Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

14 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Capitalism Five Ways, Animated


What smiling has to do with personal redemption and the economic outlook.

Is RSA the new TED? During the past year, the London-based Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (RSA) has burst onto the scene, offering a steady diet of videos created with a TED-like formula. They’re short. They’re animated and visually snappy. And they’re substantive too. But while TED is all about bringing the inspiration, RSA videos tend toward critique. Take the four videos below. Though varied in focus, they all circle around a common theme — the flaws running through our contemporary capitalist system.


First up, Daniel Pink, the bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, makes the point that traditional motivation schemes — namely, bonuses — rarely achieve their intended results. Research repeatedly finds that the bigger the bonus, the worse the performance. (Hello CEOs.) So what does motivate us? The desire to be self-directed, which Pink distills into a trifecta of success: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


In the United States, we’re all about positive psychology. Optimism is built into our DNA. But if you ask Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the bestselling book Nickel and Dimed, she’ll tell you it’s not such a good thing. In short, positive thinking keeps getting us nickeled and dimed.


Slavoj Zizek, one of today’s most influential philosophers/theorists, picks up where Ehrenreich leaves off. Reworking Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, or that strange relationship between money making and personal redemption, Zizek gives you this observation. Increasingly, modern capitalism tries to blur the boundaries between making purchases and doing social good. We’re made to feel like we’re creating good karma every time we buy. It’s a bit of hoodwinking that keeps us happy and spending, and our eyes off the ball.


And then to pull this thread along a little further. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, authors of the bestselling Freakonomics, dig into economic research that shows this dark reality: On the economic field, there’s no such thing as altruists. Players that look altruistic are greedy in the end.


What caused the 2008 financial crisis? Many have assumed that the capitalist system somehow malfunctioned. Credit default swaps and liar loans – they piled up and caused an otherwise good system to go down. But David Harvey, a long left-leaning social theorist and geographer, takes things a step further. The crisis was built into capitalism itself, he argues. It was part of capitalism’s internal logic. And, with that, we get the most penetrating critique.

All of these videos are excerpts of longer lectures, each running about 30 minutes. You can watch them in full here: Pink, Ehrenreich, Zizek, Dubner/Levit and Harvey. And when you do, you’ll really see how well the medium enhances the message.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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03 SEPTEMBER, 2010

ThoughtBubbler: Visual Storytelling for What Matters


What a pig that can’t walk has to do with mental pollution and the DNA of kindness.

Last week, we looked at The Beast File‘s brilliant infographic storytelling.

Today, we turn to The Smart Bubble Society — a wonderful nonprofit motion-graphics studio promoting social justice, self-education and awareness about critical issues through stunningly animated motion-graphics shorts called Thought Bubbles.

As humanity progresses, cultural shifts affect our individual thought bubbles. These shifts change our primary sources of in formation and, today, we live in a world where entertainment and distraction have seduced us.”

Sample their brilliant brand of visual storytelling with these three Thought Bubbles by thinkers who peel away important layers of issues that matter.


Adbusters editor and activist Micah White takes a somewhat extreme but nonetheless thoughtful approach to an increasingly important issue in the information age: Just what are we filling our minds with?

Tragically, with the changing meaning of pollution, we’ve become increasingly concerned with the contamination of our external, natural environment, while ignoring the desecrations of our internal, mental environment.” ~ Micah White


A few months ago, the healthcare debate sparked some of the most heated, volatile conversations in American history, both around the oval table and the dinner party table. Here, John Greene‘s now (in)famous discussion of the American healthcare system comes to life in a visual narrative that only adds to its impact.

It’s the inefficiency of our socialized medicine that in the end makes healthcare so much more expensive than it is anywhere else in the world. Is healthcare a privilege or is it a right?” ~ John Green


Amy Krouse Rosenthal is part bestselling children’s book author, part modern philsopher. In this Thought Bubble, she touches on Western philosophy and Eastern spirituality, from market economies to Confucianism, making a compelling case for our inherent propensity for kindness.

At the end of life, at the end of YOUR life, what essence emerges? What have you filled the world with? In remembering you, what words will others choose?” ~ Amy Krouse Rosenthal

And for what it’s worth, we second Rosenthal’s heartfelt recommendation for Born to be Good — it’s truly one of the most important books you’ll ever read.

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25 AUGUST, 2010

The Beast File: Infographic Storytelling


Catholic priests, Greenpeace terrorists, and what Tim Burton has to do with Obama’s entourage.

We have a soft spot for infographic storytelling — from a data-driven take on The Little Red Riding Hood to animated infoviz for kids to an infographic breakdown of web history. We’ve recently discovered a wonderful Australian program, The Hungry Beast, whose series The Beast File hits right in the middle of this sweet spot — part modern muckraking, part typographic animation, part data-driven storytelling. Sadly, Hungry Beast got pulled from the air in April, but we’ve curated five fantastic episodes to immortalize its infographic legacy.


In the past 50 years, some 30,000 people in 25 countries have reported abuse by Catholic priests. The Beast File takes a critical look at a serious problem that has been well-documented yet unresolved in over 2,000 years of Catholic church history.


Hungry Beast pulls back the curtain to probe a bit deeper into the world’s premiere purveyor of “Don’t be evil” philosophy, from the Big G’s impressive media portfolio to their 187 patents and the many subtle ways in which the search giant has penetrated our daily lives.


Controversial environmental activist Paul Watson was among the most influential early members of Greenpeace, but was notoriously axed from the organization for supporting strategies of direct, radical action that conflicted with Greenpeace’s philosophy of nonviolence. Though his work was pivotal in enforcing marine regulations against illegal whalers and sealers, The Beast File nails Watson’s aura of controversy by calling him “one man’s freedom fighter, another man’s terrorist.”


MDMA, or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, was synthesized by accident in 1912 and enjoyed a long career of illicit use as ecstasy. Because of its reckless recreational use, MDMA was quickly pulled from the world of medicine and banned as part of the war on drugs, but doctors continued to campaign for its use in medical research, uncovering some evidence for the drug’s efficiency in treating PTSD and anxiety disorders.


A job consisting solely of keeping track of throat lozenges may seem like the kind of absurd occupation you’d encounter in a Tim Burton film, unless these are Obama’s throat lozenges. Then it becomes a matter of national security — and the very non-fictional job of one man on the president’s 500-person entourage. In this episode, The Beast File introduces us to some of the more curious portable White House staffers that go everywhere Obama goes.

And is it just us, or did the voiceover lady slip a Bushism in there with her “nucular” pronunciation?

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