If you believed their website, the Generic Race Team was a ne'er do well race team led by a mullet-sporting dwarf named Devin Fuckler that drank wine in the pits and planned a shop in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed. It was fake, but also so obviously about a real team that it led to a lawsuit as hilarious as the site itself.
It's long gone now, but the Generic Race Team website and its associated Facebook and Twitter accounts were hilarious and scathing parodies of an actual racing team that runs Porsches in sports car racing called The Racer's Group, or TRG Motorsports. And when the parody site popped up, TRG began digging into who set it up.
What TRG found, according to court documents, is that someone at their own marketing agency made the parody site in secret.
This discovery led to TRG filing a libel lawsuit against the Hollywood-based company, called The Media Barons. They lost their suit after a California court determined the website was clearly a parody site, which is protected from libel cases. TRG appealed that decision, but last week a Los Angeles appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling, essentially killing their lawsuit.
That's the short version. To really savor the utter ridiculousness of this tale, you have to go through the appeals' court ruling on the case, which describes in delicious detail the hilarity on the parody site.
Sadly, the parody site has disappeared from the web — even a search on the Wayback Machine came up with nothing.
TRG is a prominent team in sports car racing. Buckler, himself a professional race car driver, founded the organization in 1992. Today they run cars in the GRAND-AM Rolex and Continental Tire Challenge Sports Car Series as well as the American Le Mans series. They had a NASCAR Sprint Cup team for years as well. (TRG did not respond to a request for comment from Jalopnik.)
The lawsuit said that TRG filed its lawsuit against The Media Barons in January 2012. In May of 2011, TRG CEO Kevin Buckler became aware of the site, which he felt targeted his Adobe Road winery in Sonoma Valley as well as his racing team.
The website closely resembled Racers Group‟s own site. The logo “GRT,” along the top of the website‟s pages, was almost identical in design to Racers Group‟s own “TRG” logo. The website contained numerous pages of what looked to be articles, information, and press releases regarding the GRT “team” and a winery called “Terra Cotta Path” (instead of Adobe Road). The website stated that the “owner” of GRT and Terra Cotta Path was a man named “Devin Fuckler,” an obvious play on the name Kevin Buckler. A picture of “Fuckler” on the website showed him to have a ridiculous 1980‟s-era mullet haircut and a grossly enlarged forehead.
"Fuckler." That's too much. It went on to describe GRT's ambitious plans for international expansion:
One of the purported articles on the website concerned GRT‟s suspended “plans” to open a race shop in Abbotabad, Pakistan.
I think you can tell where this is going.
Left unsaid was that Abbotabad was the site of the May 2011 Navy Seal raid on Osama Bin Laden.
Might as well do something with that compound, right?
The website also contained supposed information on Terra Cotta Path, including that it had “won several local contests,” “received mention in local newspapers,” and that “the team even samples wine in the exact same place our race cars are serviced.” The website further claimed that GRT was founded “by team owner Devin Fuckler, who has managed great success in spite of his little person status[.] [T]he team is founded on equal parts passion and his father‟s trust fund.”
But the site was clearly a parody, as it portrayed a litany of ridiculous and nonsensical situations. Here's just a few cited in the court ruling:
Emblazoned atop the home page of the website was a story dated May 1, 2011, headlined “Sam Standeround Named GRT Employee of the Year, 2011!!” The intended humor was obvious—a person who “stands around” was named employee of the year before the year was even halfway over. A picture of the purported Mr. Standeround showed him to be a portly man with a curly mullet haircut, cradling a delicate poodle- type dog. Farther down the home page was pictured the “crew chief of the week,” a crazed-looking man with his extraordinarily large mouth agape exhibiting his almost complete lack of teeth.
"Fuckler" was a common target for comic mischief.
Other stories on the website included one on how “Fuckler” crossed paths with a famous race car driver when the two purchased “string cheese” at the Long Beach Airport “dairy kiosk,” and another on how Fuckler invested in a “cutting edge, next generation, state-of-the-art rural animal waste disposal company” called “Rump Dump Round Up.”
And the winery run by Buckler, Adobe Road, wasn't off limits either. The court said that some of that content made clear the website was satirical.
Moreover, other references to Terra Cotta Path, including that it was “voted 'wine' ‟ at a local culinary festival,” made plain the satire.
GRT also had fake sponsors that were equally ridiculous.
Appellants further argue that they were defamed by the website‟s inclusion of a fake sponsor, “Xtreme Super Awesome Eco Boost.” According to the (poorly digitally manipulated) picture of Xtreme Super Awesome Eco Boost, it comes with a pair of human testicles attached to the bottle. An average viewer of the website would not believe that Xtreme Super Awesome Eco Boost is a real product. Neither would the viewer interpret the fake advertisement as a statement that appellants promote pornography or have no respect for the name and identity of their corporate sponsors, as appellants contend. Instead, the average viewer would interpret the statement as a sophomoric attempt at humor.
I dunno, I think that's pretty funny. So did other people — at some point, several forums discovered the parody site as well.
The complaint noted that the website had received attention on internet message boards, where numerous people commented on the preposterous content.
It's perfectly understandable why Buckler might be upset about such a site. As such, he set out to find out who might be behind it. He reached out to Jason Medbury of The Media Barons to see if their marketing agency could help determine who was responsible.
The filing said that Medbury discouraged such an investigation, saying that the only way to find out would be to engage in "hacking" with possibly criminal penalties.
Medbury stated that it could take criminal “hacking” actions to determine the originator of the website, and “„the risk seems to be too great just to try to catch someone writing an [sic] retarded website.‟”
But then Buckler found out who was really responsible.
Nevertheless, Buckler pursued his investigation and eventually discovered that Medbury himself created the offensive website as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts.
What's not known is why Medbury or anyone else at The Media Barons built the parody site.
Citing ongoing legal issues, The Media Barons declined to comment when reached by Jalopnik for this story.
In their lawsuit, lawyers for TRG argued that the parody site was defamatory because it implied that he was unethical and incompetent and his companies were poorly run.
But in September 2012, the court decided that "the issue of whether Buckler is capable of running prominent racing teams is a matter of public interest" and that the site was clearly a parody that no reasonable person would take seriously. So TRG filed their appeal, according to the ruling.
For the same reasons cited by the lower court, TRG lost the appeal, the filing says. Parody and satire have long been protected as free speech under the First Amendment, and the court ruled that anyone would clearly see the GRT site that way.
Overall, the fake website created by Medbury was mean-spirited, offensive, and stupid. But it did not provide grounds for a legitimate libel claim. As was held in S.F. Bay Guardian, a case involving a fake letter-to-the-editor published in a parody edition of a newspaper, “[i]f a parody could be actionable because, while recognizable as a joke, it conveyed an unfavorable impression, very few journalistic parodies could survive. The butt of the parody is chosen for some recognizable characteristic or viewpoint which is then exaggerated. It is not for the court to evaluate the parody as to whether it went 'too far.‟ As long as it is recognizable to the average reader as a joke, it must be protected or the rather common parody issues of newspapers and magazines must cease to exist.” Since the average viewer would have recognized that the website was nothing more than a parody, it was not actionable as libel.
In the end, it wasn't any kind of groundbreaking legal decision, but it is an interesting — and hilarious — look at what happens when some people can't take a joke.
Top photo credit Kevin J Kelley Photo
b 244937 by Patrick George