The Vegetarian at the Butchers’ Seminar

Yesterday I attended a film conference. I found myself at a talk in which filmmakers were advised how to negotiate deals.


I felt sick listening, and wondered why. Monopolies were an unquestioned, underlying assumption. When the time came for audience comments and questions, I said that rights were monopolies, that monopolies prevent the market from functioning, that distributors can be great if they’re not granted monopolies, and that it’s up to us artists to not grant those monopolies in the first place.


Naturally, the speaker wasn’t too thrilled with my comment.


If filmmakers realized monopolies don’t serve them, he’d be out of a job (he’s one of the many professionals who “help” artists by “protecting” them). Later, I came up with a  metaphor (or meat-aphor) that helped explain my feelings: being a Free Culture advocate at a film conference is like being a vegetarian at a butchers’ seminar.

As a vegetarian I’ve learned better than to discuss dietary habits with the many carnivores who are my friends and loved ones. So I’m questioning what I’m doing at these conferences. I wouldn’t walk into a butchers’ conference and advocate vegetarianism. But what would I do if I were invited, because some of the butchers wanted to learn about vegetarianism, if only to marvel at its freakishness?


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

10 thoughts on “The Vegetarian at the Butchers’ Seminar”

  1. “But I made $132,000 with a freely available film, and I have distributors who make money selling a movie anyone can view in its entirety on YouTube!” Wonder what they have to say to that?

  2. “You’re a FREAK!” (Or more politely: “you’re a unique case,” “that wouldn’t apply to other artists,” etc. And to be fair, I know vegetarianism is not for everyone, either.)

  3. The important thing to emphasize is that movies that resonate with a substantial audience are in the minority. That’s the first thing. Sita just happens to be one of those movies.

    The phenomenon of “resonance” is obscure. We don’t know how it works and we can’t predict it. So monetizing it is tough. But just how you monetize it is independent of resonance itself.

    Would Avatar have gotten its humongous audience it Cameron had just given it away? Seems pretty likely to me. Would he (& his backers and other co-monopolists) have gotten their money back? That’s an interesting question & I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer, though lots of folks will pretend that they do and that the answer is NO!

    Let ’em eat broccoli.

  4. I don’t get it. Why did they invite you if they didn’t want your alternative viewpoint?

  5. They DID want my alternative viewpoint! They also wanted the conventional viewpoint. That’s why they have multiple speakers at these things. The difficulty for me as that usually I am the ONLY Free Culture advocate in situations where most people assume the problem is how to control art as though it is property. It takes a toll on my psyche.

    In contrast, when I spoke at Software Freedom Day last year, virtually everyone understood what I was really talking about. It felt great! But of course my viewpoint is more needed at events where people don’t agree with me.

  6. Art just doesn’t behave like property. You can create it, put it out there, and order it to make you a million bucks. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. You have little or no control over that. So whats the best way of dealing with something that won’t follow orders?

  7. I attended that conference in NYC, and I am glad you were there. Sorry to hear it was hard for you. I am a newbie to these issues and this debate, and I learned a lot from your perspective. Remember that there are people in the audience that are listening and learning from you.

  8. Hi Nina…I loved hearing what you had to say at The Conversation…such a relief to have a point of view that wasn’t just a bunch of the same old guys finding new and innovative ways to approach the same old corporate monolith. Just listened to this TED talk from Larry Lessig along your same themes. The carnivores can spout their world view all they want…but the truth is that the world has already changed and you and Larry are the true prophets…


    Warm regards, Shirley T.

  9. I remember reading articles about Sita Sings the Blues nearly a year ago and I’m very excited to see it now (waiting to watch it with a friend). My roommate and I were very keen to start mixing our own dance music and putting it up for free but it was more a pipe dream than something we had the time to do. Sometimes I think media that is available for free is simply better quality because the person making it actually wants it to be good. Speaking along the lines of monopolizing access to media and information in general I was wondering if you’ve heard about FCC losing a ruling about net neutrality regarding internet service providers.

    It almost makes me feel like the world really is ending 🙁

  10. I just saw your movie “Sita Sings the Blues” a few hours ago, I can’t praise it highly enough. It’s intelligent, funny, and very touching. Which is why it ends up on PBS if anywhere on TV. I liked the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, that’s how I read the story myself.

    Monopolies are the underlying unquestioned assumption because most things in this world are driven by the flow of money, and business favors those who have money to begin with and so the development of monopolies. It’s the ‘tipping factor’. Content is provided to distract you while you’re advertised to which is why most content is vacuous — the advertisers don’t want you to think while they’re brain washing you into buying their crappy products.

    People do have a desire to think, to see, to know, to communicate in intelligent, deep ways. But it’s in the interests of business to thwart this because of advertising. It’s my belief that this is a fundamental and inhuman flaw in the capitalist economy — capital (quantity) outweighs value (quality) in successfully marketing products. Trying to argue that in the US these days is like being the vegetarian at the butcher’s convention. At best you escape being on the menu. Good luck!

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