An interview with Mark Watts on the resurgence of his father’s work
Alan Watts on YouTube? Absolutely! This is a dream come true for students of Zen philosophy who can never quite get enough of the pioneering work done by the late Alan Watts during the 60’s.
Alan Watts – On Nothingness
Interpretive Works and a ‘Film Projects Forum’ are being encouraged by the late philosopher’s son to bring ‘Beat Zen’ and ‘Square Zen’ to a wider, more contemporary audience.
“Let the mashups begin”, says son Mark Watts
There are animations, collages, remixes, dubs, and other creative film-maker applications featuring the voices and images of Alan Watts with his unique blend of Eastern mysticism. Mark calls them ‘interpretive works’.
The interpretive works are legitimately sponsored and encouraged by curator, and publisher Mark Watts (alanwatts.org), who oversees the large collection of material accumulated in the Alan Watts archive. This collection includes manuscripts, audio lectures, artwork, music, and television programs.
How it all happened
One day I stumbled upon a YouTube channel purportedly run by one ‘MarkWatts02’ and wondered “Could this really be Alan’s son?”. Indeed it is. Our online interview was conducted through YouTube mail and has also been posted by Mark on the official website ‘alanwatts.org‘
Having done my ‘Alan Watts Homework’, I sent a set of questions to Mark. In true Zen fashion, I suppose – three months later… I finally got Mark’s reply.
“Personally I view every authentic response, regardless of the cultural framework, as vital to his work, and I’m very encouraged by the creative response that has sprung up around YouTube. Back when I was studying film and photography in the 70’s this forum would all have been a dream come true.”
Alan Watts – a brief background
‘Alan Watts is one of the most widely read philosophers of the 20th century. In addition to his 28 books, Alan Watts delivered hundreds of public lectures and seminars the recordings of which have been preserved in the archives of the Electronic University, a non-profit organization dedicated to higher education.’ (quoted from source)
For years and years the only access we had to the popular teachings of Watts was to read the books, which honesty I find a bit ‘dry’ – compared to listening to him speak (which is a real treat) or listening via cassette or on public radio.
These audio programs were broadcast regularly, sometimes for years, as a weekly feature. Videos clips and television programs are fewer and were much harder to obtain. The best were recorded by KQED in San Francisco.
Alan Watts for the masses
I asked Mark how this recent outreach of encouraging people to re-mix his father’s material came about.
“It came out of the Southpark project, ‘Alan Watt’s Theater ‘ originally and the enjoyment of authentic responses to my father’s works that have been appearing on YouTube and elsewhere. I’m not talking about someone posting a picture or two over our audio, but about the sincere dialogs that result when one takes his ideas in and they resonate and something fresh comes out.”
South Park’s Trey Parker
“Trey Parker, one of the creators of South Park, was raised in Colorado, where his father attempted to teach him Buddhism. Now, years later, Parker and his animation pal Matt Stone have brought to life the teachings of Alan Watts, the comparative religion expert and philosopher. Under the FurryCarlos Productions banner, the two tapped two animators from
South Park Studios, Chris Brion and Todd Benson to keyframe three of Watts’ recordings…” (quoted from source).
More Questions for Mark:
1. What are the copyright restrictions on the use of the material? (Creative Commons; Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License?) Do people need permission to re-mix, mashup, etc.and should people contact you?
‘We are posting clips on the alanwatts.org site with the intention that they be available for non-commercial creative use. All we ask is that you let us see what you’ve done, and let us post the end product on the org site as well if we like it.’
‘If you have a commercial project, idea, or want to use something else specific, just get in touch. We’re ready to make things happen. The material is still copyright protected, so we aren’t too happy when people just grab things and post them as we’re trying to keep the energy focused around our sites to create a sustaining community for these works.’
2. Why YouTube? It seems to be very ‘low-key’ — are you promoting the fact that your father’s video programs are available for free on the Internet? (It was a pleasant surprise to me)
‘Yes, we list our favorite YouTube posts in the Public Video section under Multimedia on the alanwatts.org site. http://www.alanwatts.org/public/video We will ask YouTube to take down unauthorized postings of audio and video that have no creative components.’
Note: Mark himself runs a YouTube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/markwatts02
and has so far posted the very rare and insightful “Conversation with Myself” (complete in 4 parts).
Alan Watts: A Conversation with Myself – Part 1
3. How did you get involved with GPGDS / Reflected Flicks http://www.youtube.com/user/ReflectedFlicks
? Who else are you collaborating with… Trey Parker? Any comment about his work?
‘Peter sent us a link to the piece he’d done with Radiohead’s piece Videotape and we enjoyed it. Since then we’ve tried a few things with him, and they all worked out well. So now Peter is working on a full length documentary film with us. The SouthPark project was a few years back, but we hope to do a few more segments when the film goes into production.’
4. Which of your father’s audio lectures seems to be the most popular over the years?
‘There are too many to pick one, but “Coincidence of Opposites” which was the basis for “Music and Life” is always well received.
5. What does the future hold for Mark Watts?
In addition to playing around with my father’s works I have a few projects I’m involved in, one having to do with ‘rock art; and Native American cosmology (turns out they were way into pattern language in a slightly different vein than the Chinese) and another involving ecological architecture. So these will all continue to move forward together as there are many internal connections between the projects.
Our other website is alanwatts.org, and a new alanwatts.com site is in the works.
Alan Watts and Environmentalism
“Environmentalism has long been considered an issue that one can choose to accept or not; as if, the environment is something ‘over there’ that we can choose to engage in it if and when we want to. The reality is we ARE the environment, and the environment IS us; the environment is not separate from the human issue.”
This certainly sounds like what Alan Watts has been trying to tell us all along through Zen philosophy. Let’s see if we can bring this utterly important principle to life, and to action on the planet through Alan’s ongoing media mixes.
Book: Still the Mind – An Introduction to Meditation (Mark Watts)
Audio: Alan Watts Podcast
Video: The Electronic University Presents a Mark Watts Production in Collaboration with Reflected Flicks – Alan Watts meets Giant Pandas (older demo)
RADIOHEAD Videotape: Music Video- Alan Watts Mix
All things Alan Watts: AlanWatts.org (audio, video, books, film project, etc.)