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Dog Day Afternoons: Bits & Pieces (11)

A. D. Coleman, selfie, 8-19-17The Return of Naruto

Surrogates for Naruto, the Indonesian macaque monkey who has become world-famous as a result of using professional photographer David Slater’s camera to generate a set of selfies, have returned to court to press their claim that Naruto holds the copyright to his images. According to his champions (and unknown to Naruto himself), this presumably entitles him to a share of any profits from a book that includes those images, self-published by Slater via Blurb. (See the July 13, 2017 Associated Press report, “No monkeying around: Court weighs if animal owns its selfies.”)

Though I have only flirted with vegetarianism, I consider myself reasonably woke on the subject of animal rights. Unlike most human carnivores, I have at least read (and found persuasive, though not to the point of eschewing bacon) such works as Bernard Rollin’s Animal Rights & Human Morality and Theodore Barber’s The Human Nature of Birds. My use of the pronoun “who” in the second clause of the first sentence of the preceding paragraph acknowledges my acceptance of the argument that Naruto is a sentient being.

Macaque self-portrait, Indonesia, 2011, as captioned by the London Daily Mail.

Macaque self-portrait, Indonesia, 2011, as captioned by the London Daily Mail.

Nonetheless, U.S. copyright law states clearly and unequivocally that,

In order to be entitled to copyright registration, a work must be the product of human authorship. . . . [A] work owing its form to the forces of nature and lacking human authorship is not registrable.

We might bemoan this law’s anthropocentrism, and its preference for culture over nature, but it’s the law of the land. And just as it explicitly rejects any claims to copyright on Naruto’s part, it also impeaches Slater’s claim to copyright on his own behalf. Instead, as I argued in greater detail when this case first arose (see “Copyright for All Primates?” from July 27, 2011), it places Naruto’s selfies squarely in the public domain.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the plaintiff here, suing Slater on behalf of Naruto. Why these animal-rights advocates see Slater’s publication of these images as a solid premise for a test case such as this escapes me. Strikes me as anthropomorphism run amok.

Let the Heeling Begin!

One picture of words can be worth a thousand words …

Donald Trump, tweet, 8-19-17

Donald Trump, tweet, 8-19-17

… and our unPresident has assured us that he has the best words.

Speaking of whom, the media made much of megachurch pastor A. R. Bernard’s resignation from President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. See Leinz Vales’s August 20, 2017 CNN report, “Pastor first to quit Trump’s evangelical advisory board: ‘There was a line.'” Bernard explains therein how, somewhere along the line, he began to have problems with Trump’s words, actions, and general behavior.

The real problem is that no one, including Bernard, sees any problem in the existence of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. Not an ecumenical religious advisory board, mind you, but an exclusively Christian and, even more narrowly, strictly evangelical-Christian advisory board.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Michele Bachman praying with evangelicals in the Oval Office, July 10, 2017. Photo by Johnnie Moore.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Michele Bachman praying with evangelicals in the Oval Office, July 10, 2017. Photo by Johnnie Moore.

This is not (yet) a theocracy. But we’re getting there, and Trump’s appointnment of Christian fundamentalist Neil Gorsuch to SCOTUS isn’t the half of it. Christian lunatics infect government at every level in this country, all the way to the top, and flourish whenever there’s a Republican in the White House.

The demented Ronald Reagan, our first Alzheimer’s president, “At a 1971 dinner … told California legislator James Mills that ‘everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ,'” according to one scholar. George W. Bush, who professes himself a born-again Christian, ran a White House, as Garry Wills put it, “honeycombed with prayer groups and Bible study cells, like a whited monastery.”

With barely an exception, the Republic Party contenders for the presidency in 2015-16 comprised a lineup of Creeping Jesus Bible-thumpers, more than a few of them evangelicals. And while Donald Trump certifiably hasn’t a religious bone in his body, his willingness to suck up to and pander to the religious right and its evangelical wing helped him sneak his way into the Oval Office.

But establishing his own all-Christian Evangelical Advisory Board should constitute a prima facie violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution — grounds for impeachment in and of itself. Just watch these sanctimonious rats scramble over each other to desert the sinking ship of the Trump administration as it lists ever further to starboard.

The Future of the “Watermelon Dress”

With watermelon a fixture of summer life in this country, I will hazard a guess that the “watermelon dress” will prove itself more than passing fad, becoming instead an enduring warm-weather trope. (See Greta Alvarez’s July 6, 2017 BuzzFeed story,  “Everyone On Instagram Is Wearing Watermelon Dresses And It’s Just So Pure.”

Watermelon "dress," @pwood1111 / Via

Watermelon “dress,” @pwood1111 / Via

Worth pointing out, socioculturally speaking, that this represents (to the best of my knowledge) the first time that people of the melanin-deficient persuasion have associated themselves en masse with the humble watermelon. Until now, as a cultural symbol, it has featured most prominently in derogatory images of African Americans.

Watermelon "dress," @mommyshorts / Via

Watermelon “dress,” @mommyshorts / Via

From the standpoint of photography itself, two things worth noting: This trend demonstrates the surprising, subliminal influence on popular visual culture of the under-recognized photographer Kenneth Josephson, about which I’ll have more to say in a future post. And it reveals a surprising and heartening sophistication among the populace at large concerning perspective and foreground-background relationships.

As long as we’re on the subject of fruit, see Yuxin Yang’s August 16, 2017 story, “Bob Dylan drives Northwest cherry sales,” at the “Americafruit” subsection of the website (I invent nothing. I only report.)

The story’s subtitle elaborates; “Chinese e-tailer Fruitday promotes Northwest cherries with Bob Dylan-themed packaging and sees sales increase almost 40 per cent.”

Chinese e-tailer Fruitday promotes Northwest cherries with Bob Dylan-themed packaging. (One of four Fruitday Bob Dylan package designs.)

Chinese e-tailer Fruitday promotes Northwest cherries with Bob Dylan-themed packaging. (One of four Fruitday Bob Dylan package designs.)

Yang’s story continues,

As the Northwest cherry season winds down in China, leading fresh food e-tailer Fruitday has declared its Bob Dylan-themed ‘Life and Poetry’ campaign a success.

Working with the Chinese publisher of The Lyrics: 1961-2012, which is a comprehensive collection of Dylan’s lyrics throughout his career, Fruitday’s poetic campaign put the book covers on the packages of Northwest cherries. Each package included a QR code on the side, which, when scanned on a smartphone, would play Dylan’s best-known lyrics read aloud by a Fruitday employee.

“Dylan is an iconic artist from the US, who sings about life, freedom and love. Our ‘Life and Poetry’ campaign this summer aims to encourage people to enjoy poetic lyrics and sweet cherries, as well as many other wonderful things life has to offer,” said Fruitday in a statement.

The company hopes that when consumers listen to the voice reading the lyrics, they will see the cherries not just as a commercial product, but as a gift from an old friend.

Combined with Bob Dylan-themed social media events and offline events in bookstores, cafés and restaurants, the ‘Life and Poetry’ campaign appears to have scored success. According to Fruitday, sales for the first 30 days of Northwest cherry season were up by more than 38 per cent on the same period last year for the e-tailer.

So in the People’s Republic of China they’re listening to Bob Dylan and eating cherries while Liu Xia remains “disappeared.” Do you suppose “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Chimes of Freedom” are on those playlists?

This post sponsored by a donation photographer and photo-historian Martin Magid.


A. D. Coleman, Critical Focus, 1995Special offer: If you want me to either continue pursuing a particular subject or give you a break and (for one post) write on a topic — my choice — other than the current main story, make a donation of $50 via the PayPal widget below, indicating your preference in a note accompanying your donation. I’ll credit you as that new post’s sponsor, and link to a website of your choosing. Include  a note with your snail-mail address (or email it to me separately) for a free signed copy of my 1995 book Critical Focus!

Liu Xia catalog, 2012, coverBut wait! There’s more! Donate now and I’ll include a copy of The Silent Strength of Liu Xia, the catalog of the 2012-13 touring exhibition of photos by the dissident Chinese photographer, artist, and poet, currently in her sixth year of extralegal house arrest in Beijing. The only publication of her photographic work, it includes all 26 images in the exhibition, plus another 14 from the same series, along with essays by Guy Sorman, Andrew Nathan, and Cui Weiping, professor at the Beijing Film Academy.

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