Derek Pell - Cultural Revolution run amok. Anarchic, turbulent, a vast sea of spam, spies, hoaxes, viruses, porn cults, hacker claques... Copy that!
Written as a warning, the book is framed as a rare surviving copy of a book of endangered species from England's Victorian period. The illustrations serves as puns and wordplay combine with nostalgia, pastiche, and found materials to serve as an absurd, but nonetheless less meaningful warning on extinction and humanities role in the environment."
Before getting into a discussion of the theoretical and parodic elements of this book, it seems to me necessary to investigate the book's primary objective of providing practical reference for the novice user of Adobe LiveMotion. Pell's easy to navigate guide includes information on how to sketch out designs for Web pages, how to integrate the use of Photoshop and Dreamweaver with LiveMotion (a critically useful skill for this type of software), how to employ toolbox, vectors, palettes, and LiveMotion objects (which Pell refers to as "Capitalist Tools"), how to use readymade shapes, styles, and textures in Adobe's Library, how to add and mix audio files and, of course, how to animate words and texts. Pell begins by describing how Adobe LiveMotion is superior to Macromedia Flash. While Flash uses a frame-based Timeline, LiveMotion uses video graphics logic in which you can layer objects equally and, consequently, manipulate each object separately. Separate handling creates an environment in which two or more animations, running on separate timelines, run simultaneously. In other words, LiveMotion allows for an animation within an animation. (However one problem with Flash that Pell identifies is that it reads each frame as one object and hence, can only manipulate one object per frame.)
Other useful topics covered in this manual include the "White Bones Demons" and the "Proletarian Preloaders." The "White Bones Demons," a reference to Jiang Qing, Mao's fourth wife, act as a sidebar warning label on the program's traps and pitfalls. The chapter on preloaders goes into great detail explaining preloaders - a nested animation that runs while your main animation downloads - in ways that are both efficient and interesting. The examples of animation, many of which are provided in glossy color pictures, allows the animator to see clear examples of what she is capable of producing with this program. Although some of the links provided in this book, including the titular www.littleredbooks.com, are no longer active, those that are active are neatly categorized into such subjects as Flash sites, image sites, and Lit and Art E-Zines. The book concludes with a bibliography that covers not only books on animation and website design, but also Chinese politics, Maoism, and absurdist literature.
Throughout this instruction, Pell makes countless references to, as well as provides countless images of Chairman Mao. Pell explains himself in his introduction to Little Red Book:
But you may ask, is it proper, that is, correct Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought to publish a computer book filled with satire, puns, and visual mischief? Of course it is - especially when the goal is to revolutionize the computer book industry by defeating all big fat feudalist manuals and replacing them with svelte, absurdist guides bent on Web domination. And as the Web continues to evolve and revolutionize our lives, I think it's fitting that I resurrect the obese ghost of Mao Zedong to spur us on to bolder experiments, so that we may create great and glorious images and engaging, immersive, interactive animations for the Web. Web Workers of the World, Unite!
Pell begins by explaining the `revolutionary' capabilities of Adobe LiveMotion. Because Adobe LiveMotion allows a user to delete designs, Pell refers to this as purging "anti-Maoists design ideas." The system itself is revolutionary, in that it brings motion graphics to the codeless masses and destroys those systems that do not allow coding by "the people," allowing for the potential to revolutionize animation. Pell describes the program as inciting a revolution among animators:
Word of the new weapon spread like wildfire through cyberspace, igniting the imagination of rebel artists and designers around the globe, inciting downtrodden geeks and weary workers to rise up and cheer the New People's Interface (NPI). A better Mao's trap had arrived, and the ranks of the People's Army swelled. The beta was quickly branded a `Flash-killer' by the People.
Pell uses the image of Mao throughout his instruction to invoke the practice of image manipulation employed throughout the Cultural Revolution. The myth of Mao Zedong was circulated through the use of Mao badges, those (re)imagined images deployed and distributed by the Chairman. Mao badges were `pre-web design' images whose ubiquity resulted in the worldwide dissemination of Mao's image and proved instrumental in sustaining Mao's power by acting as agents of indoctrination. Like the Mao badges themselves, Pell insists on taking the recognizable image of Mao Zedong and completely reinterpreting it. Pell produces, alters, and invokes the symbols, myths, and values of the Cultural Revolution, resignifying these patchworks of symbols and producing new meanings for them in absurd contexts.
Pell's use of the image of Mao does not seem solely absurdist (although certain images of Mao, including ones in which he is used to peddle deodorant, Uncle Ben's Rice, and Red Lobster are clearly so) and arbitrary here but, rather, seems driven by the identity he is trying to construct for his audience. Pell is asking his audience to take collective action; he is telling us to forge an alliance of revolt against corporate culture using LiveMotion as a tool (the fact that this software is itself a product of corporate culture is one Pell seems to ignore). Pell's readers are supposed to oppose corporate culture and their identities are supposed to be partially defined by this political struggle (a clear victim of Pell's assault is the Microsoft Corporation; "Defeat Microsoft now!" states a character in one of his animations).
The manipulation of images, for which the program is used, is itself symbolic of the fluidity of image, myth, and identity that Pell sees as the state of the World Wide Web:
The Web is the Cultural Revolution run amok. Or, if clichés are your cup tea, it's the Wild West. Anarchic, turbulent, a vast sea of spam, spies, hoaxes, viruses, porn cults, hacker claques, glittering litter... It's a cosmic supermarket tabloid gone berserk.
Language also becomes part of Pell's project of manipulation as he instructs "Liberation Animators" to animate words and take the static nature out of text, making the destruction of the signifier also part of the artistic project:
We've created a couple of animations that have effectively subverted text by transforming just object opacity and position, but that's only the tip of the iceberg - imagine the possibilities with stretching, skewing, rotating, and deforming type.
Pell defines himself as an artist coming to this project, "not as a technocrat or geek." He is a neo-luddite and a subversive, one whose sensibility is shaped by absurdists and avant-garde literatis. This book provides tools for the rebel in a language that the rebel can understand and enjoy by appropriating the technocratic nightmare in order to claim corporate tools for the artist, not the capitalist or the programmer. Pell goes on to state, "I began my life as an artist working with papers, scissors, and spray adhesive. Being self-uneducated, my medium of choice was collage". Pell is asking artists to take up these new media technologies in order to disperse their art and their anti-establishment beliefs.
Hackers and programmers are described as bourgeois because of their specialized knowledge and they are defined by Pell to be anti-art, while "Web workers" (read: animators) are described as lowly in opposition to programmers who produce software. When Pell asks that his readers use a minimal amount of code, he adds as an afterthought, "Hey, I didn't mean to scare you back by using the word code. I'm not now, nor have I ever been a code junkie". Adobe LiveMotion is opposed to Macromedia Flash, in that Flash becomes a prime example of a tool that is unworkable by the masses of artists, of one that gets caught up in the hands of "code-snorting geeks" and has a "big, steep bourgeois learning curve."
If by literary "prostitution" one refers to making a living by helping readers "get off," then Derek Pell has been an active “member”; (so to speak) in good standing of the world's oldest literary profession since the heady days of the late 60s, when he left a brief stint at Chicago's Art Institute and began publishing the first of his scandalous unclassifiable text-and-collage works, which were soon quietly circulating among discriminating readers of magazines and journals. By the late 1970s Pell’s “Doktor Bey”; books began to appear from commercial houses. These works—which included his first major meta-pornographic book, Doktor Bey’s Book of Strange Sex—began to attract for Pell a devoted following among readers whose taste in text ran towards something a little more kinky, transgressive and playful than the kind of linearly organized, missionary-positioned, slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am experiences they endured at home with traditional realism.