There’s a grocery chain headquartered in Schenectady, NY, near Albany, called Price Chopper, which serves upstate New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. It was founded in 1932 as Central Market, and will soon be seguing to a new name, Market 32, which I think is boring as heck.
At least one of the Price Chopper stores, the one on Delaware Avenue in Albany, has been dubbed the Ghetto Chopper for years. While it serves parts of a black neighborhood, it also sells food to the more Greenwich Villagey Center Square section of town. Regardless, the term always irritated me; it bugged a lot of people, but others embraced it.
When a couple artists, Dana Owens and Chip Fascian, designed a T-shirt emblazoned with the term “Ghetto Chopper”, with an image of a handgun – perhaps as a Photoshop spoof – it created a firestorm of controversy. Writer Amy Biancolli expressed her discomfort, for instance.
The strongest critic, though, was Ken Screven, retired reporter after over thirty years at WRGB-TV, Channel 6, who is now a Times Union blogger. He wrote of the shame of the Ghetto Chopper project and applauded when the Golub Corporation, owners of Price Chopper, filed a cease and desist order against the T-shirt maker. The comment sections on both these posts are lengthy and volatile, addressing issues of what art is, free speech, and hipster racism, among other things.
The arts and news weekly Metroland wrote a summary of the events, some of which I thought was way off base.
What was most interesting to me in the debate, though, was whether the altered logo was protected speech, as a trademark parody. Intellectual property lawyer/rock drummer Paul Rapp notes:
Trademark infringement occurs only when there is a likelihood of confusion as to the source of a product. No confusion, no infringement. Did any of you think for a second that the Ghetto Chopper t-shirt was produced by Price Chopper? No? Well, OK then.
He goes on with more details, but his bottom line is that he thinks the shirt, had it been made, would have been legal. And I totally agree. If the T-shirt makers had had the resources to take on The Golub Corporation, they might well have won. I feel conflicted between what I find is the cringeworthy nature of the Ghetto Chopper moniker, and my librarian leanings towards the open expression of ideas.