YouTube star Shane Dawson has made reference to a lawsuit he filed against pop star Taylor Swift and her record label, Sony, in his “Shane And Friends” podcast with Jessie Buttafuoco (yes, that Buttafuoco; she’s Joey’s daughter). In December, Sony ordered that YouTube remove a video Dawson posted to his channel, “ShaneDawsonTV,” which parodies Swift’s “Blank Space” music video (and also just so happens to be one of my favorite Shane videos). It’s hard to tell sometimes when Dawson is being serious or just joking, and there isn’t any other news about the lawsuit outside of his podcast, but what Sony did is clearly a violation of the First Amendment, since parody qualifies as protected speech, and, what with
Dawson at the forefront of YouTube’s “cinematic revolution” (Dawson and other YouTubers have gone from “drunk girl falls out of a shopping cart” to extended dramatic narratives, complete with special effects) and YouTube at the forefront of the movie industry’s “digital revolution,” such a topic is relevant to this film blog.
Now, I give Swift credit – 1989, the parent album for “Blank Space,” is the top-selling album of 2014 (and it’s a hell of a lot better than 2012’s Red). She single-handedly proved wrong all the critics who claim that the music industry is dead, and it probably helped that she removed her music from Spotify last year, where it would have streamed for free. It’s important to pay artists for their work when it’s just as easy to pirate it online, or else artists won’t produce any more work; as romantic as the idea of the “starving artist” is, people so passionate about their art that they’ll do it for free, artists have to eat, too, and it’s only fair that they get paid for their job, just like you get paid for yours (and it is hard work; let’s see you record a song that people actually want to listen to if it’s so damn easy).
However, videos like Shane Dawson’s “Blank Space” parody aren’t a threat to Taylor Swift’s success. He changed the music, the lyrics, and the content of the music video – people will still want to listen to the original “Blank Space” because it’s on the radio all the time, so it gets stuck in their heads. I consider myself one of those people – I enjoy the song and the parody for different reasons, and I’ll listen to one if I’m in the mood to laugh and the other if I’m in the mood to dance; I’m not going watch and listen to Shane Dawson’s parody exclusively, and, since he’s a comedian by profession, he has just as much of a right to make fun of pop culture artifacts (you know, jokes that people will actually get) as Taylor Swift has the right to create those pop culture artifacts.
And that’s another thing – I’m sick of people that saying Dawson’s “Blank Space” glorifies domestic violence (still not as stupid as the backlash against his “Harry Potter’s Over” video, though; talk about an overreation). I’m not going to go out and smash my girlfriend’s face in with a dumbbell just because I watched it. Come on, people – lighten up; it’s supposed to be funny.
Yes, if he made light of the patterns of abusive behavior, like Fox’s Family Guy (1999-) does in its 2011 episode, “Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q,” then that would’ve taken it too far, but Shane Dawson becoming so obsessed with Taylor Swift that he kills his girlfriend in a fictional YouTube video is not the same thing as “anti-feminism propaganda.” I’ve been a witness to abuse, growing up, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it a few times. Don’t worry – you don’t need to protect me from Shane Dawson.
Not to mention the fact that Sony itself was a victim of free speech oppression, when threats of terrorism from North Korean hackers interfered with the release of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview (2014). I haven’t watched it yet, and I don’t think I ever will – you’re not a patriot just because you think a stupid buddy comedy is funnier than it really is. If they had made a movie about how evil Kim Jong-Un is and how inhumane conditions are in North Korea, then I would’ve been all for it, but turning the death of a living, actual person into a punchline is in poor taste (and diplomatically unintelligent), no matter who that person is – even Hitler was immune from such treatment, back when he was still alive during World War II, when the Office of War Information regulated Hollywood’s output; how would we like it if a hostile nation had made a comedy about assassinating the President?
My point is, Sony is hypocritical.
While I agree that there’s something to be said about the importance of the entertainment industry surviving the Internet, we also need to realize that the Internet is now part of the entertainment industry, and “new media” Shane Dawson needs to be taken as seriously as “traditional media” Taylor Swift. The Shane Dawsons of the world are the future of moviemaking, and they’re the wrong people to marginalize if we want to keep alive the passion, the creativity, and the pure fun of this medium we all love so much. As serious a situation as it is, just think about this: what if it goes all the way to the Supreme Court (assuming it’s even for real), and our kids study Dawson v. Swift in American history?
Maybe it isn’t that serious, after all.