Sunday, October 13, 2013

"You can't use that word, that's our word" (Actually, the Trademark Office Begs to Differ)

There was an interesting collision of pop culture and government policy last month when the band The Slants lost their appeal to register their name with the U.S. Trademark Office (h/t to The TTABlog®).  It's common for bands to register their name with the Trademark Office in order to confirm their right to prevent others from using the same name.  Band names are a valuable commodity, after all, and legal disputes over who "owns" a name can be a nightmare - like a corporate dispute and divorce proceeding rolled into one.  Just ask Sublime, or One Direction, or  The Talking Heads.

What's less common is for the Trademark Office to reject an application because the band's name may be offensive, and what's rarer still is an opinion from the Trademark Office that a band's name is offensive because of the ethnicity of the band members.  By attempting to avoid endorsing a potentially loaded term, the Trademark Office instead stumbled right into the debate over self-expression and ethnic identity.

More below the fold (and fair warning, this post naturally includes references to various ethnic, racial and sexual slurs, all of which are reprinted here for discussion purposes only without any malicious intent) ...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

On "Felina", Finales and Epilogues on TV

"Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled." -- Cutter, Prestige
It's now been a week since the last frame of Breaking Bad footage aired on national television and anyone with a mind to it has said their piece online.  With all the hype and expectations now put to rest, I stand by what I said in my pre-finale post (and later argued to the estimable FILM CRIT HULK on Twitter), that wanting can be a lot more enjoyable than having when it comes to series finales.  The quote above from Prestige captures this notion, and the sentiment was also expressed by Joanna Robinson in her podcast review of the finale on The Ones Who Knock.  That is, for all the stylistic triumphs of "Felina", as enjoyable as it was, it didn't really aspire to surprise the audience in any way.  Rather than hit us upside the head like the controversial Sopranos finale or throw a wild monkey wrench in the gears like the groundbreaking St. Elsewhere finale, "Felina" felt more like watching the dominoes fall just as they'd been arranged .  That is, it was less a climax than a series of natural consequences to what came before.

Another way to put it is that "Felina" wasn't a finale at all.  Sure, it's the last episode of the series, but narratively speaking, it's really Breaking Bad's epilogue.  In theory, there shouldn't be anything wrong with that.  In practice, however, there's a tendency now to treat the finale as the be-all, end-all of a series' worth, and to criticize any show that doesn't satisfy the urge to be stunned and amazed by the last shot.  It's a stifling expectation to impose on any story however told, and I think it's time we drop that expectation when it comes to TV shows.

More below the fold with spoilers for Breaking Bad, Justice League Unlimited, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (through season 4), Lost and Stephen King's The Stand.