Friday, December 6, 2013

Things I Read This Week: Dec. 6




Friday, November 29, 2013

Things I Read This Week: Nov. 23



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Studies in Musical Ethics: The Strange Case of the Beastie Boys vs GoldieBlox

Early last week a viral video hit the internet, a commercial for an upcoming toy company called GoldieBlox. (I linked to it in a previous Things I Read column.) Their mission is to get girls interested in engineering and to offer an alternative to the girly-codified pink princess toys .  They had a very successful crowdsourcing campaign last year, and I was glad to see they were still around.

The video shows several little girls constructing a pretty elaborate Rube Goldberg device while cheering out an altered version of the Beastie Boys' song "Girls."  When I watched this video for the first time and the first few notes of the song rang out, my roommates were immediately put off until the new lyrics kicked in.  That's because "Girls," a track off their album License to Ill, is a hearty chunk of sexism (check the lyrics out here).  Although I'm not sure about this song in particular, the band has disavowed similar less-enlightened content from their early albums.   The commercial turns the lyrics on their ear by making it a tiny child female empowerment anthem.

If this were just a viral video, something someone created as a response to "Girls" on their own (maybe even written by the little girls themselves!), that would be fabulous.  The only problem is that the video isn't simply a video - it's a commercial.  The Beastie Boys don't license their music for commercials; it was even a point specifically mentioned in Adam Yaucht's will.  When the band's representation contacted GoldieBlox about the use of their song in the commercial, GoldieBlox threatened to sue the band. (Sources: NY Times article (paywall) - Badass Digest)  If only so I can get some mileage out of my media law class, let's look at what GoldieBlox is claiming.

Their suit claims that the song is parody and is covered by fair use laws.  Let's break down the two main ideas of their claim.  "Fair use" is a term thrown around a lot on the internet, usually by folks who either don't define it or don't know the definition.  While it is a tricky term that isn't easily defined, the most basic definition of fair use is the legal permission to use a small excerpt of a larger body of work in a criticism, for educational purposes, for news reporting, or for academic research. There is no set definition for what "small excerpt" is or what exactly constitutes "educational purposes," so fair use is a concept that is malleable from situation to situation.  However, in cases where fair use is challenged, the courts uses a precedent set in Gyles-v-Wilcox that became copyright law in 1976 called the Four Factor Test.  Going by that criteria, it doesn't appear that this is fair use; the song is used for a commercial purpose, the entire melody plays, and it could easily and incorrectly be construed that the Beastie Boys gave permission for it to be used.

If the song isn't fair use, can it at least be protected as a parody of the original?  Parody is a protected form of speech in the US and can possibly supersede the commercial-vs-not-for-profit criteria of fair use.  It has a rich history of court cases, most notably the 1988 case Hustler Magazine Inc-v-Falwell. However, parody and satire are very similar concepts and easily confused.  In order to legally be considered a parody, the work must fit the Supreme Court's definition by "[using] some elements of a prior author's composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author's works."  A good example of this is Weird Al's "Smells Like Nirvana" (though Weird Al secures permission for his parodies, both as a legal butt-covering and as a good example of band karma.)  While the parody does imply a commentary on the original, the song's purpose was not simple commentary but was used to sell a product. Therefore, the company is on pretty shaky legal ground with either claim.

I was pretty excited about the commercial at first, showing it to all my friends, and was pretty torn between both sides when the Beastie Boys article came out yesterday.  It didn't really hit home for me until this morning, when Kimya Dawson of the Moldy Peaches posted on her Facebook:
As someone who has had people, even family members, think songs in MULTIPLE commercials were me - I fully, 105%, side with Beastie Boys. 
She's spoken previously about the commercials that mimicked her style to the point of it fooling her own fans. Unlike the Beastie Boys, Dawson will let folks use her music as long as it's a product she can stand behind (which hasn't happened very often, if my memory's correct); to have someone just disregard her principles and use a just-close-enough-but-not-quite version of her music was a painful experience.  I've heard commercials do a similar disservice to Ben Folds, who frequently licenses his music, just to have a cheaper budget.

Businesses devaluing music is no joke.  Musicians deserve respect and compensation for their work.  If a random company ripped off my music, I'd be livid; if a company who had principles I could stand behind ripped off my music, I'd feel even more invalidated because they didn't give me the courtesy of asking permission or paying me for my creation.  That's why, no matter how great of a product I think GoldieBlox is, I can't take their side on this one.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Trial of UMC Rev. Frank Schaefer

I've been following the UMC trial of Reb. Schaefer each morning, fists instinctively balling up with each news story.  Earlier this year, progressive Christians lobbied the United Methodist Church to change its stance on LGBTQ issues during its annual General Conference; the denomination ruled to maintain their stance that "homosexuality incompatible with Christian teachings."  This is the climate that Rev. Shaefer faced when he decided to officiate the wedding of his son in 2007 despite the church's stance on same-sex marriage.  He is now on trial in the denomination's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  He has been suspended for 30 days and will most likely be defrocked after that.  

I don't think the denomination fully understands the gravity of this situation.  I have a few UMC friends that left their church home with heavy hearts after the results of General Conference.  The UMC is on a crash course toward a major, major schism.  What makes me the angriest is seeing this play out and hearing the cacophony of churches who wail about their rights being violated while actively denying the rights of other churches.  The result is a cultural witch hunt of a man who simply wanted to officiate his son's wedding. The UCC considers marriages of all genders a tenant of our faith, but the ceremonies aren't given legal weight in most states because other denominations won't allow it.

No one is going to force you to perform same-sex marriages; heck, nobody is forcing you to perform interracial marriages despite them being legal in all 50 states, and some churches gleefully relish this right. What it all boils down to is America's Mainstream Christianity's failure to comprehend what persecution really is.   I've touched on it several times in this blog to where I almost feel like I'm beating a dead horse.  You are free to practice your faith, but you are not free from criticism.  You are allowed to fully exclude LGBTQ folks and make them feel like dirt, but you also have to take the fallout from those decisions.  The same document that protects your freedom of religion protects other's freedom of speech, the freedom to call out your practices.

See also:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Things I Read: Nov. 22




Friday, November 22, 2013

Mini-blog: TDoR reflections, my friends, and books

This is a busy weekend, and one where my mind is a little scattered, so today's post will veer toward brief and rambly.  

On Wednesday I participated in WV's first TDoR vigil.  It was a simple, beautiful, weighty, emotional service.  Hearing over ten minutes of names of people who were murdered for being a member of a marginalized group (and more often than not, multiple marginalized groups) is a gut punch reminder that 238 isn't just a number. I reflected on the sadness of more than 50 deaths that didn't even have a name to memorialize.  I thought about the high suicide rate in the trans community, about how they too were victims of violence on a systematic level. As I struggled to pronounce some of the names, I was made painfully aware of my privilege both as a cisgender woman and a white person from the US.

My friends Justin and Will have started a new blog called Justin & Will Do West Virginia.  They are both very rad folks who are currently working with Lambda Legal to bring marriage equality to WV.  So far the entries are one part social justice, one part travel diaries, which is right up my alley.  So if you dig my stuff, I highly recommend you check out theirs.

I'm a serial reader and have to have at least two books going at once to function.  Right now I'm in the middle of Orwell's 1984 and Jack London's The Iron Heel. It gets...confusing sometimes. (I have to mental separate between "the capitalists who wear silly top hats" and "the capitalists who go on long diatribes at dinner parties.")  As someone who didn't read the book in high school, I'd like to hear from some folks familiar with 1984.  Is Winston supposed to represent how misogyny is a central component of establishing a totalitarian society, or is he just a creep? Or does Orwell just have a big ol' boner for sexism that pours out into his writing and wasn't evident to 8th grade me reading Animal Farm?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

TDoR 2013

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  It's a day set aside to memorialize transgender victims of violence each year and to draw attention to the growing epidemic of violence against trans folks.  This year there are a total of 238 names that will be read, a staggering, harrowing number.  These are names that the media has forgotten, sensationalized, or misgendered in their reporting, names that deserve respect.

It's important to remember how intersectionality impacts violence.  A majority of the people killed are trans women of color.  Some are sex workers.  Many live in poverty or homelessness.  None of these facts are coincidence.  Only eleven states include gender identity in their hate crime laws, and mixed with a cocktail of racism, classism, and misogyny, you've systematically created a group of people that society doesn't just discriminate against but is openly hostile toward.

This aren't just numbers to me. These are people who lived and loved and had people who cared about them.  In past years, some of my loved ones mourned for the dead not out of respect and empathy, but because they were their friends, family members, comrades.  Seeing my friends in pain made me move lightyears beyond this being just a list of names and statistics.

Today Huntington is holding what appears to be the first TDoR vigil in West Virginia history.   If you're in the area, you're welcome to attend (details are here).  If you're elsewhere, you can find a closer one on this site.

More resources:
Cisnormativity Twitter
TransRespect vs Transphobia
Wipe Out Transphobia Facebook
National Center for Transgender Equality