Fifteen minutes until quitting time and I’m dutifully working on a memo for my boss. Researching complex technical statutory and regulatory provisions. Making structural inferences about exhaustion of agency review. Cross referencing various subsections to make sure I get everything just right.
It’s like… I’m really doing Administrative Law. Professionally. For money.
So I was just taking a break from writing my paper on monochromatic trademark protection and reading Wikipedia’s entry on Captain Britain (natch) when I stumbled upon something amusing. After scrolling through a thousand or so words on his impossibly convoluted origin story and frequently ret-conned side plots, I found the “Powers and abilities” section. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself, “we’re finally getting to the important stuff.”
“Okay … magical amulet… sure… super human strength … that’s pretty basic … replenishment of energy … yadda yadda yadda…
WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE!
‘Citation needed’ on the amulet thing? What the hell Wikipedia? Is this amateur hour on the internet? What kind of comic book article am I browsing here? If I wanted rank speculation, I would talk to the nerds at Gaslight! I crave canon supported superhero knowledge! I trusted you Wikipedia! Thank goodness some intrepid soul called the epidemiological uncertainty of this whole amulet debacle to my attention! My commendation to you Mr… SpiderSensuous69. Hm. Okay. Probably not actually going to write you to say thanks, but know that I’m thinking it.”
These kinds of things really amuse me. The thought of some Captain Britain fan wading through line after fucking line of supernatural claims, alternate history, and minute plot details, decided that this - this particular claim and no other - needs further verification. Like, what authority does he want? What will it take to satisfy this attentive limey? A specific comic book number and page? Don’t comic books contradict themselves all the time? Is there an authoritative source of knowledge for these kind of things? Further, is there a BlueBook approved format for citing that authority? So many questions!
I can’t really explain why that makes me smile but it does.
Against all odds, I’ve never really fallen in love with the music of Tom Waits. Nonetheless he continually strikes me as an artist who touches a deep wisdom in the words and actions he chooses. Plus he’s the subject of one of my favorite false appropriation / right of personality cases.
In Waits v. Frito-Lay (978 F. 2d 1093) Mr. Waits brought a suit against Frito Lay and Tracy-Locke Inc. (an advertising agency) for voice misappropriation and false endorsement following the broadcast of a radio commercial which featured a parody of one of Mr. Wait’s songs performed with Mr. Waits’ unique vocal timbre.
The signs that this was a bad idea were many. Tom Waits had a very open policy of abstaining from commercial performance or endorsement. The ad agency had previously approached him with the proposed idea. Mr. Waits responded with something to the effect of <gravel> “fuck off” </gravel> and sent them on their way. Perhaps the most ominous omen was that the song in question “Step Right Up” was itself a damning indictment of commercialism in modern society.
Despite of all this, and perhaps because a career in advertising naturally dulls the part of your brain that feels shame, the ad agency continued blazed forward. They hired a cover band imitator whom, I’m told, did an excellent job at really capturing Mr. Waits. As for the original lyrics which evisceratored the exact type of action they were taking? The ad agency converting them into a rhapsodical praise-chorus in the honor of SalsaRio Doritos.
Anyways, in the lower court a jury found that the agency and Frito-Lay were big pile of shits and slapped over the head with a large punitive damage figure. On appeal the 9th circuit upheld all legal and factual concerns presented and the good guys walked away with a big pile of money. Go justice!
As a closing piece of trivia, Tom Wait once recorded a song ” I Never Talk to Strangers” with the other masthead of right of personality lawsuits: Bette Midler. Midler v. Ford Motor Company involved facts very similar to the Doritos fiasco. Described above. There too, justice prevailed.
As many people here may know, I recently transferred to Northwestern University School of Law. It was an important decision / accomplishment to me for many reasons. A triumphant return to the city that I love, a way to “make right” what I thought their admissions department had messed up some two years ago, and a new educational challenge.
The latter reason inspired a bit of self-doubt and insecurity going into last semester. If you were not aware, Northwestern is a T14 (very highly ranked) law school. This fact, intersecting with my student loan obligations and enormously competitive legal job-market, made me very nervous about the decision.
To be blunt I wasn’t sure I could “cut it,” and I was acutely aware of how much of a disaster it would be if I didn’t.
So, you may imagine the anxiety I felt waiting for my first set of grades this week. A lot of my life and self worth seemed to revolve around this singular piece of information. If you are familiar with the impossibly absurd method that law schools allocate these impossibly valuable proxies for academic fitness, you might appreciate how surreal the whole cycle feels.
Well, anyways. My grades came today and, without being obnoxious, I’ll say that I did well. Maybe even very well.
I’m left with a few feelings that I felt compelled to share:
The hunger for validation through success, or at least the accomplishment of a goal, is an effort in vain. As soon as I saw I had exceeded my goals, I was immediately preoccupied with why I didn’t do better or how I would study more next semester. This doesn’t mean that the drive to accomplish difficult things is a worthless or destructive motivation, quite the opposite. It just means that if ever escalating outcomes are how you chose to define your self rather than your fidelity of procedure in accomplishing those outcomes… you’re going to have a bad time.
Law school, and perhaps higher education in general, is absolutely fucked. At least in terms of their grading and it’s intersection with enormous amounts of easy credit and humanity’s self-perception bias. The more I learn about how alternative systems of education allocate the scarce opportunity of credentials for future opportunities, the more I’m convinced that our current regime is a grade A shitshow disaster. I’m not pedaling solutions here (that’s Blake’s job) but, while I am fairly adept at moving within this system, I am convinced it is a disaster. While I don’t outright endorse his approach, I thought this article by Frank Wu on the application of Rawl’s MaxiMin to grading was intriguing.
When you get good grades you’re allowed to drink, Tumblr, and play Starcraft all you want for the weekend. This is an important lesson.