A Mickey Mouse Move

Disney’s trademark application for “SEAL Team 6” threatens to reduce history and heroism to video games and T-shirts.

After the initial surprise wears off, perhaps the most shocking aspect of Disney’s bid to trademark “SEAL Team 6” is that it took the Mouse House’s elite team of lawyers two whole days after the elimination of Osama bin Laden to file the forms.

If that assessment sounds cynical, it’s no more so than a huge entertainment conglomerate swooping in to potentially profit not only from the bravery of the Navy SEAL team, but from a moment in history that we’re all still processing.

Media Bistro’s FishbowlNY reports that Disney’s trademark applications encompass, among other things, clothing, toys, games and “entertainment and education services.” Perhaps that’s just standard, cover-all-bases legal jargon, but we shudder at the thought of the May 1 SEAL raid in Pakistan quickly being reduced to T-shirts and video games.

Historical events have always inspired responses and interpretations – paintings, plays, books, films and more. The speed, though, with which currents events are translated into various forms of media and entertainment these days doesn’t offer much time for reflection and, perhaps, sound judgment. Only last fall, the filming of the first movie about the trapped Chilean coal miners began – just five days after the first man was pulled from the Earth.

Forget about ripped-from-the-headlines: We’ve almost reached the point where an event isn’t real to us until it’s represented in fictionalized forms.

In the case of the bin Laden rubout, we’ll never see official photos of the terrorist’s corpse, barring the success of a lawsuit and FOIA requests. It’s unclear whether footage from the SEAL team’s helmet-cams will be released or what the images show.

The fierce interest in the raid, beyond still-developing news reports, is understandable. We also understand very well that big media companies are in the moneymaking business. Rivals, no doubt, are grudgingly and silently applauding Disney as executives elsewhere are being called on the carpet for not beating the company to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The larger focus, though, should be on how the SEAL Team 6 name is used and on who benefits. “Black Hawk Down” was a gripping movie chronicling the Battle of Mogadishu, but its videogame spinoffs strike us as tasteless. The Chilean miners were media savvy enough to pass some of their 69 days below ground discussing how they would present their collective story as their families were working on deals a half-mile above them.

Will Disney pay any of the 25 SEALS for their accounts or offer residuals from potential merchandise? What about the families of 9/11 victims and other causalities of Bin Laden’s long, intercontinental reign of terror?

It took nearly 10 years to locate Bin Laden but only two days for Disney to find a way to possibly make money off the manhunt and its epic conclusion. In the end, Disney might be able to essentially buy the name of a now-storied United States military unit – but it can never own history.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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