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The Power of Animated Bears

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, December 14 2010

Ari Melber digs into something you might have seen floating around your Facebook -- those animated "xtranormal movies" where cartoon officeworkers or bears explain topics like why you don't want to go to law school or why the Federal Reserve is backing a policy of quantitative easing, the latter of which is the focus of Ari's piece:

The cartoon, drolly titled “Quantitative Easing Explained,” was created in three hours by Omid Malekan, a former futures trader who now works in real estate. Cartoon policy videos have not yet supplanted op-eds, of course, but Malekan’s breakout hit is the kind of political content that could be very influential in a mediascape increasingly driven by video and social sharing. “This is the wave of the future,” Malekan says, heralding the Internet’s power to share “democratized media-making.”

As far as democratization goes, these xtranormal videos are truly incredibly easy to make. About 45 seconds of typing and drag-and-drop plus sixty cents in fees this afternoon produced my little original creation below. Sure, my production is no "12 Angry Men." But Malekan's piece, a seven-minute rumination on monetary policy, is arguably Aaron Sorkin-esque in the amount of detail that it packs in. (It's possible to publish free movies with the xtranormal platform, but adding in additional actors and sets costs a nominal amount.) Malekan's piece is often adorable -- like how he has the curious little bears call the chairman of the Federal Reserve "the Ben Bernanke" -- but he's also advancing a strong view on a public policy matter of real importance right now. And again, it's seven minutes long, but has racked up about 3.6 million views on YouTube thus far.

The founders of xtranormal see part of their mission as empowering regular ol' folk to make visualizations. "xtranormal’s mission," they say on their site, "is to bring movie-making to the people. Everyone watches movies and we believe everyone can make movies. Movie-making, short and long, online and on-screen, private and public, will be the most important communications process of the 21st century." If you can type, you can make an multi-character animated movie. And the record at the moment is showing us that if you do it well enough, people will watch it, even if it stars animated bears.