Kim, Confucius, And A President

Copyright © by Len Holman, 9/13/12


  A few weeks ago, Kim Kardashian settled a lawsuit with the Old Navy clothing chain over an infringement of her “publicity rights.”  This is Mom Kardashian, Kim’s manager and all-around Keeper of Kim’s Millions, at her finest—settling for a reported 15 to 20 million dollars.  It seems that Old Navy ran an ad featuring a woman named Melissa Molinaro.  Kim is worried that shoppers will confuse Melissa with Kim, since they “look alike” and since Kim has her OWN clothing line, she worries that consumers will be confused and think (horrors!) that Kim is endorsing Old Navy.  If they do, then they’ll be tempted to go buy stuff at Old Navy (because consumers are, after all, just sheep) and take away the much-needed income Kim and her klan desperately desire to maintain their public lifestyle.    

  Molinaro does look a little like Kim and she has the same sprayed-on tan, big butt, and tinny, weak voice.  She dances like a robot improperly programmed to look sexy and it’s hard to imagine that anyone would buy anything at Old Navy based on the video of Melissa prancing desperately around.  Perhaps you have read the Constitution and don’t immediately remember where, in the Bill of Rights, the right to protect your image, your “likeness,” is located?  It’s not there.  Image protection is mostly a state right, though a similar action may be brought under federal unfair competition laws. Some states are more protective than others, especially states which are heavily invested in the entertainment industry: California, New York, and Tennessee (lemme hear that banjo!).  

  What a “likeness” is certainly is vague, and Old Navy settled rather than fight—an economic, rather than a legal, decision.  Live celebrities, and dead ones, are protected to some degree, but to say Melissa Molinaro bears a striking resemblance to Kim is like saying one Victoria’s Secret model looks a lot like all the other Victoria’s Secret models.  We have no idea what this “resemblance” entails.  If Molinaro had dyed her hair red and wasn’t tanned to saddle-texture or had a butt like Twiggy’s, would there be such an uproar—not to mention the sheer vacuousness and shallowness of the whole issue? 

  When Confucius was asked, were he in charge of a province, what he would do first, the sage replied, “Rectify names.” He meant that in the turbulent country of that era we now call China, people had gotten away from knowing what their duties were. If there was a clear idea about what a father or elder or son or ruler was, then those people holding those positions would be clear as to their duties and the country would settle down, each in his or her proper place, doing what was required for his or her station in life.  Confucius thought the disorder in the country stemmed from people getting away from their proper stations, with the result that the whole society was in turmoil.  He thought he knew, based on the Dao and on ancient tradition, what the definitions were for every walk of human endeavor.  Lucky him. 

  As a society, we can’t presently decide what a President is.  We don’t have a definition of what the person in the White House should be, do, and/or say.  Our traditions are not ancient and we eschew, pursuant to our American mythology, any adherence smacking of the old, withered, cold hand of some dead and irrelevant practices unsuitable to our ethos.  As is evidenced by the last three-plus years of congressional teeth-gritting and outside moralizing and sweaty angst over America’s decline, we cannot even decide if leopards have spots or what constitutes a “leader of the free world” (a favorite patriotic slogan).  In short, we cannot do what Confucius thought was important for the safe and orderly running of a society. 

  We cannot even be as clear as Kim Kardashian as to what constitutes a “likeness.”  We seem to be more concerned with protecting Elvis’ estate money or whether photos of Marilyn Monroe can be sold than what a president should DO, or what kind of person he or she should BE, or ( at the most basic) what qualifications make a good president.  If states can figure out what a look-alike to Rita Hayworth is and how to sanction violations of the law against such, why can’t this mighty nation figure out what is good for the country and then…well, DO IT?  Maybe Kim’s mom should be running the country.  Or maybe we should “license” a person to be President—someone who LOOKS Presidential (like Warren Harding), has a commanding presence (like Tina Turner), a dominating voice (like James Earl Jones), and great writers (like Johnny Carson had).  We’d agree to call him or her “President” and fight out the actual qualifications, the definitions, the parameters of an American President at some later date.  No, that won’t do.  We couldn’t possibly decide even that…all we can do is protect celebrities, warn consumers not to buy from the “wrong” stores, and hope we can figure out what a leader, a President, is.  Maybe we’ll do that in November.  But I’d bet a case of spray tan against it.


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