Friday, June 17, 2011

YouTube creativity

Fridays are for creativity. Videos of Mary Wollstonecraft abound across the internet, especially in the vicinity of YouTube. A month ago we saw The Rights (and Wrongs) of Mary Wollstonecraft, an original play produced in February 2009 in North Carolina. Let's look today not at professional productions, but at amateur creations. Amateur is not a euphemism for "shoddy"; it comes from "love", as do -- as should -- works thus labelled. IGNITE is amateur in the very best sense: passionate! They chose to host their videos not on YouTube but Vimeo, so that's where you'll see me squashing MW's 38 years into 300 seconds.

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Sassy Gay Friend (12:30) was uploaded just yesterday, by a group from the University of Notre Dame. (Courtney Biscan, writer; Ciara Dineen, Henry Gens, Lindsay Dun, producers; all four, actors; sound technician, nobody, unfortunately.) The narrator introduces the set-up: "This is Mary Wollstonecraft. She is about to kill herself because her lover Gilbert Imlay left her. This fate could have been avoided if she had a sassy gay friend." MW is caught at various crucial moments in her life, e.g. trying to commit suicide, at which point the 2011 gay guy (with long orange scarf) discovers her and says things like, "What? What! What are you doing?!" and "Stop  being so melodramatic, Mary! You need to move on." It turns out that the frame is lifted from Second City (OR "is an homage to" OR "is a riff on", take your pick), who have many episodes of their "Sassy Gay Friend sav[ing] tragic characters in fiction by giving them a healthy dose of honesty and a scarf to cry on". He also calls most of the female characters, and sometimes himself, "a stupid bitch". There's merch, and a Tumblr meme. (My fave: You're up all night looking at the Sassy Gay Friend Meme Tumblr when you should be studying for your final?  What? What? What are you doing?)

I also enjoyed the fun exuded by The Mary Wollstonecraft Theme Song (3:10). Don't expect high production values; just admire the energy of Becky Marder and Dorothy Li, playing air guitar in their bedrooms.

Some videos are class assignments for American high school and undergrad students -- I won't try your patience with them, except to say that the ones I sat through were generally well-written but painfully executed. It's clear that MW's story and philosophy have captured and intrigued some students; you hear it in their voices. Alas, for others, she is but an academic requirement. Skipping lightly over those....

We come to some with better production and more focussed attention. One format is the illustrated slide-show, accompanied by the student speaking; there may be music, instead or as well. There's a tribute to MW from the point of view of Mary Shelley (1:03) and MW goes Through the Looking Glass with Lewis Carroll and Alice (1:00), both from John Watkins: brief but clever. Another step up is Three Minute Philosophy: MW by Katrina M. Strauss, a cartoon rush-through, concluding with "Silly novels were the only choice of knowledge presented to women, until far smarter women like herself could come along to despise them." (Warning: "This is a an amateur movie for a group project in an English Theory class and is not part of the Three Minute Philosophy series." So that means that this too is a direct reference to another artifact of pop culture I'd never heard of.)

There are some more formal academic projects that I'll leave aside for now. 

Here are two videos to close with, both in the graveyard of Old St Pancras Church, where Mary was married and buried. (We visited in one of our Wednesday walks.) The first is a piece to camera (5:21) by an academic, the political theorist John Keane, who talks learnedly of liberty and history, in what appears to be a series on Londoners. (His Wikipedia bio says he grew up in Australia, the knowledge of which adds a frisson to the picturesque sprinkling of snow on the ground.)  The second (3:24) is by a small family of American tourists, with a ten-hour lay-over in London, and a burning desire to pay their respects to "Mary Shelley's mother". I have a feeling  I spotted David Shepherd on Twitter at the time, and tried to get in touch, to no avail. Anyway, here they are in the church grounds, sketching at the beginning of their Grand Tour.

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