Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beyond mashups as parody

New York magazine runs a Q&A with Luminosity, a fan video creator. Included with the story are two of her vids, one with video from 300 set to Madonna’s “Vogue” – hysterical, yet also a pointed critique – and one, Women’s Work, with video from TV’s Supernatural set to Hole’s “Violet” – a disturbing look at the way popular culture uses violence against women to titillate and to provide reasons for men to undertake the hero’s journey. These are excellent examples of how editing and selection generate new and even critical expression. 300/Vogue also makes the magazine's best of Web video humor list. Micole offers further context and many more excellent vid recommendations here.

Both she and Luminosity make a point of interest to copyright theorists: Women’s Work uses Supernatural not to critique Supernatural as such, but the entire narrative apparatus that produces Supernatural and a zillion narratives like it. Here’s Micole: “‘Women’s Work’ is a doctoral thesis in the misogyny of basic, unexamined story structures--structures which are more obvious because they are more literal in horror, but which are present in every genre and every variation of style, from pop culture to high art. The vid explicitly and viscerally demonstrates how SO MANY of the stories we know and tell and re-tell depend on the suffering of women ….” Here’s Luminosity: “We wanted to point out that in order for us to love a TV show—and we do—we have to set this horrible part of it aside. A lot. Often. Sisabet [the co-vidder of the project] and I believe that we could have made this vid using almost any show, from Heroes to CSI, but we are fans of Supernatural.”

I am struck by how much these statements resemble claims made by Jeff Koons that he is entitled to appropriate any particular pop cultural object, regardless of its fame or obscurity, because each object participates in the overall economy he is critiquing. See Blanch v. Koons. 467 F.3d 244 (2d Cir. 2006). I’ve disapproved of the gendered implications of the various Koons cases, but here I think Koons is right. Why pick on Supernatural? Well, it’s certainly implicated in the misogyny the vid exposes. Courts shouldn’t be in the business of deciding whether there’s a better target out there. In other words: No copyright owner can defend itself against criticism by pointing out how many other works a fair user has not appropriated. (Cf. Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301, 308 (2d Cir. 1992) (“no copier may defend the act of plagiarism by pointing out how much of the copy he has not pirated”).

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