The politics of animation: Drawing 'frogs' out of the well

By Thanh Nguyen, TN News

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Drawings used in a short film on the ethics of eating dog meat Drawings used in a short film on the ethics of eating dog meat
At 22, Luu Thi Quyen looks like the quintessential girl next door with short hair, a pair of glasses, a checked knee-length skirt, and a pink T-shirt.
Her friend, 23-year-old Nguyen Dang Khuyen, looks like someone who would spend most of his time in a library or on a computer.
Despite their looks, however, the two Hanoians are strongly aware and quite vocal about what is going on around them, which is unlike the obliviousness of many of their peers.
In the past few weeks the duo has made the headlines with its campaign calling on youths to join the public in urging the government to publish its spending plans before finalizing them.
The two have been hailed for approaching such a political issue in an unconventional yet obviously effective way: using art to make the message youth-friendly.
However, it is not the only thing that has brought the duo, known as Ech Phu Ho (Building frogs), into the limelight. More than a year ago they started making a name for themselves among netizens with Youtube clips that have attracted tens of thousands of views.
The clips, each 6-8 minutes long, are on different subjects and in an unmistakable style: graphic and colorful and heavy on cartoons and teen slang.
Even when discussing hotly-disputed issues, the duo's presentation is casual, funny even, while remaining serious and clear.
In a clip on LGBT, in just over eight minutes, the two brief their viewers about the community in a simple and easy-to-understand way.
They explain the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity even as people still have difficulty understanding that gay men are not necessarily effeminate or that lesbians do not always dress and behave like men.
So far the group has released six video clips featuring subjects like cow milk, masturbation and dog meat.
The topics were chosen because they were often viewed with prejudice by the public, Khuyen, the group's cartoonist, said.
When many people support one side of an issue, he and his friend would explore the other side and then present both sides, he said, adding that their list of potential topics tops 20, including premarital cohabitation, traffic police, and prostitution.
Their clip about dog meat, instead of taking sides, presents the viewpoints of both dog lovers and dog-meat eaters and their counterarguments. It talks about the cultural differences that have led to similar conflicts over eating habits in many countries.
"Our clips are not meant to deliver our own opinion, but different aspects of an issue," Khuyen said.
Once people understand the different sides to a problem, the former student of Hanoi Architecture University said, chances are they would not judge or hurt others who do not agree with them, or act differently.
"With knowledge, people tend to treat others with respect and kindness," Quyen added.
Frogs hoping for better life

Nguyen Dang Khuyen and Luu Thi Quyen, co-founders of Ech Phu Ho (Building Frogs), a Hanoi-based social media youth group. Photo credit: Ech Phu Ho.
Some may call Khuyen and Quyen naive for believing that the world can become a better place because of a bunch of video clips.
However, one cannot deny that it is fresh and motivating to meet such young people who have such a strong sense of justice and fairness in this judgmental society where people are quick to attack anyone who does not agree with them.
"It is heart-wrenching that people are ready to hurt others, even when they do not fully understand a problem," Khuyen said, recounting the "vicious" comments about LGBT people and dog meat he has read on social networks.
He was also upset by news reports about homosexuals being attacked and even executed by their government and mobs beating people to death simply out of suspicion that they stole their dogs.
So he founded Ech Phu Ho hoping he and his friend could help raise people's awareness and make them "more accepting and forgiving".
"At the time I did not have a clear idea about how and why I was going to do it. All I knew was that it was something I needed to do," Khuyen said.
But, why is it "building frogs"?
Quyen said the group's name was inspired by the common saying "frog in a well", which means someone is like a frog sitting in a well that thinks the world is restricted to what it can see from the well.
"Ech Phu Ho takes on a mission to help you broaden your well," the senior student at Hanoi's Foreign Trade University said.
Asked about their personal stance on the issues, Khuyen said: "We respect different opinions. We support anything that does not violate human rights."
For instance, while people have been talking about whether or not to legalize prostitution, Khuyen said, he cares more about the fact that sex workers are discriminated against in Vietnam, getting criticism and punishment, while their customers go scot-free.
"Singers work with their voice, throat and lungs, while workers work with their hands. So what's wrong with prostitutes working with their vagina? It's their body; they have the right to use it however they want or like."
Regardless of their passion and strong beliefs, the youngsters are well aware that it is not easy to change someone's mind.
"Everyone has their limits of acceptance. But, once people understand a problem better, things will be less tragic and life will be better."

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