Friday, November 4, 2011

Everybody Just Calm Down

So it looks like plagiarism is still something of a hot-button topic, at least enough to get me to dedicate a blog post to something other than comic books or my own raging ego. I won't get into specifics because I'm assuming if you're reading these words, you're probably at least passingly familiar with the weeks-old controversy, or barring that, you know how to work the Google. Aside from that, my take is less about the act itself than it is people's reactions to it. Babies, your Uncle Jimmy loves you and he wants you to be happy. Part of that is just calming the hell down.

To begin with, plagiarism is a big deal. When one plagiarizes another's work, it is an attempt to earn monies from efforts that are not one's own. This is not cool, no matter how you slice it. The good news is that since it's such a big deal, the likelihood that one is going to get away with this specific act of getting something for nothing is almost nil, since people simply won't stand for it.

Plagiarism is an abstract offense. Like homophobia or racism, it stems from a selfish and insecure mindset that can hurt others and is ultimately self-destructive. Unlike homophobia or racism, though, it has never been socially acceptable in the western world, not to my knowledge. When one plagiarizes, one is guaranteed to be caught in the act and vilified, ousted from any formerly friendly community. This is good news, my loves. It means that there are still some things people just won't put up with, and we should take that to heart. This is not to say we should be lax in our attitude towards the act of plagiarism, but it does mean we should all breathe easier knowing it will never get far enough to do any real damage to the victims nor make any gain for the perpetrators. So, just chill, huh?

Like I said, plagiarism is abstract. It is not cut-and-dried theft, to which I've heard a lot of people compare it. It's related, yes, and if left unchecked, can be just as damaging to one's physical well-being as the theft of one's wallet or Social Security number. But as established, it doesn't go unchecked, at least not for long. A writer for whom I have deep respect and admiration said recently on his Facebook something to the effect that a writer stealing another writer's words was the same as if he came over and stole your car because his wasn't working. It's a tempting analogy: his point was that a writer's stock-in-trade is words, and to have some dickhead come along and take a writer's words and slap his dickhead name over them and set about collecting cash and glory for the work that the original writer put into those words is as good as taking food out of the writer's mouth. But it ain't. I mean, it's almost the same, but if I come steal your car, you no longer have that car, unless the cops can beat me to the border (and given my geographic location, that's only a 50/50 shot). If I "steal" your words, you actually still have them. And thanks to the Internet-age, it's a lot easier for concerned citizens to track me down and bring me to justice than it is for the fuzz to outrun me to Tijuana. It's not only easier, but folks out there are much more invested in this sort of thing, even more than the police are in chasing down car thieves.

Plagiarism is not stealing. Stealing is stealing. Let's not let our love for metaphor and figurative language cloud our rationale here.

Now, for those of you out there who think I'm some sorta wise-ass po-mo apologist, well, you're half-right. I'd never even heard of the concept of post-modernism until I was 25, and it opened some pretty marvelous doors for me. No longer do I have to struggle to justify my love of Looney Tunes or Batman to anybody, because now I have the tools at my disposal to make effective arguments for the textual relevance of seemingly shallow "pop" artifacts. This is good. However, I do not have near the grasp on these concepts to attempt to explain away plagiaristic acts as something other than a form of something-for-nothing. This doesn't mean it's impossible, however, and I would plead with you darlings out there to whom this might apply to not only relax as regards your rabid anger towards plagiarists, but also don't allow yourself to be closed off to other avenues of intellectual pursuit just because you think it might be some backhanded college-boy way of screwing the little guy outta what he's worth. Anti-intellectualism of this stripe still runs rampant in the good ol' U.S. of A., but seriously, I think all our dads have got a handle on it. Let them get incensed at people smarter than they are; it's one of the few things they're really good at.

But speaking of post-modernists: you guys are a buncha fuckin' dicks. Seriously. Despite what I just said above, I think the reason a lot of people are anti-intellectuals is because a lot of you intellectuals think you know everything and are not shy about it. I get it, y'know, antipathy breeds dissent and girls in high school were less attracted to you than they were your intellectual inferiors, but dude, we're a long way from homeroom now. When this latest plagiarism story was breaking, I read a lot of comments on a lot of articles that could be summed up as: "You people just don't get it." That might be so, but are you at all familiar with the flies and vinegar/sugar conundrum? If the po-mo-fos out there could manage to phrase their arguments so that they weren't so pretentious and antagonistic, they might find that they'd actually change some minds, which in the long run they'd likely find more satisfying than proving (once again) that they're pretty fart smellers. All's I'm sayin'.

And finally, I'd like to address my brethren and sistren in the writing field, especially those of you down here with me in the largely-unpublished trenches. To be blunt, nobody gives a shit about us. Still. This issue only affects us distantly, if even that. The most vocal contingent in this whole teacup tempest seems to be guys and gals at about my level of experience and expertise in the biz, who are incensed that somebody would steal a writer's work; meanwhile, we can barely give ours away. I read a lot of comments along the lines of "I've been busting my ass to get a writing gig, and this guy gets one by stealing it." Well, yeah, that sucks, but it only sucks as much as me busting my ass at a shit-job while some other jerk robs a bank. It sucks, but the good news is if the guy gets caught, he's really fucked. And as established, when it comes to plagiarism it's not a matter of if one gets caught, but when. The plagiarist in question here got busted and how. You and I and the other poor wordsmiths have got our entire careers ahead of us; this guy is gonna be shining our shoes, if he's lucky. Some have conjectured that Johnny-Come-Plagiarize stands to gain in other ways, that this newfound notoriety is actually just what he wanted. Yeah, that's irritating, but so what? It's just as bad as those Jersey Shore or other reality-TV types being famous for being douchebags. It's a fact of life, the way of things. Doesn't mean you have to like it (I sure don't), but you're gonna have an aneurysm over it? Take that energy and put it into your work and you'll be fine, I promise you.

Okay, I think that's everything. I gotta go illegally download some movies and then steal a car. I'll talk to you guys later.

James Dean Callaway
c. 2011
On pain of death