• http://blogalization.org/reorganization cbrayton

    You’ll forgive me if I take a good-natured poke at you lawyers for your attempts to introduce literary genre theory (viz. “parody” versus “satire”) into discussions of “fair use” in attempt to draw clarifying distinctions.

    None of us literary types really understand those two genres in terms of their intended targets anymore. No one knows exactly where the term “satire” comes from, but a plausible theory is that it comes, not from “satyr,” but from a word that means “salad” (or possibly, following Juvenal, “sausage” or “stuffing”). It’s the original multimedia mixmaster culture-hack genre, stuffed with miscellaneous, recycled ingredients drawing on pubicly recognizable sources and literary conventions and given new form and intention against the background of what is tired and familiar. The meatgrinder of parody is well suited to the sausage-making process, but not all satires are written to take the piss out of the high and mighty, though folks like Swift famously practiced it that way.

    Same for parody: the intention of “ridicule” isn’t essential to it. It’s a genre that plays on the expectations associated with the known (a text, melody or style) and gives it new meanings. Woody’s song is idealistic and indignant and passionate. In contemporary political discourse, those qualities tend to ring hollow. The comedic bathos lies in the fact that Kerry and Bush are midgets measured by the standards of Woody Guthrie’s passionate populism. Sure, Weird Al’s parody of “Beat It” ridicules Michael, but the satirical blade cuts in the other direction here.

    I wonder where the Democrats stand in all this, then, having rewritten the lyrics to “Proud Mary” (rhymes with “John Kerry”) for their recent convention. Kind of a nice touch, given the nautical theme of the proceedings (Swift boats, the ship of state, Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” …) and the fact that Proud Mary was a “riverboat queen.” Replacing “rollin’ on the river” with “tryin’ to make a difference” was less inspired.

    Then take the fact, as CNN pointed out, that Sen. Kerry’s acceptance speech lifted and recontextualized a whole bunch of lines from prior political speeches, including phrases lifted from Bush’s stump speeches in the last campaign. Are lawsuits in the offing, like the one brought by Fox against Al Franken over “fair and balanced”? Will the heirs and assignees of Roosevelt object to the use of the “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” line?

    Political discourse is satirical to the core, in this sense, as is language in general (and the common law tradition, for that matter, as Judge Posner, who likes to weigh in on Fishy subjects, will agree). Google, for example, has tried to prevent its trademark from being used as a verb, “to google,” in the way that “xerox” has been accepted into dictionaries as a synonym for “photocopy.” How futile is that? And what kind of public relations strategy? You can’t buy that kind of publicity! Maybe I’ll just have to take my googling business to AllTheWeb.com; if Google is going to be this stupid, I don’t rate its chances in the IPO market very high.

    “The meaning of a poem is always another poem,” Harold Bloom famously said. Jimi Hendrix is part of the meaning of The Artist. Dante’s Inferno is part of the meaning of The Wasteland. Charley Parker’s take on “Begin the Beguine” builds a bridge from Cole Porter to P-Funk. Artists don’t produce something from nothing like the Jahweh of Genesis. They make hash out of the prevailing zeitgeist. (Is a beggar building a favela out of Volkwagen chassises in Rio de Janeiro committing a tort against the manufacturer?) And this process, like morality, is unlegislatable. Trying to control it is like, well, treading on Superman’s cape, or spittin’ into the wind …

  • http://www.xanga.com/publicdomain WJM

    SUE ME, TOO!

    [WOODY GUTHRIE]

    This song was my song,
    but now it�s your song,
    from California,
    and over to Long-
    Island New York, you
    can sing or yodel it, feel free:
    this song�s my gift to you from me.

    [JIBJAB]

    This song was your song,
    but now it�s our song,
    so thank you Woody,
    it now won�t be long,
    till every Dilbert
    in all the cubicles that stand,
    is humming along to your �This Land�.

    [LUDLOW MUSIC]

    This song was your song,
    But now it�s my song,
    It was sung freely,
    But now it�s so long,
    To Woody�s vision;
    I don�t give anything for free:
    �This Land� belongs to me, me, ME!

    [WOODY GUTHRIE]

    This song was my song,
    but now it�s our song,
    Damn� Ludlow Music,
    They�ve got it all wrong,
    I tried to share it, and
    if I had a grave, I vow
    That I would be rolling in it now.

    [LUDLOW MUSIC]

    This song is my song,
    Because you�re dead now,
    Who cares what you think,
    You think that somehow
    Your crypto-commie
    subversive attitude suits me?
    �This Land��s too good for Woody G.

    [JIBJAB]
    �This Land� is someone�s,
    Will be forever,
    Because the lobby-
    ists are so clever,
    They�ll only settle
    for life-plus-perpetuity:
    And that�ll be the end

    [ANIMATED GEORGE BUSH , JOHN KERRY, AND WALT DISNEY�S FROZEN HEAD]

    …Yes that�ll be the end�

    [ALL]

    …That�ll be the end of…
    …Fair-dealing…
    …pastiche…
    …and parod-yyyyyyyyyyyy!

    [MARY BONO]

    …and your little dog, too!

  • http://ideas.4brad.com Brad Templeton

    One key element in this particular case is the line with the native saying “This land was my land” and the malls say “but now it’s our land.”

    I find this line to speak more to the Guthrie song than to the Bush/Kerry question.

    Which, if you agree, asks the question, how to treat a song which is both parody (commentary on the base work) and simply a satire using the base work to comment on something orthogonal. Do you rule that some lines are legal and some are not?