Words. Dan Illic
Next year I will officially have been a “comedian” for ten years. In that time I have found there is rarely a simpler comedy treat than swapping the faces of two people in a photo, especially if they’re a mix of gender or race or whatever. The more diverse the better. This is the cleanest and simplest negation. The fundamental building block of a joke.
My favourite in recent times was a promotional still for the James Bond film Skyfall. Judi Dench’s sour intensity was swapped with Daniel Craig’s blue steel of avant garde perplexity. Hilarity ensues. People emailed it, posted it, shared it, zipped it, unzipped it, liked it, tweeted it, and perhaps even maybe… just maybe…Google+ed it.
Because that sh*t cray.
It’s a man dressed as a woman, and a woman dressed as a man. Get it? There’s nothing to "get" really. It’s pure incongruence, much like a dog on a skateboard, or a newsreader holding a ream of copy paper during a broadcast.
It’s not satirical. It doesn’t “say” anything in particular.
It’s just funny. Because it is.
As my friend Andrew says there is nothing funnier than a man in a dress. Unfortunately for those who dislike The Footy Show, technically Andrew is right. That’s why some people watch in vain to see the slight slither of ball sack from the rising edge of a man in a mini skirt. Why not? Strangely it’s the most cerebral thing on that program.
Luckily for the creator of that Bond image, its origin was probably outside Australia. It was most likely one of the creative petri dish forums of the internet, like a Reddit, a 4Chan, a Something Awful or something else where like-minded creative people spend their days mashing up culture to tell stories and mostly, make each other laugh. And sometimes, when the laughs are good enough, we mere mainstream browser bashers get a taste of the humour that rises to the top.
Like a good writers’ room for a TV show, it’s the battle of ideas in these forums that generates some of the funniest bits of humour on the net. There’s no profit motive, there’s no business plan, there are only ideas designed to titillate an audience of keyboard culture makers.
But, the origin is important for no other reason than the complexity of the copyright laws of that nation. Under Australia’s fair dealing laws there is nothing to stop the creator of that image from being chased by lawyers threatening nasty legal proceedings. Being charged for the creation of pointless comedy is something I know a bit about - people have wanted to sue me over the years for my jokes.
I’ve received cease and desist letters for a parody of Tourism campaigns. I’ve had parodies I’ve made of the ads of TV Industry Bodies taken down (then after investigation, reinstated). I’ve suffered the full brunt of the Australian media for daring to suggest that their handling of the Beaconsfield Mine disaster was less than appropriate. At times it felt like the whole world was out to get me for a harmless joke. Thankfully, Australia’s fair dealing laws protect the kind of work that I make. Under fair dealing for satire and parody, as long as the jokes I make stick it to the man, I can use a reasonable amount of other peoples’ content to do so. However, to make a simple joke that doesn’t really say anything, like putting Dench’s face on Craig’s body, the law says I can’t be that stupid.
I say. The law is a little bit bullshit. Sometimes, believe it or not, comedians have to be stupid. But it’s not just us comedians - it’s anyone who is fluent in photoshop and shares their stories over the internet.
For much of the 20th century storytelling has been commodified. Ever since the wax cylinder came into being, companies have been packaging and selling stories. Films, records, books, television, if it can be shrink-wrapped and distributed, it can be sold.
As technology advanced, so did storytelling. Eventually the professionalisation of storytelling meant that amateur storytellers were outclassed by their well-equipped professional overlords with their cinemascopes, explosions, beautiful chins, water tanks, computer generated graphics, botox and cocaine habits.
Gradually storytelling culture became a sophisticated money-making system of distribution chains and consumers. Entrenched for a hundred years, the art of telling a story was co-opted into a business. That’s the way it works in any industry - company makes product, tells customers about it, customer wants product, company sells product. Its channels are defined and myopic.
But now thanks to democratisation of technology and platforms for sharing, the market for anyone with the tools and skills to tell stories is now flattening out. Everyone carries a HD camera in their pocket. The distance from storyteller to audience is as short as it has been since the campfire was invented.
Prior to the last century of commodification the storyteller was an amateur, not in opposition to someone who is a professional, but someone who engages in the love of an art. Believe it or not, before culture became commodified in the 1800s with the wax cylinder, people used to tell stories to each other, people used to sing to each other, people used to gather in public places and debate, share ideas, comment, criticise, and yes even troll each other. Campfire yarns, music, theatre, plays, skits, jokes, ideas were all at once transient works to be remixed and spun by the storyteller. An original idea is a misnomer - every idea is built upon hundreds of others.
What we are seeing, thanks to the internet, is a return to the culture of people telling their own stories, and sharing their own songs. The campfire is now global. Two generations have now grown up with this as the normal way of things. They make stories and consume stories. And it’s competitive - they want to share their idea the fastest, they want their idea to be the best, they want their concept to spread, which means building on the work of others, transforming the ideas of others, twisting the narratives, chopping a head off here, pasting a hat on there, putting text at the bottom, drawing a cock at the top - all in a veracious and intellectual way.
This kind of story telling in Australia isn’t legal but it happens anyway.
Why? Because no-one knows it’s illegal, and no-one cares. It’s simply the language of the internet. Two generations of people have grown up with the internet, and laws have yet to catch up and serve them in the right way.
The digital divide isn’t about nations, it’s about generations. Young people are more connected to other young people in the countries where they live, compared to older people. And the digital divide between young and old is growing.
Fair dealing criminalises digital culture, thus fair dealing discriminates against two generations of young people. Therefore fair dealing is anything but fair.
Fair Use however is totes good. I’d create a LOLcat to demonstrate, but that would just be stupid, and in this country thanks to fair dealing, stupid is illegal.