Character Assassination

A costumed menace on the Strip? This sounds like a job for the Copyright Gestapo.

Every now and again I walk the Strip to remind myself what’s keeping the lights on in this town. Just as every middle-school student should take a field trip to Washington, D.C., to see how government is run, so should every Las Vegan walk Las Vegas Boulevard, from Treasure Island to CityCenter. You need to see firsthand what goes into this hot dog.

It’s never been easy for locals to walk on the Strip. There’s always the small voice in your head saying I know better than to do this. Inside the casinos you have a chance of running into other locals, possibly seeing someone you know and love—but out here, on the Boulevard, it’s nothing but visitors, outsiders, rubes. They’re a hundred deep and drunker than you’ve ever been. And remember those sour-faced men and women handing out fliers for escort services? Yeah, they’re still out there, too. Allowing the casinos to buy the sidewalks only forced them to get creative.

But I can honestly say that the flier distributors don’t bother me anymore. At least I can recognize them from several yards out and refuse to take what they’re offering (and they’re even more visible now in their red shirts with the giant QR code on the front, which is not at all dehumanizing.) Nor am I put off by the Strip’s growing homeless population, which makes me more sad than anything else. And I’m perfectly OK with that towering red-devil hooker in front of Monte Carlo; we should put her on the $100 bill.

No, the most unsavory thing I’ve recently encountered while walking the Strip—the one thing that gets my blood going—is that rat bastard Mickey Mouse.

I wish I knew how it happened or why, but sometime between when I left Las Vegas in 2002 and when I returned last month, this town became infested with people—drunk men, mostly—dressed up like superheroes, pirates, ninjas, anime sprites and, yes, Disney characters. At their best, these doppelgängers are just regular people who ingratiate themselves into tourist photographs and then ask a gratuity for their troubles. And I’ll admit that some of them, by virtue of their commitment to their costuming and performance, belong out there on the Strip; they add to the experience. The guy playing Zorro is kind of awesome.

But the good street performers are the exception, not the standard. Many of the costumed characters I saw on my recent walk were less committed. Their costumes looked dumpster-picked. They leer at women, provoke arguments, throw cigarette butts on the ground and smell like they’ve been communing with the business side of a Honey Bucket. It’s not the message our city wants to send out. It’s bad enough that Trump has a presence here.

We’ve tried everything to rid ourselves of these clowns (and ninjas, and pirates, and Spongebob Squarepants-es), short of doing the one thing that just might work. We’ve tried arresting them. We’ve tried pushing them off of private property and onto public thoroughfares, for all the good it does. We’ve even tried beheading them and burning the remains before they can re-animate and take up their old positions on the Strip. (Sorry, that last one isn’t true at all. I have no excuse other than to say that zombies are looming extra-large in the news cycle at the moment.)

There is a way to stop them, short of giving them the Walking Dead treatment, but you won’t like it. It’s the way of Prince, when someone posts a clip to YouTube that contains more than a few seconds of “Let’s Go Crazy.” It’s the way of Disney, when a Florida day-care center paints Donald Duck and Cinderella on its walls. And it’s the way of the Recording Industry Association of America, whenever a starving college student dares to dream of owning the new Rihanna album and goes to The Pirate Bay to find it. Yes, I’m suggesting that we hit these costumed malefactors with copyright infringement.

Believe me, I don’t like it any more than you do. A little bit of overzealous copyright enforcement goes a long, long way. The RIAA has spent most of the past decade suing its customers: Even if someone has spent in excess of thousands of dollars over their lifetime buying music legally, if they download five songs by Metallica without paying for them, the RIAA will sue them for millions. And I’ve just got to show you this ruling by a New York federal judge, excerpted in an Ars Technica article by Timothy B. Lee:

John Doe #2 states under oath that he closed the subject Earthlink account, which had been compromised by a hacker, before the alleged download. John Doe #29’s counsel represents that his client is an octogenarian with neither the wherewithal nor the interest in using BitTorrent to download Gang Bang Virgins.

The Copyright Gestapo is cold and bloodless, and once you get that engine going there’s no stopping it. Dangle a copyright violation in front of a copyright lawyer, and she’ll take the violator to court, to garnished wages, and ultimately to hell. These paper-chasers are true, mustache-twirling evil, but if we’re to manage the less savory element of our costumed population, the Copyright Gestapo may be the only tool we have.

Just imagine the scene. Some smelly jerk in a Buzz Lightyear Halloween costume is approached by some Armani-dressed jerk with an expensive camera. He snaps a few dozen shots of Buzz, the motorized shutter whirring. Buzz does some quick calculations in his huge plastic head and demands $20, in his estimation a fair price for what amounts to a minor motion picture. The Armani guy makes a show of fishing around in his pockets, makes a “oh, here it is” face, and slaps a subpoena into Buzz’s gloved hand. The gauntlet is thrown.

Before the ACLU sends me a nastygram, I should hasten to say that I know exactly where this ends. I’m not seriously recommending that we let this happen. The Copyright Gestapo is not discerning; they’ll paint both the good and bad street performers with the same brush, and then turn their litigious affections on us. (If Elvis’ estate were as much a crew of busybodies as Disney, we’d be in real trouble.) What I’m talking about is unleashing Godzilla to take out Mothra. At the end of the day, pretty much the only winners are the cockroaches.

But we’ve got to do something. As much as I would love to do it, I can’t sign this piece “Stewie Griffin” and demand that you give me money for having read this far. Ours is a city of energy and chaos, but these things have to be managed. And if the Copyright Gestapo doesn’t do it, we may have to consider the zombie solution.