SUNDAY TRIBUNE: 23 NOVEMBER 2003
Of mice and men
NOT a great week for Michaels. Two in particular. They're both all-singing, all-dancing larger-than-life entertainment giants, and have now fallen on hard times.
Mickey Mouse and Michael Jackson have a lot in common with one other. Okay so one is a cartoon character but the other is not far off. Both were thrust on to the world stage at a very young age and both were hugely popular throughout their careers. Now they're both on the ropes.
While Jackson's troubles may be blamed on the loss of his childhood, spare a thought for poor Mouse, who was performing from the day he was born, which was 75 years ago last week. And it wasn't a birthday he will want to remember fondly.
Mickey is down in the dumps. A fallen star with only his memories for comfort. Instead of enjoying his birthday, he is faced with the fact that he's about as popular as a weekend in Guantanamo Bay. No one gives a Donald Duck about Mickey any more.
It wasn't always like this. For most of his life Mickey was one of the world's best-known and most-loved characters. He dominated the television and movie screens for generations.
A colossus in America, no national parade or celebration was worth its name without Mickey's presence. He and his wife were Kennedyesque. They presided over their own Camelot with Minnie as the first lady of Toon USA. The couple were impervious to rumour and innuendo about the status of their marriage.
And Mickey's fame wasn't limited to the US. He conquered the world. Many, many things were named after him such was his fame. It started with watches, but it wasn't long before football teams, currencies and even economies were being named in his honour. Including our own, lest we forget.
Of all his achievements, however, there is one that should give him the most satisfaction. He has transformed the image of mice everywhere and in turn saved millions of their lives. Killing a mouse was like killing Mickey himself and children were overjoyed that mice would be set free in the countryside like Rover or Whiskers.
Mickey brought mice way up in the animal rankings. Even recently, no less than Jeremy Paxman declared: "The early bird may catch the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese".
But how did Mickey Mouse end up in this dark hole? Well he was probably far too trusting and innocent for his own good. He never had a bad word or thought about anyone and so had misplaced confidence in those around him.
His creation was based on a Buster Keaton character called Steamboat Bill Jr , which in turn was based on an even earlier vaudeville routine. With the release of Steamboat Willie, Mickey came alive in 1928. Such 'borrowing' from others was considered creative, imaginative and artistic at that time, but it wasn't long before Mickey's minders did away with all that.
Keeping Mickey (plus Minnie and their dog Pluto) chained to eternal copyright  has displayed his master's political funding prowess. All this has been the cheese in the trap for poor Mickey.
Without those copyright extensions, by now he would have become a citizen of the public domain, his rightful home. Free to go anywhere he wanted to, say anything he wanted to and hang around with anyone he wanted to.
He would have belonged to children and them to him. Alas, he was brainwashed into clinging on to what he had and protecting his master's empire. He wouldn't change or be changed, or let the generations draw him anew.
It's too late now for the poor creature. His copyright has been extended to 2023, but by then Bart Simpson will probably be governor of California and open season on mice will be in full swing. What a shame. What a waste of a career.
Still, it's not all doom and gloom and there is hope yet. He's got his health and doesn't need the money. He has still got all his own colour. No face lifts, no nose jobs, no Botox required. He's still a young man and could reasonably expect to live to a decent age of 200 or so.
But not like this, cut off from the worlds' children by an outdated and uninnovative copyright trap. Mickey needs to be free and not just with every box of cornflakes.
He could go into business. Maybe in Ireland, where he did have a distant cousin with his own TV show. He should come visit and check out our economy. It might still be to his liking.
Perhaps a seat on a company board might take his fancy and a suitable one springs immediately to mind. Eircom loves mice and used one for years in all its big and successful advertising campaigns.
I've no doubt he'd be very happy to lend his name and support.
 Info on origins of Mickey Mouse from the Big Cartoon Database.
 In depth analysis of copyright extensions in the US from Findlaw.com.