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Bat vs. Turkey

November 19th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

Once more, I’m getting my inspiration to blog from a post at Ken Levine’s blog. Apparently the mayor of a small town in Turkey believes that royalties from Warner Bros should be forthcoming to the town for their use of his town’s name. See, he’s the mayor of Batman (and here I was thinking that Sheriff of Nottingham was a good title to have!), and so the mayor has taken umbrage at The Dark Knight using the name without asking.

The story reeks of being a rather Orientalized hoax, and I almost expect to see news tape with the mayor played by Sacha Baron Cohen. So let’s proceed with caution.

But part of me thinks that the content industries deserve such allegations. When they crack down on fans for writing fiction with “their” characters, how can we not appreciate it when the mayor of Batman gets angry at Time Warner? In a rapidly globalizing world (in which the mayor of Batman only now hears about this guy called Batman?! Don’t anyone show him Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, okay?), what’s the statute of limitations on things like this? However, beyond the simple, idle, and ultimately hollow pleasure of imagining the content industries swarmed by suits and grievances from the franchise-themed towns of the world (Hulk, Azerbaijan? James Bond, Brazil? X-Men, Namibia?), it also raises issues about names in a copyright culture. When I was a grad student in the UK, the European Union was at its height of silliness, with some pushing for champagne from anywhere but Champagne, for instance, to be required to carry a different name. Cheddar from anywhere but Cheddar would be next? Or Worcestershire sauce? Buffalo wings?

It’s no less funny in the realm of media, though, as Batman’s mayor tells us (an aside: I wonder if there’s a town in Greece called Joker, hence explaining the age-old rivalry? Perhaps Batman’s just mad because a Greek insurgent killed favorite son Jason Todd?). When signing my book contracts, they often include a little thing about my television or film royalties. Now, I don’t know if you’ve read my work, but I don’t see how, for instance, my chapter on intertextual theory in Watching with The Simpsons could be turned into the opening act of a charming romcom). A colleague’s husband who just made big bucks this way, though, explained that it’s often just the title that studios will want, as was the case with his own deal. Television Entertainment isn’t likely to be a Christmas classic anytime soon, but maybe I should take this into account and call my next book Iron Man 2?

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