Free Speech Includes Right to Poke Fun

By Kahn, Michael A. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 28, 1994 | Go to article overview

Free Speech Includes Right to Poke Fun


Kahn, Michael A., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


When civics teachers and newspaper columnists invoke the First Amendment, it's usually time to cue the organist, stifle a yawn and cut to the shot of the lone pamphleteer cranking his battered mimeograph machine. It's a Norman Rockwell image of freedom of speech: quaint, familiar and completely disconnected from life in America in the 1990s. These days it's hard to find a free-speech link between the words of Tom Paine and, say, the words of Willard Scott.

But that's because most of us ignore a real and constant threat to free speech, namely, the litigious owners of famous trademarks and popular copyrights. We were taught that the First Amendment is about religion and government and serious stuff like that. No one bothered to explain that the First Amendment reaches such oddities as a pornographic parody of the L.L. Bean catalogue. No one told us that an anatomically correct and politically incorrect spoof of the Poppin' Fresh doughboy has more to do with basic free-speech values than those paladins of the press doing their happy-talk shtick on the 10 o'clock news.

Well, now the Supreme Court is doing the teaching, and the first lesson arrived last month in the form of a Pretty Woman, a risque rap group and a basic concept of copyright law.

To grasp the significance of the case one must first grasp the significance of parody and comic irreverence in the American experience. For more than two centuries, the right to poke fun at the high and mighty has been part of our national character, and parody has long been at the core of our culture - from Mad magazine to the National Lampoon, from Doonesbury's parody of "The Bridges of Madison County" to "Saturday Night Live's" fake commercials.

But . . .

No one, especially a powerful someone, likes to be the target of a spoof. While politicians have learned to grin and bear it, the affluent owners of trademarks and copyrights are far more belligerent and hire far more expensive lawyers. Mock our creations, they warn, and we'll see you in court.

Just ask the small St. Louis magazine that did a spoof of a Michelob Dry ad in the aftermath of an oil spill on the Gasconade River, whose waters supply the brewery. The joke ad featured a fictional product called Michelob Oily and a familiar but oil-drenched eagle screaming "Yuck! …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Free Speech Includes Right to Poke Fun
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.