Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Critical Analysis of Racist Post-9/11 Web Animations

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Critical Analysis of Racist Post-9/11 Web Animations

Article excerpt

Within a day of the September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacks in the United States, amateur animations, depicting the humiliation, torture, and death of Osama bin Laden, Taliban, and other Arab and Muslim characters began appearing on U.S.-based Web animation portals such as About.com's Political Humor site and Newgrounds.com. Narratives centered on shooting, bombing, torturing, and humiliating the Arab characters. Hastily created and aesthetically crude in execution, the pieces had thin plots and relied heavily on anti-Arab representations to depict meaning and sentiment. One such animation, The Fingers of NYC (Stitch, 2001), was posted on September 12, using a still photo of the Statue of Liberty and a crudely drawn animation of Uncle Sam shooting an Arab man in the head after the Arab whimpers in a faked accent, "Oh, please, but I like America!" This and other like animations appeared to be not much more than the scribblings, almost akin to graffiti, of a few emotionally raw individuals with Web access, expressing the immediate confusion and rage many U.S. citizens felt in response to the 9/11 attacks.

During the days, months, and years that followed 9/11, dozens more anti-Muslim and anti-Arab (1) cartoons were posted to Web animation portals by amateur and freelance animators, indicating a trend rather than mere oddity. As of June 2005, the author's effort to comprehensively count publicly accessible, free-of-charge, English-language anti-Arab animations on the Web yielded 106 cartoons. Viewings of the animations climbed into the multimillions at one portal alone by June 2005 (Newgrounds, 2005d). As the U.S. invasion of Iraq was threatened and finally commenced on March 20, 2003, additional anti-Arab plot possibilities became a part of the animators' grab bag, including the anti-Hussein narrative. Several pieces emerged as Web "classics," enduring in their Web-based exhibition spaces for 4 years or longer as the U.S. War on Terror and the U.S.-Iraq war continued. What is striking about post-9/11 anti-Arab animations is the similarity of their imagery and narrative themes to those used in prior animations, despite markedly different production, distribution, and exhibition methods. In particular, they appear to remediate theatrically released World War II racist animated propaganda films developed and distributed by particular U.S. animation houses in collaboration with the U.S. government. The rapid generation and exhibition of the post-9/11 animations, seen in parallel with the gradual removal of like animations in the traditional U.S. mass media channels of commercial film and television since the end of World War II, indicates vacillating attitudes about the social acceptability of governmental and corporate use of the animated form in the service of racially charged wartime propaganda.

This study explores the ways in which post-9/11 anti-Arab Web animations situate the Web, and the new media technologies that support it, as a cultural space that can be used by animators to recirculate and commercialize images involving race and racism during wartime. The theory of remediation, as developed by Bolter and Grusin (2000), is employed to frame the discussion of the cultural logic of the Web as a remediated and remediating space in which the new medium gains currency through homage to older forms, and simultaneously older media forms maintain currency by incorporating elements of the new. These Web animations are considered as a group in a comparison of production, distribution, and exhibition circumstances during World War II and today. In addition, a catalog of narrative themes is provided, along with critical analysis of the animations' metanarrative. That post-9/11 anti-Arab Web animations were created by amateurs and freelance animators speaks to a shift in how animated wartime propaganda has been deployed over the years since the advent of the animated film form. In the absence of corporate-produced and government-influenced wartime animations, such as were produced and exhibited in the United States for the World War II propaganda campaign, these violent, vengeful, and racist Web animations are notable. …

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