Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Coming of the Maasai, Ah…

“It’s the equivalent of the North Slope Oil Deposits for lawyers,” said Jeremy Schatz, chief counsel for the Washington, D.C. law firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, “it's a new field of unlimited scope.”

He’s talking about a new case being tested in Britain of the "Maasai versus the World." The Maasai have decide they’re a brand and that they want full rights of protection of their brand under the law. Let’s say you had an African import shop in London called, Maasai Safari. They want A) a cut of the action; and B) veto rights over how anything with their name associated with it is used or represented. They want image control. There’s only a million of them, but they’re a feisty bunch. Tall, too. And they can jump. 

Talk about a can of worms. Saying yes to the Maasai would be saying yes to every indigenous group in the world; that’s a hell of a lot of groups: the Arapaho, the San, the Sami, the Aborigines, the Ojibway, the Montagnards, the Yoruk… This could take all night. Think of how many Indian reservations there are in this country, alone? And how many of those reservations represent multiple tribes? Next, how about the tribes of the Amazon? Papua New Guinea? Tribal peoples of the Himalayas?

There has been a fight going on between Jared Diamond and others versus the tribal peoples of the world over just how they can and should be presented to the rest of us. In all cases, it’s a question of who’s telling the story. The tribal people want to whitewash their story (maybe that’s a poor choice of terms). Think of how the American Indians want to control their image. Take the fight over school mascots. For no good reason, they put enough pressure on enough people with guilt complexes to get the nation to abandon such names as Braves or Warriors (if accompanied by an Indian profile). The Indians would have you believe they, before the arrival of the Europeans, were living an idyllic, peaceful life in harmony with nature; whereas nothing could be further from the truth.

But the lawyers have made a killing fighting that naming issue through the courts and legislatures. It’s been a bonanza for them. Now, every tribal group in the world wants the rights to how they’re depicted. They want to scrub the record clean. The slavery, the torture, the extermination of enemies, the cannibalism, they’d rather they not get mentioned. And they’re successful; those aspects of native cultures are ignored, buried, or denied.

Spread that fight out to every self-identifying group of people in the world, and you have a quagmire on your hands of epic proportions. What the fight is really about, in the long run, is the rights of identification. For every group, not just ethnic groups. Every religious faction, every club, every regional identity, every historical background will be open to litigation. Eventually, all identities, under this proposal, will become brands; and mentioning any identity opens one to libel suits. In fact, this protection would have to be extended to all brands. If the Maasai can control how their brand is presented, it brings into question all reporting on any brand. Under this proposal, if one were to write an article about BP, say, one would have to clear the piece with BC before publication. And if you’d happen to have mentioned Dutch Shell in that same article, they, too, would have to vet the piece. One can see that this would be the end of journalism. It would be the end of truth.

Which, frankly, is how these people would just as soon things went. If there’s one thing indigenous peoples and multinational corporations have in common, it’s an aversion to the light of day.

What a field day for the heat.

I can sympathize. I’m tired of us Vikings being depicted as ruthless, brutal warriors. Who says? No, we are gentle farming and trading folk who gave our names to innumerable tiny spots in England. What could be more peaceful? We have plenty of ruth.

Take down the Viking mascots, I say; take them down. Stop besmirching our good name. At least pay us some money, okay?

Look at it this way: how much money should Duluth Trading Company pay the City of Duluth for using its name? And should Duluth have final say on any copy the company produces? How about product line?

Who get to say when and how a cross should be displayed? Or a country’s flag?

Silly people.

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