January 27, 2005

Eyes on the Prize is most definitely NOT commonsized

I note that Tiffiniy Cheng, director of Downhill Battle, has commented on my previous blog post. For that I thank and commend her. Dialogue is indeed what I sought with it. I'm not sure what it's gotten us, but then again, one is never sure, in the middle of the process; one just has to soldier on.

The blog The Madisonian asks a good question about this whole issue, wondering if this means that Eyes is 'commonsized' in the way the song 'Happy Birthday' is - that is, moved into the commons. Their conclusion, based on Wired's latest blurb, is a definite 'no' - presumably because the legal representative of the rightsholders stated unequivocally in response to a query that...well, see for yourself.

What appears (to me) to be happening is that various actors seem determined to push this into the status of 'test case' using 'Eyes' as cannon fodder, the effect on Eyes be damned. This saddens me greatly. Several of the figures in this debacle have made attempts to convince me of the purity of their motives, describing their support for the availability of Eyes to the general public, and the like. I don't in any way believe they are lying to me. I think they are, in fact, just as fervant as they sound when they tell me it is incredibly important that the public have access to Eyes on the Prize. I think it's important too.

The problem is that the reason I think it is important that the public have access to Eyes on the Prize differs from theirs. They think it is important as an example. I think it is important because of what it says. There shouldn't necessarily be a conflict there, but there is. Why? Because the example that gets used to push this case is going to suffer. The points, teachings and content of that example are going to be backgrounded, slightly, forevermore, behind the more-recent and now-blazingly-public part of its 'new role as poster child' for this new fight.

That's where we part ways.

I'm in no way suggesting that the fight that's being fought here is less important than the fight that Eyes on the Prize chronicles, educates about, and poignantly remembers. But I am saying that the fight that's being fought here isn't that fight, and that it's a disservice to the people who suffered, fought, died even in that fight to have their struggle and the record of that struggle appropriated as the symbol of a new fight - one which really has nothing to do with theirs.

It disturbs me that none of the outlets pushing this project seem willing to mention this 'other side of the story' - link to it, mention it at all, or offer comment sites where it could be mentioned. Still, it makes sense. If you're trying to roll a bandwagon, you don't want to point out the potholes.

It's a funny feeling, being 'the other side' in the blogging revolution. I'm now (I suppose) one of 'them' - the 'evil rights holders' who doesn't agree with the 'cool revolution.' And I don't have a voice - because nobody links to my blog, and because - unlike the record companies, who are the usual targets of this sort of action - I don't own media channels and don't have money. I'm a workin' stiff with a computer - that's all. So I don't get heard unless somebody decides to come over here and read my opinion.

What that means is that the blogging revolution has come full circle in this case. They're not the plucky underdogs. Blackside, inc. is not some megalithic corporation with big vaults of IP that they Won't Give You, and money that they're hoarding. Blackside is two of Henry's sisters, one retired and one nearly so. I'm his nephew, workin' stiff with a mortgage and a condo. I don't have a TV station, or anything like that. Blackside itself is a set of legal documents and a telephone line, these days - because my mother and my aunt aren't filmmakers, and the real purpose of Blackside (as told me by Henry) wasn't even really to make films; it was to train young black filmmakers in a time when there weren't really that many of them out there.

He (and others with him) did that. Many of them went on out into the world to make films, and tell the Black Side of things. That made him proud. At that, Blackside served its purpose. That, and it allowed Henry to make movies - movies he'd wanted to make all his life.

Anyway, now, suddenly, the bloggers are fighting Big Media, the copyright system, what have you, but they're doing it using my family's property as cannon fodder. To use a metaphor only slightly less ludicrous than some that have been offered to me as justification for their actions (by the players), I feel like someone whose hennery has been raided by protesters, and all my eggs thrown at the congressman during a protest. The cops aren't after me, and we have an enlightened enough system that it's all treated as protest - except I'm out my eggs, and if I want recompense, I have to go after the protesters in court. And then I'm the bad guy, not the congressman who voted for the law or the lobbyist who pushed for it - me, the guy whose eggs are missing.

But the protesters still get the press.

Posted by jbz at January 27, 2005 7:12 PM | TrackBack


Pay no attention to the revolutionaries. Stick to your guns. There are people who can help on the money side.

Posted by: Cobb at January 29, 2005 1:05 PM

"I personally don't think it's wrong to continue to promote this important historical work..."

I don't think JB is opposed to actual promotion, per se. The problem is that this is not promotion- it is hijacking of EOP's reputation for a different cause, with a concomittant tarnishing.

By analogy: the president talks a lot about 'freedom' these days, but Europeans and 49% of Americans scoff whenever he says it, because it is a code word for war and reduction of civil liberties. Which is a damn shame, because, you know, freedom is a good thing.

JB doesn't want EOP to get the same kind of dual, loaded meaning (which is clearly DHB's goal). That seems totally reasonable to me...

Posted by: Luis Villa at January 28, 2005 9:10 AM

I first saw the series in the mid 90's. The Ottawa Public Library had a complete set that I worked my way through over the period of a couple months. It was a deeply educational experience for me and I wish many more could share it.

If there's somewhere for folks to send money to help get "Eyes on the Prize" legally available again, I think it would be good to promote turning the "Eyes on the Screen" events into fundraisers to help get "Eyes on the Prize" legally available again. I'd be glad to encourage donations at any screenings.

I'll also personally commit right here to buying a dvd copy of the series as soon as it's available (assuming I can actually afford it - i.e., not zillions of dollars for the set...). I call on everyone else who is downloading it to make the same commitment.

I personally don't think it's wrong to continue to promote this important historical work - even when some of the means being advocated are illegal (although not, in my view, necessarily immoral). What is important is to continue to support it (and other 'at risk' cultural records) through the future. That means not only building awareness of the risk now, but actively supporting the work in the long term.

Posted by: Grant Neufeld at January 27, 2005 10:32 PM
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