The Daily BarbieTM
Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, Inc.
Background: Mark Napier's website, The Distorted Barbie explores the Barbie image and its effect on girls and on society in general. A lawyer representing Mattel has demanded that he remove the site. Soon, I too received a letter from this lawyer, regarding Enterzone, an e-zine I co-founded, which had published an earlier version of Mark's Barbie installation in its episode 7, back in June of 1996. The letter cited 15 U.S.C. section 1125(c) and asserted that this artistic, political, noncommercial discussion of the effects on our culture, and particularly on women and their images of themselves, of a vastly successful mass-produced doll embodying an improbably unlikely and restrictive caricature of a narrow concept of female beauty, somehow dilutes Mattel's Barbie trademark.
I've decided to alert the community of people who believe in free expression of ideas on the Net and who favor an open discussion of issues related to women, by documenting the daily proceedings of the case at this site.
While I've been relaxing in Point Reyes, a lot of mail's been churning about. Partly from the Netsurf story I'm sure. My friend in Chicago says his trademark-lawyer friend is out of town but should at least be willing to talk to me.
Scot Hacker's put up a new topic about this Barbie case on the Birdhouse Message Board. A reader, Lee Reeves, has set up an explanatory Barbie mirror site, writing "I fear that unless the Internet community stands together against censorship we might soon find watchful giants monitoring our every click."
A friend from the Deadlists project suggested I contact a mutual acquaintance at the Washington Post, so I've done so. No word back yet from the Nytimes.com reporter.
Why have I overlooked Usenet so far? That's where Enterzone emerged from. I should post something to alt.zines and maybe the net-abuse newsgroup. There must be central censorship forums. I'll have to do a little poking around on Monday, if I can find the time.
The bulletin board messages and private e-mail to me are starting to run toward the "attack on you is an attack on me" spirit I've been hoping might rally to my aid eventually. I'll fight this out for my own principles, as long as I can, but it would be nice if people could see beyond the specific matters of my 'zine or Mattel's doll and look at the dynamic of a huge successful corporation attempting to control and even dictate the speech content of a free noncommercial labor-of-love work of art, for goodness sake! If Barbie were a person, we would not be libeling or slandering her, regardless of the fact that she'd no doubt be considered a public figure. As a trademark or copyright, as the intellectual property of a coporate entity, she enjoys better protection against legitimate criticism and inquiry than would a human being! More importantly, the rights of the commercial business are trespassing on the legitimate freedoms of a noncommercial periodical.
Then again, I really think in some ways that all this constitutional talk about intellectiual property is b.s. when the real issue is political: women's bodies, what can and cannot be said about them in the public sphere.
"Super" Dave Richardson has just started mirroring three Barbie sites: The Distorted Barbie, the Barbie Meme document and, perhaps most importantly, the downloadable Barbie site mirror.
Another good maybe! My acquaintance at the Washington Post forwarded my story tip to their "cyber guy." Details at 11.
Wolfgang Staehle, of a small ISP in New York which publishes The Thing, an arts related website, wrote to tell me that they had received the same letter from Mr. Dunnegan, asking them to remove the pages of one of their paying customers, G.H. Hovagimyan, from their server. Hovagimyan has posted to the bulletin board here as well, I believe. While I am more sympathetic to message of Napier's artwork (challenging the sovereignty of the Barbie icon over the self-image and esteem of girls?) than to that of Hovagimyan (provoking Mattel?), I suspect that they both enjoy the same right to free expression of ideas. You can follow The Thing case at their message board called New Stuff.
An Australian 'zine, Sonique, has taken an interest in the Barbie case.
Wusage tells me that Barbie got about 70 hits over the weekend, I'm sure thanks to Joey Anuff. Napier's Barbie pages at Enterzone are now officially more popular than our perennial favorite (thanks to keyword searching, no doubt), malenude.jpg.
suggestions: N.O.W., EFF, etext archives, altx? So many people to get in touch with. Why do I feel like Paul Revere?
Mark Napier's been speaking with a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, doing an article about the "epidemic" of legal actions Mattel's lawyers have launched. The article is due the middle of next week. It's ironic, isn't it, that if Mattel's goal is to quiet down troubling questions about the Barbie image, that in this online age they are instead stirring up a much bigger media storm than they may have expected. Mark's talking to a lawyer next week.
One person wrote me to ask what he should do, having downloaded the Barbie mirror mentioned in the Barbie meme. I told him he should tell me the address, tell Lee Reeves the address, tell his friends, and so on. I've also devised a Barbie meme .sig virus to help distribute key URLs:
-- The Distorted Barbie questions the effect of a girl doll on society - http://ezone.org/ez/e7/articles/napier/barbie.html - but Mattel told Enterzone to remove the page - http://pobox.com/~xian/barbie/ - Want to help? Copy me into your .sig --the Barbie meme .sig virus
A friend who wants help (and suggested distributing my .signature), asks me what a meme is. That's a long story. Anyone want to send in a nice concise definition I can run here? I'd say it's an analogy to a gene, in the realm of ideas: a self-perpetuating concepticle.
David Gans has made this situation topic 1481 in media on the WELL. Maybe one of the net.heavies there can lend a hand, hostwise. He also suggested California Lawyers for the Arts, in San Francisco. They're in Fort Mason, which reminded me that someone else had suggested I get in touch with Media Alliance (I got my first free-lancing work via them back in 1986), also housed at Fort Mason.
A correspondent has written to me to suggest a plan she or he believes is superior to the mirror shell-game approach: "Are you familiar with the Cypherpunks eternity service? It would seem to serve your need to circumvent censorship for "The Distorted Barbie". While spawning mirror after mirror is a good stop-gap measure, posting the site via the eternity service is a sure way to stop the lawyers' efforts. You can then post a site reference to one of the eternity server. Your document is indexed and can be retrieved from there (under encrypted SSL)
"For more details. Anyone, by the way, can submit the site to the service. The submittor is not known to either the server or person's retrieving the document."
I was just looking at GH's BKPC, which seems to use Barbie as a stand-in for a typical white female college student. It's perhaps ironic that the ubiquity of the doll might lead her to play these parts so far outside of Mattel's officially sanctioned roles for Barbie. GH also sent me a press release.
Another mirror of The Distorted Barbie is up.
File under life imitates art? or perhaps 'Law Irritates Art', but it seems that a comic web site has received an identically worded letter from the ever-vigilant William Dunnegan, demanding that they remove a Klaus Barbie cartoon! (Requires Shockwave.)
Another reader writes:
Keep it up.
A small proportion of the world are horrified by the preponderance of this form of kinesthetic brainwashing that convinces young girls, before sexual maturity, that when they grow up, they will only be acceptable if:
- They are sexually attractive
- To be sexually attractive, you have to conform to a particular big chested, small waisted, brainless, pink PC owning doll-like stereotype.
More and more people are figuring this out. Mattel knows this. That's why they want to stop your site.
It seems clear to me that the Distorted Barbie site touches a nerve, and it goes beyond the aesthetic. It's in the realm of the political, into matters of sex and politics. There's no stopping this conversation.
A lawyer Napier spoke with told him that it would be difficult for a large number of the various artistic Barbie sites all being challenged by Mattel to band together with unified legal representation, because each site treats Barbie somewhat differently. (On the publicity side of the equation, however, it's imperative that we all hang together, to semi-quote Ben Franklin).
The daily format for this page is proving untenable, though I am loathe to change the name once again. I will work on providing updates daily or at least every several days, but I think the community of artists attempting to defend themselves will be better served by an organized page with key links to related sites and an edited overview of the situation. Then, as news warrants it, I'll add items to various sections. If I'm going to maintain this site "pro bono" indefinitely, I need to maximize its usefulness for people working on the truth, and also minimize the overall amount of maintenance it requires from me, the busy work.
If anyone is interested in taking over this page, I'd be happy to continue to receive the mail and filter it and send new entries to the maintainer. It's a long shot, but I thought I'd put that out there.
Meanwhile, I will try to catch up on the new developments since last Wednesday. The biggest news it that Enterzone a has new host willing to harbor the site while the free-speech issue is explored. More details on the technicalities, especially if it will involve any discontinuities or name changes in the process. I'm still looking for legal representation but just discovered that California Lawyers for the Arts has an office down the block from me on Broadway in Oakland (Enterzone is published in Oakland, California). At least 11 artists or their lawyers have communicated with each other, partly due to the organizing efforts involved in this page, the Barbie meme, and so on.
Mark Napier appeared on Pat & Mike's Internet radio show, KPFA aired an interview with myself and Levi Asher in which I outlined the issues in the case, and a journalist from the Daily News website had a long talk with me on Friday afternoon and she seems to have a keen feel of the salient issues in the case. In Mark's interview, Pat (the female host) went postal against Barbie, complaining about how she's never held down a job, would have "48 DD breasts over size three shoes," an 18 inch waist, and so on. The whole idea of Barbie really strikes a nerve with some people. And Mike (the male host) told Mark he may have a referrral for him of a lawyer in New York who might take the case pro bono.