Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week -- or just don't really pay attention to comic books in the first place -- you'll have heard about the recent ruling awarding Jerry Siegel partial copyright ownership of Action Comics #1. (For the record, I fall pretty much in the same camp as Valerie D'Orazio and pillock.) While the case speaks to the specific concerns surrounding Superman, a number of folks have begun looking at the wider implications for the comic community of such a ruling. What I have not seen discussed is the even broader issue of economic favoritism by the U.S. government.
The United States, for those who don't know, gives more or less equal legal status to citizens as it does corporations. Microsoft, as a company, enjoys almost all of the same legal rights as I do, with the notable exception of voting in elections. They can own land, they are innocent until proven guilty, they're not subject to illegal (i.e warrantless) search and seizure operations, etc. On paper, they operate about the same as I do. The difference, though, is that I earn about 1/1000 of what they do annually. (And, yes, I actually did the math.) And the American way of government favors the larger and more powerful, i.e. the wealthy.
I think most Americans have that much sussed at some level. Ernest and Julio Gallo have more clout in Washington, D.C. than I do because they are able to throw more money around. Money is power, pure and simple. Those who win aren't who's right, but who can afford the best lawyers. I'm frankly amazed that the Siegel family was able to get this much of a victory in the case (which, truth be told, is still a far cry from what they should get).
But one of the reasons our government works that way is because it is so centralized. Cities and states have very little power, compared to the federal government. If a wealthy individual or corporation wants to hold sway in political or economic policies, they can funnel all of their money into one conveniently centralized location. It's easy to grease the palms of politicians if you only need to do that with one or two people. While I don't know to what extent DC and/or TimeWarner contribute to the goings-on in our nation's capitol, their larger, more-money-than-your-average-citizen status means they often benefit from the legislation that other corporations "suggest."
Contrary to popular opinion, the American Civil War was not about slavery. Yes, slavery was an issue, but the central reason for the War was how centralized the U.S. government should be. The South favored a more decentralized approach, preferring that individual States had more power, while the North put the focus of government in one location. When the Southern states decided that they wanted more self-control and less regulation, they seceded and formed the Confederacy of the United States, electing Jefferson Davis as their President. (The John Tenniel cartoon at the left, by the way, features Abraham Lincoln facing off against Davis. It was originally published in the May 18, 1861 issue of Punch. Davis' shield here is depicted with the original Confederate flag, a design that was scrapped a few months later in favor of the more commonly known battle flag.) It was Davis who then ordered the attack on Fort Sumter that launched the Civil War.
Now, had the South won the War, they would have naturally promoted a decentralized government, which would inherently be more difficult to work with in regards to passing legislation that would favored larger corporations. Not impossible, certainly, and it would not have had a direct impact on Northern states, but it would have at least set a precedent for making things a little easier on the little guy. Yes, Siegel and Shuster grew up in Ohio and took their idea to a New York publisher, so it's not unlikely that they would've been gotten the shaft in exactly the same way that they actually did. But if Confederacy were around and in a greater favor of individual rights* their example might have given those two kids from Cleveland an inkling at least of something better that might be out there.
* I know the South doesn't exactly have a stellar record when it comes to individual rights with their history with slavery, and Jim Crow laws, and enforced segregation, and everything else. But the North had their focus on Big Business and Industry. Individual rights were an afterthought to Corporate Rights. The North's insistence on freeing the slaves was less a concern about ethics and morals, and more a concern about economics. While black folks were "free" in the North, there was no less bigotry and racism there. So when I say the South had a greater emphasis on "individual rights" than the North, I say that in terms of government interference. The North did grant freedom to a wider number of people, but it was a more limited freedom than what was available in the South.
Now, yes, I'm being totally superficial by even suggesting that Jefferson Davis is exclusively to blame for the American Civil War. It's about as silly as saying the War was just about slavery. But if there were a situation in which the North had not won and thereby solidify their belief in a bigger, centralized government, Siegel and Shuster might not have had to have lived their entire lives in poverty and obscurity. They might not have spent much of their lives in court, just trying to earn back a small portion of what was unequivocally their creation. They might have actually been able to live the "American way" with which their creation is allegedly tied.