January is supposed to mark the start of not only a new year but also a clean slate — a chance to start fresh, and to leave behind the mistakes of the old year. For those of us from Florida, though, what that usually means is "finding creative new ways to goof up."
Take what happened the night of the recent eclipse of the Super Duper Blood Dragon-Fist Double-Coyote Cha-Cha Slide Wolf Moon. A couple sneaked into a park in West Palm Beach to lie on their backs in a roadway and gaze up at the slowly disappearing moon. In the pitch dark they were run over by a police car patrolling the park.
Meanwhile, in Ponte Vedra Beach, some other lunar-tics were so busy watching the moon they forgot to watch the rising tide, and thus their car wound up swamped by the Atlantic Ocean.
If Florida can't even handle a lunar eclipse without a little mayhem, no wonder people all over the country keep pronouncing our name as if the last syllable were spelled D-U-H.
But I have an idea on how to turn this around and spruce up our image. It involves Tupperware.
Yes, that's right, the plastic storage containers that you burp like a just-fed baby. If you want to know all about Tupperware, there is a Tupperware history museum in Kissimmee. (Much to my disappointment, it does not offer displays of old Tupperware containers with weird-looking leftovers inside. That's just my refrigerator.)
The company was founded in Massachusetts by a chemist named Earl Tupper, but in 1952 a woman named Brownie Wise persuaded him to move it to Central Florida. Tupper listened to her because Wise created the Tupperware "Home Parties" that sold so many thousands of his trademarked plastic containers to women across America. She even became a vice president of the company — before Tupper kicked her to the curb and sold out to a big corporation.
I mention this because last month I interviewed a scientist about how he accidentally discovered a weird-looking swamp creature in the Panhandle, a thing that local folks had dubbed the "leopard eel" but was actually a salamander. He and a colleague worked on their own time for years to officially identify this critter as a "reticulated siren." In our interview, he mentioned that after he caught this thing, he stored it in a big Tupperware container, and so I included that detail in my story.
Not long afterward I received a stern-sounding email from a New York lawyer who said he represents Tupperware. He and his client were concerned about the swamp thing story: "If the container referred to is not actually a container made by our client, then this is a misuse of our client's registered TUPPERWARE trademark. Such a misuse of our client's mark is obviously to our client's detriment."
My first reaction to this was: "Obviously???"
My second was to write him back and says yes, absolutely, the scientist said he used the Official Brand Tupperware type of container for his slimy salamander and not one of those icky imitators. Then I told the attorney that he and his client were looking at this the wrong way:
"Rather than regarding its mention in this story as a detriment to its product line, perhaps your client could regard it as an endorsement. Think how it would boost sales if the company were to include it in their advertising for the product: 'Used by real scientists to contain previously unknown swamp creatures!' (Later, the scientist told me, "They should be thanking me!")
The attorney's reply was basically, "Fine, that's all we wanted." But his email started me thinking: What if Florida hired a copyright attorney to represent our state the way we want to be represented — as a lovely place for tourists to visit, period?
Then, if some late-night comedian like Stephen Colbert mocks something about Florida, our legal eagle would immediately fire off a snotgram: "Dear Mr. Colbert, please be advised that your snide comments about Florida's congressional delegation, while true, are also a clear misuse of our trademark to the detriment of our brand. Please do not do it again."
Or let's say The Daily Show jumps on Florida for the goofy things our Legislature does, the attorney would clap back with a warning: "Dear Mr. Noah, by classifying Florida as 'The Punchline State' you may have spoken the truth but you have also committed a clear violation of copyright law. Unless you retract your statements, we will be forced to sue to protect our image."
Or if Last Week Tonight With John Oliver again mentions Florida's "glorious stupidity" in a report, the way he did last year in talking about how our governor and Cabinet repeatedly disenfranchised voters, why, our barrister would slap him with a cease-and-desist so fast it would knock the British accent out of his mouth: "Dear Mr. Oliver, our stupidity may be glorious but your description of it is not. You are harming our brand and costing us money. Also, what's your immigration status?"
Yes sir, just like Tupperware itself, a copyright lawyer would know exactly how to put a lid on this stuff. I foresee only two problems: 1) The attorney would be so busy writing these letters that the legal fees would cost us millions; and 2) If these media folks stop making fun of Florida's foibles, they might stop talking about us at all. And who wants that?
Contact Craig Pittman at email@example.com. Follow @craigtimes.