Pen points

Yes, July 27 really is Barbie-in-a-blender day

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by Kathy Ursprung

"Barbie in a blender day? Really?" my skeptical daughter asked me today after reading her advance copy of The Chronicle's front page.

Never mind that it was also Aunties Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, Parents' Day, Take Your Houseplant for a Walk Day and Walk on Stilts Day. Barbie in a Blender Day crossed some line for her.

The Chronicle has recently started listing the various daily observances that someone, somewhere decided were worth putting on a calendar. We've had a lot of fun talking about things like SCUD Day (Savor the Comic, Unplug the Drama), Yellow Pig Day, Bowdler Day, World UFO Day and others that come along in July. My personal favorite this month was Ice Cream Day on July 20.

Some of these days are just too bizarre not to take a second look, so as the days go on, when we find one that's particularly strange sounding, I'll put a little explanation here for folks to enjoy.

Barbie in a Blender Day, for example, isn't some random day proposed by frat boys on a bender, as it may sound. Instead, it's a serious commemoration focusing on a First Amendment court case.

Here's how it's described in a 2004 press release on freeculture.org:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Freeculture.org, an international student movement for Free Culture has organized the “National Barbie-in-a-Blender Day” Campaign to support free speech rights.

The project was inspired by a legal case involving a lawsuit filed by Mattel, maker of Barbie dolls, against Utah-based artist Tom Forsythe. In 1999 Forsythe created a series of photographs, titled “Food Chain Barbie,” portraying nude Barbies in suggestive poses among kitchen appliances. Mattel filed a lawsuit, claiming copyright infringement and demanding that Forsythe stop selling prints. After five years, the case was finally settled on June 30, 2004: a federal judge ruled that Mattel pay Forsythe 1.8 million in legal fees and court costs, calling Mattel’s suit “frivolous” and “unreasonable.”

The Forsythe case highlights the increasing challenges faced by those who wish to comment on popular icons, symbols or cornerstones of culture, most of which are copyrighted by large corporations.

“If you want to talk about the problems with society, all of the widely recognized figures are copyrighted,” says Nelson Pavlosky of Freeculture.org. “In the past, cultural icons belonged to everyone…[now] if you want to use a relevant character to critique society, you’ll get burned by companies who can silence you, not by winning in court, but by outspending you and forcing you to cave in or lose all your money.”

I admit, a Barbie in a blender doesn't suit my particular artistic taste, but cases like this help protect the rights of artists, authors and commentators of all kinds to express their views of society.

On a lighter note, Yellow Pigs Day ( July 17), originated with mathematicians Michael Spivak and David C. Kelly while they were students at Princeton University in the early 1960s. They were exploring the properties of the number 17, and somehow a 17-eyelashed yellow pig was born, according to Wikipedia.

Yellow PIgs Day has been observed by mathematicians every since. Kelly continues to give lectures on the historical and mathematical properties of 17 and puts his impressive collection of well over 289 (17 squared) yellow pigs on display.

Who knew? Well, you do now and we'll share more about daily observances in the future.


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