This brief essay is about dance music, racism, sexism, Batman, nine bullet-riddled bodies and the Lanham Act. So, you know, the usual laser approach to subject matter.
One might say deep focus is my trademark -- except that legally it definitely is not. Legally, “Deep Focus” is the trademark of some marketing agency, which filed for the mark May 15, 2006 in Class 35: “Advertising; business management; business administration; office functions.”
This registration is filed under the provisions of the Lanham Act, the 1946 statute governing property rights for brand names, logos and so on. It is meant to avoid marketplace confusion, whether unintentional or with mischief aforethought. The problem is that some issues don’t lend themselves to legislative solutions.
For one thing, when intellectual property attorneys wedge themselves between the federal government and business, the billings and absurdity tend to run wild. The other thing, which I shall get to presently, is that deep focus on the value of the trademark can result in a perversion of other values, such as human dignity, and life and death. But let us begin with absurdity.
The pop star Rihanna, because she is a pop star and she simply can, feels she must also reign over a fashion and cosmetics empire -- and maybe an associated magazine -- branded with her given first name “Robyn.” So naturally, DC Comics is objecting, because it owns the trademark for Batman and Robin, and obviously this would flummox both the worlds of mascara and comic books. Boy, wonder why these frivolous challenges are lodged?
Then there is the case of the Washington Redskins -- who in fairness were named in less enlightened times, before the entire civilized world realized it is grotesque to characterize (and marginalize) racial groups by crude stereotypes or physical characteristics. I mean, we flinched when Hitler did it. Frito-Lay, Chief Noc-A-Homa and Sambo’s, not so much. When five Native Americans successfully petitioned the Trademark office to cancel the Redskins on the Lanham Act grounds of unlawful disparagement, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder sued them.
Snyder insists the name -- The Washington Stingy Big Hooked Noses, I mean Redskins -- honors Native Americans.
In fairness, before judging him too harshly, bear in mind that Snyder is repulsive.
But in trademark law, disparagement protection giveth and it taketh stupidly away. The Seattle dance band The Slants -- composed entirely of Asian Americans who take ironic delight in reclaiming an ethnic slur and literally owning it -- applied for trademark protection for their own name. They were denied.
On the plus side, nobody died. In Waco, Texas a week ago, nine people died when rival outlaw biker gangs the Bandidos and the Cossacks shot it out in the parking lot of a sleazy chain restaurant (trademarked Twin Peaks, after the breasts displayed by the chesty wait staff.) What was the gunfight all about? The Texas Rocker, a vest patch denoting territory. Both gangs, approximately like DC Comics and Rihanna, believed they deserved to display it. That horrific episode, one is obliged to concede, might argue for a legislative solution.
But what about a trademark case not governed by the Lanham Act or any other law, because the trademark in question is not registered but merely understood? I refer to the Cannes Film Festival Red Carpet. Every May, celebrities traipsed its length, ascending the stairs into the Palais des Festivals. The dress code is black tuxedos for men, dresses and high heels for women.
But this year, some women who did not wish to be in pain all evening, or who simply didn’t want to prop up their calves and butts to entertain men (including, I confess, me) and who wore low heels or flats, were pulled off the red carpet and denied entry. This, by the way, in a year supposedly dedicated by the festival to gender equality in films. Uh-huh.
Now, it may well be that the Faustian bargain for Hollywood stardom brings with it indentured servitude to fashion, including the blisters, backaches and bunions that go with it. But enforced high heels as a price of entry? In order to preserve the trademark fashion of the red carpet?
That’s not fashion; it’s fash-ism. And if that is how Cannes want to present itself to the world, let Thierry Fremaux and his retrograde team well understand. It doesn’t matter what certificates you are holding; you get the trademark you deserve.