle for infecting activist groups and other actors associated with malware.

AI-generated content is very close

Cultural resistance is always changing in attempts to keep pace with the development of new means of communication or to set a new direction in the struggle for global social justice. One of the newest frontiers of cultural resistance is its emergence from machine learning.

On November 18, award-winning artist Cecily Wagner Falkenstrom presented her latest artwork at the Tech4Democracy Conference in Denmark. The artwork consists of a display of artificially constructed images of a different technological utopia and dystopia transforming into one another accompanied by an anonymous robot-like voice narration. This piece conveyed an important message about the power of technology and humanity’s growing dependence on it by showing multiple paths forward – both futuristic where the synergies between technology and people work as well as those not.

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The visuals were derived from a machine learning algorithm that collected different images from a data set of tweets, which it searched for using key terms such as technology, future, human rights, and justice. The result was a set of images representing human fears and hopes for the future of technology and life on Earth. The artwork conveyed a sense of urgency and the need for informed choices about the future of the relationship between technology and humans. In some ways, it was also a criticism of governments and peoples all over that world that allowed the tech sector to pass with little regulation and accountability.

This project, like many others, standing at the forefront of art and technology, is still in its infancy and is expected to get better at moving data sets from human input taken from the Internet. Just as photography eventually turned into video and animation, there’s little reason to believe that machine learning composites won’t mature into video either.

Technology opens avenues for new cultural forms of civil resistance, but it also creates avenues of repression. Independently produced AI content is inevitable and it is only a matter of time. Therefore, organizers, creators, engineers, users and civil society actors must come together to ensure that animation and many other forms of cultural expression are protected and amplified, rather than replaced and manipulated.

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About the author

Noah Roy

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