Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 25 June 2005

Topic: The Culture

Hollywood Notes: The Other Celebrities

As readers might have noticed, last week Just Above Sunset took a stand against commenting on tabloid news. In an item on the close of the Michael Jackson trial the idea was that there wasn't much one needed to say about that whole sorry business, and in Ric Erickson's report from Paris on Tom Cruise and what Cruise was up to there, the idea was commenting on this all was madness. Who cares?

Friday afternoon there was an email from a reader on the current Oprah Winfrey business in Paris - and on how the Columbia Journalism Review calls it a non-story - and the reader argued it really is news, because Hermes may be racist or something. You can read l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire story here: "US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey is convinced she was turned away from a Hermes store in Paris because she is black and she plans to tell her millions of viewers about it, a spokeswoman said Friday." Whatever.

This too is not something of much interest to the editor. So readership will suffer. Fine.

But this is Hollywood, and Just Above Sunset is here in the land of celebrity. Perhaps something should be said about Tom Cruise who late in the week on national television strongly denounced all of psychiatry and the medical stuff concerning such things as mere pseudo-science – there is no such thing as "chemical imbalance" and all medications just mask the real problems and vitamins and exercise will fix any problem. Yeah, yeah. As one wag commented: "High school dropout Tom Cruise pulled his Scientology-obsessed, crazy train into New York this morning - his zombie virgin fiancée in tow - to grace Today Show viewers with his mastery of psychiatry."

You could read the whole exchange. It's pretty amazing. And worst case? People who reverence celebrities for some reason, who are depressed and suicidal, will now not seek help, or if now in treatment will stop taking their medications and stop going to see their doctors. They'll trust Tom of "Top Gun." Some will die. And there is something deliciously Darwinian about that. This may be a good thing.

But still, some stories of the famous are amusing, and close to home. Driving home to the Just Above Sunset World Headquarters, as a friend like to call this flat, your editor has more than one time been slowed by the late evening police checkpoint just down the way on Sunset Boulevard – as you drive east in Sunset leaving Beverly Hills the stop is just as you approach the Sunset Strip, right there at the local Jaguar, Land Rover dealership. And as folks who follow the movie business know, Oliver Stone recently got in some trouble there.

Oliver Stone in LA drugs arrest
BBC - Saturday, 28 May, 2005, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK

"Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone has been arrested for drink driving and possession of drugs. Police said the 58-year-old filmmaker was arrested on Friday night [May 27] at a police checkpoint on Sunset Boulevard, in Beverly Hills, California. ..."

So the man who gave us "Nixon" and JFK" and "Natural Born Killers" and "The Doors" and "Platoon" and "Wall Street" - and last year that "Alexander" film that bombed - got busted. So?

The back-story is cool. According to Brendan Bernhard in the LA Weekly, Stone had had his head messed up by a Frenchman: "Shortly after sharing a table with the ultracontroversial French novelist at the White Lotus, a restaurant in Hollywood known for its deafening noise and nubile Asian clientele, the film director was pulled over by the cops on Sunset Boulevard and taken down to the station, charged with driving under the influence and possession of an illegal substance. It took a $15,000 bail to get him out."

Ah, Stone was driving the other direction, west, leaving the Sunset Strip area and going home to Beverly Hills.

That explanation of what happened is from the long Bernhard piece this week on the visit of Michel Houellebecq, the French novelist, to this neighborhood. Houellebecq is the author of The Elementary Particles and Platform, two books that have come up a few times in online discussions with readers, but not in these pages.

The full item is here:

L'?tranger in a Strange Land
Michel Houellebecq's Weekend in L.A.
Brendan Bernhard, LA Weekly, issue of June 23, 2005

And this assessment seems about right:
Houellebecq (pronounced wellbeck) may be the only writer alive to have been accused of being a Stalinist and a Nazi, not to mention a sex maniac and a drunk. He is almost certainly the only writer to have fallen asleep while being interviewed on television. (The question was too long, he explained later.) His work has been described as racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary, nihilistic, pornographic and repulsive, as well as moving, funny and prophetic. Three years ago, he was put on trial in Paris for inciting anti-Muslim hatred after he called Islam the world's "most stupid religion" during an alcohol-laced interview with the French literary magazine Lire. Even those lovable Brazilians ("morons obsessed with soccer and Formula One") have failed to escape his satirical pen.
Bernhard interviews Houellebecq, on the guy's first visit to Los Angeles, while Michel is "smoking a cigarette at a sidewalk table at Mel's Diner on Sunset Boulevard." We learn he's trying the Santa Fe Chicken Salad, but gives up on it and opts instead for a quadruple espresso. How French. But Mel's is a faux "American Graffiti" kind of tourist trap, with bad food and no carhops at all (they have valet parking, of course). Should any of you visit, we're not going there.

Is Houellebecq out of place?
What the passerby couldn't know, of course, was that Houellebecq was a French writer; that all French writers worth their salt drink terrifyingly strong coffee, usually in enormous quantities; and that, historically, the crème de la crème like Jean-Paul Sartre have added to their coffee habit several packs of cigarettes a day along with amphetamines in the morning and barbiturates at night. It's a tough tradition to follow, but Houellebecq was doing his best.
And that is how Hollywood sees the French, of course.

This is followed by an account of some really dull conversation, but then we get this -
Few doubt his intelligence on the page, however, or the sense of isolation and loneliness that underlies his satire. The tone of his work is one of radical estrangement and ennui, and his books are studded with statements bleak even for a French writer who was once frequently treated for nervous depression.

For example: "Anything can happen in this life, especially nothing." Or: "It is in our relations with other people that we gain a sense of ourselves; it's that, pretty much, that makes relations with other people unbearable."

"Life is painful and disappointing," he wrote 14 years ago in the opening sentence of his first published prose work, H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, a study of the American writer that has just been brought out in translation by Believer Books, an imprint of McSweeney's. "We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don't care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us."
Sounds very French to me. And Bernhard comments that Houellebecq is one of the few French novelists since Camus to win a substantial audience outside France. In recent decades the country "has produced enough incomprehensible philosophers, critics and theorists to fill several large cafés, but precious few writers of exportable fiction." This guy is different. He tells stories.

What kind of stories? Try gloomy realism.
Houellebecq's first novel, Whatever, was about a bored, deeply unhappy software engineer who travels around France with a pitifully ugly co-worker, teaching a new computer program to business clients. It was short, pithy and filled with a visceral loathing for just about everything. ("I hate this life. I definitely do not like it," the narrator says. "The society in which I live disgusts me; advertising sickens me; computers make me puke.") It was based at least partly on the author's own life and had the unmistakable tang of reality. (During the 1980s, he worked as an agricultural engineer and debugged computers for the French National Assembly, often traveling around the country to do so.) As he would continue to do in his next two novels, Houellebecq had given voice to a class of people - alienated white-collar office workers, basically - who tend to be ignored by literary novelists.

... The Elementary Particles, published in 1998, was an international best-seller and made Houellebecq famous. The story of two half brothers, one an asexual scientist, the other a sex-addicted writer, it is about the end of the human race and is supposedly narrated by a member of the more evolved, peace-loving race of post-humans who, thanks to cloning, eventually replace us. Published in 1998, a time of relative optimism and economic expansion, the novel stunned people with the depth of its anger and pessimism, and the way it threw contempt on the once revolutionary baby boomers now running France and the West in general. As a child, Houellebecq was abandoned by his hippie parents and raised by his grandmother (his mother is said to have converted to Islam). This was payback time, and the fearlessness of his satire shocked France's literary world, which didn't seem to know what to do with him.

The problem became even more acute with the publication of Platform, a novel about the construction of a sex-tourism paradise in Thailand that is blown to pieces by Muslim terrorists, killing the narrator's girlfriend in the process. It appeared shortly before 9/11, and has a distinctly prophetic feel. The novel's central idea - that financially solvent but sexually uncharismatic Western men should make common cause with Third World women who "have nothing left to sell except their bodies and their unspoiled sexuality," bringing about a mercenary sexual relationship satisfactory to both parties - was a typical Houellebecq provocation, equal parts genius and lunacy. (Outside the West, Houellebecq pointed out, there are millions of attractive women who'd be perfectly happy to marry a dullard so long as he brought home the bacon.) The book's withering critique of Islam made it especially controversial, and all hell broke loose when Houellebecq spouted off against the religion himself in the interview in Lire. Following a suit brought by groups including the Saudi-based World Islamic League and the French Human Rights League, he was forced to defend himself in court in October 2002.
Well, he was acquitted.

And Perhaps There Is an Island, his new novel about cloning, will be published in France at the end of the summer. Should be fun, or something.

What did he do here? He stayed at the Bel Age hotel down the street, was interviewed on KCRW in Santa Monica by Michael Silverblatt on Bookworm, he spoke at the Armand Hammer Museum over in Westwood on Lovecraft.

And there were two "performances" by the Velvet Hammer Burlesque troupe, but it's best not to ask.
After the show, Houellebecq went upstairs to the reception, where he spent a couple of hours smoking cigarettes next to the THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING signs, autographing books, and schmoozing and posing for photographs with the dancers and other female admirers. He spent about 15 minutes talking to Kim Murphy, a.k.a. "Rocket Sapphire," the troupe's contortionist. Coincidentally, Murphy told me later, she was in the midst of reading one of Houellebecq's novels. Her boyfriend has only one book in his apartment, and it's Platform. "At the beginning, it was, like, what the hell is this?" she said about her reaction to the novel. "How am I going to read this book about this person who is not attached to the world at all? But now I can't stop reading it.
That about sums up a lot of how we react to French novels.

Anyway, we also get an account of a dinner at Kate Mantilini's down on Wilshire Boulevard. Houellebecq ordered a steak, heaped his salad on top of it, and had red wine. Much talk. So he got used to LA, and the food is actually pretty good there.

And what did he think of his first visit to Los Angeles, to Hollywood?
"But people don't understand," he protested, saying that Californians kept demanding to know what he thought of them and their state. "Sometimes you think nothing, you have no impressions. Nothing happened, it was an ordinary story with normal people. It was a human experience."

At the words "human experience," Houellebecq doubled up with laughter.
He obviously understands life out here. This seems the appropriate response to the world of Tom Cruise and his scientology, Oliver Stone and his arrest, Oprah and her problems, and Michael Jackson.

Nothing happened.

Posted by Alan at 00:27 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 June 2005 00:46 PDT home

Sunday, 5 June 2005

Topic: The Culture

Mind Games: Dangerous Books and Mission Statements

Bob Patterson, columnist for our parent website Just Above Sunset said to me Friday, while we were on a photo shoot in Santa Monica, that JAS, as he likes to call it, should publish a mission statement. This was our Joseph Cotton - Orson Welles moment, if you remember that scene from Citizen Kane. Geez, we’ve been in Hollywood way too long.

A few weeks ago Bob was in the Big Apple – New York, or as he likes to call it, Tensile Town – and was noticing all the press about the Air Force Academy and its problem with the evangelicals who now run the place and the cadets who boldly tell fellow Jewish cadets that they will burn in hell because they killed Jesus, and that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for killing Jesus. They deserved it. Ah well. Bob pointed out we were on that story long ago with Who is Your Copilot? back on April 24 – and on the underlying trend long ago with references to General Jerry Boykin saying we're fighting the great Satan, because our God is the real God, from as long ago as October 2003 and this a month later. So we’re sometimes ahead of the curve.

So?

Boykin is now about number three at the Pentagon - Undersecretary of Defense, heading up all our planning in Iraq. We’re not.

Ahead of the curve? On August 2004, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, and I had a pretty complete discussion of The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and their relation to the 2001 Patriot Act. Long. Detailed. And I see The New Republic five months later published Dismal Precedents (post date 02.20.05 - issue date 02.28.05), on the same topic, by Stephen Holmes.
To help us grope our way through the perilous present, Geoffrey R. Stone, a leading authority on the First Amendment, has produced a rich and readable overview of America's curtailment of civil liberties in wartime. He focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on restrictions of freedom of speech, examining in engrossing detail six historical episodes: the Sedition Act of 1798, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam. He appends a brief discussion of civil liberties after September 11, but his real contribution to the study of the ongoing war on terror is this book as a whole. For each episode, as Stone retells it, speaks in one way or another to painful issues of the present day. His general conclusion is that "the United States has a long and unfortunate history of overreacting to the perceived dangers of wartime." He hopes that a bit of self-knowledge will inspire us to do better this time around....
Well, the rest is behind the subscription wall, but you get the idea. Steve and Geoffrey Stone were late ? it takes time to write a book, then time to read it any review it ? but the relationship is obvious. Rick and I used to hang around with Steve Holmes in undergraduate school ? coffee daily in The Pit in Slater Hall ? but The New Republic is a big-gun, influential magazine. Now more folks consider the connection. Fine ? more power to Steve. JAS is not The New Republic - we?re riding at about 12,000 unique logons a month. Small potatoes ? and an ephemeral web thing. And I suspect many, many logons are people looking for pretty pictures of Hollywood, not political discussion of historic precedent to current events.

Still Bob thinks we need to say that we?re ahead of the curve ? if you want to know what the hot stories will be, read JAS. Maybe. His idea for a motto ? Ahead of the Curve. I prefer this - Chasing the Zeitgeist. Why? Well, I recall the May 22 issue of JAS where it kept running away from me ? Monday morning I thought that week?s topic would be the New York Times stirring up issues of class, and Tuesday the Newsweek Koran story broke, and Wednesday everyone was talking about George Galloway blowing everyone away in the Senate hearing, Thursday the talk was all of the responsibilities of the press and possible censorship, and Friday Laura Bush landed in the Middle East as probably the only person we could send there now without too much problem, and even then she had some trouble. (All in the archives, of course.) You can chase the zeitgeist all you want. It?s a slippery devil.

All this is to say I overlooked a discussion last week ? all over the web and in some of the papers ? concerning what was published in the conservative magazine Human Events - Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Really. A list of their editors is here - and I see Ann Coulter listed as their legal affairs correspondent.

Want to know what is on the list? This panel of fifteen conservative scholars and public policy leaders (see the list at the link) selected these:

1. The Communist Manifesto

2. Mein Kampf

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao

4. The Kinsey Report

5. Democracy and Education (John Dewey)

6. Das Kapital

7. The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan)

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy (Auguste Comte)

9. Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche)

10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (John Maynard Keynes)

Honorable Mention? In descending order of danger to anyone who opens them ? The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich), What Is To Be Done (Lenin), Authoritarian Personality (Theodor Adorno), On Liberty (John Stuart Mill), Beyond Freedom and Dignity (B.F. Skinner), Reflections on Violence (Georges Sorel), The Promise of American Life (Herbert Croly), Origin of the Species (Darwin), Madness and Civilization (Michel Foucault), Soviet Communism: A New Civilization (Sidney and Beatrice Webb), Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead), Unsafe at Any Speed (Ralph Nader), Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir), Prison Notebooks (Antonio Gramsci), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon), Introduction to Psychoanalysis (Freud), The Greening of America (Charles Reich), The Limits to Growth (Club of Rome), Descent of Man (Darwin)

Darwin didn?t make the top ten. But then Nietzsche flat out said God is dead ? and Comte was no better. Chuck only implied it. As for the rest? You?d expect Marx and Mao ? and Hitler. Dewey is on there because he was a secular humanist and wanted kids to learn how to think, not just know hard facts. Keynes liked government and regulation too much. You can go read the panel?s reasoning.

As for the second list they offer no comment, just the list. Ralph Nader of course destroyed our domestic automakers, and forced everyone to wear seat belts when it should be a matter of personal responsibly or something. Rachel Carson did major harm to Dupont and the rest of the DDT makers who were just making an honest living. You can only guess at their reason for the rest. Did they know what Michel Foucault was even talking about?

These folks aren?t calling for book-burning or anything like that ? at least I don?t see that anywhere. They?re just kind of sad these things were ever published.

But of course such a public list gives ammunition to folks who will demand restrictions in public libraries and schools, or removal of the books. But the panel doesn?t really advocate for that.

That would be wrong.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum has asked his readers for a parallel list from the progressive-Democrat-leftie side ? and he reports it is not going well.

Some suggest Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged - but Drum says, "I agree that it's eminently mockable, but let's face it: has this book really had that much influence on anyone who doesn't still use Clearasil pads? I don't think so." Well, the newly appointed head of the SEC is a Rand fanatic - Christopher Cox - and we?ll see how that works out. Rand once said - "A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims." And the new SEC chairman no doubt believes this from Rand - "Government 'help' to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off." Oh yeah.

Drum points out too that Alan Greenspan is perhaps the best known Rand acolyte living today.

Some suggest Thomas Dixon - The Clansman - but really it is not that influential.

Drum thinks the only winner on the counter-list so far is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Agreed. You will find a good history of what that book is about here and all about Henry Ford?s love for it here. That one has legs, as we say out here in Hollywood.

But I suspect, in the end, there will be no good counter-list. The progressive-Democrat-leftie side just doesn?t get the idea books and ideas can be dangerous. They kind of like them. All of them.

____

Note: Late Sunday night - June 5, 2005 ? Kevin Drum does his best to compile a tentative counter-list of dangerous books from his readers' comments. But as you read his comments you see his heart really isn't in it.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 5 June 2005 23:24 PDT home

Thursday, 19 May 2005

Topic: The Culture

Barney Does Paris

As a break from the war – the top commanders in our military risk angering the president and reluctantly admit things are getting worse and worse - and our guys won’t be coming home any time soon – along with all the other dismal news – it may be time to consider why kids like dinosaurs.

They do. I did when I was a kid – always off to the natural history museum to see them bones. These days the children of my nephews have movies and television - check out The Ten Best Dinosaur Movies of All Time where Godzilla (1954) come in fifth, and Pat Boone and James Mason in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1958) comes in eighth. Of course Jurassic Park (1993) is number one. This all may have started with the first really popular dinosaur movie, the animated Gertie The Dinosaur (1914) made by one Winsor McCay. Tiffany and JT prefer the cute Disney sort of movies one gets these days.

And there is, for the real young kids, Barney on PBS – “Barney is an incredibly lovable, warm, and friendly six-foot purple dinosaur who comes to life from a plush toy by way of children's imaginations. Barney serves as a guide or facilitator for the children to use their imaginations to problem solve and to discover the world around them… Barney is a friend to all children-they feel safe with Barney and look to him for reassurance and security.”

Much has been written about this Barney – but my favorite comment comes from the New Yorker writer, Adam Gopnik, in his book Paris to the Moon (Random House, 2001) - on living for many years in Paris with his family while writing the New Yorker’s Paris Journals - “Bill Clinton is Barney for adults … Barney and Bill are not amiable authority figures, like the Friendly Giant and Ronald Reagan. They are, instead, representations of pure need: Wanting to be hugged, they hug.”

Barney is creepy. Clinton could be too.

But as a diversion you might want to check out what Keith Stewart Thomson has to say in Dinosaurs as a Cultural Phenomenon in the May-June issue of The American Scientist - Volume: 93 Number: 3 Page: 212

Thomson digs deep into the origins of this all -
The key to modern dinomania may have been the discovery in 1884 of a whole herd of intact Iguanodon skeletons in a Belgian coal mine. Two years later, Camille Flammarion's popular book on Earth history, Le Monde avant la Creation de l'Homme (or The World Before the Creation of Man), showed an Iguanodon in a theatrical pose: taking a meal from the "fifth floor" of a Paris apartment building (in France, the ground floor is the unnumbered rez-de-chaussee). Even so, it took a while for this sort of dramatic depiction of dinosaurs to catch on in the USA, until American newspapers followed in 1897 (American Century) and 1898 (New York World and Advertiser) with similar depictions of the far larger Brontosaurus against a backdrop of skyscrapers. The reception given to these fantastic images firmly established the potential of dinosaurs to capture public interest.
And Thomson provides this illustration from Camille Flammarion’s Le Monde avant la Creation de l'Homme (1886) – which is pretty cool.

































But as much as dinosaurs have captured the popular imagination, and kids like them, there are problems.

Given the recent hearings in Kansas which resulted in the Intelligent Design folks winning equal time in the public schools there with the evolution theory pushers ? covered in these pages here, here, here and here - what are we to believe? A few witnesses on the winning side argued that early man and dinosaurs lived together at the same time ? and the scientists say no, the evidence shows not. A few witnesses on the winning side argued that God ? or Satan ? messed with our minds and placed them bones in the sediment or whatever to test our faith, and all this geology is wrong as the earth couldn?t be more than six thousand years old, if you read the Bible carefully.

What is one to believe?

Paul S. Taylor has one answer. In DINOSAUR MANIA AND OUR CHILDREN first published in Impact in 1987 ? the magazine of the Institute for Creation Research - and republished last year, he explains. And he is, after all, Production Director of the Films for Christ Association.

His thoughts?
Dinosaurs are the newest fad. Will they lead children away from our Creator? Or to Him?

Ever since the first dinosaur reconstructions in the mid-1800's, dinosaurs have been big business. They have been used to sell everything from breakfast cereal to gasoline. And now interest is greater than ever. A new craze for dinosaurs and related merchandise is sweeping America and other western nations.

Almost anywhere children go these days, they are exposed to dinosaurs in one way or another, even on school milk cartons. Furthermore, these creatures are almost as popular with adults.

Much of the trendy merchandise appeals to the "yuppie" generation. Articles on new dinosaur extinction theories and fossil discoveries are frequently featured in major national magazines. And a steady stream of new adult-level dinosaur books continues to be issued by humanistic publishers each year. Even adults are fascinated by these great beasts--and likewise the history and controversy surrounding them.
So what?s the problem?
Dinosaurs are being used on a monumental scale to promote evolution. Parents are often amazed at how much even kindergartners know about them. Portrayed as strange, fierce-looking creatures, they are effectively used to indoctrinate millions of children with false evolutionary concepts, such as the following:

1. Dinosaurs and many other animals are pre-historic. Most of the earth's history took place long before the Bible or any other book was written and long before any man existed.

2. It is a scientific fact that the earth is exceedingly old--perhaps 5 billion years.

3. Evolution is a fact. God did not create the world as portrayed in the Bible.

4. There once was a time when the land was inhabited only by reptiles--the Great Age of the Dinosaurs.

5. Dinosaurs and other animals evolved into completely different kinds of creatures. Every creature evolved from lower forms of life, even man.

6. Man is just an animal--a highly-evolved primate.
Dangerous misconceptions corrupting our youth? Maybe so ? in Kansas. But they are fixing that problem!

David Albrecht offers a satire about that:

Kansas Outlaws Dinosaur-Themed Toys, Cartoons
"Barney Ban" Will Protect Children, Says State Attorney General Kline. Legislative Leaders' Goal: "Healing Wounds of Darwinism"
May 13, 2005 ? posted at Democratic Underground
TOPEKA, KS - Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline stunned many Kansans yesterday by announcing that books, toys and cartoons depicting or featuring dinosaurs were now illegal across the state.

Kline, no stranger to controversy on such hot-button issues as abortion and gun control, defended the actions of the Kansas Legislature, which in a special late-night session overrode Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius' veto of the Childrens' Defense & Truth in Science Act.

"The people of the Sunflower State understand rock-bottom honesty," he said. "They know that this is not some sort of anti-science conspiracy. We're not moving backwards. We simply believe that this is the best way possible to heal the partisan wounds that decades of rule by the secular left have inflicted on this state."

Kline emphasized that information on dinosaurs would remain available to students in university paleontology classes, provided they supplied waivers signed by their parents or guardians.

The new state law, effective immediately, makes it illegal for Kansans to purchase for or supply to children any book, toy, game, video or electronic media which portrays dinosaurs or "to import, send or ship" any such materials into Kansas from outside the state.
And on it goes. It?s pretty amusing.

It ends with this -
Many at a press conference called by the attorney general questioned whether diverting law enforcement resources to raiding bookstores, searching cars and opening packages in search of black-market brontosauruses was a sensible use of taxpayer dollars. Kline, however, was outspoken in his support of the new law.

Pressed by one reporter for the Kansas City Star, who pointed out that methamphetamine-related crime had risen 37% in the past year, Kline posed a rhetorical question: "Who can say where the road to drug abuse begins? I believe that it begins for many young Kansans with the cold, brutal message of Charles Darwin, imposed and enforced by the secular left. It ends, as you point out, in meth labs and prisons across the state."

In Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas and arguably the most liberal corner of the state, Borders Books & Music was one of the first targets of suddenly reassigned KBI agents. General Manager Lisa Bakke stood by in shock as officers hauled boxes of Barney videos, Dinotopia books and Jurassic Park DVDs off to waiting police cruisers.

"It's just beyond belief," she said, noting that she had still heard nothing about compensation for businesses like hers in cases where authorities seize merchandise. Also seized in the raid were works by Stephen Jay Gould, Dougal Dixon, E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins.

KBI agents who participated in the raid said they had no idea whether CDs by the seminal alt-rock group Dinosaur Jr., or the popular 1980s AOR dance track "Walk The Dinosaur" by Was (Not Was), would be covered by the ban.

"We're just waiting for clarification from Mr. Kline's office", said Sgt. Frank Pickering, who declined further comment. However, legislators are preparing to revise the law with an eye towards answering troublesome enforcement questions.

This will include just what Kansas intends to do about national broadcasts of Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. Law enforcement officials are also concerned about how to handle comic strips like BC and The Far Side, which occasionally depict dinosaurs, as well as the caveman-themed 1950s hit song "Alley Oop," the 1933 horror classic "King Kong," and Blue Oyster Cult's 1980 heavy metal magnum opus "Cultosaurus Erectus."

For the time being, Kansas "Flintstones" fans and collectors of Sinclair gasoline memorabilia will also be left hanging.
Satire? I guess it is.

An additional irony is, of course, that Barney the Purple Dinosaur, like George Bush, is a TEXAN! - "A six-foot purple dinosaur, Barney is the star of the children's TV show Barney and Friends. Barney began in 1987 as the star of direct-sale videos created by Dallas teacher Sheryl Leach. The tapes caught the eye of the Public Broadcasting System, who put Barney and Friends on the air in 1992."

Well, Texan or not, Barney is not really in trouble. That was satire above. On the other hand, Barney has been in court.

You will find this of at Case Law - and it is quite real -
IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
No. 98-11003

LYONS PARTNERSHIP, Plaintiff-Appellant,
versus
TED GIANNOULAS, doing business as Famous Chicken; TFC, INC., Defendants-Appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

July 7, 1999
Before REAVLEY, JOLLY, and EMILIO M. GARZA, Circuit Judges.
What the heck is this about? Here is E. Grady Jolly, Circuit Judge:
Lyons Partnership LP ("Lyons"), the owners of the rights to the children's caricature Barney, sued Ted Giannoulas, the creator of a sports mascot--The Famous Chicken ("the Chicken")--because the Chicken had incorporated a Barney look-alike in its act. The district court granted summary judgment to Giannoulas and awarded attorneys' fees.

On appeal, Lyons raises six issues, the most important of which is whether the district court erred when it determined that there was insufficient evidence that Giannoulas's use of the Barney trademark caused consumer confusion under the Lanham Act. (1) Because we agree with the approach taken by the district court, we affirm.

I .

This case involves a dispute over the use of the likeness of "Barney," a children's character who appears in a number of products marketed to children. (2) Barney, a six-foot tall purple "tyrannosaurus rex," entertains and educates young children. His awkward and lovable behavior, good-natured disposition, and renditions of songs like "I love you, you love me," have warmed the hearts and captured the imaginations of children across the United States. According to Lyons, the owner of the intellectual property rights for Barney and the plaintiff in the suit below, the defendants--Giannoulas d/b/a The Famous Chicken and TFC, Inc. ("TFC"), the owner of the intellectual property rights to the Chicken--sought to manipulate Barney's wholesome image to accomplish their own nefarious ends.

The Chicken, a sports mascot conceived of and played by Giannoulas, targets a more grown-up audience. While the Chicken does sell marketing merchandise, it is always sold either by direct order or in conjunction with one of the Chicken's appearances. Thus, the Chicken's principal means of income could, perhaps loosely, be referred to as "performance art." Catering to the tastes of adults attending sporting events, most notably baseball games, the Chicken is renowned for his hard hitting satire. Fictional characters, celebrities, ball players, and, yes, even umpires, are all targets for the Chicken's levity. Hardly anything is sacred.

And so, perhaps inevitably, the Chicken's beady glare came to rest on that lovable and carefree icon of childhood, Barney. Lyons argues that the Chicken's motivation was purely mercenary.
Seeing the opportunity to hitch his wagon to a star, the Chicken incorporated a Barney look-alike into his acts. The character, a person dressed in a costume (sold with the title "Duffy the Dragon") that had a remarkable likeness to Barney's appearance, would appear next to the Chicken in an extended performance during which the Chicken would flip, slap, tackle, trample, and generally assault the Barney look-alike.

The results, according to Lyons, were profound. Lyons regales us with tales of children observing the performance who honestly believed that the real Barney was being assaulted. In one poignant account related by Lyons, a parent describes how the spectacle brought his two-year-old child to tears. In fact, we are told, only after several days of solace was the child able to relate the horror of what she had observed in her own words--"Chicken step on Barney"--without crying. After receiving such complaints from irate parents who attended the Chicken's performances with their children, Lyons sought to defend this assault on their bastion of child-like goodness and naivete.
Oh, the humanity! The poor kid.

But from the record -
Giannoulas offers a slightly different perspective on what happened. True, he argues, Barney, depicted with his large, rounded body, never changing grin, giddy chuckles, and exclamations like "Super-dee-Dooper!," may represent a simplistic ideal of goodness.

Giannoulas, however, also considers Barney to be a symbol of what is wrong with our society--an homage, if you will, to all the inane, banal platitudes that we readily accept and thrust unthinkingly upon our children. Apparently, he is not alone in criticizing society's acceptance of a children's icon with such insipid and corny qualities. Quoting from an article in The New Yorker , he argues that at least some perceive Barney as a "pot-bellied," "sloppily fat" dinosaur who "giggle[s] compulsively in a tone of unequaled feeblemindedness" and "jiggles his lumpish body like an overripe eggplant." The Talk Of The Town: Pacifier, The New Yorker, May 3, 1993 at 37. The Internet also contains numerous web sites devoted to delivering an anti-Barney message. (3) Giannoulas further notes that he is not the only satirist to take shots at Barney. Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno, and a movie starring Tom Arnold have all engaged in parodies at the ungainly dinosaur's expense.
So THERE!

But wait! There?s more!
Perhaps the most insightful criticism regarding Barney is that his shows do not assist children in learning to deal with negative feelings and emotions. As one commentator puts it, the real danger from Barney is "denial: the refusal to recognize the existence of unpleasant realities. For along with his steady diet of giggles and unconditional love, Barney offers our children a one-dimensional world where everyone must be happy and everything must be resolved right away." Chala Willig Levy, The Bad News About Barney, Parents, Feb. 1994, at 191-92 (136-39).
You see, Giannoulas is claiming that, through careful use of parody, he sought to highlight the differences between Barney and the Chicken. He says he was not merely profiting from the spectacle of a Barney look-alike making an appearance in his show. Instead, he was engaged in a sophisticated critique of society's acceptance of this ubiquitous and insipid creature.

But, you ask, who won, Barney or the chicken?
Because this case comes to us on appeal from a summary judgment motion, we review the district court's decision de novo applying the same standards applied by the district court. See Boyd v. State Farm Ins. Cos., 158 F.3d 326, 328 (5th Cir. 1998). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if the record establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device adopted and used by a manufacturer to identify the source of goods. To establish a trademark violation, Lyons must establish that Giannoulas has used in commerce a mark confusingly similar to Lyons's. 15 U.S.C. ? 1127. (4) The district court held that there was no likelihood of consumer confusion. In reaching this decision, the district court relied on its finding that the Chicken's performance was clearly meant to be a parody.

Lyons makes two arguments with respect to its trademark confusion claim. First, Lyons argues that Giannoulas's use of Barney was not intended as a parody. Because Lyons continues to contest this issue on appeal, we first address whether there are any genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Giannoulas was engaged in parodying Barney. Lyons's second argument is that the district court accorded too much weight to its finding that Giannoulas's use was a parody.

In general, a parody is defined as an "artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule." Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music , 510 U.S. 569 (1994)(quotation omitted). In general, a reference to a copyrighted work or trademark may be permissible if the use is purely for parodic purposes. To the extent the original work must be referenced in order to accomplish the parody, that reference is acceptable. Giannoulas claims that his use of a Barney look-alike clearly qualifies as a parody. He used the minimum necessary to evoke Barney--while he used a character dressed like Barney that danced like Barney, he did not make any other references to the mythical world in which Barney resides. He did not, for instance, incorporate any of Barney's other "friends" into his act, have the character imitate Barney's voice, or perform any of Barney's songs. According to Giannoulas, Barney was clearly the butt of a joke and he referenced the Barney character only to the extent necessary to conjure up the character's image in his audience's mind.

Lyons argues that the conduct was not a parody but simply the use of Barney. To support this claim, Lyons points to two kinds of proffered evidence. First, Lyons notes that Giannoulas himself admits that he did not have a definite plan when he incorporated Barney into the act. Lyons argues that this creates an issue of fact regarding whether Giannoulas really intended to parody Barney or simply intended to profit from incorporating the Barney character into his act.

This argument is meritless. Clearly, in the context in which Giannoulas intended to insert a reference to the Barney character, the humor came from the incongruous nature of such an appearance, not from an attempt to benefit from Barney's goodwill. This point is clearly established by the fact that the Chicken's actions toward Barney seem to have always been antagonistic. Although the performance may have evolved into a far more sophisticated form of commentary, even at its inception, it was clearly meant as a parody.

The second argument made by Lyons is that the audience could not have understood the performance to be a parody. Lyons assumes that the target audience here is children and that children would clearly believe that the caricature actually was Barney. Although Lyons is correct that the intended audience is an important factor in determining whether a performance qualifies as a parody, Lyons presented no credible evidence that a significant portion of the audience at evening sporting events are children. Even if young children--like the two-year-old who had such a traumatic reaction to the down-trodden Barney--are in attendance, we would expect them to be supervised by parents who could explain the nature of the parody.

We therefore agree with the district court that Giannoulas's use of the caricature clearly qualifies as a parody. We note that Lyons's insistence that the Chicken's act is not a parody is, in our view, a completely meritless argument.
So score one for the chicken. The dinosaur loses. "Chicken step on Barney."

This is, course followed by a long discussion of the Lanham Act and copyright issues. Go to the link and read all about Elvis Presley Enters. v. Copeck , 141 F.3d 188, 194 (5th Cir. 1998); Conan Properties, Inc. v. Conan's Pizza, Inc., 752 F.2d 145, 149 (5th Cir. 1985); Armco, Inc. v. Armco Burglar Alarms Co. , 693 F.2d 1155, 1159 (5th Cir. 1983). Or don?t. Lyons cites to Elvis to argue that a strong mark can be relevant even in the context of a parody. In Elvis, however, the issue was whether the Elvis trademark had been infringed by a nightclub titled "the Velvet Elvis." In that case the parody was not of Elvis but of cheesy sixties bars. Therefore, because Elvis was not the brunt of the joke, the fact that Elvis is a strong trademark could be regarded as an endorsement of the nightclub. Geez!

But kids still like dinosaurs. Go figure.

__

LATE UPDATE:

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, defends Barney (somewhat) ?
First of all, as a parent and a catch-as-catch-can observer of "kid kulture," I think the famous dinosaur mania may be dying way down, just as the Hopalong syndrome of my day eventually did.

But I must also happily admit, I really think that insipid Barney character actually helped reinforce those attitudes of niceness we tried to instill in our son - back when he was old enough to watch it without losing his lunch, that is; he's now eleven.

I also remember my mom back then sneering that parents just use Barney as a babysitter; my reply was that, "Well, duh! I mean, SOMEBODY has to baby-sit, and you sure-the-hell aren't going to do it!" (She was living 3,000 miles away in California at the time.)

On the other hand, this legal case seems to me like a slam-dunk for parody from the get-go.

The only chance the Lyons Partners had, as far as I can see, was to put all their emphasis on the target audience, which was everybody in the stands - not just adults, who could presumably tell the difference, but also some little kids, many of whom probably genuinely believed it was Barney having the crap kicked out of him, and would only see their parents telling them otherwise as a version of, "Who ya gonna believe, your loving dad, or your lying eyes?"

The only recourse I can see for the plaintiff in this case is to hire some humongous professional wrestler, dress him up in a Barney suit, have him show up at a game and go out on the floor and beat the living f**king sh*t out of that goddamned chicken.

With any luck, every tiny tot in the place will jump up, with fists waving in triumph, and shout, "Whoa!!! Go, Barney, go! Testify! Truth to Power!" And then they could turn to their parents, and by way of explanation, sing a little snatch of Dylan's "The Times, They Are A'Changing!" - and then sit back down.

It's just this fantasy I have.

Posted by Alan at 16:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 19 May 2005 19:45 PDT home

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Topic: The Culture

On Writing: The often repeated charge that Americans lack a sense of irony…

Reading automotive reviews seems to be a guy thing – so distaff readers can tune out now. But some of the liveliest writing can be found in such things. This was first discussed in the pages well over a year ago - February 23, 2004: What would Roland Barthes drive? - a discussion of an amazing Los Angeles Times column by Dan Neil.

Neil, then, on pickup trucks vis a vis Roland Barthes – regarding America's love of snazzy pickups in spite of the obvious lack of need for such things -
Like the soft-handed Parisians who bought up Millet's peasant paintings, pickup poseurs would find rural virtue a different thing entirely if they spent a day in the fields.

Barthes loved to flog the petite bourgeoisie with their own illusions.
Cool.

And here - April 11, 2004: Fun With Words - you will find a note and some comment that a few days earlier the Los Angeles Times won five Pulitzer Prizes - the second most ever won by a newspaper in a single year, for coverage that included wildfires, wars and Wal-Mart. And Dan Neil won the Pulitzer for criticism then.

Since that time his Wednesday Los Angeles Times reviews continue to amuse – and recently (April 27, 2005) he presented an evaluation of the new Mercedes SLK in verse form - “April marks the 10th annual observance of National Poetry Month, established by the Academy of American Poets to increase the visibility, presence and accessibility of poetry in our culture. In that spirit, Dan Neil has written his weekly column in verse.”

It wasn’t very good – but since I had a relatively bad experience with the older model SLK (five years of ever-increasing odd electrical problems) – perhaps I am not the one to judge.

Neil now also writes a regular column for the Times Sunday magazine – “800 Words” – on general culture, and often on the culture of Southern California, such as it is. Recommended? You might call up Prize Bull from April 24 this year – a discussion of Harry Frankfurt's book "On Bullshit" that is well beyond clever, being ironically self-referential on many, many levels. But registration is required, or maybe you even have to be a paid-up Times subscriber, so perhaps just trust me on that.

But Neil is not alone. I came across this in The Independent (UK) – at it is amusing. There one Michael Booth has a road test of the new Corvette C6 Coupe.

See Stars and go-faster stripes
Michael Booth discovers that beneath the Corvette's new European-friendly curves lurks a slab of unreconstructed American muscle
01 May 2005 - The Independent (UK)

Two thirds of the way in you will find this -
The often repeated charge that Americans lack a sense of irony is, of course, soundly refuted by both their sitcoms and the career of their current president, but I still can't tell whether the Corvette is for real or a self-referential cultural parody. Certainly in a European context it is a preposterous overstatement. After all, this revered piece of American cultural iconography has a 6-litre, 400bhp V8 engine that General Motors still insists on calling a "small block". It also boasts an optional fighter jet-style head-up display which projects read-outs for speed and G-force (no, really) above the bonnet in an eerie glow - eat your hearts out Maverick and Goose. Later, I notice a sticker that says, "Warning: children under 12 can be killed by the air bag. The back seat is the safest place for children." The Corvette, of course, has no back seat. Even more curiously - given the current sate of international relations - this is translated into only one other language: French.

So, either the Corvette is a post-ironic parody by the South Park team, or it really is a car to drive, as PJ O'Rourke's immortal phrase has it, "fast while on drugs while getting your wing-wang squeezed and not spill your drink."
Ah, as a sub-genre of artful writing – the popular review of new cars – there is much vigorous writing to be discovered here.

Posted by Alan at 14:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Monday, 28 March 2005

Topic: The Culture

The Uses of Philosophy

Teaching is getting dangerous ? see this - an item by someone (Jacqueline Marcus) who teaches philosophy at a college in Florida.
In the Florida legislature, House Republicans, on the Choice and Innovation Committee, recently voted to pass a bill that threatens to restrain academic scholars. The law would allow students to sue teachers for beliefs that do not concur with conservative perspectives. If, for example, professors argue that evolution is a scientific fact instead of a theory, and if they don?t devote equal time to creationism, under this bill, initiated by conservative David Horowitz?s campaign, students can sue the professor for being biased.

Although the bill has two more committees to pass before it can be considered by the full House, it represents a growing threat against the very foundation of scholarly research. The intended goal of this bill is to portray professors as tyrannical monsters who terrorize Republican-conservative students, rendering them into poor, helpless victims under the authority of those, ah yes, Brutal Liberal Dictators!

Indeed, the phrasing of the bill is comical. It turns the essential meaning of ?liberal education? upside down: ?leftist totalitarianism? by ?dictator professors? in university classrooms. How?s this for an Orwellian twist? The bill is titled ?The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights,? sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

In this rather oppressive atmosphere, particularly if one lives in a conservative county, as I do, teaching philosophy is a dangerous occupation. It?s not quite as dangerous as being a liberal journalist, but it has its risks.
Whine, whine, whine ?

But a good anecdote here -
A conservative student actually tried to push me aside at the beginning of class, dressed for the occasion in his tie and suit, with a digital camera, to deliver his Thou SHALL Kill presentation. It never occurred to him to discuss his proposal with me after class or during my office hours. He simply presumed that he was at equal status with the teacher, and that he has the ?Academic Freedom? to take up precious class time with his flaky opinions on interpreting the word ?kill? in the 6th Commandment.

I explained that students are paying to learn from an accredited teacher with degrees in philosophy/humanities. They?re not paying to hear HIS opinions. The test will be on Plato. He stormed out of the class and then dropped out the next day. (Praise the Lord!)

Here?s a follow-up question for Republican legislators: Some students still believe that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. Now if I were to tell them that even the Bush administration has announced that Saddam was not responsible for 9/11, under this bill, if passed, would students have the right to sue me because I clarified fact from fiction? Do I now become a Big Bad Liberal Dictator for challenging misinformation?
Hey, kids don?t want to learn what they don?t know to be true.

What?s the point in that?

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, asks questions ?
- Will a professor be able to counter-sue the student on grounds of terminal stupidity?

- What's stopping these students from getting their full does of 'creationism' in Sunday school? Or, are they lazy - wanting 'creationism' in school so they can cut Sunday school?

Give them a good used toaster!
And over at FAFBLOG the Medium Lobster has this to say -
Freedom is ever-marching, and its latest target for emancipation is none other than the Gulag Academia, where millions of students are held hostage by totalitarian educators whose cruel practice of teaching them things they don't already believe could soon be put to an end.

Florida Republicans are considering passing an "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights" which will give college students the power to sue "dictator professors" who offend their beliefs by teaching material which contradicts them. The Medium Lobster hails this as a measure long overdue. For far too long, higher education has been concerned with "education" and "instruction," mere euphemisms for harsh indoctrination into the totalitarian ideology of Fact. But now students will be given the tools to fight back, to free themselves of their oppressive enslavement to a world in which life evolved over millions of years through natural selection, dinosaurs weren't wiped out six thousand years ago by the flood of Noah, and the evil Xemu was not responsible for the existence of body thetans.

Will students learn more in such an environment? Of course not. If any thin-skinned adolescent can mau-mau his educators into avoiding any subject that fails to reinforce his own prejudices, universities will be engaged in the antithesis of teaching. But this is precisely the point: America has done so much to oppose tyranny in the form of earthly despots that it can only proceed to liberate humanity from the greatest dictator of all: Reality, which tyrannically insists that man acknowledge That Which Is rather than That Which Would Be More Convenient For Us.

Freed from the tyranny of Reality and the dangerous threat of its advance guard, Information, America's youth will be free to live in a world consisting solely of their own pre-existing beliefs, where messy ideological review and examination of fact have become unnecessary. As usual, the Bush administration has been admirably and ably leading the charge in this direction for years.
America's youth will be free to live in a world consisting solely of their own pre-existing beliefs, where messy ideological review and examination of fact have become unnecessary? So be it.

Posted by Alan at 20:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 29 March 2005 08:35 PST home

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