~ Disney ~

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Despot’s Progress”

I’m still looking for collaborations to write about, so poetry filmmakers and videopoets: please send me links to your work! Today’s collaboration involved two different filmmakers’ responses to the same poem. First, propaganda cartoons (thank you Walt Disney) compiled by Othniel Smith make a stirring backdrop for Robert Peake‘s poem “Despot’s Progress.”

I would like to begin with a bit of history. Walt Disney was pro-American and produced a number of propaganda animations depicting Hitler and the Nazi party as buffoons. Unfortunately his patriotism irrationally carried over into the 1960s. This resulted in not allowing people to enter Disneyland if their hair was too long. (This was sparked by protests against the Vietnam War that I believe he felt were anti-American.) If memory serves me correctly, Disney enforced a rule limiting the length a man’s hair could to be in order to enter the theme park. Call it discrimination, but it’s an interesting example of what the times were like, and I believe makes the interplay of audio and visuals here even more poignant. Since Disney was calling the shots, does that mean he was right in inflicting this regulation on his clientele? If he had prejudice against hippies with long hair, I wonder who else he didn’t like?

I happen to love cartoons, especially old Disney and Warner Brothers. This blended with Peake’s poetry makes a brilliantly chilling observation of injustice and intolerance. The poem speaks sarcastically of totalitarianism as something we must adhere to. Images of Donald Duck saluting and trying to conform “comically” support this theory, but as you can see it is not funny. The cartoons just make it palatable and easy to swallow. This piece points us in the direction of taking an otherwise unrealistic depiction (the actual animation) to reveal the nightmare that eventually came to fruition. I think the question that should be asked is, when it comes to being prejudiced, what is the real difference between Disney and Hitler? I suppose we can say it was six million Jews, but what about the haircut? The atrocities committed by Hitler were undeniably more severe than Disney’s point of view and perhaps I should not compare the two, but let’s not dismiss the last section of the cartoon, when the baby duck bursts out of the egg saluting “Sieg Heil!” To me that’s where it actually begins.

No matter what kind of discipline you practice, art is a very powerful medium. This couldn’t be more relevant to what happened at Charlie Hebdo last week. Je Suis Charlie!

Music/concept/editing by Swoon; footage: coxyde 1951 AB (IICADOM 903 at the Internet Archive).

Then we have Mark Neys A.K.A. Swoon‘s interpretation, which is equally chilling. The use of vintage footage puts me on the edge of my seat. The music gets under my skin and I can’t help but feel this is the second before a disaster is about to occur. I find in Swoon’s piece the end is very different. There is no baby Hitler being born, just anticipation. What is next? And is there a next? Perhaps a bomb will drop or a tsunami will wash away the mother and child, leaving us with basically the same outcome. The world has changed and continues to change.

See also Robert Peake’s blog post, “Two Views of ‘Despot’s Progress’ (Film-Poems).”

Disney owns patent for “video poetry” generator

Last week I received a rather surprising email from videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves: “I thought you might enjoy this.” The link leads to a Google Patents record, “System and method for video poetry using text based related media, US 20110239099 A1.” Filed in March 2010 and published in September of the following year, the patent describes a semi-automatic, algorithmically guided method for creating videopoems, with an eye to generating viral content and commercial tie-ins. Here’s the abstract:

There is provided a system and method for creating video poetry using text based related media. There is provided a method for creating a video poetry media, the method comprising receiving an ordered list of text phrases selected from a defined plurality of text phrases, presenting a plurality of video clips, wherein each of the plurality of video clips is associated with one or more of the ordered list of text phrases, receiving an ordered list of video clips selected from the plurality of video clips, and generating the video poetry media using the ordered list of video clips. In this manner, the barrier of entry for creating video poetry media is reduced, encouraging increased user participation and the creation of the “viral” effect by sharing video poetry online. Positive publicity for associated brands and media properties and additional channels for commercial promotions are thereby provided.

I have several reactions to this. I’ve never believed that bad poetry threatens good poetry merely by its existence, though it does of course create the need for curation, because in any uncurated space, bad poetry usually drives out the good in a version of Gresham’s Law. Also, it’s not inevitable that machine-generated poetry will be bad. Visit @Pentametron on Twitter if you have doubts about that. The specific method described for generating text and video in the patent application does sound as if it could result in some laughably literal mash-ups, though:

FIG. 2 presents a user interface for selecting text based related media for video poetry, according to one embodiment of the present invention. As shown in display 200 of FIG. 2, the user is invited to select from a variety of text based related media to match to each text phrase selected in FIG. 1. Thus, the user is invited to select from media 1, 2, or 3 for the text phrase “Lilo”, from media 4 or 5 for the text phrase “loves”, and from media 6, 7, or 8 for the text phrase “surf”. For example, media 1 through 3 may show various video clips of the character Lilo, media 4 through 5 may show various video clips related to the concept of “love”, such as hearts or kissing, and media 6 through 8 may show various video clips of surfing or surfboards.

Perhaps a way can be devised to guide creators toward more figurative or suggestive word-image pairings. But there remains the problem of commercial tackiness:

The video poetry may enjoy viral distribution, providing positive publicity for both the user and the original content providers associated with the video content. Additionally, some users may become inspired to create their own video poetry using the easy to use system described herein, further enhancing the viral effect. Furthermore, by optionally inserting promotional elements such as pre-roll advertisements or web links to related products or services, companies can also receive direct monetary benefits as well.

I’m told that the mere fact that Disney has patented this “system and method” doesn’t mean anyone’s actually written the software, or even that anyone seriously intends to. But that fact that they went to all the trouble and expense to file a patent does say something about the growing popularity of online videos as a means for disseminating poetry. It may seem surprising that a corporation would care about something generally considered so economically marginal as poetry, but as we’ve seen with certain TV ads using poets and/or poems over the years, it’s precisely poetry’s non-commercial nature that lends it such coveted authenticity.

There’s a further irony here, in that the Disney corporation through years of lobbying Congress bears unique responsibility for the absurd over-extension of copyright terms in the US (and subsequently around the world). This despite the fact that at least 50 Disney movies were remixes of stories in the public domain. Disney aggressively pursues violators of its own intellectual property, including mash-ups using Disney characters that have been around for decades. They consider this piracy. But the real pirates in a capitalist system are the monopolist corporations themselves. It’s no wonder that they would think of trying to hijack remix culture for their own ends.

A popular means of creative expression is the “video mash-up”, similar to a music video or promotional clip. By creatively mixing and transitioning different video clips together and adding effects or other unique touches, there is potential to create a video that is more than the sum of its parts. By sharing such videos with friends and colleagues online, the videos may enjoy viral popularity and bring increased customer awareness to featured brands and media properties. Users can have fun creating and watching video mash-ups shared online while content providers and brands can enjoy positive publicity.

But here’s the thing. Videopoets could, if we wanted, launch a preemptive strike and co-opt Disney’s patent application. It turns out that, according to the Wikipedia,

In the United States “the text and drawings of a patent are typically not subject to copyright restrictions.”.[1] A patent applicant may obtain copyright protection or mask work protection for the content of their patent application if they include the following notice in their application:[2]

“A portion of the disclosure of this patent document contains material which is subject to (copyright or mask work) protection. The (copyright or mask work) owner has no objection to the facsimile reproduction by anyone of the patent document or the patent disclosure, as it appears in the Patent and Trademark Office patent file or records, but otherwise reserves all (copyright or mask work) rights whatsoever.”

If this copyright notice is not included, then “anyone is free to copy and disseminate the drawings of an issued patent for any purpose.

A discussion among a bunch of legal experts on LinkedIn seems to bear this out.

Needless to say, if anyone does remix lines and phrases from Disney’s video poetry patent application into a found-poetry video, be sure to send me the link. Maybe we can make it go viral!