Blanket or Not?
There have not been many times in my life that I wished to be a judge. Oh sure, I suppose Judge Wapner at one point or another must have inspired me to think how I would rule on the "Did his dog pee-pee in her yard" case. I might have briefly thought about being a judge after watching Herman Munster so wisely preside over "My Cousin Vinny." Judge Reinhold seemed like a person to be after his hot career start -- Stripes, Fast Times, Beverly Hills Cop, Ruthless People, etc.*
*There have been FIVE Beethoven movies. I thought this should be said. Five. Judge Reinhold was only in 3 and 4 though, which, I am proud to say, were called "Beethoven's 3rd" and 'Beethoven's 4th." I love that they decided to call them that in the honor and spirit of actual Beethoven symphonies but am both puzzled and irked that they didn't call the last movie "Beethoven's 5th." It was called Beethoven's Big Break, instead. My guess is they probably couldn't get the rights to the name.
So, no, never particularly cared about being a judge. But a couple of weeks ago, I saw something that made me wish I had given up on this crazy sportswriting thing, gone to law school, become an accomplished lawyer, run for county judge, then worked my way up to the place of the Honorable Mark A. Barnett, appointed to the United States Court of International Trade by Barack Obama.
This is so I could have presided over ALLSTAR Marketing GROUP, LLC, Plaintiff v. UNITED STATES, Defendant.
That -- as you undoubtedly know because it's now very famous not unlike Brown v. Board of Education -- was the case where once and for all the question of our time was decided:
Is the Snuggie® clothing apparel or is it a blanket?
Now before I tell you the Judge's ruling, let's talk for a moment about the Snuggie®. Seven years ago, I saw the Snuggies® commercial for the very first time. I don't exaggerate when I say that it changed my life. I am, of course obsessed by those little infomercials -- infocos I like to call them -- and have spent way too much of my limited brainpower thinking about vacuums for ear wax, chairs that let you work out and work at the same time, insensitively named flashlights that are almost frighteningly indestructible, and the dog that talks in Farmer's Only commercials.
But, if I'm being real, none of them quite moved me the way the Snuggies® commercial did. The perfect infoco product must achieve three things.
1. It must make a clear promise to fix a problem.
2. The problem must not exist.
3. The product must then fail to actually fix the problem that does not exist.
The Snuggie® was perfection. It promised to fix the problem of your arms getting caught up in blankets. The commercial began memorably with a woman trying desperately to answer the phone while snuggling inside a blanket: It's impossible!
The problem, of course, is completely and totally non-existent. Nobody on earth or in any of the infinite number of dimensions of earth has ever thought: "This blanket, ugh, can't someone make it so that you can stay warm AND answer a phone?"
And then, the Snuggie® -- it didn't actually fix the completely made-up problem at all. I should know. I bought Snuggies®. Yeah: Plural. I even wore one to a book signing once. And I have to tell you: You don't get a lot of mobility inside a Snuggie®. I had to take off the Snuggie® to actually sign books.
So I love the Snuggie®, love it with all my heart, but I kind of thought the Snuggie® was gone from my life forever. New absurd info-commercials came on. The Snuggie® fell into memory, like the song "Call Me Maybe."
And then: A Miracle. The Snuggie® people took the United State of America to court. Their mission: To prove that the Snuggie® is not a piece of clothing. The Snuggie® is a blanket.
Well, what is it? Well, before that, um, we need to give some context.
Yeah, I know.
The whole apparel vs. blanket thing is actually kind of serious stuff. The Snuggie® is made in China or at least it was before President Trump was elected; I fully expect him to end this nightmare. Anyway, the import tax on the Snuggie® depends very much on its designation. Apparel is taxed at 14.9%. Blankets, though, are taxed at just 8.5%. So we're talking about a lot of money here. As silly and hilarious and sad as it might be, it actually matters what the Snuggie® is. And so the case went to court.
And what a case. I have been spending much of my free time just reading the ruling. It has made me so happy.
The United States, unsurprisingly, made one argument that the Snuggie® has to be apparel because they have, and I shall begin quoting, "wide-armed sleeves and flow loosely around the body." In this way, the United States said, the Snuggie was similar to "clerical or ecclesiastical garments" and "professional or scholastic gowns and robes."
The Snuggie® people countered by saying, HA HA HA HA HA HA! You're joking, right? Professional robes? Ecclesiastical Garments? No, no, no, my friend, clerical and ecclesiastical garments have closures. There are no closures on the Snuggie®. It's WIDE OPEN, baby.
And as for the gowns and robes argument, well, to make that argument the judge needed to be convinced that people would wear the Snuggie® backward (which is actually frontward, like a robe).
"The court," Judge Barnett wrote, "is not persuaded by the Defendant's argument."*
*Do you think Judge Barnett put all sorts of snarky stuff into his ruling because, yeah, when else could you really do that? Oh and by the way, have you noticed h0w I have the trademark symbol after every Snuggie®? I put it into my TextExpander app. I am so happy to have it there. Snuggie® Snuggie® Snuggie®!
OK fine: But what about Halloween? As the defense obviously pointed out, people clearly wore out Snuggies® on Halloween. There's no doubt that someone in a Snuggie® came to your door at some point. Doesn't that make them clothing? This was a touchy issue that involved a couple of court cases -- Pompeo v. United States and Rubie's Costume Co. v. United States -- and led to one definition that said clothing, even costume clothing, must provide decency and comfort.
"The plaintiff concedes the Snuggie® offers comfort;" the judge wrote, "however, Plaintiff contends the Snuggie® is not worn for decency."
I have spent hours -- sad to say HOURS -- thinking about this exchange. I imagine it went like so:
DEFENDANT: "Your honor, the Snuggie® clearly offers both comfort and decency."
PLAINTIFF: "Your honor, the plaintiff we will stipulate that the Snuggie® is very comfortable. However we must insist that the Snuggie® is not a decent thing to wear outside. If anyone knows that you don't wear a Snuggie® outside, it is us."
DEFENDANT: We strenuously object, and ask to confer with you in chambers about the obvious decency of the Snuggie® in outdoor conditions.
JUDGE: The objection has been overruled.
DEFENDANT: Move to reconsider.
JUDGE: The Snuggie® people are experts on the subject of the Snuggie® and the court will hear their opinion!
Anyway, that Halloween thing didn't go very far.
The defense also tried to attack the Snuggie® from the "one size fits all" angle -- hey, if "one size fits all," that means that it has to actually "fit" which means it has to be a piece of clothing. Only pieces of clothing fit, right? The judge didn't buy that one either. He made the ruling that, "Come on, you're kidding right? They made it one size fits all because they didn't want to make any other sizes. Come on, quit trying to con me."
He wrote it in a more scholarly way. He also said, and here I really am quoting: "there is nothing 'fitted' about the Snuggie®."
The biggest question about the Snuggie's® identity, and the final one, comes down to those sleeves. That's the whole story, right? The Snuggie® pitched itself as a "blanket with sleeves." It was, as the judge tells us, inspired by something called the Slanket® and, even better, something called the "Freedom Blanket." Just knowing that there is something out there called the "Freedom Blanket" has made my life, I would say, at least 1.2% better.
The only real question is: By putting sleeves on a blanket do you make it a piece of clothing?
Finally, we are the crux of the matter. I am fairly certain this was determined thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece, by Plato himself in his renowned "lipstick on a pig" parable. As the judge ruled, "The Court finds that the sleeves are incidental to the Snuggie's® use as a blanket; the sleeves are not so substantial as to transform the Snuggie® into something other than a blanket."
Yes. I cannot begin to describe my delight that someone -- an important and very smart person -- thought up and wrote down those words: 'The sleeves are not so substantial as to transform the Snuggie® into something other than a blanket." I am for putting those words on a monument somewhere.
The ruling was clear and it was decisive: The Snuggie® is a blanket. Well, of course it is. Then again, it is not entirely clear yet what sort of precedent this will set. It could mean that the Ginzu Knife will be classified as a weapon. I hope so.