Update, cultural appropriation

Southwest Airlines, “New Mexico One,” Albany International Airport, August 2017.  Photograph by Michael F. Brown
 

A couple of interesting things are happening on the cultural appropriate front. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque has just opened an exhibition on the appropriation of the Zia sun symbol by New Mexico state government and eventually by scores of businesses, tatoo artists, etc. The symbol is of considerable religious significance to the people of Zia and probably other Pueblo peoples as well. The Santa Fe New Mexican story on the exhibition provides additional information.  (BTW, as I explain in Who Owns Native Culture, p. 91, the use of the Zia sun symbol by Southwest Airlines was approved and supported by Zia Pueblo.)

On a completely different front, it’s worthy of note that the Supreme Court has accepted for review a new case focused on whether the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office may refuse trademark protection for brands whose language is lewd or vulgar.  The case concerns the USPTO’s decision to deny trademark protection to a line of clothing called FUCT.  The case is interesting because it potentially revisits, at least by implication, a 2017 Supreme Court decision overturning a longstanding prohibition on trademarks that are “disparaging.”  This category includes the marks of organizations such as Washington DC’s football team. 

I expressed my dismay at the 2017 decision here. The court allowed disparaging marks primarily on free-speech grounds even though patents and trademarks are government licenses whose function is primarily commercial rather than political. Admittedly, I’m not a legal scholar or a constitutional expert, but common sense suggests that the government should not be in the business of endorsing and protecting obviously offensive brands that insult minorities, women, etc. Companies remain free to embrace hurtful images and slogans as much as they like; the issue is whether the commercial value (if indeed there is any) of these brands is eligible for protection by the federal government.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s