Jeff Trexler: July 2009 Archives
Comic books are modern morality plays, and today on a break I re-read a classic Superboy story from 1960: Claire Kent, Alias Super-Sister. In a nutshell, Superboy realizes that his dual identity is just a metaphor for the woman within. He goes to the Fortress of Solitude for a once-in-a-lifetime Kryptonian sex change, but it's all a bit too progressive for Smallville, forcing the new Super-Sister to pretend to be an out-of-town relative. Unfortunately, when Claire Kent rejects Luthor's invitation to the prom, the spurned teen mad scientist reverses the operation.
Nah, that's not what happened. The real story--not a hoax, not an imaginary tale, not a dream (well, sorta not a dream)--is a different kind of study in gender dynamics. Superboy insults an alien woman's driving ability, so she decides to teach him a valuable lesson: it sucks to be a girl in a patriarchal society.
As the last panel shows, it's an ambiguous lesson at best--Superboy learns that he's been a real pig in the way he has treated the women in his life, but when it's all over he's glad that he's a guy--and not in a "I'm glad that I now have the insight and power to make a difference," way, but "Sheesh, I'm glad that's over, wink wink." Ah well. For a more reflective study of the social significance of superheroines & their positive effect on girls' sense of self, check out Peggy Orenstein's upcoming Sunday times essay, Wonder Girl:
In the end, that is the true drama of the superhero: the ordinary Joe who discovers that he has a marvelous gift, something that sets him apart from everyone else, simultaneously elevating and at least potentially isolating him, forcing a series of moral choices about the nature of might and goodness. It's a story writ large about coming to grips with power: accepting it, demanding it, wielding it wisely. Those themes are rarely explored in the fantasy culture of little girls, yet given how problematic power remains for adult women -- in both fact and fiction -- perhaps they should be.For the complete Super-Sister story, plus more transgender Superman, check out the invaluable Transgender Graphics and Fiction Archive.
The Dicapo Opera is, in the words of one reviewer, "the closest thing New York has to a mini-Met." The photo above is from their latest season schedule, which features a fun juxtaposition between their "delectably sexy" production of Dangerous Liaisons and the faux-crayon infused Opera for Kids.
Fan campaigns to save shows & characters have a rich history, going back at least to the landmark letter-writing campaign that persuaded NBC not to cancel Star Trek back in the 1960s. (FYI: the book linked above is a must read collection of primary source material for anyone interested in the history of nonprofit organized fan associations.)
Now, fans of Torchwood are using a charitable fundraiser to persuade the BBC to bring back a character who was killed in the latest--and in my opinion, brilliant--season.
Word is the effort won't succeed in bringing back Ianto, but so far it has raised about $5,000 for BBC's Children in Need.
A compelling use of photography & Flickr by "Parents of Angels" (parents who lost a child) in Bucharest, Romania, organized by E.M.M.A. Association - www.organizatiaemma.ro.
"E.M.M.A. is a volunteer based non-profit organization providing crisis support and long term aid to families after the death of a child from any cause, after as well as before birth."
We're all about meaning & community here, but because of massive work commitments I wasn't able to make it to the San Diego Comic Con, where costumes are a standard way of expressing one's identity.
Though let's face it--posting pictures of cosplay is pretty much a convention cliche. Fortunately that's not the only way it's done in the community, so to mark the occasion here are several notable comic & cartoon tombstones!
Richard Morrissey, legendary comics historian & letter column denizen (thanks Michael!):
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny (among countless others!):
Alfred Harvey, founder of Harvey Comics, publisher of Casper the Friendly Ghost:
Mark Gruenwald, comic book writer, who was cremated & had his ashes mixed in the ink for the first edition of his collected series Squadron Supreme--a copy of which was a standard part of my law school classes on corporate life & personal identity!
Marvel made comics history today by announcing that it had secured the rights to Mick Anglo's Marvelman, the character that formed the basis of the landmark MiracleMan series that has long been caught in a legal thicket.
I don't have time to write more on this right now, but here are my thoughts in a nutshell:
Fawcett stopped publishing Captain Marvel because the character allegedly infringed on the Superman copyright.
The Marvelman created and owned by Mick Anglo was arguably just a transparent knockoff of Captain Marvel, with a few surface details changed but still a visibly derivative work.
Theoretically, DC could claim that Marvel's Marvelman infringes both the Superman & Captain Marvel copyrights.
For that matter, so could the heirs of Superman's co-creator Jerry Siegel, who now own 50% of the copyright in the Superman material in Action Comics #1.
UPDATE: I've been thinking about this from two perspectives--a viable claim vs. one that would be a lock to win. As we've seen plenty of times, you don't need the latter to take something off the market.
This has been a rather interesting hypothetical to kick around, especially given the extra complication that the vast majority of Fawcett Captain Marvel comics don't appear to have had their copyright renewed--at least they don't seem to show up in a quick search of Stanford's online renewal database.
What could that mean? Well, were a court to conclude that the comics are in the public domain and that Captain Marvel doesn't infringe on Superman, a lawsuit by DC or the Siegels would fail--at least in regard to Superman.
Things would also get interesting in regard to DC's Captain Marvel properties, whose copyright protection would arguably extend only to new material added to what was in the public domain. Besides limiting any potential claims re Marvelman, there's also an argument here that DC's reported purchase of the Captain Marvel character from Fawcett is worth as much as, say, licensing Hamlet from the Globe Theater--i.e., nothin'.
If--and again, I haven't gone to the Copyright Office personally to confirm, so it's a big if--Captain Marvel & the Marvel Family are indeed in the public domain, it's arguably legal for anyone to create derivative works so long as they don't infringe on registered trademarks & viable copyrights owned by DC & Marvel.
On the other hand, judging on the case record, there is an argument to be made that Captain Marvel infringes on the DC/Siegel Superman copyright, so all the public domain issue may be moot.
Here's where the estoppel principles applied in the recent Siegel cases could get rather interesting, despite their arcane technicality. Y'see, back in the original Superman/Captain Marvel lawsuit, the federal appeals court agreed with the district court that Captain Marvel copied Superman material--the question left unresolved was the precise scope of the infringing material. Were DC to sue over Marvelman--and again, there's no indication they will; this is just a hypothetical--DC could argue that the core court findings re copying & infringement remain valid.
Submitted for the record, here the key passages from the court opinions:
National v. Fawcett, 198 F.2d 927 (2nd Cir., 1952):
We did mean to say that "Fawcett" infringed some of the strips which the plaintiff put in suit, assuming that these had been lawfully copyrighted and the copyright had not been forfeited. This we held because "Fawcett" had argued that none of its strips infringed any of the plaintiff's; and it was a necessary finding, if we were to proceed to the other questions, which without any such finding would have become moot.
On the other hand, we did [**2] not find which of the strips, which the plaintiff put in suit "Fawcett" had infringed: i.e., copied so closely as to be actionable under Detective Comics v. Bruns Publications, 2 Cir., 111 F.2d 432. That will demand a comparison of each strip put in suit by the plaintiff with "Fawcett's" strip, which the plaintiff asserts does so closely copy that particular strip. Each such comparison really involves the decision of a separate claim; there is no escape from it. The plaintiff may put in suit as many strips as it pleases, but it must prove infringement of each, or it will lose as to that strip. In saying that "Fawcett" was an "unabashed" infringer we meant no more than that there were some such instances. Whether the strips so copied were protected by a valid copyright we did not say.
The plaintiff has the burden of proving as to any strip it puts in suit that it was validly copyrighted; but we leave it open whether "Fawcett" has the burden of proving whether any copyright, once proved to have been validly obtained, was later forfeited.
Further than the foregoing we refuse to go.
National v. Fawcett, 93 F.Supp. 349 (SDNY 1950)
It would serve no useful purpose to recite in detail the conflicting testimony, for I am satisfied from all the evidence that there was actual copying.
Both 'Captain Marvel' and 'Superman' have the same athletic physique. Both have substantially the same clean-cut faces. Both wear the conventional regalia of the gymnast or circus acrobat- skin-tight uniforms, boots and a cape which is used in flying. The only real difference is in the color of their costumes, 'Superman's' being blue and 'captain Marvel's' red. The incredible feats, performed by both, such as leaping great distances, flying through the air, exhibitions of marvelous strength and speed, and imperviousness to bullets, shells, explosions, knives and poisons, are identical, and the settings in which the feats are performed are often closely similar. Substantially all of the feats performed by 'Superman' are later duplicated by 'Captain Marvel.' [**15] Identical phrases, expressions and dialogues are frequently found in the panels.
'Superman' is represented as a normal human being, a meek newspaper reporter wearing eye glasses (Clark Kent), who, by throwing off his regular clothes, appears in his athletic costume and becomes a superhuman being and performs superhuman feats in the interests of justice and to overthrow evil. 'Captain Marvel' is likewise represented as a normal human being, a radio reporter (Billy Batson), who, by uttering the magic word 'Shazam', is transformed [*356] into a superhuman being, and, in that capacity, also performs superhuman feats in the interests of justice and to overthrow evil. There are villains in both stories, mad scientists who resemble each other in appearance, and who, by similar devices and methods, attempt to dispose of the hero ('Superman' or 'Captain Marvel'), so that they can execute their plans of destruction without molestation.
The stories depicted in the respective panels are much the same, as, for example, the experiences of both Clark Kent and Billy Batson in applying for jobs as reporters, being turned down, and finally being accepted as the result of having performed the [**16] same superhuman feat. In other instances they are different. For example, there is no romantic element in the 'Captain Marvel' stories, such as Lois Lane, the girl reporter, who is a permanent member of the 'Superman' cast; nor do the 'Superman' stories have an ever-present evil enemy of the hero, like Sivana.
In recent years, leading franchises in the ChickLit genre have shifted from sex-and-shopping to marriage-and-kids. Judging from a comparison of the pre-financial-crisis site images just uploaded on Flickr with the kids-chasing-a-schoolbus photo now featured on CharityPerks.com, do-gooder marketing has suffered a similar fate.
A shot of what would appear to be the Baltimore City Hall vegetable raised planter gardens.
Based on what I see when walking by New York's City Hall on the way to work, I'm not too sure I'd want to eat city street veggies here!
The price of using Superman in your film: 50% has to go to charity.
The percentage of the money from the Superman films that will go to the family of Superman's co-creator Jerry Siegel: yet to be determined.
I just read the following in a recent appeals court opinion on the scope of the interstate commerce clause regarding civil commitment to a federal prison:
In 1937, Felix Frankfurter wrote: "If the Thames is 'liquid history,' the Constitution of the United States is most significantly not a document but a stream of history. And the Supreme Court has directed the stream." Felix Frankfurter, The Commerce Clause 2 (1937). With regard to the Commerce Clause, that stream has not been straight. Rather, it has been bending.
Above: a Latin quote on a converted prison in Amsterdam admonishes that "a wise person does not piss into the wind."
It's a classic short story by E.B. White.
Why do I like it so much? I wonder . . .
Every so often something comes along that restores my faith in humanity. Above: an accountant dresses up like a gorilla and does a silent disco dance for The Gorilla Organization's Great Gorilla Run.
My thoughts on the new encyclical here. An excerpt:
In a nutshell, when Caritas in Veritate--Love in Truth--takes aim at social systems that fetishize technology and do not respect the whole human person, it's targeting all forms of reductionistic secularism. Yes, banks and hedge funds are part of it, but so too are environmentalists and other social entrepreneurs who do not grasp that respect for the "human ecology" is the essential predicate for respecting the "environmental ecology." And in referring to respect for human life, the encyclical makes explicit reference to Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical best known for essentially prohibiting artificial methods of birth control.
That's the rhetoric that gives away the game. The encyclical's repeated references to the need for a social system built on truth, respect for life, and the inclusion of the Church in its deliberations are squarely aimed at remaking social reform in the image of Church social ethics--most importantly, the eradication of the so-called "culture of death" exemplified by contraception, abortion, in vitro fertilization and what the encyclical considers to be the technocratic nightmare of bioethics.
The call for a central institutional authority to manage the economy--the vaunted United Nations with teeth--must be understood in context. According to the encyclical, such an authority would rise above "inhuman humanism" only if it incorporated the Church's voice in its institutional pronouncements. The strategy, in other words, is to circumvent the liberalizing forces of secular democracies by creating a central regulatory power where the Church could concentrate its influence to shut down what it believes to be unethical commerce and international development, such as sexually explicit or religiously offensive media, the distribution of condoms, grant aid for abortions and stem cell research.
One of my favorite tropes in the early Superman comics is the astonished reaction to the impossible. What pops out of these scenes is the sense not just that Superman is doing an impossible feat, but that the very existence of the image itself is astonishing. At a time when CGI makes the impossible routine, it's helpful to remember that not too long ago a mere drawing of someone jumping over a wall seemed incredible.
"I prefer the company of animals over humans any day. After all of my 50+ years of loving animals, I have never once had sex with any of them."
--from the bizarrely compelling--and still ongoing--comment thread on Michael Jackson & philanthropy over at Give and Take.
I describe it here. Lots of interesting stuff re licensing copyright & where all the dollars go.
What does it have to do with social enterprise? And what does all this have to do with Michael Jackson?
Ah, just wait, mes freres & frerettes!
Michael Jackson's Heal the World Foundation did a considerable amount of good in its heyday in the mid-1990s, but it suspended operations in 2002 after failing to file several years worth of required annual reports with the state of California. The charity's New York offshoot, Heal the Kids, also faced a similar crisis in 2003, after which time it seems to have disappeared.
Last year brought news that that Jackson had not really stopped supporting his charity. Instead, the Heal the World Foundation had been reorganized. According to HTWF's website,
People are now remembering his music legacy, but behind the scenes, unknown to all but a small handful of people, during these last 7 years he authorized that tens of thousands be spent on preserving his charity organization Heal the World Foundation (HTWF).
Jackson started HTWF in 1992 and was designed to leverage his name, adding to the many millions Michael Jackson had personally given to charity. With Michael Jackson not happy at turning 50 years old, he stepped up his efforts for a multifaceted comeback.
Following these final performances, it was believed that Mr. Jackson would live a long and full life, devoted to HTWF and serving his God and his fellow man, with his fans leading the way.
Instead, the Heal the World Foundation announced that it would host a memorial benefit at a property bordering Jackson's Neverland Ranch--an event that ended up being canceled when local authorities objected that the event lacked the requisite permits.
I don't want to get in the way of a good thing, and I certainly wish the organizers well with whatever good deeds they have planned for the future. However, the more I go over my files on this Foundation, the more I've begun to wonder whether the relaunched charity was connected to Jackson in any way besides the name.
That the memorial PR came from an event management company with no evident coordination with the Jackson estate raised a red flag for me, but that's not the only odd thing. There's also the array of Michael Jackson domain names associated with the Foundation's president, Melissa Johnson, and the charity itself. For example, while Michael has been known to inspire quasi-religious devotion among his fans, would he have authorized the use of the domain name prophetmichael.com?
Somewhat more troubling, the Foundation is named in the WHOIS listing for http://mjplay.com, but the link itself takes you to Johnson's personal home health care service. Even more curiously, the home health service lists HTWF as a partner in providing elder care assistance--with no mention of Jackson. I was willing to view the Jackson-related domain names as a bit of strategic cybersquatting, but commingling charitable enterprise with a manager's own commercial private business is not something a charity should do.
Then there's this intriguing Craiglist post from mid-June:
The nature of the problem isn't at all clear--another charity named "Heal the World" filed a "Heal the World" trademark application for charitable fundraising, so perhaps HtWF is looking for help to deal with that. Or could there be another problem here--namely, a challenge to the Foundation's repeated mention of Michael Jackson in connection with its site & fundraising activity? Either way, if Michael Jackson were really funding this charity, wouldn't he be connecting it to his legal team as well?
Which leads me to the next and last curious piece of evidence. Johnson claims in a recent interview that "it is NOT true, that HTWF stopped functioning as a charity at any point since its inception in 1992." But if that's the case, why do both the California Attorney General and the IRS treat Jackson's HTWF and Johnson's HTWF as two legally distinct organizations?
Putting together the above facts with various statements made by Foundation President Johnson, one reasonably wonders whether the Heal the World Foundation's supposed support from Jackson actually existed. Instead, the Foundation would appear to be an independent effort by fans who have scooped up the Foundation's dead trademarks and around (reportedly) 2,000 Jackson-themed domain names.
On its website, the Foundation continues to promote its "behind the scenes" connections to Jackson & indicates that after his scheduled "final performances" Jackson would have been "devoted to HTWF." Judging from the Foundation's discussion board, such statements have created the impression that Jackson really did support this charity. If the Foundation cannot provide documented proof of an actual connection to Jackson, donors--and regulators--have good reason to question whether this charity is really an improvement on its failed predecessor.
Cross-published on JustMeans:
Recently President Obama signed into law the Serve America Act, which, among other things, established a Social Innovation Fund. The aim: to identify innovative & effective nonprofit social ventures and to take them to scale. As set forth in the statute, the Fund will accomplish this by giving money to "eligible entities" (i.e., existing grantmaking institutions or government partnerships) that will then in turn make grants to suitable "community organizations," provided the subgrantee is able to secure the requisite matching funds from government, nonprofit or commercial sources.
The initiative has generated considerable excitement in the social enterprise community. Judging from the language, I can see why: the new law speaks of "national leveraging capital," "investments," "institutional capacity," "measurable outcomes" and a host of other things that pretty much spell "win" for anyone playing social enterprise buzzword bingo.
Yet for the life of me, I don't see how any of this is innovative.
At its core, the program follows a model that's all too familiar from comparative administrative law--a government program that gives money to subgrantees who in turn give money to other subgrantees, managed through the relentless documentation of how stated program goals were met. For example, Russia moved to precisely this model recently, channeling social funds through grantmaking intermediaries, and USAID has been doing it for years.
Yes, I know that on the surface this is different--SIF isn't just making grants to grantmaking subgrantees for nonprofit subgrantees under the rubric of statutorily mandated reporting standards, it's leveraging investment in social entrepreneurs and building capacity for measured outcomes. However, this is not a distinction I could repeat with a straight face. When it comes to interpreting a statute I'm a stone cold pragmatist, and it seems to me that when you cut through all the jargon the two structures are essentially the same.
I don't say this merely to be contrary--studying existing institutions can provide invaluable insight into how SIF could spin out. If you have experience, say, with USAID, you know the culture that tends to grow up around such programs. The reality tends not to match the rhetoric--lift the rock of civil society & social change and you'll find a swarming mass of professional intermediaries, stultifying standardization and the awarding of spoils to the usual suspects with marginal scraps for unorthodox unconnected outsiders.
The potential for this in SIF is quite real--the requirement of matching funds alone will skew the grants to nonprofits that are already established, particularly groups that have substantial support from governments and major funders. Moreover, the statutory requirements for measured effectiveness, evidence-based decision-making and so forth may sound good, but in practice this provides an institutional mandate for centralized regulation and extensive paperwork.
I know the people who promoted SIF had a much more enthralling vision, but that train has left the station--the new law puts us on the cross-country Amtrak. In the immortal words of T.S. Eliot, "this is the way the world ends/not with a bang, but Corporation Monitoring Planning Assessments."