Letters to the editor: March 20 to 26 2015

One confused Chappie

I don’t read newspapers, but it so happened that the woman in front of me in the queue in Spar forgot her copy of the Mail & Guardian, and the woman who bags groceries put it in my bag. After ignoring it since Friday, I paged to the arts section, which confirmed why I don’t read newspapers.

Check out Melvyn Minnaar’s review of Stephen Hobbs’s show Permanent Culture, which flails around from one superficial cultural point to another, finally reaching its apotheosis with this last line: “Negotiating camouflage [Oh, Jesus, when will we stop negotiating?] is finding your way through the dappled dazzle [‘dappled dazzle’!] of the forest and not quite knowing where it is going.” Yes, Melvyn, we might say the same about your review, and about so many others like it. Spare the reader more twaddle about art and “historical” battles in South Africa.

Yet this isn’t all the arts section offered. Sarah Dawson eagerly deconstructs the “contested” white male identity in her review of Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie. She sets out with the inspired observation that “Historically, the science fiction community has been predominantly white and male”.

To build up her argument, she has recourse in the usual suspects: “The post-colonial era and discourses of power.” From this perspective, she laments “the continued phallic probing of space”.

Her argument pivots on the universal fact, as she sees it, that “the man with the lightsaber or ray gun no longer has the same heroic lustre”. Lustre, indeed. She writes, and here her review can easily be presented as a paper at another conference on male identity: “The rapid decentralising [sic] of the white male narrative in South Africa has for the most part rendered irrelevant the ideology underlying the media influences of a generation of boys raised on Robocop, Terminator and the recent memory of military conscription.”

How lucky we are that this “ideology” is now irrelevant. Inversely, is Dawson’s own ideological slant really relevant outside academia, where academics actually score points for this apparently insightful cultural criticism? There is also the stock reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a favourite among feminists who hail Shelley as the true original compared with her male counterparts. Freud, too, makes an appearance, phallic cigar notwithstanding.

Chappie is said to be allowed “to stay in the perfect Oedipal triangle of perpetual robotic childhood rather than face entering the dystopian world of male masculinity”. The dystopian world of male masculinity? What about the dystopian world per se? Dawson’s feminist conclusion: “The laying down of weapons, whether it be shrink ray, fists or Kalashnikovs, will be a crucial first step towards the healthy reconstruction of white masculinity in narratives of the future.”

Back to the negotiating table, then, where we construct, deconstruct and reconstruct our ideologies, identities and narratives – sans lustrous sabers or deep space penetration – and with our minds focused on healthy adult futures.

From his wheelchair, Stephen Hawking marvels at black holes and wormholes, which theoretically collapse identity constructions altogether, suggesting new possible worlds. But maybe theory is just phallic anyway. – Dr Gerhard Schoeman, art historian, critic and artist

Clarity on university’s copyright policy

Kundayi Masanzu (Academics lose out to online study) identifies a vulnerability that may attach to academics who prepare pedagogical content for classroom use that the institution repurposes to use in an online learning context such as a massive open online course.

I agree with his general argument that there are legitimate concerns about infringements of academics’ rights to academic freedom when their work is repurposed and their employment contracts prohibit their use of that work on different platforms, including commercial ones.

Yet I wish to clarify the position with regard to the ownership of copyright at the University of Cape Town, which is cited as one of two examples. Clause 8.1 of UCT’s intellectual property (IP) policy confirms the Copyright Act’s default position that the employer holds copyright in work produced within the scope and course of employment. For example, UCT holds copyright in examination questions, syllabi and curricula.

On the other hand, clause 8.2 of the policy states UCT automatically assigns copyright back to the author(s), provided it “retains a perpetual, royalty-free, nonexclusive licence to use, copy and adapt such materials within UCT for the purposes of teaching and/or research”. Therefore a UCT author/academic would be at liberty to use the work on different platforms for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

All UCT acquires is a licence to use the work for academic ends at UCT. In such a case, the vulnerability highlighted by Masanzu would not eventuate, a point he made clear in the journal article upon which his comment is based, but which may have escaped Mail & Guardian readers who have not seen the journal.

Masanzu’s raising of this important issue shows now, more than ever, the content of institutional IP policies requires careful scrutiny in order to protect both the institution and the content author’s rights. To this end, readers will find his full article and the South African Institute for Distance Education’s Review of University Intellectual Property Policies and Strategies, which includes the policies of several South African universities, useful. – Caroline Ncube, associate professor at UCT and co-editor of the South African Intellectual Property Law Journal

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