The Potential Hazzards of Putting up Yer Dukes

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So many strands of America in our time converge in this story, regarding which I predict some sort of IP dustup:

“Cooter” was evidently the name of a character on the old Dukes of Hazzard television program involving a pair of friendly redneck do-gooder cousins. There was a pretty girl featured in the program as well — this becomes relevant. Cooter (the person, not the critter) was played by an actor named Ben Jones. Jones followed what has become a fairly common success story, parlaying the arbitrary and capricious (wow, now that would be a good name for a law blog!) fame of Hollywood into high elective office. Sometimes this path results in epoch-making greatness or at least very interesting entertainment; but if this privilege is abused, the evil is repaid quickly and mercilessly. In Representative Jones’s case, it was a short apogee; he was quickly unseated and replaced by a local history professor who would go on to greater things himself.

Congressman Cooter then went back to the life-giving well and eventually set himself up — quite rationally, considering how hard it is to make an honest living actually working — in the nostalgia business, setting up the definitive (though hardly the only) Dukes of Hazzard fan website, Cooter’s Place. If you look at Cooter’s place, you will find the lack of attention to IP issues somewhat odd. Jones seems to make liberal use of what you would think are IP assets (mostly trademarks) associated with the Dukes of Hazzard program, and as far as I could tell there is no disclaimer, acknowledgment or rights or other lawyer-type boilerplate addressing the issue. (Not that he’s alone.)

Now comes 2005 and that every-giving horn of plenty, Hollywood, is dredging the very bottom of the not-so-golden pond for sunken treasure it can salvage and refit into feature movies, and of course the Dukes of Hazzard, having run for a few years and made some money, is an obvious choice for full-length cinematic treatment. There is a girl in this one, too, a real rock star who — not surprisingly — is put front and center in a big, big way. This turns out to have more than a little to do with the next episode:

Turns out Congressman Cooter is no crass commercial clod, however. He saw the movie and didn’t like one bit what he saw:

In the last few years I reckon I’ve done many hundreds of interviews around the country on radio and television and for dozens of newspapers. I always tell them that ours is a classic family show with positive values, great action, wonderful slapstick comedy, mighty fine country music, and a very gifted cast who had great chemistry. America could tell that we were clearly enjoying what we were doing and for that hour folks could forget their troubles and just have fun along with us. It is exactly the kind of entertainment that families crave right now.

Lately most of the interviewers want to know my opinion of the “movie” version that is coming out in August. I’ve always tried to be candid with my opinions, and when it comes to this film, I think it would be a mistake for me to pull the punches. Like you, I haven’t seen the film, but I have read the script, I’ve talked to a lot of people who worked on the set, and I’ve seen the raunchy t.v. commercial. Frankly, I think the whole project shows an arrogant disrespect for our show, for our cast, for America’s families, and for the sensibilities of the heartland of our country.

Unless they clean it up before the August 5th release date I would strongly recommend that true blue Dukes fans hold their noses and pass this one up. And whatever you do, don’t take any youngsters to see it. As plain as I can put it, the only thing this movie shares with our show is the title. Oh, they do have the General Lee flying through the air, although according to the New York Times, they didn’t even use stunt drivers.

Sure it bothers me that they wanted nothing to do with the cast of our show, but what bothers me much more is the profanity laced script with blatant sexual situations that mocks the good clean family values of our series. Now, anybody who knows me knows that I’m not a prude. But this kind of toilet humor has no place in Hazzard County. Rather than honoring our legendary show, they have chosen to degrade it.

That’s just an excerpt. I don’t know what the issues are here besides the mere Jessica Simpson-ness of it all; the movie must be awful, considering that there don’t seem to be any pre-release reviews out ther for me to figure out what’s going on. But we know what Hollywood’s all about and always has been, so guessing shouldn’t be too hard.

Give the man credit; it stands to reason that a resurgence in interest in the Hazzard boys — and their darlin’ li’l sister — would do wonders for his career and website, even if they’ve been left on the outside looking in on the movie, by choice or otherwise. (Not everyone has! There’s your IP angle!)

But Cooter is nothing if not a politician. It’s certainly interesting — especially considering “where this story is going” and his call for fidelity to antebellum days — that the site features (not only on the home page, but throughout) — pictures of an all-but-Confederate-flag-free General Lee that was the star of the original show, as required by modern political-racial sensibilities (and with which, in this case, I am not unsympathetic, though I see the other side of the argument). The movie didn’t airbrush the Rebel flag out of the Hazzards’ history, even though they significantly downplay and tiptoe around its appearance in the picture. So does Cooter. I don’t really have a problem with that.

My angle? Count the hours, not the days, before the Honorable Cooter gets a cease-and-desist from Warner regarding his use of all that Dukes IP on his website. Chilling effect, and all that. Jones has done Warner Brothers no harm (far from it) by stimulating Internet and other discussion by virtue of his stand, but neither will their spinning off some more with a trademark threat.

And I could be wrong, too, but I have my own agenda: I was originally cast as Boss Hogg. The Jewish partner.jpgTypecasting all the way, I know. But they wouldn’t pay me what I was worth, and went with this guy instead, who I heard takes scale. Ned Beatty couldn’t be reached.

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Ron Coleman

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