February 16, 2004

Yet Another Copyright / Remix Culture Struggle With a Mouse or Why I Get Whiplash Thinking About the Disney Diachotomy

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Noah Shachtman/Wired in Copyright Enters a Gray Area look at DJ Dangermouse's new Grey Album, which piled the words from rapper Jay-Z's Black Album on top of the rhythms and chords from the Beatles' legendary White Album, and which caused EMI to C&D'd Dangermouse. Didn't ask permission. The album is no longer underground, and so as it becomes a mainstream hit, it's been "noticed" and therefore is off-limits. Musicians can pay a fee to cover a song, but can't remix without proper blessings.

After eTech, I went to Disneyland and California Adventure (which is relatively new, and did I mention California Adventure is a trademarked name? Trademark is forever, so remember, you can't officially have a California adventure, at least in name, without getting permission). Hadn't been to Disneyland since I was a junior in high school, and before that when I was 9. It's all still there, pretty much the same, except I understand that it's also been rebuilt, perfected, detailed, not to mention the content which is massaged, packaged, sifted and coiffed, though still very clearly derived from other obvious sources.

Most notable, though was the total remix it all is. Every detail, the California architectures and icons, the colors, materials and plants, the cultural references (the golden gate bridge is there in "miniature" at about 50' high, what looks like Sacramento Street near the Presidio, the Santa Cruz boardwalk, the Ahwanee Hotel, Thomas Molesworth, surfer culture - nonstop they pipe in the beach boys in most sections - Monterey Bay and what looks like Paramount Studios) as well as an Aladdin 45 minute test show (testing for Broadway?) that was okay. Parts of it were well done, the sets, the lights, the flying rug, but otherwise it was just okay, too much cheese-musical, OTT on that, but they had tons of remix cultural references to make it updated, quoting and riffing on lines from recent movies (yes, Austin Powers can fit into Aladdin, in case you were wondering), making jokes, etc.

Disneyland was next, and well, it was the rip, mix, burn experience all the way, babe. Seemed much smaller (shorter, as well as less spacious) than I remembered. At the little theatre showing Steamboat Willie cartoons, they outright rip-off Oliver Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, with no parody, no commentary. I was wondering if they don't keep that little display going (it wasn't nearly as busy as other attractions with 75 - 90 minute posted waits) so that their Washington DC lobbyists can say that Steamboat Willie is an integral part of the Disneyland experience and therefore we must protect it by extending copyright.... Maybe not, maybe relatively minor as a reason to prolong copyright protection in the scheme of things (read: Mickey Mouse memorabillia), but demostrating that Steamboat Willie is still part of the program can't hurt.

You mother told you: do as I say, not as I do. Riffing is bad. It's stealing. That riff over there, oh no, we thought the whole thing up and therefore deserve complete protection in perpetuity.

Again, architectural, cultural and older (and out of copyright) artistic and literary references are riffed to the hilt. Went on the teacups, but all the other lines were 75 or more minutes of waiting and this was a three hour trip. Disneyland is primarily three things: rides/games/displays, restaurants and food outlets, and shops to sell Disney merchandise, equally spaced visually as you walk along the perfectly groomed, packaged and manicured streets. We stopped by Mickey Mouse's house where cartoons were showing for those in line to see him:

And took a quick photo of the mouse, who, when asked whether he preferred Roy or Mike, shrugged, threw up his hands and smiled. Er, that smile's painted on. But the shrug was real.

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As is Disneyland. Part real, part fantasy. Part their imagination, part other's they've stolen (or riffed) from. But considering that everything, right down to the smallest touches and gestures contains both, you'd think they'd lighten up on the protectionist intellectual property bit. Too profitable, I guess, to turn back now. Whoever has the most lobbyists wins. And that's what Dangermouse is facing.

Posted by Mary Hodder at February 16, 2004 07:21 AM | TrackBack
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