Monday, November 29, 2010

No Logo, No Game

Recently, The New York Times reported on colleges and universities going after high schools for copyright infringement; some high schools have been using logos that are too reminiscent of colleges' trademarked icons. Adam Himmelsbach reports that one such school, Glades Day School of Florida, recently had to change its Gator logo because of similarities to the University of Florida's trademark. In many instances, schools simply choose to go along with the changes; Himmelsbach cites trademark lawyer Dineen Wayslik as saying, "The problem when you’re a defendant is you can spend the money to fight it, and if you lose, you also have to spend the money to change everything."

The question, of course, is what's in a symbol. For many schools, this imitation is a sincere form of flattery, a choice based on an athletic director or school leader's alumni status. (Such is the case with the Robert Egley, a Florida alum and headmaster of the Glades Day School.)

I'm not trying to discount the copyright issue here at all; what I am questioning, however, is everything that these use of symbols mean. The relationship between schools, the sort of cultural code that we've embedded into these things. Consider that this is made worse by the fact that high schools are now trademarking their logos.

Logos are a shorthand way, a pictorial way, of conveying a message; in some ways, these are like themes or images recurring throughout literature. The shared images create a kind of common history, a shared narrative thread. But the change in logos, the cease-and-desist orders being sent by colleges and universities, threatens to unravel these relationships.

Like any good story, it's a muddy issue, rife with concerns from copyright issues to originality. (How many gator logos can possibly be created?) But it's an interesting one with some points that should be well considered.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's Been a While, and Still Some Things Don't Ever Change

Long time, no see. America is drowning from a recent tea party (btw, totally symbolically boycotted tea on Election Day and got all of my caffeine from coffee, despite my preference for tea!), and in the world of fictional narratives, maybe nothing's different. Despite national turmoil.

Right now, I'm teaching a section of freshman comp in the Rutgers-Newark Writing Program, and we're moving into a unit on heroes. We've started with part of the introduction to Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which Campbell argues for what he calls the "monomyth": It's very Jungian, in that Campbell posits that there are archetypes that recur throughout cultures. And we've basically been dealing with the same kinds of stories. It's the context that's different, the names and faces and particular quirks of characters that are unique.

That seems to be a popular opinion in what I've been reading as of late. In A Short Story Writer's Companion, Tom Bailey argues that it's characters that make stories different and meaningful. This is not unlike Campbell's monomyth, which has been appropriated by modern tale tellers like George Lucas.

How'd I get on this tangent? The most recent update to Kate Beaton's webcomic Hark! A Vagrant! Beaton lampoons Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in a series of strips that place Friday as the more intelligent, sophisticated of the two. The purpose behind Beaton's comic is to mock a recurring film archetype that she read about in the Bright Lights Film Journal, in which Frederick Zackel argues that we've been seeing Robinson Crusoe's master-slave/white-black dialectic played for years. And it's everywhere. Yet we've been overlooking it in to address other concerns. Zackel writes,
For instance, we all remember the brouhaha about whether the 1993 movie Rising Sun actually represented Japan-bashing. Yet none of us seemed to have noticed that the two male leads in that movie, Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, were busy reenacting (or maybe "perpetuating" is a better word) one of the oldest fictional partnerships in our Western culture.
Englishman Connery played the part of Robinson Crusoe, while Snipes, a descendant of slaves, played his Man Friday. Not that those were their characters' names, of course. Not that either man realized what they were reenacting, either. Nor can either man be blamed for his part in perpetuating the myth.
First of all, I take offense to his referring to Sean Connery as an "Englishman," but his point is that Connery's and Snipes's characters are reenacting/perpetuating (his words) the Robinson Crusoe/Friday model. And it's not just Rising Sun; other movies, like Men in Black, have the older, wiser, patriarchal white male figure overseeing, guiding, and correcting a black counterpart (Tommy Lee Jones with Will Smith, for instance).

But seriously--Sean Connery is a Scot. Mr. Zackel is perpetuating his own stereotype--that Scots are happily English. But just as the rise of the Scottish parliament speaks towards Scotland's move toward freedom, so too should we try to craft into our fictions a move away from the Crusoe/Friday paradigm (first African American president, anybody?). Otherwise, nothing will ever change.