So how did this happen?
Well, once upon a time (last week, actually, but it all goes so quickly in Internet years) this unique, kick-ass video, titled "GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg, & Beastie Boys 'Princess Machine' (a concert for little girls)," was uploaded to You Tube to promote an Oakland, Cali.-based start-up toy company.
Indeed, funded on Kickstarter by Debbie Sterling, a recent Stanford grad, GoldieBlox has taken on the golden mission of crafting toys that will help girls get interested in science, math, and engineering. The corporate intention is to “disturb the pink aisle.”
Hallelujah. Except the (perhaps) unintended consequence is that while meaning to take Barbie prisoner, the spot actually was breaking the laws of musical property rights.
But let’s go back to the spot, which has already garnered more than eight million views. Who could possibly object to a message of empowerment for whip-smart little girls?
A production marvel, the video features an insanely detailed Rube Goldberg-like contraption, which allows three passionate, ambitious and diverse little girls on a play date to banish the typical boring princess toys and pink boas from the house, and replace them with visions of building spaceships and coding new apps. (The fact that the miles-long device was engineered by one of the male members of the band OK-Go—and not these cute little actresses-- is another sub-tangent in this off-kilter story.
I first saw the spot on Upworthy, itself a site that prides itself on helping videos about “important social issues” go viral. And indeed, I shared it on Facebook, and all my sister-friends shared it to their pages. And we slept the sleep of the morally superior, unchallenged in the knowledge that we were on the right side of the girl-power issue.
Actually, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Rube Goldberg device was hard to follow and distracting. What really helped get the spot’s message across were the lyrics to the music, sung by young female voices. My favorite line is “We are more than princess maids!”
What I didn’t realize the first time I watched, I’m embarrassed to say, was that the music is a rerecorded Beastie Boys song, “Girls.” Indeed, the spot was based on replacing the unalloyed sexism of the original lines like “Girls, to do the dishes/Girls to clean up my room/ Girls to do the laundry,” with "Girls to build a spaceship\ Girls to code the new app\ Girls to grow up knowing\ That they can engineer that."
So is this aimed at moms who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s with the Beastie Boys? Because otherwise, wasn’t this song, and its lyrics, forgotten?
And what an odd enemy to pick. The Beasties were three white Jewish boys who certainly didn’t take themselves seriously as rappers. (In fact, they started as a punk band.) They themselves were playing with, or even parodying, the misogynist tropes of hip-hop. Yes, the lyrics were stupid and sexist, but the Boys were being ironic and sarcastic. Later, they became musically important, but in those days, they were seen as clowns.
And sadly, last year one member of the group, Adam Yauch, died at the age of 47. His will made clear that he forbade the use of any of his music in advertising.
It’s not as if this is a PSA for engineering opportunities for girls. Why should the company get to use the music for free?
There’s another wrinkle here: Instead of running its own Super Bowl commercial, Intuit has decided to run the commercial of a worthy upcoming small business owner. This spot for GoldieBlox is one of three finalists in this contest.
Given all that, and the prospect of a free $4 million dollar media placement, GoldieBlox might have shot itself in the foot. Because there is no way, with all this copyright hoo-ha, that the spot could legally run on the The Big Game.
I would hope that they could work out a compromise deal with the Beastie Boys -- or they’re going to have to change the music.
Both sides have gotten more publicity than anyone could predict.
And in the end, GoldiBlox has acted just like a classic entrepreneurial Silicon Valley startup, with its take-no prisoners, disruptive, culture-jamming behavior: Rules? Laws? You make your own, and take what you need. And if others object, you attack, aggressively. Let the free market rule.
Whether this will sell more “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Wheel” toys for the holidays is to be determined.
But without question, GB is behaving just like the big boys.