Monday, March 31, 2008

I Blame Jefferson Davis

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.

7 comments:

Matt K said...

I am at a loss to describe how completely I disagree with your ideas about the Civil War and the Confederacy... Probably not much point in getting into it, but: wow.

Swinebread said...

"The South favored a more decentralized approach, preferring that individual States had more power" …because of Slavery… …Hello.

No Slavery, no “States Rights,” no Civil War.

It sounds like you’re saying that Siegel and Shuster would have been rich had slavery continued in the south, a very odious and pointless notion indeed.

Cody Machler said...

And the above comment from swinebread is exactly why I didn't use a Civil War and/or slavery and/or reparations analogy in my blog about the case. No good can ever come from an internet discussion about those issues.

Anonymous said...

When people tell jokes about the legitimacy of blogging, the punchline usually goes something like: "... yeah, they're really a legitimate media source these days. I mean, just the other day I was reading a big post about how, if the South had won the Civil War, Siegel and Schuster wouldn't have gotten screwed over by their publishers!"

Sean Kleefeld said...

And the above comment from swinebread is exactly why I didn't use a Civil War and/or slavery and/or reparations analogy in my blog about the case.

What it does do, though, is give me a flavor of who's reading my blog. Are they people like yourself & Matt, who can discern the difference between 'might have' & 'would have' & can rationally discuss a topic, regardless of a difference of opinion? Or am I mostly dealing with Internet chaff?

matt k said...

I actually started thinking overnight that maybe I should elaborate, because it would be impolite to just hit and run. But perhaps it is, for now at least, just as well to leave this one? It's your blog, I'll leave it your call whether or not you want to take more comments on this matter. (Very pleased about the progress of the court case, at any rate.)

Seeker said...

David did not want to attack Fort Sumter.

Davis actually promised war if slavery was not spread -- read Southern Ultimatums.

Read, in fact, any of 100 documents and speeches Southern leaders made, bragging -- BRAGGING -- the war was about slavery, specifically spreading slavery into Kansas.

Unless you know how deeply Southern leaders hated Kansas men for kicking the thugs sent out by slave owners, you can't begin to understand that Civil War.

When Kansas kicked the thugs out -- and voted 98-2% against slavery, the slave owners went bonkers,

They promised war if slavery was not spread into Kansas.

Don't believe me? Read Southern newspapers. That's where I found it. They were bragging about it. YOu heard that right, BRAGGING about it.

Read a book, Southern book, bragging about it. A book called "Echoes from The South" Where Pollard list documente after document, speech after speech, and he was BRAGGING ABOUT IT -- claiming the Civil War was about slavery.

Pollard even wrote, essentially, don't blame us, we warned you that trying to stop the spread of slavery we would take as an act of war.

Now get your head around this -- they BRAGGED about it then. Loudly and proudly and repeatedly. Their President - bragged. Their VP -- bragged. Their news paper editors -- bragged. Their preachers -- bragged.

YOu almost can't believe your eyes when you read how crazy they were to spread slavery, and how violent they were to do it.