Jeff Trexler: May 2008 Archives
Sometime after I wake up I'll chat about more do-goody things from the conference--including why I said we're in danger of creating Stepford charities--but for now, the absolute coolest thing that has ever happened at an academic meeting:
I met John Burrows, and yes, he is alive.
Alas for y'all I promised not to reveal any more, but suffice it to say I'm still smiling.
(For the obligatory social enterprise connection, here's the latest on the sale of the Elvis is Alive Museum.)
I'm in Canada for a law conference, and I've already learned several things.
(1) It's impossible for me to think of Air Canada without singing it to the tune of "O Canada" and improvising flight-related lyrics
(2) Alan Childress, of the mighty Legal Profession Blog, notes that you can track the progress of U.S. House & Senate bills on dedicated Twitter accounts.
(3) A Canadian guide to social enterprise is available here. Contrary to what one might think, apparently Canadian law is not just U.S. law, except colder.
(4) True fact: Yes, there really is a Captain Canuck, and back in the day I was seriously stocked when I nabbed a first issue. Tres exotique!
That's a quote from Shubert theater chair Gerald Schoenfeld, and it's key to Bloomberg's Jeremy Girard take on the capitalist vs. nonprofit conflict latent in this year's Tony Awards:
This year more than ever before, the nominations, announced May 13, favor narrow-focus, small-scale shows over high-volume Broadway glitz. The awards -- which will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday evening, June 15 -- pit private investors who have staked $15 million or more for a new musical or $2 million or more for a new play against publicly subsidized companies that don't pay taxes, get major breaks in union costs and have flop insurance in the form of thousands of discounted, presold seats.
I'm immersed in other things for a couple days, so for now I'll just recommend that you read the whole thing, which builds to an impassioned argument for expanding the Awards--also, by the way, a nonprofit enterprise--to include off-Broadway shows.
(On a related front--again, alas, time constrained--I haven't checked out the Tony Awards licensing arrangements, but the Oscars have, IIRC, historically yielded the Academy over 50 million a year tax free. More on that eventually, promise.)
Polygamy is now illegal in the U.S. thanks to a 1878 Supreme Court decision that declared it to be inconsistent with the principles of "civilized" nations. Whether that opinion would survive in light of contemporary jurisprudence--especially the right to privacy--is a unresolved question.
A Christian law professor gamely gives it a try in Christianity Today and concludes--surprise!--that polygamy should remain illegal. He recognizes that his arguments are kind of sketchy, though, so he builds up to the one that he thinks is irrefutable:
The strongest argument against polygamy is the argument from moral repugnance. Polygamy is inherently wrongâ€”"just gross" as my law students say, "malum in se" as we law professors put it.Y'know, if the "just gross" test is the standard for malum in se, shouldn't it also be a crime for middle-aged professors to hit on 20-something students?
The current season of Doctor Who has several running themes, one of which is disappearing bees. The educational comic story featured above, by R. Kikuo Johnson (other contributors to this PBS series include Mark Evanier, Rick Veitch, Thomas Yeates, Lauren Weinstein and more cool comics folks) notes that "the search for solutions . . . is a race against time," which means that the Doctor may be just the right person to figure it out.
(I'll keep this spoiler free by holding off the explanation I think makes the most sense--at least in Doctor Who terms--but in case you're wondering, click here and read around the highlighted terms.)
The ethic of personal empowerment expressed in Web 2.0 takes many forms. The recent exponential growth of sex worker nonprofit activism is one.
The ironic dark doppleganger: the nihilistic sexual predation within so-called traditional charity. It's long been a dirty secret known to folks in the do-gooder biz willing to face the sad truth; in fact, the very title of this blog--Uncivil Society--comes from a project where I spent several years looking at bad things done in the name of civilized benevolence. "Who watches the watchmen?" indeed.
Above: a nifty meta-Twitter t-shirt
I'm still just a tentative Twitter checker-outer, largely because I'm a bit wary of adding yet another dataflood into my day. Which is why I just removed the following alpha-Twitterer from my stream:
9:12: Showering before trip
9:25 Dressing for trip
9:30: Put on Nike sneakers
9:33: Sesame bagel w/ cream cheese
9:40: Bathroom via Twitterberry
9:45: Getting in cab to airport
9:46: Still in cab for airport
9:48: Traffic light on way to airport
(47 traffic updates deleted)
10:15: Arrived at airport
10:16: Self check-in
10:19: Luggage tagged
10:23: Removed by @jefftrexler
Nothing against travel tweeting--I've actually learned some interesting things from someone who has used it in informative ways, blending personal updates with useful new stuff--but micro-logging every frakkin' minute of every frakkin' day? As much as I want to engage new technology, I'm not quite prepared to spend my mundane existence watching someone else's.
It's Memorial Day here in the U.S., which for me brings back memories of our annual high school band march in the Topton, PA Memorial Day parade. It was usually hot, and the band uniforms thick and synthetic, which meant that occasionally some kid would faint and we'd wonder if there would actually be someone we knew to memorialize.
But those days are long past, and in the spirit of the weekend I've been thinking of the actual military veterans in my family line, from my brother (not a veteran, but now in Iraq for reals) to the very first Trexlers to set foot in this fair city.
And therein lies the tale.
Y'see, the original plan was not for the Trexlers to end up in Mertztown and thereabouts in PA Dutch Country, which at the time they arrived here in the 1730s was just a bunch of trees. Nope, they arrived right here in NYC, on Governors Island, where they were quarantined for a bit before settling down to farm by the Hudson River.
The deal, discovered a local historian, was relatively straightforward: they'd develop a plot of arable land and in exchange, the local British folk would give them agreed-upon provisions until things stabilized.
Except, as it turned out, they got crappy land and small supplies of subpar food that was, per the reports, often rotten.
The admins of PA heard about the Hudson Germans complaints and issued an Invitation: come to this undeveloped spot in PA where there is REAL arable land, we'll treat ya nice: potatoes, venison, massages, free wireless, the works.
So off they went and created a town. Well, actually, a bunch of farm-studded roads in woods part of which eventually got called Mertztown by a bunch of ungrateful glory-seeking parvenus (Mertz? Pfah! It should be Trexlertown 2!). And the land really was arable--I didn't realize until I went to college that the whole country wasn't coated with deep dark rich topsoil.
Which leads me to Memorial Day. Thirty odd years from the relocation to PA, the colonies declare their independence and take up arms against the British. Look in the colonial military roster and you'll see the Trexler family, whose mistreatment by the British was still fresh in their minds.
The moral of the story: don't serve me bad food or I just might take up arms.
Sexuality in the Arts meditates on the latest essential issue of The Comics Journal, which examines David Michaelis' new biography of Peanuts creator Charles Shulz. "In Schulzâ€™ incredible body of work, anyone could pick many individual strips that are autobiographical for their individual life"--or social movement.
When I was a burbling tyke, one of the shows I had to watch--in the sense of must-see TV absolutely wanted to watch--was Davey and Goliath. As you can see from the recent Mountain Dew (licensed) parody above, a lot of other kids watched it too.
It's easy to make fun of the simplistic religious moralism of the D&G films, although as a kid who mainlined South Park's Butters I have to confess that thought never occurred to me. But the truth is, these shows were genius. Not just because they snuck in controversial social commentary--the whole idea required a leap of thought that is far from typical in do-gooding, let alone religious media strategy.
On one level, you see in Davey and Goliath an ur-text for Calvin and Hobbes, right down to sledding.
More fundamentally, you see a creator who looked at one medium--television--and saw that the traditional mode of communication in another medium--church--would not fit:
Mr. Sutcliffe was director of Lutheran radio and television ministry in New York when he was approached by church leaders about using television to reach young people, said his daughter, J.T. Sutcliffe of Dallas.
"They wanted to do a little sermonette sort of thing, and Dad said, 'In the television medium, people aren't going to put up with that.' "
He proposed a format that would offer sound theology while being entertaining, his daughter said.
Marshall McLuhan generalized this insight in his observation that a new medium initially repeats prior patterns--TV shows plays and symphonies; people post static pages to the web--until the form of the new medium reshapes how we communicate. In the electronic environment, McLuhan argued, if you don't see that education is also entertainment you understand neither.
Sutcliffe saw that merely replicating old content wasn't enough; fun iconic scenes were the wave of the future. And as we can see by all the Youtube links here, he was right.
Below, a landmark avant-garde parody of D&G: He Was Once by Mary Hestand with Todd Haynes.
One of the items on my list for My June of Comics Projects is a practical legal guide for comics-related charity fundraisers. The two-part story above looks takes a fun look at one important issue: namely, accounting for a valuable gift.
In this instance--a one-of-a-kind private recording by Elvis himself!
For larger readable versions of the story, click here for parts one and two.
And a quick thanks to Wil Wheaton for highlighting Greg Williams's Blogjam, which turns readers' stories into comics.
Last night we finally checked out the superhero fashion exhibit at the Met. More about that soon enough--right now, a quick note about what happened afterward.
The Met has a rooftop exhibit & bar. On line: a group of four twenty-somethings who looked like they were in the first jobs after college. Which, apparently, they were, judging from the rather boistrous conversation about a once cool college friend who'd left the City & gotten engaged to a farmer. The alpha-girl in the group shouts: "A FARMER? Who farms anymore? Isn't that, like, an archaic profession?"
Adding insult to injury, the farmer was obviously an "asshole" because he didn't like her purse pup.
Pictured above on the left: the land whence I came, Rural Route 1 in Mertztown, PA, which back in the day was thick with folks who grew food, which we apparently don't need anymore now that it's all imported from China or something.
A coincidental pattern spotted in a shop window in New Zealand.
My favorite place for accidental patterns: Faces in Places.
Man, this hurts. One of the things I'm doing now is pulling together work for a side project for later this summer, for which I needed some rare Russian books. I knew exactly where to go: Victor Kamkin Books, my old haunt in NYC in law school and, since that store shut down, in Maryland just a short hop from my in-laws.
I knew the Rockville, MD store moved a couple towns over recently after some financial trouble, but I wasn't prepared for the image above: their inventory destroyed, in keeping with the local sheriff's orders, after the store missed rent payments.
400,000 Russian books destroyed, with the remaining 150,000 presumably gone soon afterward. Much of this--assuming the stock remained consistent with what it had been for decades--was rare historic material you'd simply not be able to find anywhere else in the U.S.
Sometimes, sad to say, manuscripts do burn.
The next ten days are, I hope, the last of the frantic end-of-semester deadline dooms (article, conferences) before I can get to the various projects I have on hold for June. That's why the posts are a little less sustained and a lot more of the cool-things-I-want-to-archive variety.
Or uncool things.
These three articles came across my screen today and for some reason converged:
- Rising cost of airfares will alter comics convention plans
- Expensive comics crossovers--a luxury good from boom times?
- NYC Food Bank demand up 24%; donations down 44%
From the last link, a Dylanesque quote that resonates on several levels: "We have a lot of cereal but we don't have enough milk."
Where I'm going with this is not the gratuitous and ultimately unhelpful puritanical assertion that comics are frivolous compared to food or some such--far from it, actually. Social gatherings and creative expression are essential aspects of human identity, and to say that we should set these aside until poverty is gone is to strike a Faustian bargain in reverse--we go to hell now to get nothing in the future. Moreover, rumor has it that at least one or two people in the comics industry use it to get money so they can buy food themselves. But as information like the above propagates through the system, so too will the pressure to take palliative action, some of which will be counterproductive over the long term.
In a somewhat related note, the following comment on the Hero Initiative's Gene Colan fundraiser merits a response:
Umâ€¦ way to come up with a great idea then mess it up.
If this is to raise money for Gene, why would you limit it to 250 pieces???
Thatâ€™s only $6,250!!!! Unless theyâ€™re planning on releasing 20 different covers or his illness is only an ingrown toenail, itâ€™s not gonna help too much.
Hospitals charge on average $5,000 just to STAY in the hospital for a week. This doesnâ€™t include doctors fees and surgery costs.
I hear this sort of thing all the time in my primary gig--I teach & write about charity & business--so a word of explanation. What you hope for in a fundraiser like this is
- to get people to buy a sizable number of goods they wouldn't otherwise buy at a price they wouldn't otherwise pay, and
- to inspire people to make additional donations both for the immediate need and general programs.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, increasing the number of available items does not necessarily increase the amount of money raised. It can actually create a sense of abundance, which in turn can depress sales & contributions compared to a market with a relatively limited supply. This is often referred to as the scarcity principle, and it has applications in a number of areas of life beyond the marketing of goods.
Like, um, becoming a "chick magnet"--
This is a charity ad in a recent issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The event: the truly impressive Can't Stop the Serenity, which according to the original poster has over the past two years raised $150,000 for Equality Now. The CSTS screenings start in June, so if you're interested be sure to click through for the dates near you.
Every so often folks ask me if I make this stuff up.
Frankly, I'm not that creative.
That, anyway, is the shocking claim of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh professor Thomas Lammers, who all by his erudite lonesome sherlocked the cartoon's secret origin and took his story to the big city press. Lammers alleged plagiarism, and the New Yorker has graciously added a reference to Kirby online.
My initial take still holds. PR folderol aside, those who needed to know that this was an homage knew that it was an homage, which is why the artist & key editors aren't being sacked. If Lammers had done his homework, he'd have connected the dots--the image is one of the most famous of the genre; the artist is a respected cartoonist with record of comics homages, and the New Yorker's graphics editorial has strong comics connections & is quite familiar with Kirby's work.
At any rate, the good professor's going around pretending that he's the lone genius who noticed this supposed outrage is pretty lame, smacking more of pedantic self-promotion than diligent insightful inquiry. Although to be fair maybe they don't have Google yet in Oshkosh.
Now if only the New Yorker had better taste in caption finalists . . .
Yesterday we featured an artist who has built his commercial career around his interpretations of DC and Marvel characters. Above: what appears to be a more informal, albeit rather impressive act of appropriation: Superman street art in chalk.
It's from 2007, so I would imagine it has long washed away.
X-Play and Hustler Video have joined Bill Margold's Protecting Adult Welfare (PAW) and performer Amber Lynn in a fundraising effort to help ailing adult director Henri Pachard, who is battling throat cancer.
X-Play will donate one dollar for each Not the Bradys XXX DVD sold through Hustler Video between now and June 20 to PAW's Henri Pachard Cancer Fund. Producer/director Jeff Mullen of X-Play encourages distributors, stores and customers to purchase copies of the movie to help Pachard and his family.
"Sometimes we forget that our troubles are minor compared to what others are going through," Mullen told AVN. "Henri Pachard has had kind words for me every time I have seen him and if we can help out a person who was one of the men that helped pave the way for our business, it is the least we can do. I encourage everybody to pick up a DVD copy of our Bradys XXX so that we can generate a nice donation for his cancer fund."
Can you spot the attendee grabbing the chance to celebrate life at this New York benefit?
Several Lost fans in Spain have purchased a copy of Mystery Tales 40 in an eBay auction and are placing a scan of the story on a dedicated blog. Below, the fans receiving their prize from FedEx this morning:
In related news, Lost fans have been asking Marvel to reprint the story, which leads me to wonder if the company couldn't have drawn people to its own digital comics initiative by placing its own scan online.
As for copyright--assuming it hasn't lapsed--pursuant to the Berne Convention Marvel could seek to enforce its copyright in Spain, although as a practical matter the question arises as to whether Marvel would want to try and how much the foreign fans would push back. They could make a fair use argument, but Marvel could object that they're going beyond the bounds of fair use by copying the entire work.
Meanwhile, I'm sure there's a key-to-figuring-out-Lost exemption somewhere in copyright law, or at least there will be at some point in the future or was in the past.
In my lectures & classes on social enterprise I make the point that the car was originally seen as an environmentally friendly alternative to the horse. The horse filled cities with shit, stink and disease; the car created a cleaner world by sending little clouds to the sky. Just look at early automobile ads, I tell folks. Mountains, clouds, clean air--what we now see as exhaust-spewing monstrosities were the earth-friendly hybrids of the day.
Here's another example from Vintage Ads:
Proceeds from parking meters fund the Easton Community Foundation in Ohio. The Foundation even notes that it gets a cut of ticket fines.
James Lileks recounts his encounter with a nonprofit convention at Walt Disney World--and an advocate who doesn't quite grasp the importance of context and empathy. As Elvis was wont to say, welcome to my world . . .
Weâ€™re staying at the Coronado Springs, which is also a convention center. It makes for a different mix; among the families, most of which are pasty and mid-thirties with jouncy-belly kids, thereâ€™s a big contingent of pasty people in their mid-forties lugging gimme-sacks full of incredibly important material from very important conferences. The women look like managers and the men give the impression of someone who wants to golf, but cannot. The convention has to do with the Humane Society, I think. While checking in I was in front of a woman who had a T-shirt with a picture of a dead pig, and the words AUSCHWITZ BEGINS. I peered at the shirt to divine the full text: â€œAuschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they're only animals - Theodor Adornoâ€
I suspected that if an actual Auschwitz survivor had approached the woman in the shirt and upbraided her, the woman would have shrugged it off: well, sheâ€™s a little too close to the matter to see the deeper meaning. Who the *$(#% wears a picture with a slaughtered pig and a specious Auschwitz equivalence to a Disney resort check-in line, anyway? Who picks that one out of the drawer and says, oh, spot-on?
The latest of the Letters from Working Girls provides a revealing look at the subtle but significant re-branding of sex work as a social enterprise:
It has always seemed to me that it was more like being a therapist, albeit a very intimate one, than something dirty or immoral. . . . [I] got married, got divorced, and am now back in the business. I live in a very hip, alternative, new-agey mountain town, where being 50ish is not the kiss of death for a woman. I'm calling it "intimate touch for healing and well-being." I found I missed it. Also, I grow organic vegetables.
As the creator and copyright holder of "Fallen Angel" (with Dave Lopez) and "Sachs & Violens" (with George Perez), I hereby give artists permission to create and donate to the charity of the artist's choice (including on-site for charity auctions) original art containing original characters from "Fallen Angel" and "Sachs & Violens." The only requirement is that the artwork have, on the front or back, the following notice--
"NOTICE: THIS ORIGINAL WORK OF ART IS OF ORIGINAL CHARACTERS FROM THE COMIC BOOK SERIES "FALLEN ANGEL" COPYRIGHT PETER DAVID AND DAVID LOPEZ and/or "SACHS & VIOLENS" COPYRIGHT PETER DAVID AND GEORGE PEREZ. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THE IMAGES OF THIS ORIGINAL WORK OF ART MAY NOT BE COPIED OR REPRODUCED FOR ANY PURPOSE EXCEPT FOR DISPLAY AS PART OF THE AUCTION."
One thing to note in this regard is that the release refers only to copyright. The Superman auctions also raised important issues regarding Superman-related trademarks, and given the potential for losing the mark if it's not policed, most companies would be reluctant to allow anyone to use the mark without a more specific and narrowly tailored license.
The following paragraph from a recent ABA article on trademark law illustrates why trademark owners such as Time Warner are so aggressive:
The federal courts have similarly discussed a trademark ownerâ€™s affirmative duty to police their marks on the Internet. For example, in Hard Rock CafÃ© Intâ€™l (USA) Inc. v. Morton, the federal trial court noted that the plaintiff â€œdid not have an adequate program of trademark control, policing, or due diligence in place regarding third-party use of its trademarks on the Internet.â€. . . . Clearly, the court felt the burden was on the plaintiff to police its mark on the Internet.
Under federal trademark law, trademark owners who fail to police their marks run the risk of marks losing their distinctiveness, and therefore their strength. â€œThe trademark owner who fails to police a mark both shows that he doesnâ€™t really value it very much and creates a situation in which an infringer may have been unaware that he was using a proprietary mark because the mark had drifted into the public domainâ€¦â€ A systematic policing program can provide proof of the strength of the mark. In evaluating the strength of a mark, the federal courts typically conduct an appraisal of the ownerâ€™s policing efforts to ensure that whatever distinctiveness or exclusivity originally associated with the mark is not lost through neglect, inattention or consent to infringing uses. For this reason, trademark litigants frequently introduce evidence of their policing activities when prosecuting infringement cases.
Note particularly "consent to infringing uses" in the penultimate sentence. If you wondered why Time Warner only begrudgingly allowed the auction to proceed with only one reposted drawing, that's your answer right there.
FYI, as to any Fallen Angel marks, a quick check of the USPTO trademark database indicates that Top Cow had registered an unrelated "Fallen Angel" mark for comics, but that this mark was abandoned in 2002--a year before David's Fallen Angel series was first published by DC.
This Illinois Department of Transportation campaign has seductive women tempt dorky guys into buckling up. Like death, dumb ideas seem to come in threes:
Meanwhile, here's how the pros do it:
Last night brought the news of the death of Rory Root, whose Comic Relief in Berkeley has for years been a mandatory stop every time I'm town for an academic or legal whatever. As any number of people have observed, the shop is a reader's paradise, a place where an anonymous visiting law student could see an issue of Plastic Man & chat not about its condition or Overstreet price, but how cool it would be if DC would reprint the entire Jack Cole run. Paul Levitz' poignant eulogy on Blog@ is essential reading, especially for the way it captures how for many people a comic store is not so much a shop as a community:
Most of you know someone a little like Rory, because itâ€™s the reason the comic shops are some place we love to visit: run by folks who share a passion for their brightly colored contents and their friends who are, coincidentally, their customers.
If you don't know that it's a jokey reference to Eliot Spitzer's personal preferences, this charitable public service ad conveys a most unintended message:
The practice of revealing the details of a show or movie ahead of time has given rise to any number of questions--Are spoilers ethical? Are they a violation of intellectual property rights?--but one I hadn't seen before was whether they had to be nonprofit. But judging from the controversy regarding Lost spoilers at Dark UFO, the apparent commodification of spoilers would seem to violate some folks' understanding of online social norms:
And speaking of breast-related charity, Bl'ong features a semi-NSFW PSA from India that warns against smoking while breastfeeding.
I'm in the middle of going through storage to gather archived research material for the summer. What's struck me most about it is how alien it all seems. Hundreds of pages of notes on paper; letters; massive amounts of photocopied text; cut-out collages from magazines--most of which has disappeared over the last decade+ as I relied more and more on the computer (including a now-dead old Thinkpad that boasted a whopping 4 meg RAM, 20 meg hard drive and lightning-fast 14.4K modem!)
Most surprising about this former self, however, is that I apparently was a 73 woman from Milwaukee named Gertrude. Apparently this whole professor/guy identity emerged after my husband's fatal bowling accident.
Folks in the virtue biz have long learned the value of children in making a moral appeal. But this protest of porn on Scribd--YouTube for documents--cites a paragon of purity I've never seen in this context before:
Are these traffic-increasing methods acceptable for a VC backed company to drive growth via porn?
Ever wonder how so much crap ends up in thrift stores? This tweet tells the tale--for many folks, donations = things that no one else will buy.
One of the social roles of charity is to provide a means for people to transcend tribal allegiances, and there are few tribal allegiances so intractable as those between Boston and New York baseball fans. My current gig is one example of how charity serves this role--after all, the Grant & Helene Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship is funded by an entrepreneurial couple just a few T-stops away from Fenway itself!
In the news today, another unifying effort: Charity Wine's baseball line, the proceeds of which go to the charities associated with players who appear on the bottle. Wine has long been a source of income for monastic religious organizations, so it's only appropriate that the Church of Baseball has joined the mix.
Boston entrepreneur John Corcoran co-founded the program last year as a new way for athletes to give back to their communities. He began by recruiting three Red Sox players -- Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield -- to debut their wines, and by the time the year was through, he had helped raise approximately $400,000 for charity.
This season, athletes began calling Corcoran asking to get involved, and the company has signed on with stars such as Ken Griffey Jr., David Ortiz and Chipper Jones. Corcoran said Charity Wines expected to raise over $1 million this season with relative ease.
"I'm really excited to have my face on the bottle," Schneider said, "and to help a good cause."
Even if that means mingling with a couple of Yankees on the day of the Subway Series opener, which ended up being rained out. And so Schneider sat on a stage at Mickey Mantle's on Friday, joking with Abreu and Posada only hours before his Mets were scheduled to take on their Yankees.
Some quarrels, it seems, can certainly be set aside.
"When it comes to charity," Corcoran said, "you can't really pick sides."
Earlier this week we saw an online controversy sparked by Warner Brothers' enforcement of its intellectual property rights in material being sold in an auction to benefit charity. The criticism of the Warner action was quite familiar to anyone who has been in my gig for awhile--whatever its legal rights, the reasoning goes, no company should be so heartless as to keep money from going to a good cause.
But when companies are making decisions on IP enforcement, they're not just looking at the occasional impromptu online benefit. They see dozens (if not more) of charitable fundraising efforts using their material each year, and some of them can be quite widespread.
Here's an example: the new "Be the Hero" campaign from the World Wildlife Fund. Among wrestling fans, the WWF is perhaps best known for its draconian enforcement of its own trademark in the notorious lawsuit that forced the World Wrestling Federation to change its name to the WWE. However, in its own marketing the WWF appropriates the uniforms of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman to depict ordinary people as eco-heroes for turning off the lights and watering after 6 p.m.
The merits of the campaign aside--for me the word "hero" loses any distinct meaning if you become one by turning off your TV--these WWF ads illustrate what has many rights owners concerned: the establishment of charity as a law-free zone.
YOUR LYON EYES EXTRA:
A commenter notes a similar eco-campaign in France that produced an unauthorized DC-Marvel crossover:
Funny we had the same idea here but adapted to a campaign whose goal was to tell people to be "cleaner" citizen in the streets of our city (Lyon, France). We actually also used Superman too but my favorite one was a visual with the picture of hand wide open with the title "The Fantastic Five". The Fantastic Five were actually the five fingers every super citizen has and can use to throw their waste in the trash and not to leave them on the streets...
While this comment is funny 'cuz it's true:
At last, a social and environmental campaign that does not include:
1. Malformed, burned, skeleton children
2. Images which, seen from a distance, remind you of something else
In discussing the Siegel Superman case, I noted that decades ago the assumption was that the man bore the responsibility for leaving a financial legacy for his wife and children, with the assumption that the woman was not working during their marriage and would not be a breadwinner after.
Here's an insurance ad that illustrates this point. The phrase that really stands out for me is in the second paragraph: "Regular income has stopped . . . ."
Bill Gates has long been one of my favorite classroom examples of someone who grasped the value of network effects--commonly referred to as the bandwagon effect--in building a business. In short, the more people who use your product, the more other potential users will see it as valuable. Back when web browsers and office software were relatively new, Microsoft used free distribution and price-competition to gain significant market share.
However, now that other companies have used the same strategy to gain dominance in areas where Microsoft had little presence, what can the company do to catch up?
One strategy: get people to feel that downloading Microsoft software is a charitable way to help children.
This online charitable outreach from Microsoft Australia that has folks there buzzing about Microsoft's generous digi-do-goodery. After all, Microsoft offers to give a dollar to charity merely if you watch a video for Microsoft Office, which is not much of a self-serving pitch because you probably already have it!
But look carefully and you'll see a brilliant bit of corporate strategy. In order to watch the video, you have to download Silverlight, Microsoft's attempted Flash-killer. That charitable download adds one more user in Microsoft's bid for market share. As this article indicates, the battle between Adobe and Microsoft is going to be so fierce, and it appears that charity is Microsoft's weapon of choice.
UPDATE: Digital Influence Group, a social media marketing group, ups the ante here.
And yes, I really did say "Spa Fon," an EC in-joke whose latinate-yiddish origins are discussed here.
In a poignant coincidence given this week's news, the story in question--the homage to Will Elder that was the subject of this column was, according to the letter column, "the dazzling DC debut of Gene Colan."
Bruce Nussbaum performs the last rites, drawing a lesson that folks in international aid never seem to learn:
Nicholas Negroponteâ€™s One Laptop Per Child organization admitted defeat in its effort to sell millions of open-source computers in Asia, Africa and Latin America by joining with Microsoft to load Windows XP onto its green and white laptops. The decision marks the end of the effort to spread Constructionist learning pedagogyâ€”learning by doingâ€”to tens of millions of poor children in villages around the world.
The original goal of OLPC was to use open source software to connect children directly to one another and the web so they could learn from one another and directly from many sources of information. Ivan Krstic, the key software architect at OLPC, explains this on his blog. Thatâ€™s the heart of Seymour Papert's Constructionist theory of education. Open.
The OLPC has consistently been lauded in the US in terms of its design and its technology, not its underlying education pedagogy. But it is the pedagogy that has always been the crux of the experiment and it is the pedagogy, in the end, that proved unacceptable to governments around the world because they felt it insulted and challenged them.
The lesson here is that however brilliant the innovation, it needs to be appropriate to the context and the culture. It needs to fit in and not be imposed. And it needs coalitions, teams, to support it. In fact, in the case of education, which is extremely politically sensitive in every country, OLPC should have developed both the design of the computer and the pedagogy with the Indian and Chinese teachers and administrators, not for them.
With Microsoft's XP software now being loaded, the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop becomes just another inexpensive (the price will be around $200, double the original estimate) machine competing with Intel's Classmate and others. Its one virtue is that it will run all the educational software being produced by educators in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
One thing I've been reminded of since starting this site is how tetchy do-gooders can be. Make one goofy comment suggesting that maybe, just maybe something they've done may be a little silly and they lay the saving-the-world smacketh down on your candy ass.
Which is one reason I cannot wait for The Goode Family, the upcoming Mike Judge cartoon satire of contemporary American do-goodery. Here's the upfront preview--I especially like the vegan dog:
That's how the maker of the following early '80s restaurant ad describes himself, and who am I to disagree? Sheer genius ahead:
A story of how weaving baskets is helping to re-weave Rwanda's social fabric--a truly profound story of faith, design and commerce. Says one woman who now crafts with the wife of her husband's killer:
"We knew how to weave baskets," Mukantabana explained. "It helped unite Rwandans in this area because they accepted me as the master weaver, and I could not say, 'I am not taking your basket' or 'I am not helping you because you did something bad to me.' "
The Haunted Attraction Industry joins the fight against breast cancer. Some of the most prominent names that make â€œScaryâ€ their business are pulling every skeleton out of the ground to raise money for Nancy Allen, a fellow Haunter/pervious Haunt Owner. Allen, who is also known as â€œElmyra, the Hearse Chicâ€, was misdiagnosed in August 2007 with what doctors referred to as â€œonly a cystâ€. On December 25th, Allen was diagnosed with Stage 3 Cancer, resulting in her having to have one breast immediately removed. Like millions of Americans, Miss Allen has no health insurance.
The Official Drive, â€œHaunters for Hootersâ€, will take place at Midwest Haunters Convention in Columbus, Ohio June 13-15th. Included in the sponsor list are BIG names like â€œMidnight Syndicate Films and Soundtracksâ€, â€œIAHAâ€, â€œHaunted Attraction Magazineâ€, â€œUniversal Studios Halloween Horror Nights in Orlandoâ€, "Sinister Visions", "The Ghoulish Galleryâ€, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, Pat Priest from â€œThe Munstersâ€ and Camden Toy from â€œAngel and Buffy the Vampire Slayerâ€ just to name a few.
The image above is from Mole!, a classic Mad story by the late Will Elder. It holds a special significance for me because it was the story that got me into the letter pages of Batman, which for young me was pretty much my life's goal. The deal: a Batman adventure did an homage adaption of this story, and I wrote a goofy letter making the connection.
I'm in a University meeting today far from my scanner, so I'll have to post the page from Batman 345 later. For now, Will Elder--rest in peace.
UPDATE: Finally made it to the office, so here's the letter. My scanner is a bit hinky today--no surprise, since it's so old it creates images through daguerreotype--but here is a serviceable scan of what was for my the highlight of my days: my letter printed in Batman 345.
And yes, I really did say "Spa Fon," an EC in-joke whose latinate-yiddish origins are discussed here.In a poignant coincidence given this week's news, the story in question--the homage to Will Elder that was the subject of this column was, according to the letter column, "the dazzling DC debut of Gene Colan."
In Indian mythology, Sanghamitra is the beautiful and wise daughter of Emperor Asoka, and the solitary motivation for his transformation from ruthless despot to a peaceful disciple of Buddhism. Sanghamitra, the providential name chosen by the women, is predestined to signify extraordinary change in their lives, toward a better, brighter future of hope and well-being.
Maya, the President of Sanghamirta, rose and made a speech welcoming those of us gathered in the room. Each office member stood and placed a beautiful purple scarf around our necks.
And how a Westerner ended up teaching yoga in India:
When I asked them if they'd like to try yoga, they giggled and clapped like little girlsâ€”perhaps feeling like they were being naughty or breaking a law. Apparently the practice of yoga doesn't make its way past India's deeply-established tradition of sex and discrimination. Unfortunately, the people who could really benefit from its healing and emancipation properties were denied because of their place in society.
I knew yoga's health benefits might not interest them. And since most of the women are Hindi and devotion is an intrinsic part of their culture, I spoke about how we can use our bodies as an expression of our devotion. I explained how each gesture, including the placement of the hand, the expansion of the lungs, and the turn of the spine, is an offering. I told them that yoga practice is a living ritual and an embodied prayer.
On The Beat, Heidi MacDonald points us to the latest on the effort to raise money for comics legend Gene Colan.* The issue she notes--the lack of royalties for creators throughout much of comics history--is an important one to highlight, as the radically different market conditions can be hard for folks growing up today to comprehend.
Another thing I find myself explaining to disbelieving students every year: that the tax system doesn't allow you to take a deduction for donations made to individuals, however well-deserving. However, folks who want to help out beyond the Colan fundraiser AND get a tax deduction are in luck--they can make tax-deductible contributions to the 501(c)(3) Hero Initiative. The Initiative also makes much-needed revenue from selling signed comics, but remember: you can't take a deduction for the price of things you buy unless the charity documents that you've paid more than market value.
*Heidi's featured Colan cover was one of my favorites when I was collecting comics as a little tyke--for a while I bought literally every copy I found. Besides the picture, never underestimate the power of "SPECIAL ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME ISSUE!!" on a nine-year old.
Today--right now, in fact--I'm in a university training colloquium. I just advised someone how to handle people who use their computers to do stuff besides take notes.
Hey, I'm multitasking!
Anyway, the nuts-and-bolts rundown of university biz by the President was actually quite interesting if you're into charitable law-and-biz stuff, which I happen to be so that worked out fine.
Another surprising thing about the meeting: the room. All street-art or pop art. One wall: Warhol. Another: Lichtenstein. The third: Keith Haring, who actually grew up in PA Dutch country just a short jump from me. In fact, right by the flea market where I'd go every week to buy old comics was Haring Printing.
And not too far from Haring-land: the hometown on Jim Steranko & Chip Kidd. Must have been all the hex signs.
Pictured above: the glorious restoration of Haring's landmark mural on Houston & Bowery. From the photographer:
His famous mural on Houston Street and Bowery from 1982 recreated. The Keith Haring Foundation together with Deitch Projects and Goldman Properties have worked with Gothic Scenic who is reproducing the mural using extensive photographic documentation of the artwork of the legendary artist which first appeared 25 years ago. "To ensure color-matching accuracy, original samples were procured by scraping away layers of paint on the wall until pieces of the original image were revealed.
The Epemerist reports the sale of Mel Ramos' Green Lantern for 500K. For more on Ramos and superheroes in pop art, check out the invaluable Funny Cuts. This is precisely the sort of art sale that is attracting attention from companies holding the copyright & trademark rights to such characters. Here's a brief note on the law in a comment on the Beat.
I know it's tempting to say that companies should turn a blind eye to IP infringement if it benefits a good cause, but we need to keep in mind what happens when charity becomes the safe haven for illegal activity.
1990s Russia provides a telling example. Nonprofits played a major role in the decline of Soviet power--for almost twenty years, a strong network of seemingly non-ideological associations evolved slowly to create a powerful and trusted alternative to the corrupt Communist Party. Within five years of the Soviet Union's collapse, the trust was gone, in large part because the new government took a laissez-faire attitude to charitable commerce and fundraising. The result was an unholy alliance between organized crime and leading charities, who joined together to exploit legal loopholes for the alleged common good.
I know it's rough to get a C&D, and yes, corporations sometimes do overstep their bounds. But it's equally important to remember that small things add up to big things, and if we're not careful charity can become the leading venue for traffic in illicit merchandise.
Remember a week or so ago when I posted that charity is not a viable defense to IP infringement? Some well-meaning folk in the charity biz said I was being "contentious," but the fact is, this is the law. You can defy it or pretend it doesn't exist, but if you do there can be serious consequences.
Case in point: the cancellation of the Say It Backwards Superman auctions for Candlelighters. Whether or not you think the move is good PR, Time Warner--if it did indeed file the objection--has solid legal grounds for asking eBay to pull the items containing its trademarks or copyrighted characters.
Why would a company risk a backlash by taking action against charity? And what about the common practice of artists selling commissioned works featuring DC or Marvel heroes? I'm in the middle of grading exams so our overview will have to be brief, but here are a few important things to note:
Superman: Note that the first two auctions targeted for withdrawal featured Superman. As we've discussed at length elsewhere, DC is in a particularly sensitive situation regarding profits derived from this character. If there were any property that Time Warner lawyers would want to control to the fullest extent possible, Superman would be it.
Charity: Even if you are donating the proceeds to charity, selling others' intellectual property or using it to solicit donations typically constitutes infringement if you do it without permission. Nonprofits have skirted by on this for years, but the market is growing too large to ignore.
Maintaining the mark: Even if it is infringement, why would a company want to take money away from a charity? The following observation from Counterfeit Chic applies to DC as well--
The simplest answer is that their job is to protect [the company's] trademarks. And, legally speaking, they're supposed to object to unauthorized commercial distribution of those marks. A trademark holder that doesn't enforce its rights can ultimately lose them, as the marks may be considered abandoned or even generic. Every time you ask for a Kleenex instead of a tissue or make a Xerox instead of a photocopy, a trademark lawyer somewhere gets another grey hair.
The first sale doctrine: A commenter on Boing Boing brought up the first sale doctrine, but that doesn't apply here. In a nutshell, the first sale doctrine is what allows you to sell or otherwise dispose of an authorized copy of material that you've purchased. For example, if you bought a Superman comic you can sell or lend that copy to someone else without DC's permission. The same is true, say, for legally distributed original art from a published comic book.
However, that's not what appears to have been pulled from the auction. It seems that these drawings were unauthorized--DC never gave the artists permission to use its protected material. Even if someone else had previously purchased the items and donated them to the auction, DC had the right to try to take these drawings off the market. From a legal perspective, the items were no different from a bootleg t-shirt.
Artist commissions: Yes, it's true that a number of comic artists sell commissioned artwork depicting DC and Marvel characters, but that doesn't mean it's all legal. Some of it may indeed be authorized, expressly allowed under a provision in the artist's contract with the company. Yet absent an agreement allowing an artist to sell such work, a commission is arguably infringing a company's intellectual property to the extent that it includes trademarked or copyrighted material.
There are several reasons why DC and Marvel have turned a blind eye to such unauthorized artwork, such as the desire to maintain positive relations with certain artists or the relatively small and inconspicuous scale of the trade. However, as the market for commissioned work grows and efforts to protect company marks generally become more rigorous, the likelihood of legal action stands to increase.
In this regard, pay particular attention to the artists in SIB auction. These weren't just pros with an established relationship with DC--there were also amateurs offering their own interpretations of company characters. For instance, one of the artists listed is Paul Salvi, who, if it's the same guy, is currently one of the people trying to win a DC deal through the Zuda Comics competition.
Which brings us to . . .
Derivative works: If you read my series on Blog@, you might recall a creator who adds distinct new elements to a company's copyrighted material may hold the copyright to that original work. It's why a court held that Neil Gaiman owns Medieval Spawn, and the same legal doctrine was recently cited--unsuccessfully--by one fan artist in a lawsuit to claim the copyright in Batman Beyond.
A lawyer looking at a burgeoning trade in unauthorized art will at least think about the possibility that someone may turn around and sue DC for copyright infringement. One way to reduce the likelihood of such a suit succeeding is for the company to state that it has a policy of not reviewing unsolicited work; another strategy is to discourage artists from producing such material without a contract defining the rights.
Parting thoughts: As some have said, Time Warner could have held back or sought a negotiated solution, and it's possible that the company might relent. Nonetheless, it is also important for charities and fundraisers to understand that at a time when unauthorized copying is rampant, companies are becoming more aggressive in policing their rights. To avoid an unpleasant situation, the best time to address intellectual property issues is before the C&D.
UPDATE: SIP has a few additional comments on the situation. Because a couple of them seem to refer to this post, I'll address them:
(1) My reference to the C&D is in the last paragraph, where I was advising charities generally re what to do. I did not state that SIP itself received a C&D. I debated using something incident-specific like "takedown notice" but went with the broader term. Re the present situation, as I indicated in the second paragraph above, I'm not even stating as fact that the WB itself filed the original complaint to eBay, since I haven't seen the original notice; rather, my post simply addresses the applicable legal principles that could prompt such an action.
(2) Even if SIP meant it wryly after the fact, putting up the S-shield with the comment quoted above was not the wisest course of action if the aim is to work out an agreement to resume the charitable auction, nor does it do any favors for the aspiring professionals contributing to the auction. Lawyers are all too familiar with artists trying to make their name off of others' IP; the post in question links the blog to an agenda that they might not exactly help the contributors' own bid for advancement. This sort of thing is precisely why companies are becoming so rigorous in policing their marks.
We should add to the above another concern with which most folks supporting charity may not be familiar: namely, the heightened scrutiny of charitable fundraising and sales. Indiscriminate association of a company's marks with a charity could have serious negative repercussions for the brand. Is the money indeed going to charity? Who monitors this? Is the charity legitimate and is it using the funds effectively? If a well-meant charitable effort turns out to be problematic, it could severely tarnish the mark, which is why companies may prefer to vet a charity itself before allowing its marks to be used to raise funds.
Again, I'm speaking generally regarding the considerations that guide corporate action; I'm not making any allegations about the charity in question here or about SIP. My primary aim is to help charities understand the current environment and how they can avoid unwanted situations.
Topic: Venture Initiation and Entrepreneurship.
Fear: That I'll be the guy who gives FedEx a C.
But as I tell my students, grades are outmoded anyway, a relic of a time when the role of education was to certify dutiful employees in an industrial economy. It's an entirely different set of assumptions from what makes for a successful entrepreneur.
Odd moment in the 1941 wartime romance The Very Thought of You, broadcast today on TCM. A soldier and his girlfriend go to Pasadena City Hall to get hitched before he ships out. Accompanying them: her sixteen-year-old sister. In the waiting room for the Justice of the Peace there are several other couples, including one that looks likes a couple of high schoolers. The young girl in that couple says she's sixteen and advises the sister to get married too.
Peacetime (or at least the cultural marginalization of war), the knowledge economy, the democratization of higher education, the advancement of women professionals and yes, birth control--these and other factors dramatically alter the incentives to get women married off at a young age.
Last Thursday night I posted a picture of the comic that appeared on the evening's episode of Lost. I enjoy the show for any number of reasons, but perhaps the most compelling is its grounding in the island metaphor.
From Plato's Atlantis to Gilligan, think back through the last couple millennia and you'll see island metaphors recurring in times of dramatic technological change. The immediate popularity of Lost echoes the emergence of yet another island metaphor that I think is not unrelated: the image of computing as an array of virtual islands connected by virtual rafts.
Extend the metaphor to the planet or universe as an information processing array and you can see how the metaphor would appeal in an era defined by hyper-connectivity. Space and time collapse as we each find ourselves acting as a localized agent in a complex array where all is accessible if you know how to chart the course.
And even if you have the know-how to get from one place to another, that doesn't mean you understand what's going on.
Archie Comics version of Lost via Three Men in a Tub
Debranded home is a new way of thinking about products and their presence into our houses: many of us prefer to show anonimous packs into their toilets, in spite of branded ones.
Debranded home created two series of sticker to personalize each bottle we may have at home.
In my opinion, they made the opposite, creating a precise brand and giving to the end user the possibility of creating his personal pack, against the market proposals.
Available from Alyssa Ravenwood:
Superhero or Villain? Outlaw or Outlandish? Rescuing the fair maiden or rescuing yourself, thank you very much! You provide the motive; this mask provides your disguise.
I agree; this is a most telling response:
Harvard is an investment bank with a mom-and-pop non-profit enterprise attached to it for tax purposes.
This PSA campaign tries to garner support for the movement against female genital mutilation by portraying the victims as blow up sex dolls, right down to the prefab wide-open mouth ready and waiting to give oral stimulation. Is this really the most effective way to persuade folks--particularly sex-obsessed guys threatened by female sexual autonomy--that the practice is a bad thing?
Jezebel asks what is clearly the most pressing question raised by Sex and the City:
[W]hy didn't any of the women ever date . . . someone who worked for a non-profit? The reason is pretty obvious. Even though Sarah Jessica Parker thinks that Carrie didn't care about her boyfriends' money, the glittering aura of wealth is part of the Sex world, and very much defines its social rules.
Another reason to promote social enterprise, I guess. Or not.
Just like baby boomers think they discovered sex, today's do-gooder revolutionaries believe that they're first to revolutionize charity by making it more business-like. But if you do a little historical digging, you soon realize that social enterprise is just the latest variation on a recurring theme.
Case in point: this article from Mad #72, available on this essential DVD set from NYC's own GIT Corp. The article is response to the then-current trend of remaking charity in the image of commercial business, complete with outcome metrics, efficiency-maximizing strategy and Madison Avenue marketing campaigns.
The earlier movement's most notable effect: the enactment of the public charity/private foundation legal so-called reforms that are the bane of today's social enterprise start-ups. We're headed in a similar direction today, but we could still avoid it--and the the best place to start is by taking humor more seriously as a cultural barometer.
When audience shots are a necessary part of the show but the show isn't hot enough to fill all the seats, people are paid to be part of the audience. Via this Animal account of an American Gladiator taping:
And yeah, being an audience member is as phony as the rest of the show; its a paying gig! A steady thing gangbangers, failed actors, those to dull witted to hold down a security guard gig. And the American Gladiator producers never let these marginal types forget they are the lowest of the low. They're kept for hours on end with no water, rousted out of toilets and not compensated for a lunch hour. One sad sack who relies on "audience work" for a living said he considered complaining to the NBC over his treatment that day, didn't have the cajones. "I don't want to be black balled from this work."
By contrast, the coffee houses famously described by Jurgen Habermas went beyond the public aggregation of private spheres. They were a place where the various customers interacted amongst themselves, even if they didn't know each other before they came in.
This came to mind as I read the most recent blog post by Paul Cornell, whom some of you may recognize from the epic Dr. Who two-parter last season in which the Doctor became human:
I popped in to officially open the shop the other weekend . . . and found myself part of a warm sitcom about selling comics and actually talking to your customers. Thereâ€™s already quite a social life developing around that shop, as with all the best comic retailers.
That's more like the classic model of the coffee-house-as-civil-society. The best comic shops are indeed stores that are more than stores--they are places where people connect.
The Ten Year Nap is a new novel by Meg Wolitzer that explores an urban professional who left her career to become a full-time mom. Marketers spotted this demographic years ago and found ways to connect them to their gone-but-not forgotten other self.
Dennis the Menace today is pretty safe--cute kid doing adorable things, upright parents, blah. Back in the 1950s, though, the strip was surprisingly subversive. Dennis is like the devil in Faust or Master and Margerita--his mischief exposes the more pervasive problems beneath the surface in suburban American. Basically, it's Blue Velvet with a six-year-old Dennis Hopper.
A century ago the U.S. civilized the heathen with the Bible and the bayonet. Then we exported democracy through aerial assaults and foreign aid. But now, in the era of social enterprise, America's white urbanites will save the world's people of color by buying pants for our children to crap in.
The comments on this Amnesty International ad say it all--this is yet another sexed-up PSA that undermines its core message.
Chain looks so easy to tear. It must be not so difficult to stop slavery.
Slavery. Bringing sexy back.
yeah, this is confused shite.
it seems a more effective as an ad for naughty escorts. not the message i think they're after.
it's a lost opportunity to do something meaningful and great. shame on you switzerland.
Now, thanks to a specially designed Segway, the battery-powered transporter, [Iraq double-amputee] Keeslar says he can ditch his wheelchair and get around without people looking down on him.
In the following video, Dean Kamen--son of the legendary EC Comics artist Jack Kamen--describes his ongoing project to revolutionize prosthetic arms for veterans. It is truly technology in McLuhan's sense of the term: an extension of the self.
Ro London's 300 Images from 1800 Sites is a design project that aggregates graphics from commonly used elements online. The "comments" set illustrates how the visual vocabulary of comics and cartoons has emerged as the lingua franca of the web:
From its review of the current Amsterdam exhibit on Superheroes and Schlemiels: Jewish Memory in Comic Strip Art, which, "[w]ith its fascinating look at the history and process behind cartooning, it reveals the genuine and often brilliant artistry behind even the silliest comic-book heroes."
And when you're at this exhibit, be sure to check out its ancillary children's section, Saving Superman with Max the Matzo.
Above: Will Eisner, The Spirit and the Immigrants
Comics weren't the only thing in the New York relevant to this website; it also contained a bombshell for social enterprise.
One of the paragons of corporate social responsibility is the Dove "Real Beauty" ad campaign, best known for its landmark Evolution video critique of photo-manipulation and its once ubiquitous ads featuring unretouched real women.
However, it may all be a sham. Tucked into a profile of Pascal Dangin, one of the world's best photo retouchers, is the following true confession:
To avoid such complaints, retouchers tend to practice semi-clandestinely. â€œIt is known that everybody does it, but they protest,â€ Dangin said recently. â€œThe people who complain about retouching are the first to say, â€˜Get this thing off my arm.â€™ â€ I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual â€œreal womenâ€ in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. â€œDo you know how much retouching was on that?â€ he asked. â€œBut it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyoneâ€™s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.â€
The resulting debate about the ethics of retouched reality is not only relevant to the beauty industry. Every day I read articles portraying charity and social enterprise in ways that are as unreal as any retouched model.
UPDATE: Unilever denies it; the retoucher says (natch) that his quote was taken out of context. Of course, Dangin is also reported to work without public acknowedgment, and the possibility exists that Dangin is scurrying back under the cover of a nondisclosure agreement. Did he or didn't he? In today's pseudo-environments, no one can ever know for sure.
ANOTHER UPDATE: A sharp analysis from MedaBistro.
I got home from the office today to find news of another Union Square suicide, this time in San Francisco. As you can see from the above SFist comments thread, the connection was quickly noted--indeed, someone commented on my Flickr set they initially thought it was from SF.
In all likelihood the second death was a coincidence, not inspired by its New York counterpart. For one thing, as of the time of the San Francisco suicide, reports of the New York event had not hit the national news.
It's not an unlikely hypothesis. Mimesis is hard-wired in the mind; it is arguably the key factor in the emergence of humanity. But it also seems to have a dark side. Philosopher Rene Girard has written extensively on the role that mimetic desire plays in social conflict, as imitation among competitors leads to mimetic aggression. Similar, it has been argued that reports of a suicide spark imitative self-destruction, as the report of the act validates suicide as an adaptive behavior.
The possibility that the suicide is mimetic has given rise to at least two competing lines of thought re the ethics of reporting suicide. One approach holds that we need to limit access of information about suicide, so as to reduce the possibility that the act will go viral. Supporting this approach: statistical studies that seem to confirm that suicides tend to occur in clusters.
Others adopt a somewhat revisionist point of view, arguing that a more nuanced analysis of the statistics does not actually support the mimetic hypothesis, at least in every case. Among the proponents of this argument, surprisingly enough, has been the Center for Disease Control, which cites a Texas study observing that news of suicide might actually decrease the risk of suicidal behavior.
How can that be, given our innate mimetic impulse? One key factor may be the way the news is presented. In short, the more it comes across as maladaptive or reductionistic--less than beneficial, less than human--the greater the likelihood that suicide will seem unattractive. In this regard, consider jokes about suicide or, say, driver ed films that associate mangled bodies in car accidents with funny music; rather than being tasteless, they might actually be embedded strategies for survival, neutralizing negative mimetic behavior by making reckless or self-destructive acts seem absurd.
Via Gothamist, bowlers lament the closure of Woodhaven Lanes due to increasing rents. Once again, the tension between money and community becomes the focus of attention, as if the bowling alley itself was not a profit-seeking business:
Owner Jim Santora tells NY1 the lanes will probably be divvied up into some sweet retail outlets:We have a lot of places to shop, but we don't have places to entertain ourselves, have a good time, and to meet with family. That's what bowlers are, family. I had 80-year-old women and men crying on my shoulders when they found out about this, and I had 2 and 3-year-old children crying as well.Most devastated are the league bowlers for whom Woodhaven is a home away from home. Bowler Linda Raia lamented, "It's like the almighty dollar wins again. What about having a heart?"
In the eyes of the original uploader, Death starred in its own series long before Neil Gaiman came along.
Don't watch the above video. Really. It's the infamous banned Pokemon scene that gave hundreds of people seizures when first broadcast in Japan. The problem: for some people, the blinking colors acted as a trigger for a neurological disruption known as photosensitive epilepsy.
Why would I post this? Because the effect is in the news again, and this time it involves a nonprofit. Via Wired, there's news that the FBI has begun investigating the infamous (in tech circles, anyway) sabotage on the Epilepsy Foundation online forum, in which hackers used flashing light images to induce seizures in epileptics visiting the site.
The Wired update raises an interesting legal point:
[A]ssuming the Bureau is able to find some of the culprits, it could lead to the first federal prosecution under an anti-cyber terrorism provision passed in 1996 as part of the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act.
The law created a new crime of attacking a computer to cause "physical injury to any person." Some of us laughed at that provision at the time, and as far as I know it's never been used. But in this case it just might fit.
io9 has more from the AP report, including the observation that these hackers were apparently motivated not by money, but malice. In other words, they were nonprofit too.
Should I have been arrested for taking this picture?
This is the first of a series of photos I took following a suicide on Union Square, on Broadway just south of the Virgin Records store. It was an incredibly poignant scene--a life reduced to a makeshift memorial that it would itself soon be washed away.
But that's not how a police officer saw it. He ordered me to stop taking pictures, growing so adamant and vociferous that I defused the situation only by calmly inviting him to arrest me.
One of the officer's statements particularly stands out: he said that I had to stop because he--the officer--was going to see his grandchildren later today. Even here, it seems, an appeal to the children seemed to be a powerful argument--and no doubt for the officer it was.
The standoff spoke volumes about our relation to death and personal identity. I started to take these photos for my Blingdom of God and Uncivil Society blogs as a meditation on life, death and memory--this was a truly moving scene, a life of despair marked by detritus and blood on the sidewalk, and then washed away.
The officer's response reflects our all too human desire not to acknowledge the reality of death in daily life. This was a street, a sidewalk, a place where people pass through as they live their daily lives--we should not remember death here; we should not memorialize the willful end of one's own existence; we should not expose our children to all that this scene may imply--not least of all lest they, mimetic as they are, begin to see despair and death as viable options.
Which is more respectful to the memory of the person lost here in so many ways? To remember & reflect or to wash it away?
From the The Pug Rescue Network Charity Pug-O-Ween Event. Jay Leno would not be pleased.
Social enterprise as a movement trends toward the secular, but the big money has always been in religion. Via Libby Purves, check out the $30 million investment on $150 million valuation for GodTube, the YouTube knockoff that sports a full-on CSR agenda:
The great God Internet bubble rises and rises...Religion is probably as big as pornography on the net, if not bigger. Godtube - the minivideo site for the religiously minded - has raised $30 million at a $150 million valuation from GLG Partners, a hedge fund. The site started with $ 300 and last September became one of the top thousand sites worldwide. Its mission statement, incidentally, is strict: it gives a platform, so it claims, only to socially responsible faith-based organizations . . . 'Security and moral integrity are exceptionally important to the family at GodTube, and we take great pains to protect you and your loved ones. GodTube is family-friendly and is great for all Christians alike, including Christian children.'
To illustrate what a difference a social mission makes, one family has attracted millions of viewers by filming two versions of their daughter and placing one on each site. Here's the girl on GodTube:
And in her secular YouTube incarnation:
Folks in the museum biz know a crowd-pleaser when they see it. Back when I was with a law firm, for example, I worked with the Chicago Aquarium when it discovered the drawing power of Frogs, an exhibit theme that has since become a staple of the nature biz.
Judging from the recent spate of comics exhibits--Jewish creators; classic artists; fashion and heroes; and now, Native American comics--it's clear that comics are developing a reputation as admissions gold.
Like any good religion, social entrepreneurship is developing its own creation myth. Before the 1980s all was formless and void; then lo, the gods reached forth their mighty hand to create social enterprise ex nihilo. Social entrepreneurs live in this new world, this sustainable Garden of Eden, as the new Adams and Eves, resisting the serpent's call to taste traditional nonprofit fruit.
However, as something of a professional heretic, I find myself gravitating toward apocrypha. I present here the true Adam, the unsung Hidden Prophet of our new age: Popeye, who, in 1973, inspired a generation of comics readers to believe that they could do well by doing good.
OK, so maybe Popeye isn't the real inspiration for social enterprise, but I think you catch my drift. Social enterprise isn't really all that new, and as I've been saying in my various talks and blog posts, its time as a mainstream organizational metaphor is likely to be short. If we want to understand what's really going on with the movement--and how to perpetuate its ethic long past the expiration date of the term--we have to get past the myths and self-congratulation to figure out what's really going on.
In that regard, I want to point you to Martin Smith's self-censored meditation on social enterprise. I have in my own files an unpublished essay on "Is social enterprise bullshit?" that I'm currently revising for the academic family hour as "Is social enterprise sustainable?", so as you'll see pretty soon--next draft almost done!--I have a fair amount of sympathy with Martin's cri de couer. Rather than copy a bunch of it here, I'll just recommend that you go over to his site and read the whole thing.
Via Book Patrol, here's an investigative report alleging that the Strand's current management "has worked harder than anyone to transform the Strand from an intellectual oasis to a profit-producing machine." The core problem, they say, is Nancy Bass Wyden, who used to work at Exxon and is said to be imposing corporate business practices on the store:
Going from working for a giant oil company to running a giant independent book store is alone a recipe for disaster.
â€œThey focus more on making money than on the enjoyment of running a bookstore,â€ said Trexler Chisholm, 26, who works in the rare books room on the third floor.
One of Bass Wyden's major initiatives was to ramp up the Strands books by the yard program, the "selling of books arranged decoratively on shelves to the rich and famous," which has nothing to do with books and everything to do with interior design. It just doesn't seem to be about the books anymore.
This is fascinating stuff on any number of levels. For example, many say the future of charity lies in remaking it in the image of for-profit business--in short, the very thing now decried at the Strand, which is, let's face it, is a commercial business. If a culture clash erupts at a bookstore, how much more can we expect a stronger backlash in the nonprofit world?
There's also the reaction against the evolution of the book. Folks familiar with the past generation of media theory know that the Strand's subtle shift to books-as-decoration reflects the book's evolving nature as a vehicle for conveying information. Heck, McLuhan called this development almost fifty years ago; one person's selling out is another's cultural shift.
Maybe it would be nice to run the Strand as a so-called social business, with an emphasis on the social. It could be an oasis in the commercial urban desert, a literary salon devoted to the love of books and treating all employees--and customers--as family. Personally I'd enjoy that, at least for the year or so it would last before the Strand went bankrupt and was replaced by a bank.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting censorship of sequential art. It recently won a major victory in Georgia, where a local prosecutor dropped charges against a retailer for giving a child a comic that the retailer didn't realize included a panel with Picasso naked. Among its current projects: working with other civil liberties organizations and booksellers to challenge new harmful-to-minors laws in Utah and Oregon.
I'll have more on all this later, but for now, a quick note about a trend that is going to make the CBLDF's work a lot more challenging in year to come: the emerging technology of child porn. Naked City highlights the work of journalist Debbie Nathan, who is researching the state of the art:
While it is illegal to make or look at pornography using real live underage people, it is not illegal to produce and own CGI pornography with figures that appear to be underaged. Five or ten years ago this wasn't a huge issue - it was easy to tell real photos and digital compositions apart. But that's no longer the case. And as Nathan writes, child pornographers are now beginning to make real pictures look digital so they can skate by under the radar.
It's a really creepy fusion of exploitative crime and new technologies, and chances are high that some really weird combination of technophobia, attempts to punish pedophiles, and desire to protect children will meld to forge a new law. Just what that will be remains to be seen.
NC's prediction of yet another new law is as close to a sure thing as you can get in policy analysis, and you can bet the next one will adapt to the objections raised by courts that struck down previous versions. When this happens, expect comics to be an even more tempting target. In contrast to the shady and often inaccessible world of child porn, comics are easily demonized--and indicted--as The Seducer Hidden in Plain Sight.
First they came for alt-comics, then they came for manga, and then . . .
From The World's Worst Comic Book Museum, a comic depicting private health care advocates as crazed axe-murdering villains. The impulse to demonize the opposition isn't just limited to bad guys, y'know. In fact, do-gooders have a knack for getting so wrapped up in their own mission they lose sight of how they look to other people.
Another clever super-reference at the Met gala, this time in combination--looks like there was a bit more "sci-fi" glamour than was initially reported.
A subtle Super-reference at last night's Met costume gala.
NY Times fashion writer Cathy Horyn reports live from the gala for the new Met Costume Institute Superheroes and Fashion exhibit:
OMG, have suddenly seen just about everybody. Tom Ford, Richard Buckley, Valentino, Daphnee Guinness (in a twilight sequined Lâ€™Wren Scott), Ed Burns talking with Jerry Seinfeld, lots of models. A pretty glamorous, not sci-fi, night.
Sigh. I guess that's just the way we roll:
Readers of the New Yorker are no doubt familiar with the last-page Caption Contest, where you can vote on reader-submitted captions for cartoons. This week's captionless cartoon is below, and as comics fans will recognize, it's an homage to the King himself. (Speaking of whom, if you haven't purchased Mark Evanier's new Kirby bio, do it now. Really. I'll have a longer write-up of it once the semester rush is over, but it's an absolute must-read, especially for non-comics folks who are interested in work, art and personal meaning.)
In a fun coincidence, this isn't the only comics reference in the current Caption Contest. Below: the winning caption for this week, which not only sports a Batman reference but was submitted by a reader with a heroic heritage himself. Clearly Captain America isn't dead--he's in LA pursuing a career in comedy.
Tomorrow UBS will receive the "Heart of Gold" award for community service. The company has chosen the same day to start laying off 8,000 employees.
The International Red Cross has posted a new 12-page graphic novelette on its history by acclaimed comics artist Moebius, available here as a free PDF. It's short, so it must be concise, yet for some reason the IRC makes repeated mention of one particular aspect of its work.
Hmmmmm, I wonder why?
Two hundred years after the Revolutionary War, this guy still bears a grudge. From the London Telegraph:
I have the plot for a new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. A film buff survives a heavy dose of radiation only to find he can travel through time. He heads straight back to New York in December 1922 and throttles an infant Stan Lee before he can grow up and create Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Hulk and so many more. Mankind is saved from a twilight cinema world of dire superhero films, American children grow up reading real books and no fashion designer ever tries - as Marc Jacobs did last year - to do underwear as outerwear.
A New York banker who knows too much about comics explained that the lycra-clad ones are his country's mythology and tap into the American psyche, specifically its reverence for individualism, self-advancement and triumphing over adversity. I wondered whether the current vogue for flawed, alienated superheroes reflected America's current position in the world. Yes, he said, superheroes could be therapeutic too.
The founder of a group calling itself Superheroes Anonymous told me his masked members "externalise their desire to do good in the most extreme way possible... by changing their physical identity". They include Red Justice, a substitute teacher from Queens who wears red boxer shorts over jeans and encourages young people to give their subway seats to others. The Cleanser, a Manhattan lady in a white cape and yellow rubber gloves, picks up litter. The Super is a caretaker in Brooklyn. He fixes taps and does electrical work for people in need. He does it in a red cape, green suspenders and green tights under black soccer shorts.
A Times Square confetti swarm marks the 11th anniversary of the Entertainment Industry Foundation/Revlon Run/Walk for Women.
Just one more example of how times have changed over the past twenty years, when most women you saw dashing through Times Square were running for their own lives, not someone else's.
Personally I wouldn't touch it, even it was dancing around at an event spreading awareness of the Hepatitis B Foundation in Doylestown, PA. I mean, c'mon--it's the official mascot of Hepatitis B!
Click the pic to see more about how the HepBF hijacked the city's First Friday celebration of the arts to promote its own health care agenda. If you were a musician or designer, who would you rather have sponsor your event--a commercial business or a disease?
More supercouture in the news:
Style.com's "We Can Be Heroes" fashion round-up
Plus: why the Costume Institute's Harold Koda is a Spider-Man guy
NY Times Magazine superhero fashion slideshow, Pow! Kerplow!! Boing!!!
Because no newspaper has ever used old Batman sound effects in a headline before. No, never.
NY Times slideshow on the Batwoman Look
"Superhero is the new floral," although "it appears the superhero fantasy, or the idea of being transformed into a bigger, better, more magical version of oneself, has been in the air for a while."
Batwoman costume leads to marriage:
Although they had seen each other around the Hamptons, they first talked last Halloween at a bar in Sag Harbor, to which Ms. O'Brien arrived dressed as Batwoman.
She said she fell in love instantly and invited him back to her house for a late-night meal. ''We were starving, and he cooked Portuguese sausage,'' she recalled. ''I was still in my Batwoman outfit, and I took him for a walk in the garden, to show him my trees."
When I was a tyke, I was fascinated with media theory, particularly the then-ubiquitous paperback ouvre of Marshall McLuhan. One of the things that leapt out from the work of McLuhan and his acolytes was that the photos of people in magazines depict real-world comics characters--the degree to which we manipulate images creates graphic abstractions that are closer, say, to Power Girl than people as they are in real life.
There are any number of ramifications of this that we'll be exploring here, particularly the way that attempts to use visual imagery to rise above nature can reverse into reductionism. For now, since I'm still swamped in end of the semester stuff, a picture and a quick note.
Below: an image ostensibly of Gwyneth Paltrow from a new Vogue Iron Man tie-in. I say ostensibly because if it weren't for the title of the article, I would not have recognized her. The shopped-in Iron Man tech is not the issue; the face has been abstracted to such a degree that it obliterates her distinguishing features. In fact, if you look at it for any length of time, you'll see that her face is essentially bifurcated into a Harvey Dent of idealized beauty--one wider, lighter, larger; the other, shaded, narrow, more compact. The head looks like its been pasted on, and her left arm (from the viewer's perspective, right) has fused into her body to form what looks to be wing-like webbing.
A series of Photoshop disasters? Perhaps, perhaps not. The whole effect is one of mechanized soullessness, which judging from Paltrow's hollow expression would seem to be the point.
A brief meditation on death, technology and personal identity in this post on the historic first edition of Mark Gruenwald's collected Squadron Supreme.
Skelewags is an urban art project that does not merely imprint images in urban spaces--it creates scenes grounded in the environment itself. The Habermasian critique of commercial colonization of the lifeworld misses a broader point, I think--that creative colonization is what makes us who we are.
Today's Women's Wear Daily has two feature articles on superheroes and fashion, including the above announcement of Diane von Furstenberg's new Wonder Woman line in collaboration with DC Comics. That the designer has such a strong personal connection to Wonder Woman should not come as a surprise, given the character's historic role as a symbol of women's empowerment in the early 1970s, when DVF emerged as one of the world's most prominent fashion designers and businesswomen.
The connection between superheroes, fashion and charity also has deep roots. All express transformative identity, rising above our given condition to create something more.
In related news, here's a fascinating article on the issue of Islam and Wonder Woman's costume in a theme park in Dubai.
Michael SanGiacomo's look at the new charity raising funds for Cleveland's Superman celebration includes the following paragraph:
In any event, we can go through with a bunch of events this year, but the big Superman celebration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had to be killed because there was not enough time to get all the necessary approvals from DC and Warner Brothers.
Recall the l'affaire Iron Man from a couple days ago, in which Marvel objected to an uncleared cross-promotional pre-screening. I'm rather impressed that the Cleveland organizers thought about the rights issue; many groups simply go forward without taking that into account. Sometimes it goes unnoticed without incident, but all too often it leads to headaches that could have been avoided.
FYI, I've updated the update to highlight four key lessons for crisis management in controversies resulting from legal dust-ups. Not every one will be optimal for every situation, but they're useful things to have in the toolbox.
This is one from a set of public service ads promoting the Child Protection Foundation of Thailand. The gimmick: branded images of boys having different kinds of sex with men. The slogan: "Remove is hard. Protect is easy."
Let's set aside my first reaction: that this was perhaps the most twisted condom ad in history. Then again, let's not. However unhappy folks may be with a little girl in a Mickey Mouse bra, my guess is that most commercial companies wouldn't feature a pre-pubescent boy being anally penetrated by a middle-aged guy.
Call it a hunch.
Yet this charity does, just as other charities have featured scantily dressed teen prostitutes or, to use the buzzword of the day, semi-nude drunks. It calls attention to a crucial yet generally ignored fact of charitable marketing: we tend to lack the morality checks of even the most aggressive commercial marketers. Our moral mission frees us to say and to do whatever we want in the name of our particular higher good, even if what we say or do is otherwise reprehensible.
As charities become more proficient in adopting business practices--cause marketing, effectiveness, efficiency, whatever--yeah, sure, it can help generate more social ROI, whatever the hell that is, but our innate moral nihilism can also increase the potential for these practices to have anti-social results.
Cynical? Not at all. It's just a fact, and the fact that the charitable community doesn't see this highlights just how much we do not know ourselves.