Is Vine Honing People’s Comedic Skills?

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For those who don’t know Vine is a video sharing social network in which the videos are only six seconds long and continuously loop. Why six seconds? In an NPR article the creators stated they didn’t really have a definitive answer; just that it felt right. Never the less, Vine is huge, really huge and doesn’t show signs of slowing down. But what may have caught many people off guard was the huge amount of creative force that came with it. There have been many series made through Vine, stop motion animations, but by far the most prominent side of Vine is the comedy. The comedy scene on Vine is nothing short of huge. There are comedy Viners with followers in the millions, and no shortage of funny Viners. So much so, that there’s a market on Youtube for compiling several or all of a Viner’s vines. A lot of these people have even been dubbed “Professional Viners”. Before you give the old person thought of “ugh seriously? kids like this?”. Keep in mind there are professional Youtubers, and professional internet people in general who make genuine and great content. Vine is no exception, Viners make great content. Will Sasso, Batdad, Klarity, KC James, Kingbach, Eric Dunn, just to name a few, make content that is genuinely funny to a lot of people. They’re not “professional” in the sense that they get paid for it (by the service the video is hosted on). They’re professional in the sense that they upload regularly similar content and have amassed huge followings and popularity for their work.

Anyhow, this all got me thinking about how the Vines are made and how they relate to traditional comedy mediums. A lot of these comedy vines are not just things that happen, they are crafted and planned. Then I began to think about how they are able to be so funny in such a short amount of time. Then I thought about how this sort of delivery requires a plentiful amount of skill and knowledge of comedy. This form of delivery is almost entirely different in execution, from mediums before it. This made me think about how, maybe this could translate into other forms of comedy and other forms of expression. Essentially honing their comedic skills.

Brevity is the soul of wit. Creative people, when given limits, have been able to make amazing works. The Triple-A games industry in recent years and the movie industry has shown that just because you throw money and the latest tools at something, doesn’t guarantee a quality product. I’m not saying that creative individuals can work under any conditions, or that some visions don’t require access to certain resources. There’s a big difference between being fully constrained in your creative ability, and being placed in a box and finding alternative solutions because of  your creative limitations. You can’t make a movie on a budget of zero dollars. Finding new and creative ways to reach a goal, and refining their work (sometimes for the betterment) so that it can meet the limitation, but still hold it’s quality. It’s a staple of creative people to find a new effective way when presented with a challenge. I’m also not saying that extravagant resources can’t be used to further the quality of a work; just that in order to do that it must be used effectively, and must not lose sight of the core principals of what makes a work good.

A great example to look at when discussing brevity’s effects on the creativity process are British sitcoms. Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not saying the production’s brevity is the sole reason for their quality. Like anything, there are many contributing factors of production, and no single factor defines it. But we’ll be taking a look at this aspect because of its relevance to Vines.

First, British television runs for a much shorter time; usually six episodes a season and anywhere from 1-6 seasons. Whereas American  sitcoms are producer oriented and focused on lasting longer than 100 episodes; milking it for all its worth. American sitcoms are usually handed off to a group of writers, by its creators, for this curation process. With British comedies, the scripts are almost always written and developed by one or two people. The BBC is also publically financed so there isn’t the need for gigantic return on investments like with American networks. And while the shortness of British comedies means that the creative capacity of its creators won’t be wrung out like a sponge, it’s still a limit none the less. You have a short amount of time, so you better make it meaningful; every episode needs to count. Parts of the script need to be cut, reworked and refined  down to fit the time frame. It is essentially cutting the creative fat. This focus on a smaller amount of episodes also means a more holistic narrative is told throughout the show’s entirety. Whereas American sitcoms are long, strenuous, and dry experiences. The focus on a small creative team (writers) is a good one as it allows for more synergy, fluency, and communication. It allows them to be connected and understand each other better; which in turn allows for a more collective and focused result. All parties know what the other is thinking and wants, and allows that to take place since there won’t be that much conflict of interest. Whereas with big writing staffs it’s harder to communicate, link up, and cooperate. Eventually, it’s all just static. If you’ve ever tried to work on a school project with six people versus working with one person, you know the difference. If you’re only given so much space you need to make each moment great, and advance the plot in a meaningful way, or else you’ve just wasted a sixth or more of your show that season.

Secondly, British television doesn’t show advertisement in the middle of the show. Allowing the flow and story of the episodes to remain fluent and constant. But it also means that the writer has to fill in those extra air time minutes with quality content that works with the rest of the show.

Third, there is the simple fact that British shows consistently have smaller budgets. Forcing the creators to think of new and inventive solutions to achieve their goals.

So how does this relate to vines? Well, Vine is nothing but brevity. The entire platforms selling point is its six second limit. This limit is a challenge to creative people, almost a dare in a sense. Sure it’s easy, as the observer, to look at vines as something just slapped together. While this can be said for some of the “in-the-moment” funny vines, the same can not be said about the sketches. What we don’t see when we watch these vines is the failures and the work just to get it right. We don’t see the work on the pace, rewriting, shortening, delivery, the refining process. We don’t see all this input, just the final product. The six second limit forces it’s creator to extreme focus on the comedic sketch. They only have six seconds, so they need to get it just right. The six seconds forces them to constantly focus on timing, delivery, display, inflection, pronunciation, speech. The six seconds not only makes them focus on the time, but the delivery has to be just right in order to be funny. The tone, pronunciation, and timing all have to be incredibly precise because of this extreme pressure. Essentially training themselves to be better at these vines as time goes on. The results show, these people get more famous and funnier as time goes on and they learn to better use these aspects and become more familiar with them.

Author’s note: when I talk about comedic timing I am referring to the use of rhythm, tempo, and pausing to heighten the comedy. While here I’m defining delivery as how pronunciation, inflection, and tone are used in speech and action to enhance the comedy. Even though, yes, they’re traditionally used to mean the same thing. It’s simple and brings a lot of clarity to the discussion. Plus, to me, it doesn’t feel quite right to say “delivery” when referring to “timing”.

As stated before, comic timing is the use of rhythm, tempo, and pausing to amplify the comedy of a joke. The use of pacing is especially crucial in making a vine. Go too slow and you get cut off; go too fast and you risk the vine not being comprehensive or coming off flat. The use of delivery has to fit just right with the timing and the six second requirement, or else the whole vine comes across as flat. Rhythm is interesting for a vine. Where most other mediums allow for change in rhythm over a long period of time, the rhythm in a vine must stay constant throughout its entirety. The rhythm, while doing this, must also cooperate for what’s going on the vine and with the six second limiter. Same goes for the pacing, it has to match the content in addition to the six seconds. It’s a type of constant farce if you will.

The real outlier here is Pause, commonly referred to as Beat. The Beat is used, most of the time, to allow the audience to fully grasp what has happened or been said, fill in blanks of thoughts, and form expectations (usually to have them defied). I used to think this lack of beat made it easier, but then I realized it’s another form of brevity. The six seconds creates a lack of pause in the vine; cutting out all of the grasping, blank filling, and expectation forming the audience would do in any other medium. This makes the creator put a greater emphasis on the other aspects of timing and delivery so that it can make up for this lack of beat, and deliver the joke and concept better.

What helps with this lack of beat, is the loop feature.The loop feature helps the audience better understand the joke if they didn’t get it the first time.

This constant reimagining and reworking are what I think makes Vine such a good training ground for comedians. This constant pressure and focus on the mechanisms of comedy trains a type of comedic sense, even if the creator is not acutely aware of it. So maybe, possibly, this knowledge and training can translate well into other mediums. What do you think, can Vine help make you a better comedian?

If your reaction to Reddit’s banning of FatPeopleHate was “we’re next,” please examine your choices in life

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As most of you are no doubt aware, Reddit recently banned the incredibly shitty FatPeopleHate subreddit for harassment. Naturally, members of Reddit’s many other incredibly shitty subreddits — including KotakuInAction, the main GamerGate hangout on Reddit, and of course the Men’s Rights subreddit — are afraid they’ll be next!

“The new age of reddit has begun,” wrote one worried Men’s Rightser. “Admins ban /r/FatPeopleHate (and 4 other subreddits that the admins fail to disclose) for “harassment”. It is only a matter of time before this subreddit gets banned too.”

Meanwhile, in KotakuInAction, a “megathread” about the bans has garnered more than 1100 upvotes and inspired nearly 500 comments. 

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The Problems With Assumed Knowledge

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I’ve been writing for almost two years now. In that time, I’ve written short stories, chapters of books that may never be finished, poems, research papers, but above all, I have written many essays. These essays focus on a range of topics including culture, social issues, media, philosophy, and ideology. I love writing. Writing these essays is something I’m passionate about. Though there has been one problem I, and I’m sure many others, have always come across when writing essays. I’ve always had trouble with Assumed Knowledge.

Assumed Knowledge is all of the wisdom, intellect, logical prowess, and of course knowledge that the author assumes is in the general reader’s repertoire. This is a crucial aspect for how authors communicate certain ideas to the reader.

Writing essays about topics is not inherently hard. Depending on the topic and focus, an essay’s difficulty can change wildly. But usually my essays present a type of argument or an analysis of something with a focus on ideology. So usually my essays present a complex idea, and this means I regularly have to wrestle with writing for the prerequisite/assumed knowledge I assume the general person possesses. There’s constant debate with myself over how to structure sentences, word choice, and what to/not to explain. There are two components of Assumed Knowledge I struggle with when writing these essays: Tangential Information and Logic Expression.

Tangential Information is any information relevant to the topic at hand, but not exactly a part of the central focus of it. Side information, if you will. It’s information not exactly at the core of the essays discussion but is important in understanding the point and perspective as a whole. It also aids in providing context and components possibly necessary for full understanding. Tangential information needs to be kept under control though. Too much tangential information and you run the risk of having your work become unfocused, incoherent in its overall communication of the idea, excessively long, over-explaining, and influent. Possibly resulting in the reader being lost, misunderstanding the overall message, or needing to reread. Implement too little Tangential Information and you risk your full concept not completely coming across to the reader; resulting in confusion and misunderstanding. So every essay is a battle of what I should and should not say and how short or long I should make each statement.

Logic Expression is exactly what it sounds like, explaining the logic behind something. Some statements don’t need any explanation because the reader will just click with the A-B logic and understand (like this statement). It’s not so easy when you’re talking about more complicated ideas. Ideally you may not want them to necessarily agree with, but at least understand the concept you’re presenting. The more logical intricacies your concept has, the more parts you have to explain. With a lot of parts in a complicated concept you can’t just say it and expect people to click on your wavelength, you have to explain why it is that way. So when you’re writing these essays it’s like a little kid in your mind constantly going “why, why, why”. You try to explain it, but even your explanation requires some form of prerequisite knowledge, of things too numerous to count, to understand. You try and write the most bare-bones logic to explain it, but even that doesn’t feel like it will properly explain things 100 percent. It doesn’t ensure understanding. Then you begin to wonder if you can explain and use pure logic behind a complex idea. There are even balancing problems with Logic Expression.  Write too much and your reader may feel patronized to, or get bored and fed up because you’re over-explaining and/or taking too long. Write too little and your concept won’t click, will be misinterpreted, and not understood.
So as much as writers would like to explain all of the incredible little details to the smallest of thought processes, we can’t. Either because of time’s sake or because the logical ball is in the reader’s court. Truth be told I don’t know if you can ensure understanding, but that shouldn’t be a discouragement. Sometimes it just comes down to a clash in the thought process; as the reason why a reader doesn’t understand. If you think your statement doesn’t fully explain things, you should go into detail. But just know that sometimes you may not be able to guarantee the effectiveness of your work, and some ideas can only make it across through discussion with the reader. It’s really all a balancing act between a quality of the essay and a lecture.

What Makes a Western a Western?

Recently I’ve been enjoying westerns, and not your traditional westerns. Not Westerns like Lonesome Dove, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, or Tombstone. I’ve been watching Trigun, Cowboy Bebop (Link to some actual bebop: link), True Grit (The remake, and yes I’m cheating a bit), No Country for Old Men, and I’ve started my file for Wild Arms. Needless to say, I’ve been on a western kick. But in all of this hype I started to notice something. Even though all of these works are drastically different from each other, they all share a similar feel and the distinction of “Western”. So I asked, the almost childlike question, “What makes a western, a western”?

At first glance, this is a simple question, but upon further inspection it’s a lot more complicated. Like asking “What is truth?”, “What is good?”, or “Who is God?” there is a lot of depth to that question. To even try and begin to answer this question, we need to do some analysis.

First, we need to talk about genres and how “Western” fits into them. There are general genre classifications like action, drama, horror, and comedy; that describe the focus of the narrative and plot. Then there are world descriptive genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, and western. Except Western isn’t like any other world descriptive genre. Most of the world genres describe the world based on capabilities, settings, and technology. Western, on the other hand, describes sets of attitudes, ideologies, personalities, philosophies, and themes in a work.

I say this about Westerns because of the inconsistencies in the style of the works, but the same Western feel occurring throughout all of them. To many, a Western is a simple concept; cowboys, Native Americans, desert(ish) landscapes, outlaws, horses, and revolvers. Except that’s not necessarily true in defining a Western. After all, No Country for Old Men is set in a modern setting, dubbed a Contemporary Western, with almost none of the standard classifications above, but is still considered by virtually everyone to absolutely be a Western. Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Outlaw Star are all anime, sci-fi, westerns, but westerns none the less. Wild Arms, the game I mentioned earlier, is a Fantasy Western. Taking into account all of these Westerns, you see the traditional description isn’t reliable.

I’ve gone into detail earlier about what distinguishes “Western” from other genre classifications. As to the specifics of those aspects are, I don’t know what they are. What specific attitudes, ideologies, personalities, philosophies, and themes make a Western, a Western? I asked and restated the question, not because of some impending answer I was going to give you, but because I genuinely don’t know. So… what do you think classifies a western?

Is it the lawlessness and the battle between chaos (evil) and order (good) within that lawlessness?

Is it the small yet large actions of a few individuals in a seemingly huge, indifferent, and harsh world?

Is it the focus on people trying to just survive in a harsh and indifferent world?

Is it the focus on ambitions in the presence of resource scarcity and economic conditions?

Is it the rugged, rough, anything goes, and no fucks attitudes of the people?

Is it the constant monetary battle between self-interest and morality?

An Analysis of The Lego Movie

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A few weeks ago PBS idea channel posted a video about The Lego Movie. In the video, Mike talks about how The Lego Movie argues for free and open culture. The video got me thinking about the movie and the act of interpreting media in general. I started to think about how all of the different little components of The Lego Movie (no joke intended there) allowed the movie to be so open to interpretation; then I wondered what I took away from the movie. I remembered my feelings towards the different characters, the situations, the final scene (I cried and you did too, you liar). It’s been some time since I’ve seen the movie and this has allowed me to give the movie a wider perspective, and give my feelings at the time a source. That is how I came to my interpretation. I’m not saying other interpretations are wrong, quite the contrary, I agree with Mike’s interpretation in the video. This is just one of the interpretations I took away, personally, from the experience once I put the movie under a microscope. I also wanted to bring up Idea Channel’s video because some of the ideas I’m going to talk about I did not form on my own (link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs4dCNO4A84), so I wanted to give credit where credit is due.

I see The Lego Movie as an allegory for the artistic cultural struggle between art society, capitalist production companies, and the everyday, off the beaten path and little artists. The new and different artists basically. Lord Business is obviously a symbol for art in a curated capitalistic fashion. Wanting to maintain things as they are and not wanting to change, in addition to having things be in perfectly structured order. While I see the Master Builders as a symbol for high art society, who say they encourage creativity, but ironically hinder it.

High art society has a history of pompousness, and with good reason. The high art society has repeatedly condemned new and emerging genres of art. To this day, a lot of the society will not accept digital art and graffiti. Roger Ebert was vehemently opposed to the idea that video games could ever be considered art. In galleries, they still display works they deem “true art” when on sites like Pixiv and DeviantArt, there are thousands of works the general public would agree are much better. Instead, they display four brush strokes on a canvas. Hyperbole, but you get my point (actually no there has been displays that are literally just that).

I see wild style as an art student. She is a rookie with a large, taught, admiration for all of the artists before her, almost to an obsessive degree, and accepts nothing outside of what is considered great by the Master Builders. The Master Builders represent high art society. Both are a form of group that congregate in the higher end of social ladders, very selective as to who’s a member, they arbitrarily determine what constitutes as creative and great, it’s seen as incredibly prestigious, and only accepts what they decide fits an arbitrary criterion of art.

In the movie, the Master Builders consistently shoot down and berate Emmet’s ideas, because they don’t meet their criteria of great and grand. Even though, at one point, one of Emmet’s ideas saves their lives. You can interpret this tension between Emmet and the Master Builders as a parallel to the clash of high art society and many forms of new and different artistic expression like graffiti and digital art. Ironically, this dismissal by the art society sends the message that only certain works possessing certain attributes can have the title of great or creative. Instead of encouraging creativity high art society and the Master Builders stifle it by limiting people’s options. Instead of encouraging the creation of ideas through all spectrums, they limit the scope of creativity. It’s ironic because this is what Lord Business and major production companies are doing.

As Mike pointed out in the Idea Channel video, Lord Business represents major production companies, and the Cragle is Copyright law as it stands now. An excellent case study for this is the music industry. Over many decades, the music industry has settled on formulas for what constitutes good music. The music industry curates songs with very similar beats, chord progressions, melodies, themes, lyrics, and rhyming patterns. Constantly shoving out monotonous songs one after the other. You almost can’t turn on the top 40 with thinking “hey this actually sounds just like this one song from a couple months ago”. This is the way industries stifle creativity through influence, but the other way is the one Mike mentioned (again, go watch the video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs4dCNO4A84). Copyright is strict and long, very long. Creativity is the creation of original ideas, but it is also the rearrangement, altering, and modification of older pre-existing ideas (this is represented by the Lego bricks in the movie). Your work, if it contains a similar idea can be brought down upon and you could be potentially sued. Granted there are some ideas so general and old they can’t be copyrighted; like the revenge plot can’t be copyrighted (I would hope). Yet, it just needs to be similar enough. Say for instance you are making a movie, and you really like how Star Wars tells the audience the back story in the upward back scrolling text in the beginning. So you mimic it in your movie with the lore of your own world, but otherwise the rest of the movie is your own idea. You could be sued. Let’s say when you’re growing up you listen to a lot of metal music. Megadeth, Iron-maiden, Slayer, Metallica; you love them all and they inspire you. Then let’s say you want to start your own metal band, and you’re definitely influenced by the bands you listened to growing up, but overall it’s your own music. Someone listens to one of your songs and says “hey this one sliver of chord progression sounds very similar to X song”. You could be sued and get in a lot of trouble. I think you’re starting to get the point by now, but I really want to hammer home the concept that influence and the use of pre-existing ideas are not exactly copying and not really even a bad thing. Cartoonists and animators are probably the most prime examples of using pre-existing ideas and altering them to your own. They constantly grow up practicing drawing by mimicking the styles they like and eventually this develops into their own styles, but you can always see slight hints at their influences. This has been the case with many artists and animators, some of which have gone on to make fantastic work using these styles.

This is how large companies and copyright represent aspects of The Lego Movie. Lord Business represents large companies in the sense that he is not concerned with the creative endeavors of others. Instead, Lord Business is concerned with a selfish self-serving interest and goes about doing that by keeping the worlds tightly neat, and only allowing things to be produced that are formulaic and adhere to form. The Cragle, as Mike points out, represents copyright. By not allowing pre-existing ideas to be free flowing, copyright is essentially gluing ideas in place, just like how the Cragle doesn’t allow for the free movement of Lego bricks.

It’s very ironic that these industries condemn works that exhibit very clear influences and ideal use when they do the same on a much larger, curated, capitalistic, and formulaic scale.

So the summarize; I believe the master builders represent the stifling of creativity by the condemning of works they deem unfit and setting goals based on arbitrary standards. Industries stifle creativity by curated influence and the putting down of artists that “infringe” on their Copyright. Both dictating strict ideas of what constitutes as “good” content.