Author: wayne518

The Visual Rhetoric of Persepolis


I figured I’d try something a little different with this assignment, so I posted a video of me talking about Persepolis for 11 minutes. Enjoy my beautiful face and silky smooth voice as I explain to you some of the brilliance behind Marjane Satrapi’s memoir. Enjoy!

Cartoon Copy(Samurai Pizza)Cats

According to Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix, 74 of the 100 top grossing films from 2002-2012 are either sequels, remakes or adaptations. “Perhaps audiences just prefer the familiar (Ferguson part 2).”

As Ferguson showed us, many Disney cartoons are based off Grimm fairy tales and various other sources, but traditional Saturday morning cartoons also caught on to the reiteration of successful shows to keep their audiences coming back for more. Preston Blair, cartoonist for Disney and Hanna-Barbera, showed how to draw character archetypes in many of his how-to books on, most notably Cartoon Animation.


If we examine the some of the characters in the Hanna-Barbera universe, we can see that many characters across shows share many of the same traits, often to convey something about their personalities. In 1969, Hanna-Barbera introduced the world to the crime-solving great dane Scoobert-Doo and the Mystery Machine gang of Fred, the All-American hunk; Daphne, the red-headed vixen; Velma, the bookworm, and Shaggy, the scruffy slacker.


After the success of Scooby-Doo! Where Are You?” Hanna-Barbera premiered a new cartoon in 1977 called Jabberjaw. Notice any similarities?

Many of you may also remember the Hanna-Barbera classic Yogi Bear and his little sidekick Boo-Boo, two pic-a-nic basket thieves who find themselves getting in trouble with Ranger Smith, the park ranger of Jellystone park.

That was in 1961. In ’62, audiences were treated to Wally Gator, an alligator who lives within the confines of the zoo and must be kept in check by zookeeper Mr. Twiddle. Are you noticing a pattern?

While these are examples of in-house copycats, there are plenty of instances through time of animation studios swiping character types from established shows. In 1990, John K. introduces us to Ren and Stimpy, a volatile chihuahua and stupid cat duo, the two always prying at each other’s nerves.


In 1993 with the launch of the Animaniacs, we get Pinky and the Brain, a pair of lab mice, the former a genius, the latter insane.


And then, a few years later, we get CatDog, a … yeah.


Just by looking at these images, without even watching an episode,  we can deduce which characters in these pairs are the goofy half of the equation. The off-kilter eyes, hanging tongues and the buck teeth convey the stereotypical dopey look we’ve seen time and again.

With the popularity of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, animators try to jump on the bandwagon of anthropomorphic fighting animals. Case in point: Street Sharks and Samurai Pizza Cats.

With the overnight success of Pokemon, we got arena-battling anime like Digimon



And then we get to the other half of the equation with the reimaginings. The 1960s The Adventures of Johnny Quest got a ’90s iteration in The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest. Tiny Toons was a spiritual successor to the 1940s Looney Tunes. Muppet Babies were exactly that to the original Muppets. The Rugrats became teenagers in Rugrats: All Grown Up. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo took us back in time with the gang before they were old enough to drive the Mystery Machine. James Bond Jr. And adaptations. Garfield and Friends brought the tabby cat to the small screen after finding success in the funny papers. Street Fighter and X-Men both got their own cartoons in the ’90s. There are so many it would actually take forever to list them all. So, I think this provides a good-enough picture of the highly iterative nature of cartoons.

And, finally, truth-bomb: SpongeBob SquarePants is just Rocko’s Modern Life underwater.

The Invisible Repetition of the Cartoon Theme Song

Cartoons are everywhere we turn.

It’s hard to believe the medium of cartoon animation is only roughly 100 years old, given how ubiquitous characters like Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo and Spongebob Squarepants have become. We have backpacks emblazoned with Dora the Explorer’s face, vitamins made with Wilma Flintstones visage and even entire theme parks inspired by classic animated features. Baby boomers, Generation X and millennials all have cartoons from their youth that they remember fondly, and I posit that the tried-and-true intro/theme song combination that begins every episode plays a heavy role in reinforcing our connection to those viewing experiences.

While I could analyze the excellent intro sequence to Batman: The Animated Series, sadly, it’s already been done (and I highly suggest you click that link), so I’ll move on. One of the most successful cartoons in history, the Looney Tunes still appear in various incarnations even to this day. Predating the first commercially viable TV sets, the Looney Tunes animated shorts debuted in 1930 in theaters on film reels. Because animated features were still relatively new during the World War II era, producers modeled these shorts after existing entertainment structures, most notably Vaudeville and orchestra. Now heralded as one of the most influential cartoons of all time, many Looney Tunes shorts begin with the recognizable (blank) song in much the same way an orchestra would play an opening song before the curtains rose in a play.

In the first second of the intro bumper, we can see the Warner Bros. logo come into focus on the screen as if we were seated in a theater and the lights slowly adjusted in brightness to spotlight the beginning of a performance. Once the WB logo fades off, we then get a close-up of Bugs Bunny, the star and ringleader of the Looney Tunes. What’s important here, which differs from many cartoons intros of today, is that by showing us a large disembodied bucktoothed Bugs Bunny on screen, we’re being told that we’re not in attendance to watch a story necessarily, but rather a character. Then, as if the red rings around his head didn’t already resemble curtains, we see Bugs lift the projection screen right before our eyes, revealing that we’re very much about to watch a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware farce featuring anthropomorphic animals. Bugs lounges on top of his own name, reading “BUGS BUNNY in,” reinforcing that the character is about to get himself into some bizarre antics.

As TV sets became affordable and began to fill homes all across America, studios like Hanna-Barbera ushered in a new era of cartoons as the golden age of animation entered its twilight. With classics like the Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Where are you? and The Flintstones, the studio gave us countless cartoons classics that became pieces of TV history. Once the most successful, longest-running animated TV series in history (an accomplishment since taken by The Simpsons), The Flintstones popularized many paradigms animated shows still follow today, perhaps most of all the use of a theme song with catchy, unforgettable lyrics.

Before the lyrics begin, we see main character Fred operating his dino-crane for just a split second. The camera then pans to his supervisor as he glances at his watch, waiting to sound the klaxon for ending the work day. But how do we know in these first three seconds that Fred is a construction worker? For one, we see his boss wears a hard hat, but, perhaps more importantly, he is standing next to his office, which has conveniently been labeled “office” on the outside wall. One simple word provides all the context we need for the first few shots of the intro.

And the very first lyric of the show’s theme song is “Flintstones,” a no-nonsense primer to prepare the audience to join the family for their newest episode. After we “meet the Flintstones,” the next line in the song fills us in on the entire pull of the show: “They’re the (not a) modern stone-age family.” This is it; this family is the seminal satire of modern America through the frame of the stone-age. The song culminates in Fred’s catch phrase “We’ll have a yabba dabba doo time/a dabba doo time/we’ll have a gay old time,” injecting a catchphrase that once meant nothing and bringing it to the forefront of pop culture references.

Flash-forward to the ’90s, when dedicated childrens’ entertainment stations like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network found their stride. Branded as Nicktoons, Nickelodeon’s original programming defined a generation of kids, providing millennials with a group of friends to grow up alongside of in the Rugrats.

The intro theme begins with a drumroll as an airborne diaper falls into place on main character Tommy Pickles’s bare baby bottom. As he regains his balance after this handstand maneuver, the animators pull a clever little trick by panning the camera to Tommy’s 1-year-old perspective, making his living room seem 10 times bigger than it would appear to our adult perspective. We go on a journey with him for just a few baby steps toward his bottle, steps that would seem insignificant to us but are larboriously coordinated by little Tommy. Just before reaching his milk, he takes a tumble to the floor, and we take that sudden plummet with him. We not only see the world from his perspective, we also feel it. As he attempts to touch his lips to the lid of his bottle that is just outside his reach, he is approached by one of his father’s toys (Stu is an inventor), and the camera pans out, revealing that, to Tommy, his living room is actually so large that it rolls over into the horizon because he is so small he can’t see the whole thing from his prone position on the floor.

Perhaps the best part of the whole intro is the very end, when the camera reverses from the baby perspective to that of the adult characters (in this instance, Tommy’s parents Stu and Didi). Didi lifts her son from the floor and sees the whole gang, her son nearest her in her arms, with her niece Angelica beside him, and his three best friends, Chuckie, Phil and Lil in the background. The children only speak to each other when the parents are out of the room, and they take those opportunities to go on adventures. but, when adults are present, they revert to behaving like unsuspecting, harmless babies. To encapsulate this conflict, we see Tommy freeze for a bit on screen, as if he’s mulling over in his head whether he wants to do it or not, and then, after a few seconds, decides to squeeze his milk bottle all over his parents and the camera (us, the viewers), demonstrating how unpredictable his childish behavior really is.


The Cultural Absorbency of SpongeBob SquarePants

If SpongeBob SquarePants were an actual person, he’d be in high school at this point.

Airing in 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has become not only one of the longest running animated cartoons in TV history, but he has also established himself as a cultural phenomenon. Children and adults alike know he lives in a pineapple under the sea, having become the darling of both the twilight of ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon fans and kids born in the 21st century. In short, SpongeBob has been around for a while.

In the 15 years SpongeBob has been on the air, we’ve since seen a dramatic change in computer technology. Youtube wasn’t even around when SpongeBob first aired, but now his escapades span the video service in more ways than one. Since the advent of the online video remix, SpongeBob and his friends have served as fuel for countless comical remixes of popular songs, mostly derived from a selection of the show’s most memorable scenes.

The season 2 episode Band Geeks, which aired September 7, 2001, introduces us to one of the show’s earliest musical performances. In Band Geeks, SpongeBob’s neighbor, Squidward Tentacles, reignites his clarinet-dueling rivalry with his arch nemesis, Squilliam Fancyson. To prove to Squilliam that he possesses more musical prowess, Squidward bets (on a bluff) that he can conduct a knockout musical ensemble to open the Bubble Bowl, the underwater equivalent of the Super Bowl. The only problem is: Squidward doesn’t actually have any musical talent, let alone a band to conduct for the opening ceremony. He enlists in the denizens of Bikini Bottom to take up instruments and practice for the big show, but, predictably, their quirky personalities thwart his efforts.

It’s now the night of the Bubble Bowl, and Squidward’s band still hasn’t practiced a single note. But, rather than play horrendously on brass and wind instruments, SpongeBob and the gang surprise him with rockin’ percussion and electric guitars, performing Van Halen’s Sweet Victory in a haze of fog machines and neon lights.

One of Squidward’s few shining moments, the scene has since become one of the show’s most memorable. So much so, that fans have taken the source video and remixed Squidward’s band to pantomime playing many songs (mostly nu metal) that were popular in the early aughts. For example:

The shot begins with again with Squidward nervously expecting a complete debacle, an embarrassment that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Instead, Linkin Park’s hit single “Numb” begins, with villain Plankton playing the opening ditty on synth, followed up by Patrick’s drum playing when the heavy riff and percussion come in. The creator then splices in scenes from outside of the Band Geeks episode to more accurately mirror the song playing: we see speakers thumping and SpongeBob scratching a record. The characters’ expressions perfectly reflect the quiet verse/loud chorus nature of Linkin Park’s music: Plankton is expressionless as he strikes each key, and SpongeBob has a blank gaze on his face while singing the opening lyrics. But once Chester Bennington begins injecting more emotion just before and during the chorus, SpongeBob begins using his arms as part of his performace, pointing at the crowd in a sweeping motion during the lyric “But under the pressure of walking in your shoes.”

This remix works so well because, as Chuck Tryon writes in “Pop Politics: Online Parody Videos, Intertextuality and Political Participation:”

“Most parodies reiterate elements of the original video if only to create a point of departure from the original, but the primary techniques are inversion, in which the video maker inverts the meaning of the original by adding new elements, and exaggeration … (Tryon 210).” One could argue exaggeration is a central tenant of both cartoons and nu metal, so the two fuse here so naturally, it’s hard not to laugh. The chorus, in particular, when the amps come in and the guitars explode, syncs with the stage lights and fog machines splaying over the stage, as SpongeBob delivers emotional vocals with his eyes closed. Sandy shreds on her guitar in the background while SpongeBob laments how Numb the recipient of the song has made him feel. At the bridge, in particular, beginning at 2:10, the song and the visuals combine in a way that summarizes the conceit of the entire episode.

And I know

I may end up failing too

But I know

You were just like me

With someone disappointed in you

Squidward, after recovering from the aftershock, finally gets invested in the song. Squilliam is so crushed from seeing his rival outperform him, he faints from the awesomeness unfolding before him. He is carried away on a stretcher as Squidward’s grinning face enters the frame, waving goodbye to the pressures of trying to live up to another’s expectations, the theme of “Numb.”

In another (NSFW lyrics) example, we have another seminal nu metal song, Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness,” played over the same scene.

Again, the editing is so tight, with Patrick’s drum playing looping over to match the cadence of the song. Ms. Puff and Sandy back him up on guitar, the anger in their faces leaving you anticipating the big drop. The editor takes some more liberties with the source materials though, distorting certain images (like the live action shots of the crowd, which do appear in the original, and the shots of the guitar and keytar before the first verse) and also adds in fade-to-black transitions before and after SpongeBob utters the first few growls in the intro (0:50), adding to the dramatic tension.

New to this interpretation of the scene, the editor departs from the Bubble Bowl scene to one of SpongeBob serenading the surly Squidward with a ukelele in the second verse. From the first verse, the language shifts from the lead singer describing his own struggle with “the sickness” to the second person. As SpongeBob sings to Squidward (at 2:02):

I can see inside you, the sickness is rising
Don’t try to deny what you feel


It seems you’re having some trouble
In dealing with these changes
Living with these changes (oh no)

SpongeBob has gone from his empassioned performance onstage to the lowkey acoustics of a ukelele, with a sly smile on his face, as if he has already accepted “the sickness” and is now trying to coerce Squidward into doing the same. Finally, at the breakdown (3:07), the lyrics take a VERY dark turn, the lead singer yelling at his abusive mother for a full minute, swearing at her and wishing she were dead. When SpongeBob is finished with his tirade, Squidward’s surprised face comes on as the music turns quiet once again, as if to give both him and the audience a moment to absorb and recover from what we just heard the kid-friendly yellow sponge say. By extending and rearranging a few shots here and there, the meaning of the original scene inverts from one of celebration to one of lamentation and anguish.

But I can’t leave SpongeBob hanging on such a dark note. Here you go, buddy. Have some more upbeats remixes.

PATCO in-depth analysis: Philadelphia Waterfront

This is easily the photo I’m most proud of out of the entire essay because it works so well on so many different levels. For this particular photo, I turned the motion blur off since my photos were already being filtered through the window’s rain-encrustedness.

There lies a certain level of symmetry in the photo between the sky and the water; if the image were flipped, they could both pass for one another, given their cloudiness. The depth of field effect also lends to its eye-catching nature. The crescent-shaped waterfront begins in the bottom left at the docks and a boat in view with three talls buildings not too far off for scale. And our eyes also naturally follow the “leading line” along where the water meets land/buildings and brings us to the five tall buildings aligned way in the background. And, lucky for me, the water wasn’t empty that day, and the two boats in the frame serve as balancing elements to the otherwise overbearing cityscape.

Interestingly, the waning landscape trailing off to the right edge of the photo serves so many purposes. Not only does it frame the water on this cloudy and rainy day, but it also frames the sky and the part of the city that is in view from everything else, bridging together and yet separating all these distinct elements. The diagonal lines overlaid on the left side (cityscape dynamism).

Above all else, I think, the photo comes together so nicely thanks to its adherence to the rule of thirds. If divided into the nine equal parts according to the rule, the divisions would appear over the prominent buildings on the vertical lefthand line, and the top horizontal line would cross the photo just where the skyline and the horizon meet. The righthand vertical line and the top horizontal line would intersect at the buildings in the background, and the bottom horizontal line would cut through the two boats on the water, lending a wonderful balance to everything. And, even if it was not by design (as I had no choice but to go over the bridge), the viewpoint also ties into the photo’s beauty. Taken from high above the Delaware River and far away to form the wrapping effect Philadelphia waterfront, I couldn’t have taken this shot (or at least gotten the same feeling from the same objects) from another perspective.

PATCO: Photo Essay Analysis

I knew from the outset that I wanted to capture the sensation of movement when shooting for this assignment and reflect the feeling of barreling down train tracks and looking out the window as light distorts the passing scenery. At first, I attempted to use a disposable camera, but after a dry run with it, too many of my photos were obscured either due to motion blur, poor lighting, or both. So, I went through once more with my cell phone in tow using an app called SlowShutter ($0.99 on the App Store). The app offers some neat features, including tapping a part of the screen to focus, timer settings and syncs with the iPhone’s native photo app (which can’t be said of the miserable ShutterSpeed app I tried using before). The feature I relied on most heavily (solely, in fact) was the motion blur slider, which you can set from “minimum” to “maximum.” Because I was already on a moving train, I set the effect to minimum to keep the photos from coming out too blurry.

I wanted to recreate the experience New Jerseyans face when they ride the PATCO to call into question why we seem to gloss over passing through Camden and focus on our destination, Philadelphia. I start at Woodcrest, using depth of field photos of big houses (I love the motion blur on the little kid slide in front of the nearest house) and the blurriness of the Westmont station’s empty parking lot to juxtapose two different kinds of emptiness, quietness, between towns, one of calm and another more somber. And while I considered taking photos of Camden itself, I thought it would be better to just take photos of what one can see from the train because, as Errol Morris wrote in Believing is Seeing, “The whole act of creating a photograph is an act of cropping reality (165).” Yes, Camden is home to Cooper, a well-respected hospital, a Rutgers campus and the Susquehanna Bank Center, a popular concert venue, which are nice, but do not erase the reputation Camden has earned itself locally and nationwide over the years. Because there are glimpses of of urban decay when going through Camden on PATCO, I highlighted those objects to serve as representative of the state of the entire city.

To demonstrate the broken down-ness of Camden, I included photos like the fallen brick building(s?). I find the picture works so well because it is framed by a passing tree on the right and rubble from a standing wall on the left, and it appears as if thousands of bricks are spilling through the frame. How long have they been there? House many buildings did they compose? How do tens of thousands of people pass by them every day and yet no one cares to remove the eyesore? I also wanted to juxtapose the buildings that had graffiti on them with those that did not. For example, the photo I took of the stained off-white building (the pattern even kind of makes it look like it was by design) communicates the same sense of age and abandonment as the tagged walls of old buildings, but in a different way. In another shot, the tagged walls are framed by shrubbery that appear to point toward the graffiti, as if someone had stepped over them and repositioned them to gain access to their canvas.

In crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge, you can almost feel a sense of relief that you’re putting Camden behind you and reaching one of the most historically significant cities in our country. My favorite shot of the essay if of the Philadelphia port, with the Camden waterfront out of the frame. Then, the shot of the 15th / 16th and Locust stop of the lines of the stopped train and the woman stopping by the steps to do her makeup before she leaves the station and heads out onto the street. To contrast with the graffiti seen throughout the ride on Camden buildings, at the 12 and 13 and Locust station is a beautiful, colorful mural on the side of a building, framed by a traffic light and the PATCO signpost. And then, finally, we see the upturned perspective at the tall buildings as you walk back underground at 8th and Market to leave, watching the oncoming bridge traffic blur by as you prepare to zoom past Camden again. As Roland Barthes wrote in “Rhetoric of the Image” ” … the photograph … establishes not a consciousness of the being-there of the thing … but an awareness of having-been-there (278).” Between my frames through train windows, bottom-to-top perspectives of Philadelphia’s tall buildings and motion blur over Camden, I hope to have imparted that consciousness unto those so they can experience it as if they were there (minus the hassle of having to receive change in the form of Sacaqawea coins jingling in their pockets the rest of the day).

PATCO: A photo essay

Since 1969, the Port Authority Transit Corporation High Speed Rail has shuttled New Jersey commuters to and from work in Camden and Philadelphia. Beginning in Lindenwold, the train carries tens of thousands of passengers every day through South Jersey into the city of brotherly love. Riding the train reveals a lot about New Jersey and its relationship to Philadelphia, but perhaps more importantly to South Jersey’s relationship with Camden, the most crime-ridden, impoverished city in the country.

Though the Ferry Avenue station is above ground,  the Broadway and City Hall stops are underground. After riding along the middle class suburban homes down Haddon Avenue through Cherry Hill, Haddonfield and Collingswood, looking out the windows of the cars shows a stark transition between the rest of SJ and Camden: Dilapidated, graffiti-tagged buildings whiz by on one side, while lots of totaled, abandoned cars line on the other. It’s almost as if, when coming up from the underground and onto the Ben Franklin bridge, passengers are escaping from the dregs of a forgotten city with the promise of Philly as they cross the Delaware River, emerging from one of the stations into the bustling cityscape.

This photo essay demonstrates that journey from the quiet suburbs to Philadelphia through the city every NJ resident would rather not think about. Monday through Friday, the PATCO delivers people to and from work, and on weekends it brings 20 -and-30-somethings to Old City to party in Philly’s budding nightlife scene. Despite living in such close proximity to it and traveling at hmmm mph through it, we don’t really give much thought to the blemish of Camden we consider it to be. The following photos capture that attitude and the glimpses of Camden we only see for a few moments as we’re on our way to our office or to the bar.


Photo essay proposal: PATCO Speedline

For my photo essay assignment, I’d like to take on option one, taking a set of photographs on a particular subject, in my case the PATCO speedline. I live across the street from the Woodcrest station, the third stop on the PATCO leaving New Jersey, and I ride it to get into Philadelphia on the weekends. There are 13 stops in total, the first six from NJ (Lindenwold, Ashland, Woodcrest, Haddonfield, Westmont and Collingswood) quiet, wooded suburbia that take you through the Camden stops (Ferry Ave, Broadway and City Hall). The contrast between the first half and the second half of the ride is so stark, it makes you wonder how such thriving towns could exist just a few miles away from one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country. One minute you’re looking at Haddon Ave, with its quaint antique shops and Zagat-approved restaurants, and the next you’re looking at the rubble of abandoned homes covered in graffiti. Once you reach the stations in Philly (8th & Market St., 9-10th & Locust St., 12-13th & Locust St. and 15-16th & Locust Street), you walk up from the underground out onto the bustling streets, and it feels like you’ve stepped into an entirely new world in just 20 minutes.

I would like to use a disposable camera for this photo essay to get a motion blur effect, capturing the feeling of movement of riding on the train (I’m considering juxtaposing moving shots through each town with its respective station, as they are undergoing some much-needed renovations at the moment), but I’ll have to take a test run to make sure the technology in the camera is just enough up to snuff that the photos don’t come out too blurry.


Do the Robot: My Mash-up and Reflections

On composing my first mash-up:

Graduate school has been all about firsts for me: first website build, first memoir written, and now, first mash-up video mashed up. First video of any kind ever for me, actually. There were both good experiences and bad trying to create a five-minute video in the newest version of iMovie on my 5-year-old MacBook, but nearly all were valuable lessons learned in composing texts.

In writing, the author need only produce words. In a mash-up, however, the author not only communicates through clips culled from outside sources, but he or she must also consider the audio and its relation to the images appearing onscreen. And because the cadence of the audio track determines the longevity and frequency of the video clips, I knew I had to start by selecting a song first.

Something I had not anticipated but became immediately apparent was how trimming one video clip, even by a tenth of a second, or by switching clips between places disrupted the video’s entire flow. Trying to sync the clips to the video was such an arduous and time-consuming process that, at times, my arm got so sore and stiff that I would have to walk away from my computer and stretch it out for a few minutes before I could get back to it.

It also never occurred to me just how much time was required just to gather my materials before I could even think about mashing any of them up together. In a way, I suppose such a scavenger hunt isn’t so dissimilar from researching journals for a written article, but, with text, at least you can start with reliable search terms and not have to feel around in the dark on the off chance you might find something pertinent to your mash-up goals. I found some videos useful for my purposes from memory, but not nearly enough to carry four minutes and 43 seconds of video. The lack of readily available material forced my thinking, though, because I then had to ask myself “What can I compare these images to? What can I contrast them with to craft the message I’m delivering?”

Shuffling and reshuffling video clips in a movie editor seemed easier than doing so with text, and I think it’s because I can physically see the text unfolding, so non-sequiturs are even more apparent. I watched and rewatched my video in its various stages so many times at this point that I could probably recite the order of events from memory. Trying to be so exacting with each frame is exhausting, but a part of you wants to make the puzzle pieces fit. I think the reason why I don’t normally obsess over editing and revising my written work is because the words I put to the paper are from my own mind, making me more hesitant to judge them and admit they may be flawed or ineffective, rather than borrowed from someone else’s composition in which I have no emotional investment in deconstructing. Or, rather, perhaps it’s not the words written that are my own but the sentiments expressed in those words that I’ve adopted from the creators of language that are my own, so maybe composing in the written word isn’t so different from making a mash-up.

The more I think about it, the more I find similarities between mash-up and writing than I realized existed. When I’m writing, I often struggle with writing enough for the reader to feel invested, but not revealing so much as to make the reading predictable and boring. The same is true of mash-up; you don’t want to be too overt, yet you also don’t want your viewers to have to make such great leaps in reasoning because your construction was too ambiguous. I repeated central images, such as computers and webs, for the sake of reminding the viewer that all other images relate to a bigger picture.

When composing in a new space, such as a movie editor like iMovie, I usually find that my rhetorical bones grow faster than my technical know-how muscles can carry me. Thankfully, iMovie affords enough control for beginners like me to create an entire mash-up without having to master the whole program to create a decent video. It took almost an entire month, but I’m happy with the finished product and pleased with myself for sticking to it, even through all the lagging, skipped frames and unexpected restarts. Here’s to hoping still images for our photo essay are a bit more cooperative.

On semiotics and my rhetorical strategies:

Creating “Do the Robot” was far more difficult than I expected. Fun, but challenging. The song in my mash-up, The Gorillaz “Empire Ants”, suited the tone I wanted to convey. It begins with a soothing, ethereal piano ditty and, about halfway through the song, changes into a crunchy, unrefined synthesizer sound. The shift in sound matched my idea of the web starting out 25 years ago as this awe-inspiring “information superhighway” that was going to revolutionize civilization, and now it’s become such a central part of our culture that anyone, including the government, can spy, monitor on or steal any piece of information about you that you make available online, whether it be your credit card or your address.

To represent the dotcom boom age, I used popular videos from the era, some from before the word “viral” was used to describe them. For example, at 0:09, 0:38 and 0:55, I use clips from the “Numa Numa Guy” video, “The End of the World” and alien “(I Will) Survive) videos of yesteryear, respectively, to create synecdoche for pre-video hosting website web videos. In the same way, I use footage from the trailer for You’ve Got Mail and a Dell commercial featuring Ben Curtis or the “Dude, you’re getting’ a Dell” guy at 0:13 and 0:14 to harken back to turn of the century computer pastiche. Rather than use computer models themselves to represent their respective eras, by using recognizable mascots of their time, I can invoke nostalgia in the viewer and instill a level of emotional investment in the video’s message.

Also pervasive throughout my mash-up are similes we’ve adopted for web and computer use over the past decade and a half. At 0:26, for example I show a shot of a net (short for “Internet), a clip from Super Mario Bros. 3 at 0:56 of Mario sliding up warp pipes (to show how we instantly travel from one place on the web to the next) and reoccurring footage of a spider spinning a web (0:007,1:55) to create the comparison to the world wide web. I increase the frequency of the repetition of the spider web-building shot in the latter half of the video (2:05, 2:25, 3:20) to stress how the web of today is a little too perfect and that we’ve become trapped in it.

Closure becomes key in the second half of the mash-up, as well. At 2:07(?), I insert of clip from the video game Mass Effect 3 in which Commander Shepard dives into a portal to synthesize organic and synthetic life, his transformation evident as a green glowing grid overcomes his body. At 3:02 I begin using the simile of surfing the web with a shot of a surfer falling off his board under a huge wave. In the gutter between the clips of fisherman catching tuna (3:15, 3:22), the clips of the surfer wiping out (3:04, 3:11, 3:18) and the clips of Shepard fusing his body into both man and machine (3: 21, 3:28) lies the message that the further we rely on the web-connected technologies, the more we make ourselves vulnerable to those who would look to invade our privacy online.

(3:00, 3:30) To incorporate the idea of a surveillance state through technology, I used clips from a Sloman Shield commercial that demonstrates a home camera system. Of course, people pay Sloman shield to help keep their homes safe, not to intrude on their daily lives. But, in the context of the video, when the shots are juxtaposed with clips of men in hard hats trying to hammer down a door and shots of an eerie shadow appearing in the doorway, it looks as if the technician is pointing to the monitor and gesticulating “Look at how easy it is for me to see into your life and watch everything you’re doing at all times.” Twisting the intentionality of the clip worked so perfectly, given the employee’s carefree body language, that I had to include it.

Finally, and perhaps the inconspicuous message in the video, there’s the series of clips with the cartoon police officer shooing off the young boy who tries to steal the apple from the market (beginning at 2:30). After the boys runs off for fear of being arrested for theft (3:00), the officer finds the apple just as attractive as the boy did (3:11) takes the apple for himself and eats it, without paying and committing the same crime the boy was ready to commit (3:40). The apple, signifying temptation, vibrancy and health, is a metaphor for the double standard placed on the people by the law. A teenager can be sued for thousands of dollars for posting copyrighted material, such as a musical composition or video game, yet the government can read our emails and text messages, basically any communications we should assume to be private, with impunity.


Super Saiyan Goku

Dragonball Z, nu metal and the rise of the online mash-up

In just a few days, on April 5, the world will observe the memory of  singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain, who took his life 20 years ago. As the frontman for Nirvana, he brought muddy, sonic riffs and screaming until your voice was hoarse into the forefront of popular music, influencing every rock band to come after him. But, whereas Nirvana was known to intersperse reserve into their songs as part of their quiet verse/loud chorus formula, the bands that followed in his wake took a more aggressive route. When post-grunge bands like Bush and Live fell off just as quickly as they appeared, they were soon followed by the Korns and Limp Bizkits of the world, establishing the genre we’ve come to know as nu metal. For better or worse, this hyper-masculine fusion of metal and rap/rock ruled the world in the late ’90s and early aughts, celebrating excess in noise and adrenaline.

Also making waves in the years before and after the turn of the millennium was Dragon Ball Z, an anime by acclaimed cartoonist Akira Toriyama, which had just been localized for western audiences. The show, adapted from the popular manga, proved popular in the States, as well, featuring, again, hyper-masculine heroes and villains, excessive screaming and plenty of martial arts-meets-sci-fi violence. In conjunction with the advent of Napster, fans of the show were able to download both nu metal songs and Dragon Ball Z episodes and movies and fuse together the sweaty defiance of western MTV hits with the melodramatic choreographed fighting sequences the show was known for (they just cut out the many scenes of comic relief). With Napster now shuttered, the legacy of the Dragon Ball Z mash-up lives on on Youtube. Perhaps it’s only appropriate to start with the most popular nu metal band of all, Linkin Park.

Though many critics and pop music fans now lament the nu metal wave, it wasn’t too long ago audiences couldn’t get enough of it. Linkin Park’s 2000 debut Hybrid Theory is one of only 20 albums in the past 23 years to go diamond (10 million copies sold) and was also the best-selling album of 2001. The hit single “In the End” became an anthem for the millennial generation, and finds its way into many DBZ montages, including this one:

Though many characters in the show sport spiky hair, this particular character highlighted in the video is Vegeta. In Dragon Ball lore, he is a prince of the endangered Saiyan race, obsessed with his own pursuit of power and besting fellow Saiyan and series protagonist Goku. Though Vegeta and Goku were once mortal enemies at the show’s outset, they’ve since sworn a truce in the interest in preserving their race (though that doesn’t mean their rivalry isn’t revisited every now and then). Despite his royal lineage and his dedication to becoming the strongest warrior in the galaxy, he can never best Goku, fueling his rage even further. How fitting, then, that the song’s chorus echoes the internal strife Vegeta faces throughout the series:

I tried so hard

and got so far

but in the end

it doesn’t even matter

We can see, in both the first and second verse, Vegeta’s mouth synched to bits of the lyrics as if he is singing them himself, suffering one crushing defeat after another. Particularly poignant is the lyric “Remembering all the times that you fought with me” as the camera cuts from Goku’s face to his over the monosyllabic rapping, conjuring all the memories of their bad blood. Fans of the show will recognize the lyrics “Things aren’t the way they were before/you wouldn’t even recognize me anymore” play over the shot of Vegeta grinning during his possession by villain Majin Buu. Finally, during the bridge, once the power chords come back in full effect, Vegeta transforms into a Super Saiyan, waves of light energy rising around him as Chester Bennington returns to wailing. Speaking of wailing, let’s move on to a no. 1 billboard hit with plenty of screaming, “Headstrong” by Trapt:

This particular sequence in the anime shows the end of the Majin Buu saga, with Goku and Vegeta teaming up to defeat the titular foe. The song perfectly suits the animation not only because the characters do plenty of grimacing and howling (which you’ll find plenty of in a nu metal music video), but also because this particular battle features plenty of headbutts, perhaps most notably at 3:14 and 3:26. The heavy chugging of the guitars aligns with each blow delivered, and the video ends with the reverb of the final note fading out as Goku launches the tried-and-true spirit bomb and obliterates Buu into tiny pieces. Let’s move on to tribute video to another series mainstay, Gohan:

Gohan is Goku’s son, who viewers watch grow up from child to teen to adult as he continues his father’s legacy across the series. As is a common theme across these videos, Gohan emits a powerful swirl of energy at the bursting first note of the chorus, but unlike other videos, we get a touching look at his relationship with his father. At the bridge, as Gohan is about to be crushed by his foe (whose name I don’t know, I haven’t seen the film in question), Goku frees him and holds his injured son in his arms as the Evanescence leader singer Amy Lee sings “Frozen inside without your touch/without your love darling/only you are the life among the dead” in their hit single “Bring Me to Life.” On more than one occasion, Goku sacrifices himself for his son (and he is revived just as many times with the power of the dragon balls, which can grant their possessor any wish, including resurrecting the dead), so the words lend themselves to the history the two share. With the help and compassion of his father, Gohan then finds the strength to vanquish his foes.

The list goes on and on, as the breadth of both the series and nu metal tracks is larger than you might think. Even though some of these videos have timestamps from six years ago, I can remember watching similar videos before the days of Youtube through downloads or on sites like ebaumsworld back on my family’s first PC in 2001. I could keep going with analyses, but the amount of DBZ mash-ups are so numerous, dare I say they’re … over nine thousaaaaaaand!