By now you have probably heard the news. Weird Al Yankovic came out with a splendiferous parody of Lady Gaga — a pastiche of all the sexually enhanced, meat-spattered, dorkified lyrics that lie at the heart of a Lady Gaga song. From mandatory face painting to the occasional wardrobe mishap, Weird Al uses his uncanny powers to mock-glorify the celebrity of the moment. As he croons “Roberto, allegro, ventana, tobacco . . . .” so inartfully, one almost overlooks the fact that the seminal honor of being publicly mocked by Weird Al means that Lady Gaga is not just a passing fad, but an enduring cultural icon. If she had any fear of being a passing fancy or a figment of someone’s imagination, she can now rest easy. Her place on the wall of shame is carved in stone.
When I heard the news on CBS, I was overjoyed to see that Weird Al was not in fact dead — as someone told me last week — but was alive and kicking and up to his old tricks. I will admit, of course, that it is somewhat shocking to see Weird Al touch down from Mars for another brief visit (as is his wont), and for a moment the idea that he had passed away like Fat Albert or Alias Smith & Jones or some other icon of the past made perfect sense to me. When faced with the irrefutable evidence of his existence, however, I quickly came to my senses and embraced his strange sensibility once again. To me, Weird Al embodies all that is right with the idea of parody. You may not like what he does, you may think him a trifle mean-spirited, but to that I say “Fooey!” Or, as my kids used to say: “Boo! Your face!” I’m not really sure what that means, but it sounds cool.
To me, Weird Al is the Sly and the Family Stone of parody. He’s old school, iconoclastic, incomparably funky — like Ben n’ Jerry’s Chunky Monkey — and basically sui generis. The new kids would want to be him if they knew who he was, but he only pops up on the radar screen according to his own rhythm and rhyme, and where he goes nobody knows. The new kids — even the brilliant crew over at Jacksfilms — can’t copy him, because no can predict what will come out of his head next. One day he shows up in tights mocking Lady Gaga, and the next minute he suits up for a Tiffany’s advertisement slyly touting a ring engraved “Eternity is forever.”
Lady Gaga’s crew — which I suppose at this point consists of several law firms, publicists, marketing gurus, and sundry hangers on — couldn’t make heads or tails of Weird Al’s parody. First they told Weird Al he couldn’t release it because it infringed on Lady Gaga’s copyright in some way, then they acceded to the inevitable when it became clear that there was no plausible argument that any intellectual property laws could stop Weird Al’s parody from airing. I’m sure Gaga’s lawyer went through a good five minutes of internal dialogue which ran the gamut from “Oh, cr*p! can we stop this?!?” to “Maybe we can threaten him?” to “Can we buy him off?” and then eventually (with a bit of input from someone intelligent) landed on “Hey, this actually might be really good publicity for Lady G. Free publicity.”
Deciding not to duke it out with Weird Al was ultimately a smart move. Anyone with half a brain would have immediately concluded that it was unstoppable, and it is fair to presume that Lady Gaga’s posturing about her rights was merely an act to buy time while the marketing machine considered the best way to spin this to the media. Considering how prescient he usually is, I’m surprised Weird Al didn’t call the video “Can’t Touch This!”
Though I suppose “Free Publicity” would have worked just as well.
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.