'Truthiness a la Taiwan' videos called into question

The Taiwanese news animation shop responsible for the animated Tiger Woods car crash video and other “news-in-motion” gems has been slowly reinventing the news wheel and there’s no end in sight. Next Media Animation – a 300-person shop run by Hong Kong transplant Ben Wong and specialising in cute and quirky animations of breaking news events – is set to conquer the internet.

But wait! A local English-lanuage newspaper in Taiwan recently took the animation house to task for stretching the line between truth and fantasy.

“[Next Media Animation] has become famous — or should that be infamous? — across the world for its often quasi-fictional depictions of big news events,” the China Post said in an unsigned

It then slammed Asian media mogul Jimmy Lai’s animated operation for following Yankee TV comedian Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” dictum that “truth is what we want to believe” and not
necessarily the truth.

“In that respect, many of [Lai’s] videos are nothing more than than truthiness a la Taiwanese.”

Was the China Post saying that Jimmy Lai lies?

Lai, a suspender-sporting and savvy media man, was born in communist China and raised in British-controlled Hong Kong. He now splits his time between China-controlled Hong Kong and free and colourful Taipei. Inside China proper, he is ‘persona non grata’ due to his political views, and he cannot even visit his old hometown to pay filial piety respect to his ancestors there. He would be stopped at the border. No free-thinkers allowed.

Lai’s news-in-motion animation mantra? Filling in gaps in the news for people around the world. His modus operandi: short, quirky animated news stories using CG “art” to depict the latest headlines.

Sometimes you have to use your imagination, sometimes you don’t.
Lai’s news animation business took off when the New York Times wrote about of the infamous Tiger Woods car crash video, helping it become a viral internet sensation.

Sometimes cultural gaps come into play, according to Mark Simon at Next Media. When an animation of Sandra Bullock was commissioned by an American TV network, Bullock ended up more like Korean-American pro golfer Michelle Wie than the Hollywood star.

Artistic licence? Sure. One animation explaining a spat between Yankie late-night TV hosts began quietly, before the celebrities morph into superheroes who begin beating each other with chairs.

Simon has a good way to explain the mother ship: “We are the History Channel on speed!”

Some call this Maybe Journalism – “a best guess at the news as it might well have been, rendered as a video game and built on a bed of pure surmise”, as Noam Cohen at the New York Times put it.

Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing just can’t seem to get enough of this stuff, blogging in her signature gushing manner: “If only this news org would offer an entire 24-hour channel of this stuff! I don’t care that I can’t understand the dialogue in Chinese – all I need to know is in that sweet, sweet CGI.”

The NMA videos now come online with English subtitles, tapped in by Western expats in Taipei.

One punter put NMA’s genius this way: “This is, by far, the greatest act of journalism in human history. I wish they made one for the Hindenburg disaster.”

Meanwhile, the unsigned editorial in the China Post wondered out loud “where the line between news reporting and gossipy sensationalism should be drawn.” Opining that NMA’s videos “frequently stray close to, if not beyond, the boundaries of good taste,” the newspaper pointedly attacked Lai’s team for making a 33-second AV (animated video) of notorious UK murderer Stephen Griffith that depicted his murder of a young woman “in graphic detail.”

“West Yorkshire police were openly critical of Next’s dubious opportunism,” the China Post said of the Griffith gore, adding that a spokesman for the Yorkshire police said: “This video is in extremely poor taste, totally insensitive to the families, and we have asked that it be removed immediately.”

Take that, Jimmy Lai!

*EyeSee Main picture is from the excellent send-up of Gordon Brown’s allegedly violent temper.