Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eyes on the Prize

I watched a couple of hours of the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize today. It brought back memories of my youth. And it hammered home the point that social change only comes through a long and painful struggle. Those in charge, those who benefit from a system don't just pack their bags, hand you the keys, and then disappear.

I've seen this video series before, but with each viewing you gain a bit of new perspective. Now 50 years is the chasm through which I view the video. But what I see is the same story as today. Sure the words differ and the cast of characters has changed, but it is still those in power telling you that you have no rights, that you have to wait, that you are asking for too much, that you have to "respect your betters", that those in power know what is best for you, that to press for basic rights is an act of treachery and tantamount to rioting in the streets. All the same old lies. All the same old techniques to keep the bottom 90% of society down so it won't upset the very cushy applecart of those who have power.

I think of the protests in the Middle East. It is the same story. And when I think of the "quick victory" of Egypt and Tunisia, I can see how their "revolution" is already being subverted by those with power. The struggle for rights is eternal. As soon as you get some "rights" those on top set up new rules and add a layer that effectively puts you back "in your place". The Egyptians were promised that once they left Tahrir Square they would lift the Emergency Law. They haven't and it isn't. Their revolution is incomplete.

When I sat down to write this post and did a little search I was shocked to find this bit of news on Wired Magazine:
Eyes on the Prize, the landmark documentary on the civil rights movement, is no longer broadcast or sold new in the United States. It's illegal.

The 14-part series highlights key events in black Americans' struggle for equality and is considered an essential resource by educators and historians, but the filmmakers no longer have clearance rights to much of the archival footage used in the documentary. It cannot be rebroadcast on PBS (where it originally aired) or any other channels, and cannot be released on DVD until the rights are cleared again and paid for.

"It's a scenario from hell," said Jon Else, series producer and cinematographer for Eyes on the Prize, and now director of the documentary program at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. "(Licensing agreements) are short because it's all we can afford. The funding for documentaries in this country (is) abysmal."

Securing clearance rights to archival footage is a growing problem for independent filmmakers -- and documentary filmmakers in particular. Filmmakers must pay for the rights to use every song, photograph or video clip included in the film. Since many documentary films are made with small budgets, filmmakers often can only afford to buy rights for a limited amount of time. That leaves many filmmakers essentially renting footage, and rendering their work unusable after a certain number of years unless they can find more funding to clear the rights again.
Some people fought back through an Eyes on the Screen project. The "property rights" issues must have been cleared up because I saw the series broadcast today. But it is scary that history can be "owned" and an important documentary can be buried because somebody wants to make a "profit" off of a social struggle!

This from the ugly corporate world that wants to force you to wear a logo on all parts of your body, to live and breathe brand names, to have your education reduced to watching commercials 24 hours a day, has struck again. They "own" the social history of the US and won't let this story be shown. Wow! If only the Klu Klux Klan had realized they could have used copyright laws to stop desegregation! They could have bought up rights to "we Shall Overcome" and sued every protester who tried to sing this protest song. They could have seized any video of Klansmen beating protesters claiming that the "images" were the sole property of KKK, Inc. and that news organizations could not broadcast scenes of mayhem and violence without first negotiating a license from the KKK and simply make that license prohibitively expensive. If only!

That made me think... yes there was some progress on race relations in the US but in some sense things are worse now. Back then it was a fight to be part of the community. But these days the corporations own everything and the fight is to get free of corporate control.

One thing I hated when I worked was the fact that I was forced to sign a contract, as a condition of work, that any idea I had whether at work or at home would be the "property" of the company I was working for. It was a slimy lawyer trick to own my soul. I couldn't have any thoughts which the company, if it so chose, could take me to court and enforce their "rights" on me. Nutty! I had no rights because my own thoughts didn't belong to me. That is the extent of the "corporate state" today. Hitler and his Nazis didn't even begin to scratch the surface to the evil to be mined by "property rights" through the legal system.

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