13 April 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

Three seemingly dissonant items that all bear on a theme:
  • The fundycensors are at it again, with a new theory justifying their Bowdlerized versions of popular films. This time, they're asserting a new fair-use theory "justifying" their "editorial work" on otherwise offensive films. Leaving aside questions of bad lawyering — they had the opportunity to raise this theory already in the case, and are probably precluded from doing so; thus, they're probably sunk on both issue preclusion and law of the case — their theory that their private-sector censorship is "educational" is nothing more (or less) than censorship of someone else's intellectual property. And, although this article in the Chicago Tribune doesn't say so, clearly a rejection of the rule of law in favor of their idea of a "Bible-thumpers' civil disobedience privilege"... red-blooded (or, at least, red-stated) Americans that they are.
  • A biennial prize established in the UK for an author's body of work — think of it as the commercialized English-language-only version of the Nobel Prize for Literature — has announced a shortlist of fifteen authors. It's rather amusing, actually, to see how various MSM outlets are covering this. The BBC, for example, goes for the Joe Friday approach, while an equally short release in the Grauniad is both more publicity-oriented and subtly judgmental.
  • Last, and far from least, there's a story that I can't link to (it's in Salon, behind its intellectually dishonest "ad wall"), on the recent Dylan Hears a Who parody. In short, music producer Kevin Evans made up a set of six Seuss tales as if they had been sung by the 1960s Bob Dylan. Dr Seuss Enterprises llp objected, probably on the basis of the (unsound) opinion in the Dr Juice case (of which more anon). Evans has since taken down his mildly amusing parodies.

The common theme here is cognitive dissonance, and the relationship between cognitive dissonance and parody. Bluntly, the courts in the US have gotten "parody" wrong, largely by ignoring what literary theory has taught over the last hundred years concerning the interrelationship between content and context. The first item epitomizes people who try to use legalistic rationales as post hoc rationalizations for their inimical (and, IMNSHO, unlawful) activities. I wonder what a "strict constructionist" would say about their redefinition of "educational"? And would it be acceptable, to them, to apply the same method to biblical interpretation? The second item demonstrates a slightly different cognitive dissonance: The close correspondence between the ethnic/personal characteristics of the fifteen nominated authors and the ethnic/personal characteristics of what passes for a canon of late-twentieth-century literature in English. Since the third item is itself about cognitive dissonance, I don't think I need to say much more. But, of course, I will. Eventually.