May 27, 2018

The movie "The Happytime Murders" uses "Sesame Street" puppets in a way that is "explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating, and even ejaculating."

The Daily Beast reports on the lawsuit brought by the "Sesame Street" company to stop the distribution of the film, which, of course, it did not license or authorize in any way. The film is directed by "one of Jim Henson's family member."
“Sesame seeks an injunction that forces Defendants to cease and desist their trading upon the goodwill associated with Sesame Street in furtherance of box office receipts,” the lawsuit says. “The promotion of The Happytime Murders should succeed or fail on its own merits, not on a cynical, unlawful attempt to deceive and confuse the public into associating it with the most celebrated children’s program in history.”
I assume "deceive and confuse" relates to trademark law. Is it deceptive and confusing or will pretty much everyone know it's a send-up, a satire or parody? When do the rights to characters you've created give way to the right of expression of those who want to make fun of them?

[ADDED: I’m now thinking the headline to this post misstates the facts. I think there’s just a Muppet character that is not a “Sesame Street” character and the poster slogan “No Sesame. All Street.”]

[MORE: I put up a new post with the "restricted" trailer for the movie that makes the overlap with "Sesame Street" very clear. Having seen that — not saying I liked it, but having seen it — I think it's easily within the zone of satire that should be protected.]

This makes me think of "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" — "a 1987 American short biographical film portraying the last 17 years of singer Karen Carpenter's life. Directed by Todd Haynes, the film uses Barbie dolls as actors, as well as documentary and artistic footage... [and] an unauthorized soundtrack consisting mostly of the hit songs of The Carpenters."

"Superstar" was never distributed because it was stopped by claims of copyright in the music. But what about the use of Barbie dolls?
... Haynes detailed Karen's worsening anorexia by subtly whittling away at the face and arms of the "Karen" Barbie doll.
This is only tangentially related, from Woodward and Armstrong's "The Brethren," an account of the Supreme Court in the early 70s:
The National Lampoon, a humor magazine, had just released its February issue. The centerfold was entitled “Amicae Curiae”—Friends of the Court—and it depicted, in a color cartoon, all nine of the Justices engaged in a variety of sexual activity. 
View image here...


The Chief, naked except for holster and pistol, was on the floor licking the boot of an otherwise naked young woman. Brennan was standing in front of two very young girls holding his robe open. Stewart was measuring the throat of a young woman with a ruler, apparently in preparation for oral sex. Rehnquist, clad in a woman’s bra and red garter belt, was parading before the others cracking a black whip.
White, a blindfold partially covering his glasses, was apparently engaged in some taxing sexual activity, though the cartoon did not make it clear what that activity was.

Powell was kneeling naked, his hands bound together, while a black woman in underwear marked “Exhibit A” flogged him.

Marshall stood by the side of the bench doing nothing but looking up at Douglas, who sat alone on the bench with a naked young boy at his side.

Blackmun was sodomizing a kangaroo.

Chuckling, Rehnquist passed the issue around the table. Most of them laughed. The Chief was angered both by the cartoon and the fact that it had been brought into conference.
Chuckling and angered... hard to picture that. [EXPLANATION: Rehnquist wasn't the Chief yet. "The Chief" refers to Burger. Don't know how that slipped my mind other than that I take weird delight in the impossibility of angrily chuckling.]
Afterward, Marshall sent a clerk to buy extra copies for his college-age children.

Brennan proudly told his clerks that while every other Justice was portrayed engaging in some sexual activity, he was pictured protecting several young children by blocking their view with his robe.

His clerks decided that they owed it to him to explain “flashing.”

Blackmun told his clerks how funny the centerfold was, especially the portion depicting Rehnquist “in drag.” The only problem, Blackmun said, was that he couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to be doing with the kangaroo.

The clerks drew straws to see who would tell him.

64 comments:

Shane said...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_D-LmRNdQiQ

tim maguire said...

The difference between trademark and copyright (other than one being in the constitution and the other not) is that trademark is supposed to protect the public, not the "owner" of the mark. At least in part that's because trademark, alone among the intellectual properties, takes things that already exist in the public domain and hands them over to private interests. That is too often forgotten and the entire concept of "goodwill" and the related free-riding violates the philosophical underpinnings of trademark law.

Fernandistein said...

the most celebrated children’s program in history.

That would be Captain Kangaroo, though "Diver Dan" had the catchiest theme song.

Is the Captain the reason for the "kangaroo" tag, or is it something to do with the courts?

FIDO said...

Trying to break taboos for attention is essentially what Hollywood, Socrates, young people, and the Academy constantly tries to do. It is an adult version of an attention getting temper tantrum in children, or semi nude Instagram pictures by 20 year old girls.

That someone eventually decided to defile the idea of Sesame Street is not surprising at all.

The Leftists who run Sesame Street suddenly getting hoist on their own iconoclastic petard is rather amusing. "Let's make a gay puppet and make it normal. Let's make an AIDs puppet and make it normal."

Well, now they get drug-using, sexually active puppets. Seems when it is their rice bowl getting tipped over and defiled, they suddenly have a conniption.

Live by the outrage, die by the outrage.

These days, the only bit of counter culture left is to actually HAVE standards.

Lucien said...

Chuckling and angry is not the case. Rehnquist was chuckling and Burger (then Chief) was angry (according to the book).

mockturtle said...

One can only push the envelope so far before the envelope fails.

rhhardin said...

The Howdy Doody set was a hotbed of sexual activity. Howdy feeling up Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring.

https://www.amazon.com/Kids-What-Notes-Peanut-Gallery/dp/0316176621

Captain Kangaroo was once Clarabell. Clarabell actually hated Buffalo Bob, which aided in the spritzer bottle act.

rhhardin said...

The envelope is the edge of places where the system is tested to work, on a graph.

khematite said...

In 1967, well before that Supreme Court parody in NatLamp, there was the infamous Disneyland Memorial Orgy in Paul Krassner's magazine, The Realist. Drawn by erstwhile Mad magazine cartoonist Wally Wood, it eventually became a famous poster and even a t-shirt.

http://www.ep.tc/realist/74/12.html

Quaestor said...

The link provided doesn't work as advertised, at least for me. The only thing even marginally titillating at the destination URL is a rather insipid satire piece on Jerry Falwell done in the form of a Campari ad — a lead balloon, frankly.

I imagine Potter Stewart was flattered that the cartoonist showed him using a ruler rather than a micrometer to measure the girl's deep throat potential.

Come on, Althouse. I want to see 9 chubby elders nekkid.

Psota said...

I don't get this lawsuit by Sesame Street.

There doesn't seem to be any characters from Sesame Street (or The Muppets) in this movie. No Kermit, No Big Bird, no one.

It's clearly not "for kid's."

The problem seems to be that these are Henson-created muppets so...only Sesame Street has the right to use muppets???

Just like only Disney could make animated films starring talking animals?

This sounds more like Sesame Street is trying to keep Henson On The Rez

gspencer said...

When I was in high school (1960s) I remember a great spoof poster of the Disney characters engaged in all sorts of untypical behavior. E.g., one of the dwarfs has his hand up Snow White's skirt; Mickey's mainlining. Yet I can't find that poster online. Has Disney's lawyers been that good to keep it off the internet?

But I did find this site. Still, it's not as good as that poster,
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/505177283177200974/

David Begley said...

I haven’t looked at the case in years, but the 8th Circuit Mutant of Omaha case suggests that Sesame Street wins; particularly so because this movie has no political content.

gspencer said...

Oops,

Blogger khematite at 5/27/18, 10:12 AM, already did us the favor. I'll have to bookmark that page

Mary Beth said...

"he was pictured protecting several young children by blocking their view with his robe."

That made me laugh. But I wonder about judges that are too naive to get it.

The link provided doesn't work as advertised, at least for me.

Follow the link, look on the right side, under "Questions", it's hyperlinked there.

richlb said...

The marketing tagline is "No Sesame. All Street." That might be one point of argument. Otherwise this is a mix of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the early Peter Jackson movie Meet the Feebles.

David Begley said...

“STX Productions LLC, in a statement issued in the name of "Fred, Esq," a lawyer puppet, said it was looking forward to introducing its "adorably unapologetic characters" to adult moviegoers this summer.

"We're incredibly pleased with the early reaction to the film and how well the trailer has been received by its intended audience," it said. "While we're disappointed that Sesame Street does not share in the fun, we are confident in our legal position."

From CNN.

Bill Peschel said...

Having seen the red band trailer before seeing this post, I would argue that they're protecting the Sesame Street trademark from dilution by stressing that this movie is not for children.

Having seen adults bring their kids into R-rated movies, I can sympathize.

Rob said...

You've gotta give the Burger Court credit for not being snowflakes. Offensive as some may have found the cartoon, nobody imagined it wasn't protected by the First Amendment.

Quaestor said...

Follow the link, look on the right side, under "Questions", it's hyperlinked there.

Thanks for the help, Mary Beth. Too bad it's so tame...

Darrell said...

The Happytime Murders stars a fat female comedian. Shouldn't there be a penalty for NOT seeing it?

Bruce Hayden said...

“The difference between trademark and copyright (other than one being in the constitution and the other not) is that trademark is supposed to protect the public, not the "owner" of the mark. At least in part that's because trademark, alone among the intellectual properties, takes things that already exist in the public domain and hands them over to private interests. That is too often forgotten and the entire concept of "goodwill" and the related free-riding violates the philosophical underpinnings of trademark law.”

Not sure if I quite agree. Yes, the stated purpose of trademark is to protect the public from confusion about the source of a good or service. But realistically, trademarks protect companies against others free riding on the millions of dollars they have spent associating the mark with their goods or services. You drive down the street and see Golden Arches, and you know that it is a McDonald’s, with certain quality standards, a certain menu, etc (or, for me, $1 coffee and soft drinks). Their trademarks protect them from other companies sucking in customers thinking that they are going to McDonalds, and instead getting a competing product.

For the most part, it isn’t taking something from the PD and handing it over to a private company, but rather a company taking something out, maybe, of the PD, and then spending millions of advertising dollars and years of work, to associate that mark with the goods (or services) in the minds of the public - what is called creating secondary meaning. When you then see the mark, you think the product.

tcrosse said...

Here is a classic of the genre, the doll sex scene from Team America World Police.
NSFW. But it all depends where you work

Darrell said...

Good thing you didn't have a link to the unrated version of the love scene.

President Pee-Pee Tape said...

Why couldn't they get around it with the Avenue Q route?

John Pickering said...

Here's prurient Ann, typing happily on Sunday morning:
Brennan was standing in front of two very young girls holding his robe open. Stewart was measuring the throat of a young woman with a ruler, apparently in preparation for oral sex.

Earlier she asks us to presume as much as we like about what we think is in her head. Gosh, I guess we know what's on her mind this morning, and it's not copyright law..

Loren W Laurent said...

Weird Habits of Old Boyfriends.

I once dated a man who was very successful in the tech industry. Being that he was in the tech industry he was, of course, socially awkward, but not absurdly so: for instance, he could successfully make eye contact, and he washed his hair regularly, to mention a few signs of relative normalcy.

He collected toys that he fondly remembered from his childhood, but he had a sense of humor about it: I once accidentally knocked one over from a shelf -- I think it was some kind of Mutant Turtle Ninja thing -- and he didn't act like the sky was falling. As opposed to the boyfriend who melted down when I put one of his CDs back out of alphabetical order. Because The Strokes go under 'T', not 'S'. Really.

The tech boyfriend was shy about sex, but he never mentioned his mother when we were in bed naked, so that was a plus.

However, one night he summoned the nerve to maybe try something new maybe. Which he then illustrated by holding up a female action figure positioned to be on her hands and knees. I don't know who the action figure was, but she wore a metal bra and had a cape. I assumed he was meaning to ask about having sex with me from behind, pretty much because he was holding one of the Mutant Turtle Ninja things behind her, but maybe he wanted the metal bra and cape, too, I'm not sure.

Anyway, I laughed, but he didn't laugh with me. Oops. But how could you not laugh when the guy could've been asking for me to get screwed from behind by a Mutant Turtle Ninja thing? Who knows, maybe he had a Mutant Turtle Ninja costume in the closet. I'm not sure if this would've been better or worse if it was, say, a Spiderman costume, but at least Spiderman is a human, not an amphibian, or reptile, or whatever turtles are.

So I tried to lighten the mood: I took the toys and positioned the Mutant Turtle Ninja thing's head between the legs of Metal Bra with Cape Woman and said "How about this first...?"

He looked shocked: evidently, even the idea of a male toy going down on a female toy seemed to frighten him. Which let me know that this was not going to last: if you are in your late twenties and don't have at least some cunnilingual skills then I don't want to be your instructor. Even if you have mutant ninja powers.

LWL

tim maguire said...

Bruce, they have no right to be protected from free-riding because free-riding does not infringe on any right they have. The millions this hypothetical company has spent is irrelevant--nobody owns anything simply because they spent a lot of money promoting it.

Rockeye said...

Am I missing this, or are none of the female justices in the National Lampoon centerfold?

tcrosse said...

@LWL-
This brings to mind the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry drugs his date so he can play with her collection of toys.

EDH said...

Powell was kneeling naked, his hands bound together, while a black woman in underwear marked “Exhibit A” flogged him.

Amusingly, looks more like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a justice the left has been trying to "sexy up" of late.

'On the Basis of Sex' is an upcoming American biographical drama film on the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, directed by Mimi Leder and written by Daniel Stiepleman. The film stars Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.

Felicity Jones Set As SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg In ‘On The Basis Of Sex’

Bob R said...

Superstar is well worth seeking out. Yeah, it's a student project that was never meant to be distributed, but it's very well crafted and has some insight. Better than any of the VH1 "Behind the music" documentaries - and some of those were excellent.

Bob R said...

@Rockeye - You are showing your age (either youth or senility) this is the Burger court. (Alhouse is REALLY retired. Congratulations!) I wasn't until Reagan nominated Sandy that they added a girl to the boy band.

tim in vermont said...

I don't know about that tcrosse link. "Only a woman is allowed to touch me there"? That song is crimethink!

Chris N said...

You're kind of a weirdo, Althouse.

All these paintings and such.

Khesanh 0802 said...

Is LWL the new Laslo?

Bay Area Guy said...

We have a softer female Laslo - thank the lord!

But, LWL, why was your old boyfriend playing with dolls?

William said...

I m not particularly invested in the Supreme Court or the Muppets, so it's hard to profane those institutions in my eyes. I was, however, shocked by some of the liberties they took with the Archie comic strip in the tv series Riverdale. They allowed Betty and Veronica to share a lesbo kiss and showed Moose to be a closet gay. I could live with that. Artistic license. Miss Grundy was depicted as a cougar who got it on with Archie. That was more problematic and was not truly in keeping with the spirit of Archie. Miss Grundy is not a sex object. The whole point of her existence is her sterility. What I really objected to the most was that they made Jughead some kind of cool, existential hero. Sometimes you can profane a character more by elevating his status than by mocking him or even criticizing him. A cool Jughead is not Jughead as we understand him.

Virgil Hilts said...

What is Blackmun doing with the Kangaroo? I mean he seems to be groping it, and I assume bestiality is involved, but why a Kangaroo? Feel like I'm missing something.
Also, real brave of Sesame Street now, but I don't remember them going after Al Qaeda when they started adding Bert to all of those Bin Laden posters.

Ralph L said...

The film is directed by "one of Jim Henson's family member."

Nice Freudian slip.

Ann Althouse said...

"Here's prurient Ann, typing happily on Sunday morning: "Brennan was standing in front of two very young girls holding his robe open. Stewart was measuring the throat of a young woman with a ruler, apparently in preparation for oral sex."

Please pay attention to indentation. It's how you can tell you're reading not me but a quote.

You're quoting the prurient Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

Ann Althouse said...

"In 1967, well before that Supreme Court parody in NatLamp, there was the infamous Disneyland Memorial Orgy in Paul Krassner's magazine, The Realist. Drawn by erstwhile Mad magazine cartoonist Wally Wood, it eventually became a famous poster and even a t-shirt."

I was thinking about that as I wrote this post. That thing was so popular in my college days. Thanks for finding the link.

Ralph L said...

Looks like the kangaroo is female. Nothing queer about ole Blackmun.

They weren't transgressive enough to put Marshall with a white girl.

Ralph L said...

I'm glad LWL wasn't boinking with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, which could have been illegal in some states.

tcrosse said...

The Disneyland Memorial Orgy might have inspired Franklin Ajaye to do
Stoned Mickey Mouse at Disneyland NSFW.

Bruce Hayden said...

“Bruce, they have no right to be protected from free-riding because free-riding does not infringe on any right they have. The millions this hypothetical company has spent is irrelevant--nobody owns anything simply because they spent a lot of money promoting it.”

Not sure what your frame of reference is there. Are you talking natural law? Statutory? The similarity that I see to copyrights and patents, is that trademarks are also a negative right - by doing what the law requires to acquire the intellectual property “right”, you get the legal right to exclude others from using your intellectual property in a court of law.

Rt1 Rebel said...

"What is Blackmun doing with the Kangaroo? I mean he seems to be groping it, and I assume bestiality is involved, but why a Kangaroo? Feel like I'm missing something."

Kangaroo court? That doesn't really make sense, but it's what popped into my mind.

Darkisland said...

I particularly liked Paul Krassner's tale of how Jackie walked in on lbj fucking jfk's neck wound on air force one.

John Henry

Henry said...

copulatingish? copulational?

Michael K said...

What comes after gun control.

Knife control.

A judge has called for a drastic rethink on the way we use knives in kitchens in a bid to reduce the number of young men dying on our streets because of knife crime.

The judge's photo is also worth a look.

Ken B said...

Althouse 4:39 shows her usual lack of care with language when she is annoyed or mocked. The idiot Pickering did not claim to be quoting you. He made his comment explicitly about what you were *typing*. Did you not type that excerpt? Even to the extent of Cntl-V to paste? To go full Althouse here: you can tell what you typed by paying attention to the page, and watching things appear. Even if you didn’t type it his inference is not unreasonable, and it is not an imputation of authorship of the passage.

This really isn’t just nit-picking. He can colorably accuse you of prurience for spending your time copying such stuff, especially when the passage is superfluous to the post, as it is. It purports to describe the picture already present but otherwise adds nothing. If you posted eight or nine such descriptions of the cartoon I think we would all think it shows prurience.

Tom said...

The trailer is amazingly funny. If I promise not to confuse the movie with that educational muppet show with the large bird I never watched, can I watch the funny movie?

Ken B said...

Henry: copulatory.

narciso said...

This is,why they got rid of community standards, now most anything goes.

Kelly said...

Not for kids is an understatement. I’m afraid I laughed at the trailer. It kind of reminded me of Team America; World Police. I had no idea what I was getting into when my teen daughter and I went to see that one. I laughed until I thought I would puke. My daughter fell asleep.

Jupiter said...

Here in Oregon, the Moon is just now rising. I don't think she's quite full tonight, probably tomorrow. But just to the West is Jupiter, very bright and, as always, very beautiful.

When I see Jupiter, especially when I haven't seen him for a while, I raise my right hand in salute, and say "Hail Jupiter". Or sometimes "Hail, Jove".

In this, I am following the Romans. I am not sure exactly how they put it to themselves, but they very clearly believed that the planets they saw in the sky, and the gods they claimed to worship, were in some way one and the same. And I don't know what that way is, but when I see Jupiter, I raise my right hand and say "Hail, Jupiter". It doesn't cost me anything. Well, I suppose it might cost me something. When I started saluting Jupiter, a couple decades ago, I felt a bit sheepish about it. I don't now. Not at all.

Mars and Saturn are up also, BTW.

Jupiter said...

I should be clearer. Mars and Saturn aren't actually above the horizon yet. What I meant was, they are viewable at this time of year, they are in the night sky. It's actually easier to see them in the morning.

Recommendation to Althouse; you wake up early, check this website. Shows you the sky above your location;

Darkness is your friend

You need to fill in your lat and long, and check the things you want to see (stars, planets, etc) and update.

n.n said...

Trans-social is a progressive orientation that is typically generational and minority. So, normalize, tolerate, or reject?

There are also active efforts to indoctrinate intro transgender orientations (e.g. homosexual, bisexual, neo-sexual), transhuman orientations (e.g. selective-child or planned parenthood), and of prepubescent and adolescent children as sexually and socially viable partners.

Debasing human life for light and casual causes aids and abets these common causes.

A clear and progressive slope that we should avoid or discuss.

Kirk Parker said...

Tim, I join Bruce in not understanding your point. Surely I am me, and you don't get to claim to be me is pretty basic, or so I would have thought.

William Chadwick said...

Darkisland: Thank you for that post about LBJ having sex with JFK's neck wound. It let me start my day off with a belly laugh, always a good thing.That Paul Krassner was quite the scamp.

Years ago a source I trust told me about a film he saw at a comic book convention which intercut scenes from Three Stooges movies with footage from the Zapruder film. Has anyone ever seen or even heard of it? I have tried without success to find it on the Internet.

William Chadwick said...

I found it! It's called "The Single Dunce Theory" and it's on YouTube. A lifelong (well, almost) quest brought to a successful conclusion!

'TreHammer said...

..."ejaculating"...?????....now, that's just not right.

Bad Lieutenant said...



Please pay attention to indentation. It's how you can tell you're reading not me but a quote.

You're quoting the prurient Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong.

5/27/18, 4:39 PM


The execrable John Bitchering aside, isn't it prurient to quote, repeat, rebroadcast prurience?

Bad Lieutenant said...

Earlier she asks us to presume as much as we like about what we think is in her head. Gosh, I guess we know what's on her mind this morning, and it's not copyright law..


That way banning lies. If you don't think so, test it. E.g., Ann is so pro-gay, she must like it in the ass herself: discuss.