YouTube’s Inconsistent Standards for Animation Art

Signe Baumane

Award-winning filmmaker Signe Baumane writes to tell me that yesterday somebody flagged her one-minute short The Very First Desire Now and Forever for having “objectionable content” and today the film was pulled from YouTube. What was so objectionable in this short, which we’ve plugged before on Cartoon Brew? A baby innocently squeezing milk from its mother’s breasts.

What happened to Signe’s film should serve as a warning to all filmmakers who choose to use a free corporate service like YouTube to host their film work. But the bigger issue is that YouTube should consider addressing the arbitrary policies they hold towards “objectionable content.” There are currently thousands of videos on their site displaying full-frontal male and female nudity in art, whether it be the work of Michelangelo or Matisse. It’s a slippery slope when YouTube begins passing judgment on what qualifies as art (painting and sculpture) and what doesn’t (animation). If the site’s policy is strictly no nudity, then it should be consistent about it across all forms of art. And if it’s the natural act of breastfeeding that YouTube deems so offensive, then a good first step would be to remove all of the live-action videos on their site featuring woman breastfeeding their children.


  • http://www.jjsedelmaier.com J.J. Sedelmaier

    . . .especially when the YouTube Breastfeeding page you linked is fine showing “Fucking Hilarious Family Guy” episode ?!

  • http://stephansolarchive.blogspot.com Stephan

    Well I haven’t seen the animation, but maybe it implied something else than just breastfeeding?
    And when is animation an artform? Can you just call all animation “art”, or is there a border where you can say “this is art!” or “this is crap!”.

    It’s really hard because between the real art and the crap there is a grey area where certain work is art for some people, and for others not. And I guess this animation wasn’t art for the peeps of YouTube.

  • Chuck R.

    Yes, it looks like inconsistent standards, and I don’t know a whole lot about YouTube, but perhaps their policy is: everything’s kosher until someone flags it. “Very First Desire” stayed up for three months.
    Maybe there are more than a few monitors policing YouTube and their standards vary.
    Maybe Baumane has a detractor out there that targeted her short. Maybe she can just re-post it.
    Maybe someone should try flagging “F-ing Hilarious Family Guy” and see if it gets pulled.
    Anyway, Thanks for the Matisse link. Some really nice stuff there.

  • jim m.

    Why don’t we wait until we see YouTube/Google’s response first before rushing to conclusions about a corporation’s policy towards art?

    Sometimes when I come to this site I feel like I’m watching Fox News.

  • Emil

    Perhaps You Tube’s taste arbiters subscribe to the theory that art is defined by how it is presented. Michaelangelo and Matisse were defined by their paintings exhibited as works of art in museums; animation is seldom shown in such venues. Animation is commercial art, narrowly defined.

  • pat
  • Artisticulated

    “It’s a slippery slope when YouTube begins passing judgment on what qualifies as art (painting and sculpture) and what doesn’t (animation).”

    It’s no slope of any kind. Google freely hosts your content and provides easy access to the viewing world. They get to choose what they will and won’t display. Don’t like it? Go cry in your own room. Better yet, pay for your own server! Problem solved.

  • Alex

    @Stephan: “Well I haven’t seen the animation, but…”

    At which point, you stop typing, then go watch it before wasting everyone’s time with your opinions on something you just told us you have no idea about.

  • http://www.mytoons.com/jessica Jessica

    Bring it to MyToons!! We don’t judge – we only enjoy… :)

  • slowtiger

    Actually this happens a lot to serious filmmakers. Complaining to youtube is useless, they don’t even respond. As long as there’s that handy “flag this video as inappropriate” button, people will revel in censoring.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    I remember that short. I thought it was ok, not the greatest example of animation art, but it definitely was worth watching it.

    Surely there are other free online sites that would gladly host it. Let’s stop treating Youtube as a panacea.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Isn’t there an episode of the Simpsons about this?…

  • amid

    Artisticulated – YouTube’s entire business model is based on user-generated content. As such, the site needs to establish clear guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable on its site. Making arbitrary editorial decisions will, sooner or later, alienate the people who its relying on for content.

  • http://youtube.com/watch?v=LQj8OdE66ck Hasdrubal

    Did they totally remove the video, or did they limit the viewing to only adults who are logged-in? I put up a video with some CGI titties flopping around, and they fixed it so only logged-in viewers could see it. It’s still on You Tube, but it never gets any hits.

    It’s a pitty the Cartoon Brew Films site never really took off. It would have been a good alternative to You Tube.

  • Corey

    I like how something like this is deemed not suitable, but every day on the ‘most watched’ or ‘highest rated’ pages in every category is a video thumbnail of someones’ tits.

    Oh YouTube !!!

  • BigHorse

    YouTube reeks like backed up sewage.

    It’s a perfect example of something with a lot of potential ruined by the idiots who run it and the trolls who inhabit it.

    Much like DeviantArt.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com Richard O’Connor

    If it were live action breast feeding would it get flagged?

    Probably.

    Film is not a depiction of art (which is simple to and not a qualitative term) but art itself. Videos or slide shows of the David or some other sculpture with a wagging johnson hold no parallel to film as creative expression. You draw a false syllogism.

    There is no double standard here. You may not like the standard, but its a fair one.

  • http://justforspite.blogspot.com Gene Hole

    I saw this already, it was no loss, and certainly no art, or at best low art. but that’s not the point. youtube only removes things that are flagged by viewers, and most of those viewers who might be offended by it just don’t come in contact with the large number of objectionable content and thus don’t flag it, but this, as an animated piece would be more likely to come up in their searches for “funny cartoon.”

  • chimein

    Relevant interview with John Mahoney where he briefly discusses how his animated shorts were banned from youtube among other sites:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0xZnWNYkKA

    Ironically, the interview is hosted on youtube.

  • http://exitplanetwhom.blogspot.com gavin mouldey

    not to mention all the live-action (and usually nekid) birth videos on youtube. You can film it, just don’t sit in a room by yourself drawing it.

  • OM

    …The problem is that we’ve become a society of “Anonymous Whistle Blowers” where someone can file a bogus complaint about being “offended” about something, but a) never have to back up their complaint, and b) never be held responsible for filing a bogus complaint. Hiding behind a “defender of morality” mask is nothing more than a troll in disguise.

  • Artisticulated

    Amid:“Making arbitrary editorial decisions will, sooner or later, alienate the people who its relying on for content.”

    You make a good “larger” point. I just don’t think this little vid is a good vehicle to carry that point. YouTube’s bet is that more viewers are alienated by this short than creators will be by its own ham-handed content restriction. It would take a much more mainstream and popular clip for them to bet your way.

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    Whoah! I didn’t know YouTube was such a hot spot for videos of breast feeding. I guess no one can ever open a fetish site or anything— too much competition from YouTube! :) Some of that stuff is far more “graphic”, if you will, than Signe’s animation. Such a strange and wonderful world we live in. Who ever would have guessed stuff like this existed?

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com tony mines

    You shouldn’t assume that Youtube even *has* policies anymore. It was actually the case, just a few years ago that a professional film maker could email Youtube to file a copyright complaint, and get a personalised response. I had something you could call a working relationship with them for a while in this respect.
    But these days there are literally millions of users uploading *constantly* and I guess the process has had no choice but to devolve into being semi-automated. Someone flags something – pull it – period. Lets the goons argue amongst themselves if its unjust, thy can always upload it again with a slightly dfferent name. *That* is the only policy going on.

    I’ve had things wrongly removed and tried to fight it since, but it’s more machine than man, now.

  • jerry b

    You-tube can do whatever the heck they want. Even though they are part of a publicly held company, they are a private entity and can operate by whatever rules (or lack thereof) they want. It’s not censorship – it’s business (maybe bad business). Censorship only occurs when a person is precluded from creating the content in the first place. Distribution, or lack thereof, is not a guaranteed right. Free speech and the first amendment doesn’t allow anybody the right to put their “speech” in my front yard, or anybody’s but their own. So, stop the fussing over “censorship” and go out and create your own distribution channel – better yet, boycott you-tube. That’ll teach ‘em.

  • Dave Levy

    YouTube did Signe’s film a favor on this one. This is great publicity.

  • Gobo

    There’s nothing remotely offensive about this movie. Whoever flagged it for a TOS violation should be ashamed of themselves.

    This is why there are excellent alternatives to YouTube. Use them.

  • http://www.human-dog.com Chris Weagel

    You could also post your video to any of the many other video hosting sites, many of which have more respect for creators than YouTube. Viewers could also diversify their tastes and look beyond One Enormous Company’s Site for Video and Animation. You can even use that One site to advertise and direct viewers to sources outside it.

    There’s absolutely no reason to replicate the rigid, narrow, controlled system of media/tv/film distribution with the web, yet most people seem intent on doing so.

    Video hosting sites:
    http://www.blip.tv
    http://www.vimeo.com
    http://www.ourmedia.org

  • http://swoffordart.blogspot.com/ M. Swofford

    You Tube can’t create “logical” or “consistent” standards for censorship because aren’t any. You Tube’s corporate owners are just protecting themselves from government lawsuits instigated by religio-political operatives who are waging what they call “culture war” against American society. They exploit traditional hang-ups to promote their own agenda, which is attaining more influence and power. The sexual bug-a-boos at issue come from the same place as evil spirits and witches.

    The only decent, civilized policy for a service like You Tube would be to let anybody post anything they like and let the individual choose whther he wants to watch it. But no, we’re still in the Dark Ages.