June 7, 1999

I'm back. And I'm thinking about wrestling.

Before I moved away from my free cable abode, I caught a particular documentary, Wrestling with Shadows: Brett 'The Hitman' Hart on television. It's an amazing story.

Brett is from Calgary and comes from a family of wrestlers. It was his brother who recently died in a wresting stunt accident. Brett was a 'good guy' in the WWF but then late in his career he was asked to become 'bad guy'. To justify such a change in character, Brett became an anti-American bad guy - one that deplored the excesses of present day wrestling. In doing so, he was considered an even bigger hero in Canada but he also alienated most of his American fans. Shortly thereafter had his contract with WWF revoked which left him in dire straights - he had lost his audience. I read just yesterday that Sable, another WWF wrestler, has sued the WWF, after being asked to flash her breasts and take part in some lesbian posturing in the ring.

I mention this because this is one of the weirder aspects of post-modern life: we don't know who owns the rights of a character. Who owns a wrestler's character: the wrestler or the federation? Can an actor 'own' a role? (Hint: just ask Adam West)

Another point: among all the lawlessness permitted on the web, one of the few forbidden discussion threads on the web is any newsgroup that deals in 'fan fiction'. Fan fiction deals with fans taking characters from popular culture - most notably Star Trek, Beauty and the Beast, and the X-Files - and writing these characters into their own stories. But because culture trusts 'own' these characters, such writing is illegal.

Even the literati are hashing out these boundaries. Lo's Diary, a book that raised controversy before it was even published, tells the story of Nabokov's Lolita, but from the girl's point of view.  Who, if anyone, gets to decide whether the characters can be re-used? The original publisher? The writer's descendants?

I for one, have no answers myself but I am looking forward to the day in which the copyright restrictions on Mickey Mouse are finally lifted.