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Porn

May 19, 2010

Several people have sent me the trailer for this Batman XXX: A Porn Parody that is making the rounds, and a few have suggested I take up my sword and lead the charge. What’s interesting is that some assume I’d be leading the charge against it and others assume I’m all for it, but despite that 180-degree difference of opinion, both sides seem to think I have a sword.

Okay, technically, I do. Remember that “shoe fund” I started years ago with money I no longer waste on comics? I’ve used it to acquire some serious movie props over the years, including (the in-joke of all time for Cat-Tales readers) a pair of hero swords from Batman Begins. Oh if Mr. Didio’s stockholders only knew. I mean seriously, primo memorabilia with a documented provenance does not come cheap. I realize they’d only have my word for the fact that the money was diverted from comic purchases, that every penny of it would have gone into their coffers if Didio & Co. hadn’t screwed the pooch so completely on Batman and Catwoman. But c’mon, look at the amount of time and creative energy I have put into these characters over the past 9/10 of a decade. Don’t I look like one of those people who keep the comic shops in business? And, as I’ve stated many times, I’m not a Marvel gal. So you do the math.

Anyway, point is, I do technically own a sword or three, but I can’t say I have an opinion on Batman XXX to bother unsheathing one. I admire their cojones in putting out a press release for it. That’s not something fair-use dwellers normally feel comfortable with. But that’s about it. I thought I might use the opening to talk a bit about fair use, but come on. If you clicked on a blog entry called PORN and got a dissertation on copyright infringement, I think you’d be justified in slapping a bait-and-switch tag on this entry. So let’s talk porn, just bear with me if I take the occasional detour into the dry stuff. It will get back to the Bown-chicka-wow-wow momentarily:

First: I am not a lawyer. I did, however, have an uncle who was a member of the Pennsylvania Bar and passed on to me the only true thing you will ever read about the subject on the internet, the one thing that all of the hangers on, support staff and friends of the practicing attorney never quite get: any time a lawyer speaks in absolutes, they are on the clock. If Action X is absolutely illegal at all times, in all states, and under any circumstances, if Person Y is absolutely within his/her rights and all culpability falls on the other party, that lawyer’s meter is running. Off the clock, there is always a trialable issue, a question of fact for the jury or judge to determine, a grey area or a mitigating factor that indicates, at the very least, it’s time to challenge the established precedent. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s the nature of the beast: if everything actually was as cut, dried and never-changing as the meter-running advocate pretends, there wouldn’t be two sides to argue. Not only would none of them have a job, there wouldn’t even be a need for the process they’re all a part of.

So let’s dispense with this notion that copyright is gravity, and let’s take a short break to cue up the bump-and-grind soundtrack, because you were all patient for that last part. Now then…

DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., owns Batman. (Bown-chicka-wow-wow…)

I don’t. (Bown-chicka-wow-wow…)

The kids running around in their backyard right now playing Justice League, they don’t. (No music here, there are kids playing. Pretend we’re talking about the census until they’re gone…)

The couple cosplaying Batman and Catwoman prior to making love in their own bedroom, they don’t own either character. (Bown-chicka-you get the idea…)

And the makers of Batman XXX, they don’t own the rights to anything either. So what is this “ownership” exactly, and how do we reconcile it with this thing called the human imagination and the way it responds to storytelling?

(Yes, this is where the porn comes in. Really, trust me.)

First, stories are meant to capture our attention and excite our imagination. So the kids playing in the back yard and the couple roleplaying in bed are, bottom line, using DC’s products in the way they are meant to be used. It worked, imaginations are engaged and running wild with what they have been given. And even though some copyright holders may be unaware of it, that is absolutely what they want. It’s the reason Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are still going strong after decades when Farthest Star and The Gray Prince are not. Enforcing your rights as an “owner” is a tricky business in this arena, because it’s not like somebody trespassing on your land to fish in your stream, shoot your deer, or eat grapes off your vines. Just consider two shampoo simple extremes:

Of course LucasArts is going to go after a virtual world offering a complete roleplay environment when they’re gearing up to launch their own official MMORPG.

Of course too, they’re not going to touch Randy picturing Leah in the gold bikini when he’s trying to get off. That’s between his ears, beyond their control, and none of their damn business, thank you Captain Obvious.

So let’s start adding stuff and see when it becomes their damn business… Can Randy bring his girlfriend into this process? Can he ask her to call him Han? Can he ask her to actually wear a gold bikini rather than just imagining her in it? Can she add silks to the bikini and braid her hair? Can a third party participate if everyone is a consenting adult? Can that third person just watch if that’s their thing? (BTW, if at any point you’re googling copyright law to find the answer to these questions, you need to call your credit card company right now, get your limit raised and go buy yourself some perspective, some common sense, a sense of humor, and a good therapist.) What if Randy and his girlfriend are into the virtual worlds and make a private area where they can do this same thing with avatars that look more like Han and Leia than their pudgy middle-age bods will allow in person? Where exactly is the line between OF COURSE SHUT IT DOWN and OF COURSE, IT’S NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS? Even in these extreme, absurdist scenarios, that line is a slippery little sucker and it keeps dancing around.

But wait, we’re not done yet! There is still fair use to discuss, which is what I do (Don’t leave, we’ll get back to the porn shortly). I criticize DC Comics and they way they have consistently mishandled the legends that are an important part of our collective psyche. I say look at this guy who has a track record for making female characters prostitutes, that isn’t someone you allow to establish the origin of a woman’s icon. I say look at his take on heroes in a myriad of other writings, that isn’t someone you allow to write the bible on your hero. I say look at this former writer-turned-editor using the bully pulpit to trying and insist his characters into importance: mandating plotlines that eviscerated where the story had gone naturally and organically in order to force relationships, both romantic and adversarial, with his own creations. I say look at that editor’s successors piling degradation upon degradation on certain characters in order to punish the fans of those characters for not accepting a new direction despite a full court press of manufactured hype. I say that these people have abdicated their responsibility as caretakers of our legends and are not fit to be their custodians. That’s one woman’s opinion, and the right to express that opinion in whatever manner I feel will be most effective is the essence of what fair use is about. It’s protected speech precisely when the opinion expressed is one the copyright holders won’t like.

Which brings us back to the porn, because it brings us to The Streisand Effect, which I have to believe is what Batman XXX is banking on. Basically, you file a cease and desist or a DMCA, and rather than making the offending thing go away, you propel it into a stratosphere of fame and recognition that even Superbowl ads can’t always deliver. The most recent episode:

Ralph Lauren had a new ad out with an impossibly skinny model in it. As Boing-Boing put it, “Dude, her head’s bigger than her pelvis”. The ad was highlighted on PhotoshopDisasters, as an example of (we really hope) bad Photoshopping. However, Ralph Lauren filed a (bogus) DMCA takedown notice on the post, which has since been removed.

That’s the end of it, right? Post removed, story gone. Ha! BoingBoing has now covered the story, as has the Huffington Post, TechDirt and others. Ralph Lauren filed a DMCA complaint against BoingBoing, but their ISP (Canada’s Priority Colo) knows what they’re doing and didn’t remove the post. They spoke with BoingBoing about it, and decided (rightfully) that the post can stay.
–thestreisandeffect.com

The BoingBoing blogger was then invited onto the Rachel Maddow Show to discuss American companies that respond too quickly to these DMCAs and the troubling implication of a practice that puts the burden of proof on the accused and not the accuser. And of course, every time this discussion escalates or takes a new turn, there’s that picture again displayed for a new and larger audience.

Is there a wrap up to all this? I’m not sure… Maybe it comes down to maturity. Cut free of all the job titles, jargon and dollar signs, there is an inherent childishness running through these stories. In Ralph Lauren’s behavior with the photo, in Denny’s when he became editor, and in DCs when their new direction didn’t fly. In The Lion in Winter, Queen Katherine says “A nation is a human thing. It does what we do, for our reasons.” A woman finds it hard to love the son she was carrying when her husband took a mistress. She favors the other boys over him and the father overcompensates, favoring the other way – and when that man is a king, the rivalry that ensues brings civil war. Today, corporations have more power than most nations, and what was true in 1183 hasn’t changed: they do what we do for our reasons. Some of these guys, they really need to grow up.

Chris Dee
www.catwoman-cattales.com
cattales.yuku.com

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