Department of Homeland Stupidity: Fair Use, Parody and Satire vs the Government

The Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency are using their muscle and copyright law to threaten a novelty store dealer with a lawsuit if he doesn’t stop selling items satirizing the snoopy bureaucracies.

Several offending to the gubmit (but I-am-12 funny to everyone else) hats, tee shirts and coffee mugs sport the words

Department of Homeland Stupidity

and the DHS logo, altered to give the eagle a dunce cap holding a bottle and a pot leaf, while the NSA parody tee shirts use the agency’s logo, altering the slogan to read

Peeping while your sleeping

Below the NSA logo is the slogan

The NSA: The only part of government that actually listens.

Another design bears the NSA’s official seal with the slogan

Spying on You Since 1952

In 2011 the NSA sent cease-and-desist orders to Zazzle.com claiming that Dan McCall’s parody images in his Zazzle online store violated laws against the use, mutilation, alteration or impersonation of government seals, so McCall moved the images over to his CafePress.com store which is a redirect from his own website, LibertyManiacs.com. He updates images based on news stories, and shows a distinct tongue in cheek libertarian attitude, billing his gear as

Freedom Products for Liberty Lovers.

Now McCall is suing the NSA and DHS on constitutional grounds, in Federal Court. In his eight-page lawsuit seeking declaratory judgment, the satirist entrepreneur claims:

use of images of the NSA and DHS seals, whether unaltered but in combination with critical text, or altered in parodic form, did not create any likelihood of confusion about the source or sponsorship of the materials on which they were available to be printed. No reasonable viewer is likely to believe that any of the materials is affiliated with or sponsored by defendants. Nor were the seals affixed to the items to be sold with any fraudulent intent.

McCall further claims that

his images make fair use of the NSA and DHS seals “to identify federal government agencies as the subject of criticism,” and are protected by the First Amendment. And he claims it’s unconstitutional for the government to forbid him from displaying and selling his parodies to “customers who want to display the items to express their own criticisms of NSA and DHS.”

Oddly the TSA has not complained about the image parodying them:

 

 

 

Hat tip: Newsvandal.com

Sesame Street Parodies “Homeland” with “Homelamb”

“Homelamb” is Sesame Street’s new and wickedly clever parody of  Showtime’s Emmy winning series “Homeland”  made even more pointed by using sheep Muppets as CIA agents, with Nicholas Brody renamed  Nicholas Ba-aa-aa-rody,  the Big Bad Wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Exactly.

Watch as sheep Carrie comes unglued and lusts for Baa-aa-aa-rody, even though she realizes that he is the traitor and tries to convince the other sheep agents of this dangerous reality. Will she unwittingly be a lamb to the slaughter? It’s a witty take on the spy drama starring Claire Danes. And as sharp and clear as a glass knife. But will kids get it? And more importantly, will adults…

Which Witch Is Which? Does Television Do a Disservice to Sorceresses?

It’s the season of the witch. At least on TV. Witches are hot, and producers are staking their cred on a current crop of witch shows, with new ones in the works. Right now there’s The Witches of East End [WoEE] and American Horror Story: Coven [AHS:C], with a reboot of Charmed being conjured. Coincidentally, Charmed just got dissed on AHS:C, when Queenie, played by Gabourey Sidibe, says:

I grew up on white girl shit, like Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Cracker.

Honey, we all did. And Bewitched. And we’ve all had to deal with Stevie Nicks stigma. (Nicks’s music is the constant companion of swamp witch Misty Dawn, another of  AHS:C‘s fashionable friends of the Devil).

For the past six years, reality producers have been trying to get a “real witches” show cast. I know, I get casting calls regularly and even shot a teaser reel for one.  When I worked in an occult shop, I was featured on a few shows (Blind Date, where I showed a famous comedienne and her hapless, annoyed staged-date dude how to cast a passion spell; and some episode of a history show about a cursed dress for which I did a snazzy flaring cauldron routine and discussed curses).

Thing is, unlike TV witches, what “real” witches, sorcerers, sorceresses, and (non-stage) magicians do is not all that flashy. Sure there are  rituals, solo and in groups (I don’t belong to a coven and  I’m a witch, not a Wiccan–more on that later), but unless you are participating and know what’s going on, on it’s pretty boring, though the set dressing can be awesome.  Do we go “skyclad,” that is, naked? Uh, if I do do that, I wouldn’t on TV.

American Horror Story: Coven is way better than the tepid Witches of East End, which involves a mom and her twenty-something daughters–the sexy bartender daughter is engaged to a rich boy, but sexually attracted to his bad-boy brother; her uptight librarian, super-rational sister doesn’t believe in witches, even though she is one. Mom is trying to be normal, but she’s accused of murder (the soapy trope of the evil twin!) and the free spirited witch auntie makes peyote stew and walks around naked. WoEE’s cosmology is off, its spellwork is wrong, its characterization of witches is weak, of women is facile, and the acting and writing suck. It’s embarrassing. Like, the librarian witch decides to try casting a spell to help her friend get pregnant (even though she doesn’t believe in magic, but hey, here’s an old book, let’s do it because nothing else is working), and next day her friend gets the results on an over-the-counter pee stick that she is with child!  Biologically impossible, even with magic.  While it’s possible to test positive as early as seven days past ovulation, most likely a woman isn’t producing hCG at a high enough level to be detected by a home pregnancy test. The earliest you can test is 7 days after ovulation, and it’s recommended to wait until after you have missed your period. You can also be pregnant, not know, and have spotting that you mistake for menstruation.  So either the friend tested too soon, was pregnant before they did the spell and the pregnancy test gave a false negative which the next test read as positive, or she mistook spotting for her period, and retested after the spellcasting–surprise!

And the barely a tertiary character token gay guy, is just that, a token.

Joanna’s daughters on  The Witches of East End have been reincarnated since at least Salem–mom appears to have nine lives, or be immortal or something– and each time the girls are named Freya and Ingrid. No way in Puritan Salem would these names–especially Freya, the name of a Norse goddess–have been given! Those names struck such a strident note that, for me,  the whole plot fell to bits.

American Horror Story: Coven, created by Ryan Murphy (Glee) with James Wong (X Files) delivers a rich, engrossing storyline with beautiful cinematography and a stellar cast. Plus, unlike WoEE there’s an effort towards historical and ritual accuracy. Wong says they do a lot of research  (and it shows in the background of the evil Mme. Delphine  Lalaurie, played with intensity by Kathy Bates, and in Angela Bassett’s sublime and powerful Marie Laveau who now in present day works the same gig she held in the 19th century, a hairdresser). The rituals so far have been pretty well-grounded in magic. My friends and I did spot some glitches in episode three’s voodoo ceremony–red clothes would never be worn, nor would be underwear!  While there’s general acceptance in the occult community that rituals shown in fictional films and on television will not be 100% accurate in terms of words, signs and so on—kids don’t try this at home and if you do it won’t work anyway–the red dress was still way off base! We screamed at the wrongness. Plus it was sorta fugly.

Another inaccuracy: Characters constantly reference Tituba, the real slave who was tried for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials–she wasn’t hanged as many of the accused were, but rather imprisoned; she was eventually freed from jail and then from slavery. Tituba was not of African decent, but rather an Arawak, one of the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean. Her Arawak heritage is mentioned on AHS:C, but unless you know your tribes, the implication remains that she practiced West African magic. The magic, though, that Tituba has inspired on AHS:C is  voodoo, a West African diasporic religion, and there is also an error in implying that Western witchcraft gained its gifts solely from the voodoo root, which is not the case.

Witchcraft is a crazy quilt of beliefs and practices. Not all witches practice Wicca, a 20th century sect, which is the most well-known of the many branches in the forest of non-Christian Western esoteric belief systems. (There are some people who call themselves Christian Wiccans, which is a major oxymoron, but hey…it’s their souls, not mine!) And not everyone who is Wiccan, or a Druid, or an occultist does magic. The syncretic African diasporic religions, like voodoo and santeria, while very interactive with the gods, have believers who don’t cast spells (Hoodoo, the American melting cauldron, is a more action-oriented system, with a lot of “work” being done, sometimes with Jesus, Bible verses, and/or the saints as the whammy). Some people have a belief system, observe the seasons or moon, light candles, say prayers, and that’s that. Spellwork involving herbs and oils, “barbarous names of evocation,” sigils drawn on  parchment, and such are not really everyone’s bag of tricks. Also, not all practitioners of non-Christian Western esoteric belief systems  re purely Goddess worshipers, though one or more female aspects are acknowledged along with male aspect/s. That’s the religion part.

The “work” part, the spell casting,  is not the nose twitching, the miraculous appearance of fur coats out of nowhere, or the sudden lighting of cigarettes from across the room seen on television. And it’s also not the positive affirmations of  The Secret. It’s called “work” for a reason, though sometimes there’s a certain amount of fun involved. Television witches have a lot of powers–they can toss people across rooms with a subtle gesture, pop in and out of photographs, turn into and talk to animals, bring the dead back to life, grant the incorruptibility of flesh, and do all sorts of Jedi mind tricks. In real life (aside from spellwork and ritual which take time, effort and talent to cause change to occur in accordance with will) the latter is the only thing that works, and that’s because some people, witches or not, can just out-think other people, anticipating and adjusting as necessary, seeking to create outcomes in which all parties benefit. And I’ve noticed that the people who apply themselves, reading and studying (and by those verbs I mean more than just books on “how to do spells and set up your altar”), focusing on mental and physical exercises, engaging in lively discussions, who travel, avoid petty social drama and chaos, and again seek outcomes that are mutually beneficial, are the people who succeed in being happy. Which is really what it’s all about.

Yes, it’s possible to do spells for money, for youth (or the money to look youthful!), for love (though the best spell for that is loving yourself), and for health (which is to a certain extent our own responsibility–eating right, getting exercise to start with!). Magic can (and often does) work. Does magic meet a scientific, rather than anecdotal, proof? I did A and B was the result. I did A again and B was the result. So A works. For me. Life is not a reproduceable experiment; we are individuals; circumstances change. My A may not produce B for you, and under new and different circumstances may not produce B a third time for me.

Television witches are fun to watch, but they have done a disservice to real witches and women, providing role models who have denied our self-determination. We are stuck with watching Bell Book and Candle on late night movie channels (Kim Novak falls in love with Jimmy Stewart and loses her power, her glamorous wardrobe, and her groovy African art gallery, becoming a shirt-dress-wearing drab who sells faux floral displays made from sea shells). On Bewitched, mortal moron Derwood stifles Samantha’s natural talents, and stews in a state of mutual resentment with her witchy family. The girls of Charmed, the Halliwell sisters, have a guardian angel, Leo Wyatt a “whitelighter,” (In the series, a whitelighter is a former human mortal given a second chance at life in order to serve under an angelic group as guardian angels for good witches and other future whitelighters, who helped them out scrapes; in real-life magic a whitelighter, aka a fluffy bunny, is an uptight, self-righteous goody two shoes). Leo is also the Charmed Ones’ handyman, further reinforcing that women (and witches) are helpless little creatures who need a man. The sisters Halliwell also get a lot of (at times meddlesome) help from their buddy on the San Francisco Police force, who was a childhood friend and becomes one of the sister’s love interests. The series’ story arc involve fighting evil, working at cool jobs, trying to meet the right guys, and having a baby…

Sabrina the Teenage Witch originally appeared in the Archie comics in 1962. Like Bewitched‘s heroine, Sabrina is blond, but unlike Sam, she is only a half-witch. Her powers manifested on her 16th birthday (witch genes are strong; Samantha and Derwood’s daughter Tabitha also could do magic). Sabrina lives with her two full-witch aunts and Salem, a talking black cat (shades of The Master and Margarita!), a male witch who had been turned into animal form by the Witches’ Council for bad behavior. Salem  gives Sabrina advice, often suggesting that she use magic to solve problems, usually with comically diastrous results.

Until this 2013 TV season, producers and their networks seemed to feel that TV witches needed a masculine authority figure. But so far, both the  Witches of East End and the witches on American Horror Story: Coven have shaken off that superstition. On WWoE , witches don’t even seem to need to have a man to have a baby. Joanne, WoEE‘s witch mom, played by Julia Ormond, has reincarnated her daughters into her womb over the centuries and it’s unclear so far, who, if anyone, was responsible for fathering the girls–the book the series is based on may pony up that plot point, but it remains to be seen how firmly the series will adhere to the source material.

As the seasons progress for these two new witch shows, we’ll see how far both the supernaturally-blessed and everyday women have progressed in the last decade. Because what witch TV programs show, in hyper-focus, is how the public is perceived as wanting to view women. This perception is formed by the views expressed, by actions and reactions, in daily life. And at the same time, television programs provide modeling for how women should or should not behave. And that goes for witches as well.

Edward Snowden: Comic Books and Video Games Inspired, Motivated Whistleblowing

The Advocate’s interview with Glenn Greenwald reveals a lot about the lawyer-turned journalist who broke the Edward Snowden NSA leaks. And in it, Greenwald explains that during a his lengthy interview with Snowden in Hong Kong he learned what inspired and motivated the twenty-something security expert to blow the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance programs:

It wasn’t Hegelian theories on power structures or Ron Paul rhetoric about privacy; it wasn’t Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (Greenwald’s greatest influence) or Jeffersonian notions of government. It was comic books and video  games. “You have good guys who are forced to do difficult but good things,” Snowden said to Greenwald, a bit embarrassed.

Greenwald goes into more, explaining how his husband, David Miranda, opened his eyes to pop culture.

“It’s not a simplistic ideology. David is one of the most complex, intellectually curious, and sophisticated people I’ve ever met, and he’s the one who convinced me that being influenced by the moral dynamics of a comic book or video game is no less noble than being shaped by a novel or a book,” Greenwald reasons. “You can watch The Matrix and take it as an action movie, or you can delve into all its greater existentialist meanings. All of the narratives in these comic books are about these single individuals devoted to justice who have the willingness to be brave, who can defeat even the most powerful edifices of evil.”

Exactly. Comic books, video games, movies, and yes, even TV shows can influence, shape, and mold character and morals. Unfortunately, we don’t know which comic books and video games  affected Snowden. Greenwald didn’t ask!

Paging Dr. Wertham!

(more…)

Late Night: Sex Kills!


It’s almost hump day, so why not?  According to  study is published in the journal PNAS, some species of marsupials mate so vigorously and intensely that they die from the act of fornication. And I don’t  mean la petite mort either.

The antechinus, the phascogale and the dasykaluta  are insect-eating  marsupials that live in New Guinea, and the males of the species die in large numbers after mating with as many partners as possible in marathon sex sessions lasting up to 14 hours at a time. The males attempt to mate with as many females as possible in long, laborious bouts, driven by high levels of hormones including testosterone, as well as stress hormones.

The females of the species are also highly promiscuous, and have synchronized their reproductive cycles to allow for young to be born at times when food is plentiful. By mating with many males, the females are able to  weed out the poor quality males. Successful fertilization increases the odds better offspring survival, and the males dying post-coitally decreases the competition for food. Dr Diana Fisher from the University of Queensland, the lead author of the study, explained:

If we humans get huge stress, we have a feedback system and we bring it down. But the marsupials just keep ramping it up more and more and are driven to spend all their time mating competitively.

I wonder if they die with a smile on their little marsupial faces?

Late Night: Kim Fowley Is the Lord of Garbage

I met Kim Fowley, the man who discovered created the Runaways, when I was 16, and at the time I thought he was the scariest man on earth. Tall, skinny with huge deep-set eyes and giant teeth, he had a rapid fire series of phrases he’d rattle off as he leered. A typical sentence might sound like this

 The bitch is gonna do the dog on a pussy-eating guitar godhead level or I will make her crawl like garbage while she goes waaaaagn. W-A-A-A-A-G-N waaaagn!

Yes, he spelled waaaagn letter my letter. Fowley was already legendary when I first met him; along with Runaways, he’d produced a Helen Reddy record and  done the Tomorrow Show with  Tom Snyder discussing New Wave, and a couple of us from Westlake School for Girls had the idea of starting a punk fanzine, so I bravely called the recording studio where he worked to ask for an interview–and he said yes! I credit Kim with my career as a writer, because he has this attitude of if you say it, you can be it, and since we had said we had a punk ‘zine and wanted to interview him, we had to carry through on it.

Somehow Kim ended up marrying one of my high school friends who shall remain nameless, though she is pictured on the cover his 1978 solo album in a dress she borrowed from me; I also did her makeup.  The marriage was annulled and the bride never spoke to me again, but Kim and I stayed in touch sort of once I was back from college at UC Berkeley, where I had gotten really sick. He called my mom and asked if he could take me to church (!), and showed up on a Sunday in cab wearing a suit with a banana and a stack of restraining orders in his jacket pocket. He was a perfect gentleman always to me, despite rumors of all sorts of bad behavior whispered to me by others.

Kim is a weird, super bright genius and he would occasionally, before we lost touch, tell me stories about his past in his hyperbolic, adjective-filled, convoluted way. So when I saw that the first volume of his memoir, Lord of Garbage, had been published–how could I resist? Covering from his birth to age thirty, Lord of Garbage is a Dickensian tale of a California childhood besmirched by divorce and remarriages, bad medicine, polio, teen gangs, and the redemption of rock n roll.

Fowley was mentored by Alan Freed, the man who coined the phrase ‘rock and roll’ (three words that changed the world, says Fowley). He went on to write or co-write hundreds of songs, produced what are now cult records, as well as hits like “Alley Oop” and the novelty hit “They’re Coming to Take Me Away,” and written and directed over a dozen low-budget movies. Fowley also wrote a lot of poetry, some of which is included in Lord of Garbage.

Fowley says he dictated Lord of Garbage  into his publisher’s voicemail while recovering from bladder cancer, whacked out on drugs and potential death. It’s glorious prose; visual vulgar, brilliant and bold, rolling off the page, rocking in the brain.   I can’t wait until volumes two and three are released. Fowley does two radio shows a week on Steve Van Zandt’s Sirius XM station, and is currently recovering from additional cancer surgeries.  He’ll be reading from Lord of Garbage on October 5th at La Luz de Jesus, the mega-gallery/cool stuff shop in my neighborhood. I’m going, I’d like to thank him for the influence he played in my life.

Check out his take on cancer, home health care, life, and death here:

Wake Up and Smell the Delusions

coffee-poster.bmpA new study says that consuming more than  330 milligrams of caffeine a day can lead to hallucinations. Oh, so those wingnut conspiracy theories are just the result of drinking lots of Mountain Dew? I feel so much better now.

 The amount needed experience otherworldly sensations–which may be linked to the release of cortisol caused by high caffeine intake–is 330 milligrams, which you can find in a grande medium cup of Starbucks drip. Or by slamming 4 cans of Red Bull

Conducted by researchers at Durham University and published in Personality and Individual Differences, the study:

offers some support for our first hypothesis, namely that when levels of stress are accounted for, caffeine intake is positively related to levels of psychosis-like experiences.

The study’s authors, Dr. Charles Fernyhough and Simon Jones, pointed out it was not clear if the caffeine had caused the hallucinations: It may just be that people under stress and more susceptible to hallucinations are also more likely to consume high levels of caffeine.

The media has run with the hallucinations angle, claiming that  drinking lots of coffee and tea can make you see dead people, though I’m more inclined to think caffeine is at the root of Ann Coulter’s hyper animated inanity.

 But in African Tradition Religions like santeria, espiritu, voodoo and the all-American hoodoo which is sorta the jazz of religions–it incorporates a variety of folk beliefs and magic from various Western African tribes, Catholicism, Native American beliefs and European folk and high magic–coffee is left on altars to honor one’s ancestors. So uh, maybe there’s something to this "dead people" thing after all.


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