Ethics According to Seuss

Having been studying ethics in a couple of different writing classes lately, and even blogging about the lack of them, I thought I would share my impression of Dr. Seuss’ ethics lesson in The Lorax.  I recently drug my whole family to see the movie just so I could do an extra credit paper on them. However, I found that my kids already knew the story and the moral behind it before the lights even went down in the theater. I guess my study of Dr. Seuss’ great works is lacking compared to them; according to them he is the authority on just about everything. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong books.

The Lorax

The Lorax was Dr. Seuss’ answer to the environmental debates surrounding the Northern spotted owl and the condition of the Pacific Northwest’s coastal forests in 1971. Known as one of his best and most controversial works, Dr. Seuss managed to influence children’s (and their parents) environmental perceptions and awareness of our natural resources. In essence, he may have brought conservational ethics to the children of the time, and now with the movie, these ethics are now highlighted for today’s children. Let us hope the lessons pay off.

The Lorax brings up the question of the value of the environment versus the advancement of industrialization and profit at the expense of our environment. I know it is a bunch of cartoon characters, but if you want to connect with children and hope to teach them something, you have to communicate on their level.  It also points out how, as a society, humans are quick to jump on the latest bandwagon without concern of the real cost or consequence until it is too late. As adults, you would think that this lesson would have sunk in already, but we all miss the boat on this sometimes.  It is so easy to get swept away in the excitement and newness of the latest thneed.

The movie/story starts out with the Once-ler trying to be a good guy; trying to make himself into a success for himself and his family. The Once-ler is reluctant to cut down the trees and promises to take care of the them for the good of all, but allows the influences of his society, his family and business profits, to ultimately create his and the trees demise.  He has no competition to make him plan ahead or even forethought of making his business last, just the rewards of the moment. Warnings of the Lorax weren’t enough to get past the dollar signs in his eyes. When we let our short-thought on a situation reign, we will inevitably miss the real issues that affect our efforts and erode our sense of ethics.

I watched the movie with my kids and hope they absorbed the real lessons it had to offer. They were more familiar with the story than I was prior to seeing it and were totally against cutting down trees for any reason. Yeah! Unfortunately, the line “that’s a woman!’ seems to be what has stuck with them the most. At least none of them wants blue hair, yet…

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Fan Fiction Post #12

Recently in my reality, the topics of ethics and copyright have been ongoing topics of study, argument, and confusion. At first, I thought ethics was easy – just do what is right = ethical, but then you bring in the different elements of what is right for who or what in each circumstance and it is up for interpretation. Then with copyright, if you write it down or create it in a fixed form, it is automatically copyrighted. You wrote it, you created it, it and its components are yours. Period.  (Well, maybe, as long as you aren’t doing it for someone who has hired or commissioned you to do it.) At some point in my attempt at understanding and accepting, the matter of Fan Fiction came up, mixing the question of ethics and copyright.

As you may or may not be familiar with Fan Fiction, it is fiction written by fans of original works, rather than the original author or creator. Fans write continuations of stories, use characters from existing stories, or use the alternate worlds created by others to compose new stories and honor the compositions they love. Most fan fiction is produced with the assumption that it will primarily be read by fans of the original works and they will have knowledge of the canonicalfictional universe the story is set in. These endeavors are rarely commissioned or authorized and are almost never professionally published.

The “act” of Fan Fiction has been around for a long time. The sequel to Cervantes’s Don Quixote, in the early 1600s, was written by an admirer or fan of  Lope de Vega, a rival of Cervantes. At the turn of the 20th century, there were many parodies and revisions of Alice in Wonderland and fans authored multiple versions of Sherlock Holmes. In the 1960’s fan fiction was popularized when Fanzines (amateur or semi-professional magazines of fans and fandom) of Star Trek were published and distributed at conventions and through subscription.

Is Fan Fiction in violation of copyright? Yes. Yes it is. An author or copyright owner has the right to stop some else from copying, distributing, performing, or displaying their characters without permission. The  owner also has the right to stop the creation of derivative works — works created based on their intellectual property. However, there are some authors of original works, some very famous and successful ones, that are flattered and even encourage their fans to create new stories based on their work. There are also those authors/owners that are offended and threatened by the creations of their fans.  They don’t want their characters, worlds, and stories portrayed in negative ways, in ways that conflict with their original vision, or that may cheapen the value of their work. Here is the exception to the rule that makes some Fan Fiction okay: Fair Use allows limited portions of source material to be used without permission from the copyright holder. Here is an excerpt from the United States Copyright Office in regards to Fair Use.

Fair Use from the U.S. Copyright Code Title 17 Section 107:

“Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:
1.The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
2.The nature of the copyrighted work
3.The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
4.The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”

Yep, didn’t really clear it up for me either as to how Fair Use makes Fan Fiction legal.

Is Fan Fiction unethical? Yes, maybe, possibly… This is a sticky subject.  Most Fan Fiction isn’t written or published for profit, it is primarily written for other fans and the accolades the author may get from those fellow fans. They are not gaining anything of “real” value from their fandom. If an author carries it to the next step by selling their fan fiction in any part, without permission from the original creator or copyright owner, are they then stealing profits generated by the derivative work? No matter how unlike the original work it is, is it ethical to profit?

The example that brought me to look into these questions is Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. This book is based on a piece of Fan Fiction, inspired by the Twilight series, that became a wildly popular Internet post prompting James to want to profit from her work. It would have been completely within Stephenie Meyer’s (Twilight‘s Author) rights to put a stop to the original incarnation, she did not. Fifty Shades of Grey has original characters, even when it was still just a piece of fan fiction the characters were not the “exactly” the same as the Twilight characters.  They shared names, likenesses, and similar backgrounds with minor “grown-up” variations. Now that the characters are her own and the story was always her own, it is technically legal for her to publish her story, but is it truly ethical? Huh. Seems like that might fall into a “shade of gray”.

, , , , , ,

1 Comment

New Paranormal Releases Post #11

A few weeks ago I shared a little about some new releases from my favorite paranormal fantasy series, now that I’ve read them, it is time to see if they measured up.  See New Paranormal Releases February 2012 (Post #6) for a background on each series.

February 21, A Perfect Blood, the tenth installment of the Hollows series by Kim Harrison, was released and then immediately added to my audio library.  The book focuses on Rachel’s adjusting to being a demon, being outed as a demon, and trying to be an accepted member of society, oh and the government thinks she is dead.  Being the only day walking demon and the only demon that lives on this side of the ever after, has made her blood very valuable. Rachel gets saddled with the task of finding out who is trying to make demons, just like her, so they can harvest their blood for more evil and powerful magic.  Harrison carries the series tradition very well maintaining the humor and impossible situations, however as the series is getting long, maybe a little more predictable. I knew from the beginning, no matter what the evil plot was, those in charge of stopping it would blame Rachel and she would have to prove her innocence and stop the bad guys herself.

Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors by Molly Harper was also quickly added to my library.  It did not disappoint! This fourth book in the Nice Girls Don’t series made me laugh all the way through Jane’s wedding planning, becoming a vampire “parent”, and then the wedding.  You never knew what was coming, yet the way Harper wrote it, what happened inevitably had to.  Nothing ever comes easy for Jane, but it always comes with humor. Any bride that thinks her trip to and down the aisle was crazy, needs to read this book. Don’t let the cover art fool you, it is not a sex scene fest, it is a comedy.

Fair Game Book Cover

March 6, Fair Game, the fourth installment of Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series was the first of these new releases that I read. I think that Briggs has a way of making you care about her characters and you just want to check on them.  Fair Game found Anna trying to bring Charles, her mate, back to himself even though all the men around her couldn’t see anything wrong. Her convincing the Alpha of Charles need for change gets her put on a werewolf public relations mission involving a serial killer that is killing werewolves. The danger and supernatural aspect of the case helps Anna get through to Charles while they help the authorities seek out the evil doers. I think the story was good and had its exciting aspects, but the relationship developments and character growth was a little slow compared to the previous books in the series. You will still root for mild-mannered, lovable Anna to win everyone over.

, , , , , , ,

3 Comments

Is it Scarier in the Dark? Post #10

You are home alone, late at night, the house is dark except your one small lamp, you are reading and there is a bump upstairs – do you go check? Is it the cat? Was it your imagination? Or could it be a ghost with evil intent? Maybe it’s that vampire, like from the book in your hands, just waiting for you to venture into the dark so he can make a midnight snack of you. You know how it goes in the movies, if you check, something or someone is bound to make you scream and bleed. Your blood starts to race and your heart is pounding, what do you do? Did you really hear anything to start with?

The moon just went behind the clouds as you walk from your car to the dorms, the lights on the path are out, you’re out much later than you had planned and there are only a few lights on in the building ahead. There are so many trees and dark places between you and the light in the dorm vestibule. Behind you there is a rustling in the bushes, what’s there? That werewolf flick was too good to leave in the middle of and now you are wishing you had someone to walk you in. You hear it again, is someone after you? Was that a branch breaking? Do   I run? This is foolish. It isn’t the movies, I’m not carelessly jogging in the park after dark, I haven’t offended some obscure cult out for blood, it is all in my imagination. No one is after me. So then why is my heart beating in my ears and my limbs pumping with adrenaline?

Because it is dark, that’s why. The little noises in the house and rustles in the woods don’t even hit your radar during the day when the shadows and darkness are at bay. But in the dark, all alone, your imagination lights you up with all the evil possibilities. This is why we love movies in the dark and scary stories late at night.  Who doesn’t love the feeling of adrenaline rushing through your veins as the scary creature jumps out in the movie or in the story we are reading?  Isn’t that what we are hoping for when we read or watch something scary, that intense feeling that lets us know we are alive?

We all know the things that go bump in the night are easily explained and nothing to really be afraid of. Then again, are they really?

Nyctophobia – Fear of the dark or of the night

,

4 Comments

Just Read. Post #9

Read anywhere.  In today’s high-tech world, there is no excuse not to read.  Books are available in so many formats, that there is bound to be one to fit your situation. You no longer have to get to the library, book store, or drug store shelf for the newest bestseller. Ebooks and audio books are as easy as a download from the internet onto your smart phone, mp3 player, eReader, or computer. Even driving can’t keep you from reading, there are radio stations that broadcast books and articles right into your car, or you can pop in a cassette {giggle} or CD or plug in the mp3 player.

More and more of us are guilty of being tethered to our electronics, especially our cell phones, so why not use them to keep you up on the latest (and the classics) in literature. Smartphone apps are making it easier and easier to get all kinds of media on our phones. You don’t have to go out and buy a Kindle or a Nook or any of the countless other ereaders to read ebooks, if you have a smart phone, you have an ereader.  “There’s an app for that!” You don’t  have to have an mp3 player or portable CD player for audio books either, because “There’s an app for that!” too.

There are literally hundreds of apps for smartphones to function as ereaders.  Their functionality varies greatly from simple font on the screen to completely customizable colors, fonts, pictures, note taking functions, share options, and eye saving adjustments. The good news is that the majority of these apps, even the best of them, are free! The books and articles you read on them will likely need to be purchased, but not always, there is a lot of free material out there. Several apps offer strictly free books and magazines, such as Wattpad and Free books by Spreadsong Inc both powered through iTunes. Aldiko from Google Play offers free and books for sale to read on Android devices.  You don’t even need an actual Kindle to use the Kindle app on your phone – no need for multiple electronic devices!

Don’t forget the audio apps for your phone, you don’t even have to look at it to read – just listen. This is my favorite way to ingest books. It allows me to multitask with the best of them! Plug your phone into the audio jack in your car, your ear buds, stereo in the house, or just turn up the volume and put it in your pocket as it reads to you.  Audible.com is one of the biggest [and my favorite] sources for audio books and has a really nice app for listening and keeping your library. Audio books often cost a little more than a traditional book or an ebook, however there are free ones to be had at places like Audiobooks.net and Books Should Be Free.

Gone is the day that requires trips to the library or bookstore and that extra room for your bookshelves.  Let your books live online in your personal library a few clicks or finger strokes away and read. Read anywhere. Just read.

Disclaimer: I am not anti “real book”.  I love the feel of a book in my hands, I just wanted to point out that you don’t have to sacrifice reading because you can’t carry one with you or hold one in your hands. You know you aren’t going to give up your cell phone, so why not let it give you back the power of the written word. Open your mind, learn, be entertained. Just read.

, ,

5 Comments

Spring Break Reads (Post #8)

A person would normally think that something called “Spring Break” would insinuate some kind of break or reprise from the normal grind. This is exactly what I was hoping for; no such luck, where the break from additional homework came in, life filled up the space seamlessly. Thankfully, even though life threw some hard balls this last week, I was still able to get some reading in between all my children’s sports events, fundraisers, decade day, and funerals. Due to having a job that allows me to listen to my books while I work, an mp3 jack in my car for commutes, and the best portable mp3 player ever – I listened to/read five books.

I finished up the Meredith Gentry series by Laurell K. Hamilton. The series follows a “real live” faerie princess in her bid to become queen in place of her evil aunt, while trying to stay alive.  Meredith isn’t the perfect “full blood” candidate and is technically 3rd in line to the crown, after her even more evil and insane cousin, making her first on almost everyone’s “to kill” list.  The saga has its ups and downs of drama and mystery keeping it pretty interesting, however the author puts way too much emphasis (for my taste) on the open attitude of the faerie culture on sex, thus it can get pretty racy at times.  She seemed to get the picture in the last couple of installments, lightening up on the  steamy sex scenes and focusing on the story. The story was fairly original and kept my interest, however the series should have ended with book #7, instead of trying to pull into the next phase of her life in book #8, adding new questions that are never answered.

Next I started The Fallen Angel series by J.R. Ward with Covet and Crave. This series is rather new and hasn’t been completely published yet; I am guessing it will wrap up in 7 or fewer installments.    A U.S. military trained assassin gets a conscience and wants out of the killing business, only to confirm the only way out is in a body bag. While in hiding from his former boss, Jim tries to make a new life for himself, makes a very “male” mistake, and dies. Waking up dead, he’s offered a deal by an angel to fight a demon for 7 souls being bartered in a bet,  a bet that will give all of earth to the demon or free it to be run by angels. Being a bad ass that never backs down from a challenge, Jim takes the deal and tries to figure out how to redeem the chosen souls with the help of two equally bad ass, less than perfect angels.  So far this series is pretty graphic and violent with a side of romance. I like the writing style and the story flow, and will probably keep reading the series as it is published.  Envy is the next installment.

Even though they don’t fall in the paranormal genre, I am rereading the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  The movie opens March 23, and I want to make sure it is fresh in my mind.  This series is one of my all time favorites and features all the characteristics I like in a great protagonist.  Katniss is a strong female scared of her feelings, but willing to act in any way required to protect her loved ones and herself. Anyone who has ever rebelled against authority, even if only in your mind, should give this series a read.  In my opinion, it is as good as “they” say it is.

, , , ,

2 Comments

EBooks affecting Literature? Interview #7

Last week I had the privilege of visiting Horizon Books in Traverse City at 243 East Front Street.  Horizon Books has been family owned and operated downtown since 1961.  In 1993, community volunteers helped them move from their original location, across the street, by closing down Front Street and hand carrying the books into the old JC Penny building. Their sense of this community is what they pride their bookstores on, serving them with long hours; coffee bars; local author support; and inviting gathering facilities for reading groups, music events, and various clubs. They strive to be considered your “third place,” the place you go to relax, the first place being home and the second being work.

Jill Beauchamp is one of the store managers and the events coordinator for Horizon, we spoke about trends in the book business and the effects the eBook has had on their store.  Jill stated that the main reason for the continued success Horizon has had is their very strong niche market. Michigan based and stories that take place in Michigan grace their shelves alongside publications by the many local authors they support and that make personal appearances in their store. They also publish local non-fiction authors as part of their business.  Unlike most bookstores, they draw in a lot of tourists looking to learn about the area and partake in the local artists work; the great lakefront downtown location doesn’t hurt either.

Horizon Books added eBooks to their business about eight months ago, according to Jill; the change came about by customer request.  The growing popularity of eReaders, like the Nook and Kindle, has ignited a whole new chapter in the literary industry.  EBooks are now immediately and easily available for download on demand from countless online and bookstore locations.  It has been said that the eBook will be the death of the “real” or hardcover book, in Jill’s opinion; eBooks will dilute the quality of published books, but will never be the death of them. “People want to hold a book in their hands and have the real experience,” Ms. Beauchamp mused.

Even though there have been reports of eBooks out-selling traditional books, most of them have not been comparing apples to apples.  Reports of eBook sales are exact, while hard cover book sales counts are based on orders by the bookstores.  The only case I have found of a true comparison is from Amazon.com.  Amazon sells both types of books from the same site and is comparing actual sales, while their eBook sales have been growing exponentially, traditional book sales are growing at a healthy rate as well. Jill said that since they have added eBook sales to their business they have only sold around a dozen of them and have enjoyed increased sales of traditional books in the past year, seemingly unaffected by eBook popularity.

The ease of publishing an eBook has made being a published author the matter of an upload and fifty bucks or an agreement with an online publisher like Smashwords. During our discussion, Jill said she felt that the lack of professional editors and publishers will allow too much low quality work on the market, possibly hurting the industry.  She also conceded that e-publishing allows talented indie authors to get their work out there, when publishers don’t see a market for their subjects or genres.  It is also much faster than traditional publishing, which can delay the availability of a book for months after its completion.  Jill didn’t think there was any type of book more popular than another for e-format, however said that the paranormal genre seems to be growing much faster than any of the others as eBook or hard cover. Jill noted that even Michigan’s own well-established poet and fiction author, Jim Harrison, has expanded into the paranormal genre.

Ms. Beauchamp has never read a book in e-format herself and has no intention to do so.  Aside from convenience while traveling, she didn’t “see the appeal in reading a book that way at all”. Another employee at Horizon, Meagan, said she tried reading an eBook and didn’t like it at all; it left her with a headache. The ladies said they just don’t see customers coming in to read on eReaders in their store like you see in the chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble that sells the Nook. They felt their store was more about the inviting and relaxing environment of the physical book and “third place” experience.

Horizon Books is definitely the kind of place a book lover can get carried away in.  Its three floors of books, coffee bars, inviting atmosphere, and helpful employees make it a great choice for any avid reader or book club member’s “third place” no matter what format or genre you enjoy. For more information about Horizon Books, please check out their website: http://www.horizonbooks.com.

, ,

2 Comments