I wrote the following article a while back and it was posted on my old blog and the Mixtape Blog . I’m putting it up here because I like it and don’t want to forget it.
Hasbro. DC. Marvel. Disney. They’ve got them all locked down. Every childhood legend and league of disproportioned heroes and villains. Back when people told stories around firepits and under stars no one could tell you the real story. Pretty often some wise guy who thought he could top the last tale might claim to have the real story – but he’s just a showboating sonovabitch. He knows about as much as any other guy. The teller who gets to be right isn’t the one closest to what came before, but closest to what comes after. The story that gets repeated is the story that gets to be real. And that was the way it was for a very long time.
Stories keep evolving – survival of the fittest. But there’s no place for evolution in a production line. Take chickens for example. The humble chicken, by virtue of being tasty, flightless, easily domesticated, nutritious and easy to breed, has been kept in more or less the same state for hundreds of years. The only changes to the chicken have been to bulk it up to produce more meat and breed better egg layers. Change is not evolution – evolution can be surprising. So we now have battery farmed chickens, have done for just under a century. The chickens are controlled and bred selectively – some are even copyrighted. And we all can have access to the same fowl feast.
My mythology – the heroes I dreamt about when I built worlds out of stones and sticks – are battery chickens. Bloated and making some investors happy. The stories I got don’t belong to me, I don’t even think they were rented out to me. If this was around a firepit under stars and Hasbro had just finished telling a story about Optimus Prime and the All Spark, I would get up and say, wait a minute, listen here because I’ve got the real story – see the All Spark wasn’t the real creator, somebody made it. A bazillion years a–
HEY YOU SHOWBOATING SONOVABITCH! YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH BEFORE MY LAWYER LEROY HERE SHUTS IT FOR YOU!
That Hasbro – he’s a dick. And he’s locked up all the dreams in battery farms. And just like in battery farms, more productive is the goal, not better. Legally who ever tells a story owns the characters that are created through it – as long as those characters are distinct enough. And, as in any case of ownership, the rights to that character can be transferred. Fair enough that you tell a story and people who make money from retelling that story owe you something, and fair enough that people shouldn’t be allowed to stop you making money from telling your story. But there comes a point of cultural saturation when that character must take on a life of its own. By which I mean a return to the firepit nights of old. May the best story win. This is the way it is for Sherlock Holmes, Hercules, Robin Hood and King Arthur – why not for Superman, Snake-Eyes and Optimus Prime?
BECAUSE I OWN THE RIGHTS TO ALL DERIVATIVE WORKS AND LEROY HERE WILL PUT YOU INTO THE GROUND IF YOU TRY TELL PEOPLE A STORY WITH MY GIANT ROBOTS IN THEM! YOU WANT TO TELL A STORY ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS? RIP OFF THE FUCKING GOBOTS.
I have more legal right to use Jesus in a story than Superman. Corporations are more powerful than church. Maybe.