Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Trouble with Licensing- Part 1

Licensing has long been any creative cretin's bread and butter. With the power of licensing, they ensure for themselves a comfortable existence as they attempt to broaden the human consciousness. But this comfort comes with a dark side, for they essentially sell their soul to a corporation in order to enjoy a life of luxury. For some artists, this is a fate worse than death. A laboured love of creation is not something that can be handed over in an instant, and is equivalent to giving up a child.

Of course, for others, the art is merely a means to an end. Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, for example, admitted that the sole reason the orange tabby ever came about was so that he could create a merchandising empire. But the fact is that for the vast majority of artists, licensing can be seen as the kiss of death for their creations. So, the question is, is licensing a necessary evil?

One of the most common arguments against licensing is that it dilutes the product. This is true to an extent, but it's not necessary that the changes are always adverse in nature. For example, I've always preferred the wry humour of the Garfield TV show to the comics themselves (the movie, on the other hand...well, some things are better left un-watched). Let's take another example to see how this works. On the opposite end of the spectrum of Jim Davis is another comic book artist, Bill Watterson. Mr. Watterson has steadfastly refused to partake in licensing of any kind, and there has been no official merchandise of Calvin and Hobbes ever released. But the key word there is official. Nearly everybody has seen the "pissing Calvin" images. Everybody who has actually read the comics knows that this is an inaccurate depiction of Calvin (for one thing, there is a severe lack of dinosaurs), but the images are ridiculously popular. Due to ill-defined trademarks, Calvin is one of the most bootlegged creations of all time. Sure, Bill might have felt that licensing might have lead to poor animated TV shows and the like (not to mention the potential for actual Hobbes stuffed tigers), but it has led to unofficial proliferation of his beloved characters all the same. Frankly, I'd prefer the real deal.

Licensing also comes with responsibilities. Like it or not, the people who have put money into your product expect to see something accessible, something to appeal to the lowest common denominator. You give up a lot of freedom when you start licensing. This is where a character like Garfield comes in handy. Everybody hates Mondays, and (nearly) everybody loves lasagna. But do you think the strip of Calvin blowing up his school would have been made it into syndication if kids were also tuning into Calvin's misadventures on Saturday morning? It'd be highly unlikely to say the least. Perhaps that was Bill Watterson is trying to hang onto. His artistic integrity.

So we've tackled some of the cons (and pros) of licensing. But the key question, "Is it worth it?", remains to be answered. Stay tuned...


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

FaceOff: The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones

The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones

Welcome to FaceOff, where I will be taking two similar or equally influential pop culture figures, and compare them. Please note that this is not a typical ‘who’s better’ blog, as that is just a pointless exercise in brain power and is ultimately a futile experience. Not to mention that I will be attacked by rabid fans no matter which way I turn, so I’d rather not bring that pressure on myself
Moving on.
So, as I said ,this is not your typical comparison. Instead, what I will be comparing is how two bands who started at the same time, but had fundamentally different approaches in their music, grew to where they are today.

I’d rather not go into details, as both these bands’ origin stories have been repeated so often that there’s no point in me repeating a tired tale. Here’s how it goes.
Liverpool. Skiffle. Mommy issues. Aunty issues. Hamburg. Death. Drums Issues. Hamburg. Record Deal. (Almost) Instant Stardom.
The Beatles: John, Paul, George and um...sorry, can't place the last one

And on the other end, London. Blues Incorporated. Phone Calls. Unfiled Muddy Waters LPs. Embarrassed Decca. Various changes. England’s Newest Hit-Makers.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.Wrinkles, on the other hand..

In contrast to the Beatles’ clean-cut image, the Stones presented themselves as the wild boys of rock n’ roll. This was done deliberately, in order to appeal to that section of society that found the Beatles “too poppy” (Yes, even in the 60s, when things were just getting started, pop music was derided. Go figure). However, both these images were manufactured. The Beatles’ image was manufactured by their manager, Brian Epstein, in order to replace their previous, raucous, wild stage personas. Indeed, if one were to look at their origins, the Beatles (working class Liverpudlians) might be considered even more rowdy than the Stones (middle class Londoners). The Stones were manufactured by their manager, Andrew Oldham. A former publicist for the Beatles, Oldham saw potential in the group being positioned as an "anti-Beatles" - a rougher group compared to the "cuddly moptop" image of the Beatles at that time.  This, by the way, proves that selling out doesn’t necessarily mean losing artistic credibility and/or talent (You’re welcome, punk rock bands).
Oh, they were manufactured too. Sorry, punk rock fans.

Both groups have a varied and diverse soundscape, but I’ve always found the Beatles to be the more innovative of the two. In fact, the Stones were seen as a throwback to the R&B and blues bands of old. Also, I’ve always found that the Stones seemed to ape whatever trend was in fashion at the moment, be it psychedilia (Their Satanic Majesties Request) or glam rock (It’s Only Rock n’ Roll), while the Beatles were constantly paving new ground. I’m sure I’ll get some criticism for that view point, but it is what it is. Sure, the Stones rocked harder, but at the end of the day, it was the Beatles that made rock n’ roll what it is today.
A masterpiece in psychedilia...

Sure, it doesn't break any new ground, but who said that's a requirement for good music?

Live Performances
No contest here. The Beatles were a fine live band in their own right, but they didn’t hold a candle to the Stones. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that what the Rolling Stones did for live performances was as ground breaking as what the Beatles did for studio innovation. Some may cite the fact that the Beatles stopped touring in the mid-60s as a reason for this setback, but I don’t think they’d ever be able to match the Stones. The Stones were raw, and showed us the wild side of rock music. (Of course, neither of the groups holds a candle to the Who in this category, but that’s a topic for another post).

Have some sympathy for the Beatles...or don't, seeing as they could buy your sympathy and then make it do the waltz with your dignity, and then they all laugh at your overly long captions...

So there you have it. Not a very thorough list, but I just wanted to highlight what I felt were the two groups’ biggest strengths. While the Beatles represented the creative and genius of rock n’ roll and pop music in general, the Stones showed us its wild and beautiful side.