‘Tea and Consent’ written by Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess, produced by Blue Seat Studios

Tea and Consent is a public information animation which is used with permission by Thames Valley Police to address and clarify issues of sexual consent as part of the Consent is everything campaign. This simply rendered Flash animation draws a parallel between sexual consent and the intuitive etiquette associated with offering someone a cup of tea.

In essence you can offer someone tea but it’s not acceptable to pressure or force him or her to drink it. The elegant metaphor behind the short film originates from a blog post written by the feminist blogger Emmeline May, a.k.a. Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess.

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When exploring this work in the context of animated documentary it is important to recognise that this film does not comfortably fit with Annabelle Honess Roe’s 2013 definition of the genre, which follows a few rules:

Firstly, is it animated? Yes.

Secondly, does the animation reflect an imagined world of an auteur or ‘the world’? This is not as clear. The film primarily addresses a hypothetical scenario, which raises an ethical sexual dilemma. This dilemma is explored explicitly through a metaphor. It is also a distillation of the controversial social and political ideologies of the feminist writer, Emmeline May.

However, I don’t believe these points suggest the film is about an imagined world. The issues addressed clearly reflect a very real problem, while the ideology that is represented considers a majority perspective of our Western society and is supported by the legal system. It is also fair to suggest that theoretical or allegorical devices are a key part of the animated documentary language and help shed light on reality rather than an imagined world.

Finally, was it the intention of the filmmakers to create a documentary? I believe not. I would argue that it was the intention of Blue Seat Studios and Emmeline May in making it, and of Thames Valley Police in their use of the film, to change behaviour rather than observe and capture it.

Tea and Consent sits more comfortably amongst the state sponsored animated propaganda of the mid 20th century than contemporary animated documentary discourse: ‘Animation has historically been used as a tool for illustration and clarification in factual films… [It’s advantage over live action] led to an ever greater uptake of the medium by the US government in the Second World War.’ (Honess Roe, 2013)

Nonetheless, animated educational and propaganda films were an essential evolutional stage in the development of contemporary animated documentary and clearly still have a useful role to play.

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While the issue of consent is often received as a grey area topic, Tea and Consent proposes that it is a simple one. The analogy is powerfully robust. This very strong foundation facilitated the exploration of ambiguous and horrifying sexual conduct with incredible clarity and humour. It has not however been disseminated across the Internet with universal praise.

Comments on the film’s Youtube page have now been suspended, but I can testify that I was startled by the sexual aggression and anti-‘political correctness’ sentiments expressed in some of the comments posted previously. Sadly Youtube has a reputation for providing a platform for the vitriol of anonymous misogynists.

The simplistic Flash animation lends itself to easily rendered parodies. The two I’ve seen awkwardly contort the tea/consent analogy either for ‘comedic value’ or as a counter argument. The first version pushes the concept to an absurd extreme, suggesting that it is never safe to drink tea without lawyers present. The second explores an ill-conceived comedic inversion in which a “slut” wants tea in all scenarios. Neither of these spoofs deserves viewer hits so forgive me for not sharing their links.

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My bias is clearly highlighted by the fact that I feel naturally suspicious of the people who are offended by this film. I wonder if those who are most threatened are also individuals who would benefit most from its message. I suspect this argument is a little reductive and extreme.

The Internet is a breeding ground for such conflict after all and I resign myself to this. I neither have the energy or the skill to engage and attempt to change the minds of those I mistrust, unlike the makers of Tea and Consent.

Notes:

Honess Roe, A. (2013) Animated Documentary, London: Palgrave Macmillan. p.5&9

Animation courtesy of Emmeline May at rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com and Blue Seat Studios. Copyright © 2015 RockStarDinosaurPiratePrincess and Blue Seat Studios. Images are Copyright ©2015 Blue Seat Studios.

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‘A is for Atom’ by John Sutherland

Well, what you might expect from a US 1953 public information film about nuclear power and weaponry: simplified science and a rather narrow political view!

This came from Public Domain Motion Pictures on Youtube, a ‘free channel devoted to Public Domain, Open Source and Copyleft movies, TV shows and serials’.

‘The Story of Cholera’ by Yoni Goodman and Global Health Media

Animated public information film ‘The Story of Cholera’ explicitly depicts methods of transmission, prevention and treatment of the bacterial disease in a simple and informative manner. The commissioning body, Global Health Media, explains the film ‘follows evidence-based guidelines, has been field-tested, and reviewed for accuracy and content’.

The entire sequence is strikingly utilitarian, breaking the conventional codes of pace found in mainstream film and television in order to emphasise the crucial learning points; for instance twice the viewer is left lingering on an image of a someone washing their hands properly. This film does not pull any punches; diarrhoea and vomiting is frequently depicted and explained in plain descriptive language.

Largely in black and white, colour is used to illustrate the presence of the invisible bacteria. As Western viewers we might take for granted how public health campaigns and detergent advertisements have helped us visualise how disease is spread. At the film’s resolution colour seeps into the black and white palette. This visual metaphor, despite it’s incredibly simplistic symbolism, is suitably optimistic.

The absence of lip-sync indicates one of the crucial functions of this film. Already it has been dubbed into nine languages and there are more in the pipeline. Global Health Media claim the film has been screened in 175 countries around the world. Animated Documentary wishes the campaign further success.

“Ek Anek Aur Ekta” by Vijaya Mulay

Here, a glimpse into government-sponsored short films of 1980s India. Doordarshan, the national broadcaster, regularly screened this popular film for kids. The title translates directly as “one, many and unity” and the film is designed to spread the message of unity in diversity among children.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8DZUKQClvc

Director Vijaya Mulay, now 91, reveals something of the commissioning process in this interview:

http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/the-cartoon-that-taught-indians-the-meaning-of-many/