‘Friday Night Lights’ Split on Romney

Days after "Friday Night Lights" author Buzz Bissinger endorsed Mitt Romney, the writer and producer of the acclaimed television spin-off is accusing the campaign of plagiarizing the show's catchphrase.

Days after “Friday Night Lights” author Buzz Bissinger endorsed Mitt Romney, the writer and producer of the acclaimed television spin-off is accusing the campaign of plagiarizing the show’s catchphrase.

Hollywood Reporter (“‘Friday Night Lights’ Creator Accuses Mitt Romney of Plagiarism in Threatening Letter (Exclusive)“):

Peter Berg, the writer-director of the Friday Night Lights movie and television series, is not pleased that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has co-opted a phrase from the show for his campaign appearances.

In a letter to the Romney campaign sent Friday and obtained exclusively by The Hollywood Reporter, Berg calls the use of “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” an act of stealing. “Your politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series,” Berg writes in the letter. “The only relevant comparison that I see between your campaign and Friday Night Lights is in the character of Buddy Garrity — who turned his back on American car manufacturers selling imported cars from Japan.”

Read the Full Letter Here.

Romney has used the “Clear Eyes” phrase — which originated as a rallying cry for the high school football team on the FNL television series — in several campaign speeches, and it appears on his Facebook page. The Republican presidential nominee and his wife, Ann, are fans of the series, which ended its five-year run on NBC and DirecTV last year. Romney said in Iowa earlier this week that the phrase is “compelling.” “That’s Americans,” he told an audience. “We have clear eyes — we know what we believe. Full hearts — we love this country and we can’t lose. This is a time for Americans to make a choice. We’re going to take back this country.”

It is now so commonplace for artistic types to complain when campaigns expropriate their work that it’s hardly noteworthy. This one caught my attention because 1) I liked the show, 2) the Bissinger-Berg split is somewhat amusing, and 3) Berg’s insistence that Romney’s “politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series” is baffling.

Offhand, the show struck me as wholly non-political. But, as Hollywood Reporter’s Matthew Belloni points out, there were some political plotlines from time to time:

But the low-rated, critically acclaimed series set in a Texas town dominated by football also featured several themes that might not necessarily be approved by a Romney administration. Among them: a character (Madison Burge) goes through with an abortion late in the show’s fourth season. The decision follows a one-night stand the character had with a football star (Matt Lauria), and it is the school’s principal Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) who guides the student through the decision process.

Another theme explored in the series is that of military parents. A character (Zach Gilford) is raised by his ailing grandmother after his mother departs, and his military father shows little sign of caring for his son.

But even these are a stretch. The abortion plotline could certainly be seized upon by those on either side of the controversy; certainly, Berg did not portray abortion as an easy, consequence-free choice. And I’m not sure what the partisan political implications of the quarterback’s dad being more devoted to his soldiers than to his own son; all four men on the major ticket are devoted fathers and there’s very little light on their policy on troop deployments.

I don’t mind that Berg is speaking out about his catchphrase being used by a candidate he opposes. But it strikes me as odd that he’s trying to retrospectively position his most famous work as preaching Democratic themes. Indeed, I’d bet that the show’s audience is more inclined to hail from the parts of the country who are going to vote Bissinger’s way than Berg’s.

via Matt Yglesias

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Popular Culture, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. slimslowslider says:

    It always was and always will be about Buzz when it comes to Buzz.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    You should read Buzz’s latest over at The Daily Beast. It’s one huge whine.

  3. swbarnes2 says:

    It is now so commonplace for artistic types to complain when campaigns expropriate their work that it’s hardly noteworthy.

    You mean after enough Republicans steal the creative work of other people, you stop thinking that theft is wrong? Haven’t other Republicans used music without permission, and linked without attribution to other people’s work on their campaign websites?

    What, Republicans don’t think that other people’s things need to be respected any more, now that your right to own men, women and children has been refused?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @swbarnes2: Campaigns buy ASCAP licenses that allow them to use songs; it’s standard procedure. I don’t know what the rules are for TV catchphrases, but I can’t imagine that there’s a copyright prohibition on selected quotes.

  5. cd6 says:

    Berg’s insistence that Romney’s “politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series” is baffling.

    Well, I’ve never seen the show, but I assume its themes aren’t along the lines of “soulless, scorched earth capitalism” or “total, dishonest misrepresentation in the name of limitless personal ambition,” so that could explain Berg’s complaint.

  6. PJ says:

    @James Joyner:

    The abortion plotline could certainly be seized upon by those on either side of the controversy; certainly, Berg did not portray abortion as an easy, consequence-free choice.

    The pregnancy in the tv series that was terminated wasn’t due to rape or incest, so it wouldn’t even be ok for those who would want to ban abortions except in those cases, so, I’m not sure how the anti-choice side could seize upon that plot line.
    Nor would I agree that the pro-choice side see it as a “easy, consequence-free choice” as you put it.

    It was a choice.

  7. PJ says:

    Also, the only person I recall who was anti-choice in that story line was the mother of the football star, and she wasn’t portrayed as nice person (nor was her husband).

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: trademark, trademark, trademark…..we have common law trademark in the US, so the phrase doesn’t even have to be registered for them to have a jolly good case.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    It’s not our fault there are so few conservatives in the creative community who would willingly contribute to the Romney cause.

    “Conservative” and “creative” are oil and water. It’s possible to be greedy, narrow and self-interested and be creative. But it’s not possible to be only greedy, narrow and self-interested.

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    Indeed, I’d bet that the show’s audience is more inclined to hail from the parts of the country who are going to vote Bissinger’s way than Berg’s.

    I’ll take that bet for $10,000. I loved the show, and I’m a Mexican-Kenyan Marxist-socialist leftie commie pinko gay married abortionist from New York. FNL was always pretty popular in NY/LA/Cambridge/SF etc. circles because of its good writing and excellent acting; it was, curiously, never all that popular in Texas, the Mountain West, the Midwest and the South, and that’ was led to its eventual demise.

  11. Rafer Janders says:

    and 3) Berg’s insistence that Romney’s “politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series” is baffling.

    Clearly you are easily baffled. Friday Night Lights celebrated community and the value of looking out for each other, young and old, weak and sick, poor and downtrodden. It’s themes were hard work, dedication, integrity, social conscience, the importance of keeping your word and meaning what you said, and personal responsibility.

    As such it’s pretty easy to see that it’s not aligned with the values of abandoning the abused and defenseless, and letting the rich loot and prey upon the poor that are the hallmarks of the Romney campaign.

  12. Rafer Janders says:

    Not to mention that Coach Taylor would have looked with absolute contempt on anyone who lied as often and as shamelessly as Mitt Romney does. Coach Taylor’s whole life was about taking responsibility for what you did and said; Mitt Romney’s is about avoiding it.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    I never watched the show – did I miss anything?

  14. James Joyner says:

    @Rafer Janders: Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are for those things. The question is whether family and community or the federal taxpayer have the responsibility.

  15. Rafer Janders says:

    Republicans, including Mitt Romney, are for those things.

    No, they are not. Don’t make me laugh. They claim to be for those things, but in real life, they are always ready and willing to abandon those values for the sake of their sweet sweet tax cuts for the rich.

  16. nitpicker says:

    @James Joyner: You’re wrong, James. Here’s what ASCAP itself says about its licensing and campaigns.

    If an artist does not want his or her music to be associated with the campaign, he or she may be able to take legal action even if the campaign has the appropriate copyright licenses. While the campaign would be in compliance with copyright law, it could potentially be in violation of other laws. Specifically, the campaign could be liable under any of the following claims:
    1. “Right of Publicity”, which in many states provides image protection for famous people or artists.
    2. The “Lanham Act”, which covers the confusion or dilution of a trademark (such as a band or artist name) through its unauthorized use.
    3. “False Endorsement” where use of the artist’s identifying work implies that the artist supports a product or candidate.

    So licenses don’t clear a politician’s use of a song. And, frankly, plagiarism it clearly was. The phrase originated with the show, period.

  17. This event can be seen in two different ways. Diehard Democrats will perceive this as borderline plagiarism while Republicans will see it as their candidate’s softer side.

  18. Kendall says:

    This phrase wasn’t trademarked, and the copyright that protects the script doesn’t apply to individual phrases. Plagiarism is the only thing it MIGHT be, but even that isn’t illegal. But since plagiarism is using someone’s work and calling it your own, and Romney made it clear in a speech that he didn’t come up with it, I believe it’s hardly plagiarism. Berg is just picking on him because Berg is a democrat.