Friday, October 10, 2014

Are We Modern or Are We Old Fashioned? Who Decides?

I recently saw a post going around Facebook.  I imagine a lot of people might "like" it as they browsed their Facebook feed:

"10 Old Fashioned Habits We Should Make Cool Again

1) Coming to the door to pick someone up

2) Trying to dress really nice for a date

3) Bringing flowers or other tokens of affection to the first date.

4) Going dancing that's not grinding on a grimy club floor.

5) Straightforwardly asking someone out and not calling it "hanging out"

6) Additionally, being clear about when you're "going steady".

7) Romantic gestures like writing poems.

8) Turning electronics off and just being with one another. 

9)  The general concept of asking permission for things.

10) Not assuming sex is to be had at any point in time."

The first thing I wondered how old fashion it could really be if electronics and grimy clubs with grinding are involved. . .    Then I wondered why only the habits that look like old fashioned dating rituals seemed to matter. . .  Then I got a little worked up about old fashioned dating rituals.  Some of those aren't listed here but they are all very well known rituals, for sure, and I understand the sentiment.  I can even see a few things in that list that should be considered common politeness among all people.  I am all for that.   I just worry that there is a clear historical bias here we should examine.  Despite leaving out the "he" and "she" in that list, there is no mistaking that we are looking at the old fashion expectations of a "gentlemen" which is a term for an old fashioned man who follows old fashioned etiquette.   There were also "ladies" who followed their own old fashioned etiquette that men expected but most of those expectations are not mentioned in the above list.  I'll cover some of those later.

All in all, I think these expectations would be considered relatively harmless by most people.  Fair enough in the small scale.  Lists like this make me wonder about the big picture, though.  Where are we really with "equality" and the "image of women" in society?  It is very common to hear talk about the social damage resulting from the sexualizing of women as objects.  In 1963 Betty Friedan also talked about the danger of "socializing women" as objects.   In her book "The Femanine Mistique" she presented what she believed was a false and damaging premise many women embrace as part of their self identity.  Despite many great strides in our attitudes about women, we don't hear as much about the feminine mystique these days.  It is as if that got put on "the back burner".  What I see today is two very mixed social messages:.  

The first message is that, in public life, women should be seen as equal and independent individuals.  Katy Perry says:  "You're gonna hear me roar!"  There is a very sensible position at the heart of this that modern society we are all intellectual equals and nobody should be special just because of their sex.  Men who wish to be modern and progressive embrace this and they have no fear of women who have ambitions and goals outside of the traditional roles.

The second message however is that, in their personal lives at least, many women seem to expect the opposite.  Modern stories, pop music and lists of "old fashioned habits we should make cool again", suggest it is just good manners to treat women as special, delicate, creatures that deserve treats and gifts and extra efforts from men who want their attention.  Women, in this image,  are fragile pieces of decorative art with delicate sensibilities that cannot possibly handle less than pleasant, pampering surroundings and properly dressed people.  Compare this to the standards men or women have when "hanging out" with members of the same sex (which they don't mind calling it).   There is also a very clear attitude that a man must earn the respect of a woman by making special efforts and demonstrating expendable wealth he might offer as a possible provider.   

Beyonce says: "If you want it then you should have put a ring on it."  This is a very, very, old fashioned social standard of using sex as a bartering tool for marriage.  In it's day it was not the lady bartering it, however.  That period also included all of the standards of behavior that "civilized ladies" must commit to before and after the ring was "on it".  These were things like staying a virgin till the ring arrived, having the ring bearer chosen for them, not voting, being a house wife, allowing the man to lead the dance, allowing the man to drive, being quiet when the man tells them to be quiet, not going out in public without a man, wearing certain clothing and makeup to enhance the man's image in public, etc.   Beyonce doesn't mention those but those are also the expectations that an "old fashion man" would have to go along with all of his other old fashion habits that people say we should "make cool again".  

The progressive man is very confused by this second attitude because he is busy trying to follow ideas of equality, not the belief that one of them is special and the other must defer to it.   To the progressive man, discussions of sex with a woman would be more like the frank discussions I have heard described to me between two gay men.  In those cases there is not a silent bartering arrangement where one person is offering the chance of sex under the right circumstances but they don't admit to offering it and another is trying to earn a sexual relationship that, at the same time, they must also not speak about or expect.

It seems like the old fashioned values that are expected today are clearly one sided and I admit this is still progress.  Many of the social and legal attitudes when it came to women were downright invasive and unfair.    So where did all of this come from?   Lets consider, first, the top 10 list of REALLY old fashioned dating habits.

10 REALLY Old Fashioned Habits We Should Remember Happening

1) He takes the girl he want's because he is stronger than her.  She fights back if she can but there is not much to be done.

2) After  taking her, he must be strong enough and smart enough to hold her and protect her from all other men trying to take her. 

3) He must be strong enough to fight off all men who target him personally because they want her.  

4) He must also help protect his sister from men trying to take her.

5) He must protect his daughter from men trying to take her.

6) He must go out in a war party to take back the women that were stolen from other men in the village.   He must fight other men, getting hurt and sometimes dying to get them back.

7) He may occasionally be asked to be the "best man" at a wedding so that, when the other village war party comes to get the bride back, he can help protect the groom and help him escape with her.

8) He must either go out in a hunting or fishing party to catch dinner for the whole village or stay on watch to protect the women and children from thieves and meat eaters.

9) He just bled protecting her multiple times and it took him 8 hours to hunt down dinner and now she just finished eating some of the best parts of the meat.   Now the man wants sex and it's probably not very easy to say no because nobody decided that there was something called rape yet.  In the hostile primitive world, with no laws to protect women from sexual assault, the man they are with is protection from something that might be worse.    Choice is relative.

10) He knows she is less likely to run away if she is happy.  He starts doing things and bringing things for her.  He gives her a special status among his family and friends, he does everything he can to help her forget that she was kidnapped in the first place.  Or, at least, to help her feel better about it.

This was the social order for a million years or so of early humanity as proper civilizations began to form.  Physical strength was the original currency of life.  Men chose women who were less strong so that they could take the one they wanted without getting their butts kicked.  Women, in turn, understood that the stronger the man was, the more secure her life could be if she stuck with him.   

The coveting and protecting of woman by men, in an incredibly harsh and bloody world, led to the attitude that women simply could not survive on their own.  That led to laws and beliefs defining women and children as dependents that must be protected just like any other property.   This is fully on display in the familiar age that fairytales are set in.  Life was very hard and bloody in the age of castles and kingdoms.  There were men with armor and swords fighting for power and land.  There were highborn ladies who stayed within the protective walls of castles.   This was the age of extreme rituals and manners around everything as a way of maintaining the social order between men and women and the higher and lower classes.   Women were seen in ridiculously fancy and restrictive clothes that they could barely breath in, let alone do anything in the world.   They sat on cushions and wore jewels and lived in a world of finery and comfort like a pretty white cat.  The ladies were made very comfortable indeed during this time but they were still trapped in high towers and citadels.   They were still captured, like the women kidnapped by the cave men.

This rigid, "pampered prisoner", life is more commonly known as being a "princess".  We only see one side of the princess these days: the fawning, the fabulous clothes, elaborate parties and the castles.   It works great for a Disney princess movie or a fairytale.   It also works great for selling luxuries to women.  As a matter of historical fact, however, the princess lifestyle was something intended to reinforced the perception of women as something completely different from a person.  They were special objects that passed on family lines with childbirth.   They must be sheltered and managed.  We hear words like "pet" or "creature" and even "property" used openly to describe women in these times.   The social strategy buried women in comforts, baubles and luxury while also creating a self image of complete helplessness; and even a feeling of entitlement to the helplessness.   It was an intellectual prison put together over time as a way to entrap a man's property in a velvet glove and regulate access to it, not to cater to the comfort interests of women.

This created precisely the desired effect in the psyche of women.  Considering the alternatives, it didn't seem like a big tradeoff, to many women, that in exchange for the pampering and protection,  they were the property of their fathers and then their husbands .  Their virginity and who they had sex with was regulated and protected like a piece of livestock so that the men in the world could barter family relations and strike political alliances through marriage and children.    Women treated like princess had no more say in society or their sexual lives than women living in caves before them did.  However, like with the caves, it was precisely the pampering and treatment that captured woman's minds and made them feel less confident about resisting it or running away from it.  In fact, many were happy to embrace it, defend it and demand it.

From this, so called, fairytale age all the way up to women's suffrage and the woman's liberation movement, all of the customs and rituals about women were still based on these old values of a velvet cage and golden chains.  Women were no longer dragged to caves or bartered away to castles but they were still chained to the role of serving a man at home and having children as their fundamental reason for existing.  Meanwhile, in the industrial age, they could all be princesses!!  They were pampered by hair salons and manacures and tempted by a whole range of clothing and cosmetics that were still designed to be restrictive, even if they lived in a more free society.  

The men, meanwhile, were no longer kidnapping or bartering for their wives but they still followed the strategy they had always been taught:  that women are a special needs type of human.   They must be "seduced" into the relationship by catering to, and then continuing to provide, what I call: "the perks of helplessness".  Woman were quite active in supporting this, even if they didn't realize it.  It was common knowledge, and still is, that the man who provides the most comforts and privileges and does the most catering to female helplessness has the better selection of women.

The men of the industrial age designed all of the luxuries and clothing women came to enjoy.  They opened doors for women, pulled out their chairs for them, stood on the street side of the sidewalk when walking together, they removed their hats in the presence of ladies and gave them their coats when they were cold.  The customs and rituals that burned female helplessness, and the male provider into our society are so ancient and powerful in many people's psyche that most people see it as just the way humans are when living together.

So here we are in the modern world.   The jig is up for the men.  Time to move aside and let women share power and decisions.   Here here!!  Women are constantly reminding us that the old fashion views about ruling men and helpless women in society were wrong and they must be cast off.    I agree but I think if we really want to make a difference we can't use half measures.  The jig should also be up for the culture of female prerogatives that was designed to cage them in.  The perks of helplessness are not a fair exchange between two equal individuals.  If a woman expects that basic politeness means to have a door held for her, for flowers to be presented to her, or for the man to order the wine and pay for dinner, she is certainly desiring treatment than any of us would want.  Unfortunately, in the big picture, she is honoring and reinforcing all the old fashioned social rituals that were designed to make her feel like she is something different, helpless, fragile and dependent on men.  She is also nonverbally communicating an agreement with her helplessness to the men opening the door.  

So I would like to ask the women among us:   I am now a father raising two daughters.  What should I teach them?  Are we modern or are we old fashioned?  Who decides?  Can we really be both without just reversing the discrimination onto men?  If we are all equals in the modern world, then why aren't we all equals in the modern world?  I, as a progressive man, will gladly stand up for equal rights of women, equal pay for women, the right to reproductive choice, the right to fly jets and drive police cars and be in control of her fate.   I don't feel very comfortable, however, working hard to support this kind of equality while also being expected to hold onto all of the old fashioned perks of helplessness that make women more special and dependent on men on a person to person level.   I do not always see as much effort from women to be equal on these terms.   Picking and choosing when to be equal and independent and when to demand the perks of helplessness is regressive not progressive.  It also leaves men trying to do the right thing confronted with a double standard of purging their discrimination against women while tolerating obvious discrimination against themselves.    

I would like to think that the "10 Old Fashioned Habits That We Should Make Cool Again",  could truly be modernized and followed by both sexes equally.  I think what I get hung up on is that, in a free and equal system, nobody should feel pressure to spend money or hold doors or write poetry as "manners" or as a basic cost of entry when forming a meaningful relationship with someone else.  Men have never done this when relating to each other.  Neither have women when relating to women.

In a truly fair and equal society, where we are all striving to see others as no different than ourselves, the woman, like any man, only gets met at the door, given gifts and had dinner paid for if she has earned respect or affection first.  Special treatment, gifts, paying for things; these are done for real reasons, when a person is inspired to show affection and respect for another person.  These things do not arrive at her feet just because she is a woman.  That is what equality means.

Why is it that we find it acceptable that only a man can be told he didn't get the second date because he didn't bring flowers, buy dinner, write poetry. . .  or because he expected that maybe sex would be involved at some point as a result of dating?  Why is it that only a man is told that he may be required to make a $150 investment in showing a woman a good time and she can just take it all and say "sorry this didn't work for me" with no further obligations?  Men do not have such transactions among themselves when treating each other as equals.  Neither do women.   No other personal transactions in the world have that sort of prerogative.   In fact, it is usually considered theft.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

We Are All a Den of Thieves (especially Shakespeare)

I would like to tell a tale about novelists, play-writes, poets, musicians, actors and all of those other dreamers living at the bottom of society with nothing but the clothes on their backs, big ideas. . . and minds full of other people's property!   

My tale begins with one of the greatest dreamers in history, an author named William Shakespeare.  We can skip the details of his life.    What's important here is that Shakespeare died in 1616, 398 years ago from the year 2014.    By then he had written many plays and poems and scholars, educators and classical artists have marveled over his work for all of those centuries.    There is one very special story, however.    A story so huge, it has grabbed the entire world by the gut and made it sob: Romeo and Juliet.   

Shakespeare created this play in a time where there was no such thing as the word "intellectual property" or the so called "copyright laws" that protect it.    Things were written down and printed, but there was also a much  more free and democratic  flow of ideas because the ability to make copies was much more naturally limited.  In those days, hearing or reading ideas and then repeating them was no different than hearing something from your friend and then repeating it to the neighbors.  Everyone has their own way of filtering the same story.   Some people tell it better than others.  Famous works that borrowed were not just making an exact copy, they were adding their own personality, or finding some new way of presenting them that was innovative.   This can be seen very clearly even in the modern day.   Walt Disney is a great example.  He used the existing stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty etc. to showcase a very special kind of animation. He was not a plot weaver or a composer.  He was an innovative, but poorly financed,  graphic artist.  He needed easy, cheap, access to well known story material and music in order to help sell people on the idea of animation as proper art form. 

The story about the earliest copyright laws is a long one.  The short story is this:  Copyright law was a reaction to the technology of making copies and passing them around, not an attempt to put limits the free and democratic exchange of artistic ideas.  The most natural way of protecting people's artistic work was to call it "property".    This was a legal construct, the same way todays corporation is a legal "person" in order to make it fit in with the existing legal system of bank accounts and land ownership.     Most recognize that ideas are a very special kind of property, however.  They don't view it as exactly the same thing as real property any more than corporations are exactly the same as living people.   Intellectual property rights were designed to deal with situations that normal property laws do not, such as allowing educators and scholars "fair use" of the property without paying.   Nobody get's fair use of our cars, or houses.   The copyright laws changed a lot over time but there has always been a deliberate balance between protection and access because both are seen as equally important to the future of art and society.  The protection part creates a generous window of time for artists and their descendants to exploit and control the work.  The "access" part of this balance is to limit the size of that window so that future artists will eventually gain unrestricted access to any art that is old enough.  This is called the "public domain".   The public domain is what allowed Disney to use Snow White without any restrictions and it is what has allowed us all to freely use Shakespeare's work for over 300 years.

There are those who disagree with this attempt at balance.   Some over the years (usually people with lots of valuable intellectual property "in the bank") have argued that their work should be protected longer, even forever.  Their argument is that "property is property" and forcing expressions into the public domain is little more than state sponsored property theft.    In that view, the Shakespeare family should have always been protected and anyone who wants to do anything with Shakespeare's works should need to pay a fee, and/or get permission from someone like, for example: Shakespeare's great, great, great, great, great, great, grandson's, nephew's ex wife. . . who is very unreasonable for unknown reasons.  

There is a big elephant in the room with this view however.     If the "property is property" believers are to be consistent with their own arguments, then all the ideas before the time of Shakespeare should have also be protected.  If that is the case,  then the first thing that happens is that William Shakespeare decides not to write Romeo and Juliet, because someone else wants money and creative control before they will give him the rights.  There was a family in that day that could truthfully claim that their dead relative had expressed the plot, the setting, the families and even the title of Romeo and Juliet in a poem, before Shakespeare ever wrote his play.    Shakespeare was an idea thief!  A big one.  Even under todays limited protections let alone the permanent protection some people dream of.   In fact, if property is property, there is a whole legacy of thieves around Romeo and Juliet to consider.

A long long time ago in a land far, far away there lived a Greek named Xenophon.  Xenophon wrote a novel in the year 200 AD.  It was called "Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes"  The story involved two lovers who could not stay together because of their circumstances and they decided to commit suicide.    In the year 1530 we know for certain that a thieving man named Luigi Da Porta is caught red handed stealing this idea.  "Luigi the Thief",  as I shall call him,  was a two time thief!    Luigi's story had the suicide lovers as part of two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, in the city of Verona.    He stole those ideas from a guy named Massusccio Salemitano.     "Sal", as I shall call him, wrote a poem titled "Cinquante Novelle" in 1476.  It was that poem that contained the original idea of the two feuding families and the city they lived in.  Luigi liked the poem so he took the place and people from the poem, the murder suicide from the Greek novel,  and put them together into his own idea of the story.  He didn't even change the names and places.  

Not long after,  a man named Arthur Brook also wrote a poem inspired by that story.    He called it: “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet”   Brook's poem had all the details about a city known as Verona, and two feuding families, Capulets and Monagues and the tragic day that their hate for each other lead to the suicide of two of their children "Romeus and Juliet" who had fallen in love.   What a strangely familiar idea. . .   Brook never gained much fame or fortune from his poem.   It floated around for a while until a man named William Painter turned it from a poem, back into a story in 1567.     That is when the man we all know and love, William Shakespeare, shows up.   Shakespeare was not always a big original plot weaver in his work.  Many times he used existing powerful stories in order to sell people on his special style of stage plays. He got ahold of these other men's poems and stories sometime between 1591 and 1595 and used them as the plot and characters for a play which he called "Romeo and Juliet".  The play was about. . . well. . . everything and everyone I just mentioned, plus the things he added from his own brilliance.  If property is property forever, then William Shakespeare, or Billy The Kid, as I shall then call him. . was a thief in a line of thieves because he stole property from Painter. . . who stole from Brook, who stole from  Luigi, who stole from Sal, and Xenophon.   

"Romeo and Juliet" as we know it was published in 1597.    Fortunately for all of us, Shakespeare wasn't faced with as situation something like: Brook's widow and Painter's son insisting on getting the writing credits Luigi and Sal insisting on creative control and Xenophon's family insisting on credit for the original idea.  Then at the bottom of the poster in small print it could say  "Adapted for Stage by William Shakespeare".    What would that play look like?  Would it ever get off the ground if it needed the green light from 5 other people who never wrote a play?

What about the period after Shakespeare's death?   Expressions of Romeo and Juliet have launched many careers.   Millions have benefited from this play from pure entertainment, to scholarship, directing skills, acting skills, technical skills to adaptations into operas, books, songs, movies, paintings, sculptures,  on and on.   A famous example:  Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Burnstein wrote a musical stage play called "West Side Story" in 1957,  which was based on Romeo and Juliet.  Fortunately they didn't face the Shakespeare family ex-wife's grandson insisting on creative control.    My father earned his name as a theater director partly by directing West Side Story.  I personally got my very first job in the movie business on a low budget movie that was doing a comedy knock off of Romeo and Juliet.  Angelina Jolie starred in that movie as the Juliet character.   It was the very first feature film of her career.   At least 57 other movies have also used Romeo and Juliet either by performing it word for word or by putting the story into a new situation with different characters and places.  

Beyond just this play, there are over 400 movies or TV shows and countless stage performances that use Shakespeare's work in one way or another.  Who could count all of the people that this has entrained or the careers it has built or launched?  The "property is property" lawyers would have quickly destroyed us all if they had a time machine because they would have found plenty of cease and desist opportunities in all of Shakspeare's work.  The idea for King Lear was taken from a previous play "The true Chronicles of King Lier and his 3 daughters" written in 1605 by a currently unknown playwright.  The idea for Macbeth was taken from Holinsheds Chronicals "Macbeth".   Holinshed based his story on "Scrotorum Historiae" written in 1527 by Hector Boece.  Shakespeare took from others and In turn, we have all taken from Shakespeare.   It is the circle of life.   If not through Shakespeare then any of a thousand other artists and artworks.  If Shakespeare was a thief, then so are most of the great artists of the past present and future.

So the question stands before us:  How much good in the world of art did all the free exchange around this story of two lovers who committed suicide do?   Was it more important to allow the descendants of Xenophon or Salamintano to cling tightly to their little pieces so that they could never be used or changed without their control?   How important was Shakespeare?  Should he have been motivated and inspired by free access to those other works?  Would his work have been the same if it had restrictions and boundaries, or plots he always had to write up from scratch?  What about those who later used Shakespeare's work in their own art?  Was it good for their growth and development to be released from all restrictions and boundaries?  Did they then benefit us all?  Would we really go back in a time machine and stop all of that in order to allow the Shakespeare descendants, who never created the art, maintain permanent control over it's uses?  If not, then why should we move the time machine forward and do it from now on?

Like my my father, my brother and my sister before me, I am an artist and a creator of intellectual property.   My work involves written, musical and motion picture expressions.    I have worked on stages, film sets and in theaters all my life.    I believe in my right to own and control my original ideas and pass them to my descendants for a limited time.   I want us all to make money off our work if we deserve it.   What I do not want is this dystopian vision where property is property forever. That is nothing but a short sighted pathway to the creative apocalypse; a world where artists are afraid of creating new works  and the ones who are brave enough will often abandon brilliant ideas because of licensing issues with relatives over a 300 year old or 1000 year old property.  The idea of extreme long term or permanent ownership of intellectual property is not something I can't just "agree to disagree" over.    It is outright offensive and repugnant to me as an artist who knows what launched me and cares about launching future artists and art.   I, literally, cannot stop myself from pushing back against it.  There are always people who will harbor bad beliefs if they are not pushed and pushed into finally understanding the consequences of their beliefs.  I can only hope that there will be enough people who come to understand those consequences as people like me plead for them to listen.

Ask the fans of Shakespeare or Sondheim/Burnstean, or Disney if it's worth it.