The Simpsons Shows Precisely How One Should Handle Derivative Homage Works
from the okilly-dokilly dept
When it comes to derivative works, copyright in America has a long and storied history of stifling new and creative expression in favor of control by some ultimately-creative original author. Frankly, the section of copyright law that gives authors of content control over derivative works never made much sense to me. Or, at least, it appears to be a wholesale contradiction of the idea/expression dichotomy that is also supposed to exist in copyright law. Still, we’ve seen all kinds of fallout from the derivative works section of the law spill over into the real world, from laughable attempts by musical artists to control short phrases to derivatives building off of the original author’s secondary work. The point is that the general consensus among most creators appears to be that derivative works outside of the author’s control are the enemy and should be beaten down by any means necessary.
The counterexample to that, however, is how the folks behind The Simpsons decided to handle one of the oddest musical acts I’ve ever come across. Think I’m exaggerating? It’s a Ned Flanders homage using a death metal band as a vehicle to deliver “Flanderisms” via lyrics in what the band has termed “Nedal music.”
The idea for Okilly Dokilly came from a conversation between Head Ned and the group’s original drummer, Bled Ned, who were trying to imagine the most ill-fitting name for a death metal band. After hitting upon Okilly Dokilly, the duo continued to spin the joke out: What if the frontman was dressed like Ned Flanders, what if everyone dressed like Ned Flanders, what if it was a “Nedal band” not a “metal band,” what if all the lyrics were Flanders quotes. The dream began to materialize when Head Ned realized they not only had access to a pink Flying V guitar, but his job at a clothing company allowed him to buy green sweaters in bulk.
When it comes to writing songs, Head Ned says a Flanders quote must fit one of two criteria: It either has to sound super dark and metal out of context (“Nothing At All,” “Claw My Eyes Out”) or so silly it has no place in a metal song (“Godspeed Little Doodle,” “I Can’t, It’s a Geo”). When the band set out to make their second album, Howdilly Twodilly, released last month, Head Ned took on the enviable task of re-watching the first 10 seasons of The Simpsons and jotting down the best lines in a notebook.
So…yeah. Now, this is all very clearly a derivative work of the original The Simpsons creation. Ned Flanders isn’t just a character on the show; he’s one of the most iconic characters on it. Building an entire musical concept around that character, that character’s look and clothing, not to mention making lines he speaks in the show the principle lyrical device for all of the songs, is both creative and obviously stems from the original work. While Okilly Dokilly isn’t getting radio play on the pop channels, they are playing shows around the country and even in the UK. Their touring van is, of course, named “Ned Vanders.”
In fact, it was while they were touring in the UK that Head Ned got an email from one of the writers on The Simpsons and naturally thought they were all in deep shit.
Head Ned remembers waking up one morning in the band’s van — obviously nicknamed “Ned Vanders” — to an e-mail from Simpsons producer Richard K. Chung, who said the show was interested in running the “White Wine Spritzer” video (at the time, this was the band’s only music video; more recently they shared a clip for Howdilly Twodilly’s “Reneducation”). When the band asked how The Simpsons team had discovered them, Head Ned says they were told Al Jean came across their work via a Google alert.
“We’ve always operated as an homage to the show,” Head Ned says. “It’s great to be on the frontline of these tiny Simpsons fans conventions across the U.S. We’ve never tried to do anything as a deterrent to the show, but you’re never sure how the legality of everything works. But the fact that they contacted us and it wasn’t anything where they wanted us to stop and go home was very, very cool.”
Rather than trying to shut them down, the people from the Simpsons wanted to feature the band’s work in the credits of an episode. Suddenly, the band that was an homage to a secondary character on The Simpsons had become featured on the show. You can see what this all looked like in the video below.
Something of a stark contrast to every creative person or group out there who slapped down every homage or derivative work just because it was a commercial project, huh? Not to mention how many fan-made works out there were created purely out of love for the original work.
The real question is why can’t more creators act like this?