Tag Archives: Animation

Eva Kastelic — Avatar: The Last Airbender, An Example of Pastiche or a Case of Cultural Appropriation

A video essay by Eva Katelic on TV and on animation, one that asks a question worth asking — is Avatar pastiche or cultural appropriation? — and that mobilises a whole array of audio-visual sources and techniques to help provide an answer. Also, great fun to watch.

 

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008)

 

From the anime inspired, bright coloured animation to its bold, yet realistic, fighting styles, I believe that what truly sets the show apart from other kid’s series is its skilful interweaving of varying cultural artistic practices under a single story.

 

The show is set in an alternate universe that is comprised of four nations, the fire, water, air and earth nations. What differentiates this animated world from ours is that certain characters, called benders, have the power to control the elements to their will. There is only one person who is able to control more than one given element and that is the Avatar. The Avatar is destined to restore peace and balance amongst the nations which have been at war for the past 100 years. There is always only one avatar in the world at any given point in time and as soon as one dies the next one is born, this is called the avatar cycle. The next avatar in the avatar cycle is a young airbender called Aang. Aang wakes after being frozen in an iceberg for the past 100 years and, upon awakening, is burdened with the task of mastering all forms of bending to end the 100-year war. The overarching goal of defeating the fire lord remains the same throughout all three seasons. The series is a classic coming of age story which follows Aang on his journey of defeating the fire nation throughout all three seasons. During Aang’s journey the audience discovers the carefully constructed world which the show is set in. We discover the oddly realistic fighting styles, abstract yet grounded architecture and the prominent cultural norms which shape the avatar’s world.

 

The video critique delves into the dialectical tension between pastiche and cultural appropriation within the diverse cultural references of the Tv series Avatar: The Last Airbender. I delve into the show’s incorporation of the style of popular Japanese animation, how the show blends together diverse architectural styles, how the show’s simplification of respected cultural figures such as the Dalai Lama is a case of cultural appropriation and how Avatar’s inclusion of diverse Kung Fu fighting styles is a respectful pastiche to the art of fighting. I conclude with the fact that, although the avatar takes some forms of cultural appropriation, it predominantly celebrates the varying cultural art forms in what can be labelled as pastiche. Prior to delving into a detailed analysis of the show I delineate what exactly I mean by the terms pastiche and cultural appropriation within this context.

 

Pastiche carries with it a number of connotations, derived back from its Italian origins. In the words of Ingeborg Hoesterey, the opinions of pastiche art fluctuated between positive and negative ones over the years[1]. However, pastiche, in the context of contemporary film has come to hold a positive connotation and this is evidenced by numerous film critiques found online today. [2]  Similarly, the phenomenon of cultural appropriation can be viewed differently depending on the context, however, I view cultural appropriation as bell hooks views the “acknowledgment of racial difference”[3], a hegemonic commodification of the ‘other’ [4]. I outline the inherent juxtaposition between the two and question whether the Avatar series falls on the positive side of pastiche or the negative one of cultural appropriation. The aforementioned is evidenced by Avatar’s anime-like animation style (which celebrates the art of Japanese anime and thus falls on the side of pastiche), the creative adaptation of real world architecture, the incorporation of varying kung fu fighting techniques (both forms of pastiche) versus the simplification of cultural figures such as the Dalai Lama (an example of cultural appropriation).

 

 

 

 

[1] Hoesterey, I. (2001). Pastiche. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[2] CrackerJacked (2017). Pastiche: Great Artists Steal. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpHE7vXE3-A [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].

[3] hooks, b. (2014). Black Looks. Routledge, pp.0-212.

[4] Ibid.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 170 – Ne Zha

 

Ne Zha, a Chinese animated film, holds the record for the biggest box office in a single market (having made over $700m in China), but Mike isn’t that impressed with it, comparing it to the likes of Ice Age. José had a better time, though asks himself why he overlooks some of its more questionable elements, including a rather homophobic running joke that just doesn’t go away. But there’s a certain flair and thoughtfulness to some of its visual design and characterisation that we appreciate, and it gives us food for thought.

Discussing Ne Zha leads us into a conversation about British film culture as it relates to foreign language cinema. It’s not impossible to see foreign language films in Birmingham – though Ne Zha making it to Cineworld, as opposed to the Electric or mac, is notable – but outside London, the kind of culture that European and South American countries have of showing films from other countries as a matter of course in the main cinemas just doesn’t exist here. In going through our list of podcasts so far we see this reflected, a little over one eighth of our podcasts to date being about non-UK/US films, and a number of those thanks to MUBI, the streaming service, rather than cinema screenings. We can definitely do better, and intend to, but it is the case that foreign cinema culture in the UK barely exists.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 120 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

It’s colourful, friendly, packed full of visual energy and wit. It’s also light and just a little forgettable, like a straight-to-video movie that’s made it onto the big screen. But we had a good time and find lots to praise about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed/ Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, Germany, 1926)

IMG_0713

Paul Shallcross, who today played the lovely score he composed for the film, gave an excellent introduction as to why the film has historically been revered as a landmark: the youth of the director, the painstaking mode of animation involving cardboard silhouettes and thin sheets of lead which took three years to complete, how each frame was lit from below and photographed from above using layered backgrounds one painstaking frame after another, how famous avant-garde figures such as Walter Ruttmann, Berthold Bartosch and Carl Koch worked on the film etc. But personally, I always thought there was a reason why silhouette films never took off. It always felt too much like a successful attempt in gaining maximum expressivity from a limited vocabulary; and why bother? The images are delicate and pretty. The story, from the Arabian nights and featuring Aladdin, his lamp, witches, sorcerers, dragons, warriors and princesses — and a setting ranging from the Middle East to China — is exciting and involving. But why not tell the same story using a greater visual vocabulary that allowed more movement and a greater range of expression? Today I got my answer.

I had ever seen the film on a big screen before, and it made a difference. I had never seen it with a mixed race audience, and it made a difference. I had never seen it in a room full of kids accompanied by their parents, and that was the biggest difference of all: they were involved, they understood, they appreciated it. They couldn’t understand the sub-titles but they kept asking their parents what was happening and why (one insistent kid, who obviously couldn’t speak English, had a whole exciting line of questioning for his parents in Spanish from beginning to end). On one level the children understood much less than I; on another they made me see what I hadn’t been able to see before; that a limited vocabulary might not be a bad way of communicating with an audience who doesn’t have a greater one at its disposal.

That’s not the whole story of course; the film has ever been beautiful to look at; the delicate filigree curlicues of the cutouts, the shape of the figures, the rendering of ‘The Orient’, the romantic fantasy of the world created for the film. All have many pleasures (and some dilemmas) to offer any audience.

The event was another success for Flatpack, an achievement best resumed as way of involving local artists with some of the greatest artworks in film history and engaging a wide range of local communities with that work in a landmark location worth discovering or re-discovering, in this case the new Library. May such efforts long continue.

 

Seen at the Birmingham Central Library, 8th June 2014

Birmingham Central Library 8th of June 2014
Birmingham Central Library 8th of June 2014

 

PS:

There’s an excellent piece on Reinger here: https://www.fantasy-animation.org/blog/2018/9/7/the-trouble-with-reiniger