Confessions of a Plagiarist

As you may or may not have heard, Shia LaBeouf is a serial plagiarist, and an unapologetic one at that. Seriously, the media went apeshit over this whole affair, and honestly, I cannot think of a more deserving target. I hated Transformers 3 that much, and allowing him to be in an Indiana Jones movie was the final insult from fucking Lucas and Spielberg. Thus, when LaBeouf was caught stealing the work of another artist and claiming it to be his own, I felt a moment of schadenfreude (how did we get along without this word in our vocabulary for so long?) at the idea of this rich, terrible actor stealing someone else’s work.

The reason I bring it up isn’t to kick a man when he’s down (although I cannot think of a better time to do so), it’s to share a little secret with you. Okay, it’s not a secret, it’s the title of this essay. You see, I am a plagiarist.

 

 

Not a deliberate one, mind you, although don’t they all say that?!   In this case it is true, however, and if nothing else it gives me a cute little story to share.

Last year I took a course from EdX on Globalization, as taught by Dr. John Hoberman. To make sure I understood everything we covered, I copied his lectures into text documents for future reference. Unfortunately they came out in this crazy format and I had to edit them into something readable. When I was done, they looked like actual essays.

Good idea, right?  Well, the problem was that I didn’t bother to type “by Prof. John Hoberman” on any of the documents, I just named them according to the chapter we were covering. What could possibly go wrong?

 

*sigh*

 

Fast-forward to last February when I get a writing gig for a strange new web venture that pays in cryptocurrency. You might want to check it out, but it’s in the embryonic phase right now and kinda dumpy looking. Anyway, I got a gig writing there with the conditions that they only wanted original work (cue Jaws theme) and they would accept fiction or nonfiction with very few other restrictions.

So I decided to finally do some episode recaps for some of my favorite TV shows. I would get to do what I love, write, and I would finally get paid for it. Such a deal!  So, the first thing I did, I decided I would set up a framework for the shows, and I would start with Adam Reed’s oeuvre:  Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo, and Archer.  (cue Jaws theme again)

Well, the problem was I copy-pasted the Wikipedia articles on these, then edited them to something more of my style.

Didn’t see that coming.

 

Hang on, hear me out, people. If you’ve ever checked the Wikipedia entries for these shows, it’s basically a character list with a personality sketch included. The plan was to completely rewrite those character sketches since most of them suck out loud. Then, once the laymen knew who all of the characters and their quirks were, they would be able to understand my recaps without me having to explain things in detail.

I just never got around to doing it. The reason I got sidetracked was that I had the brilliant notion that I could also publish some of my old college papers that I had!  All I had to do was rewrite them a bit to make them more readable for a general audience!

So I go into my notes from EdX and I find all of these essays on globalization and as I read them I’m thinking “The fuck was I thinking when I wrote these?  This shit doesn’t sound like me.” With that in mind, I proceeded to make some changes, but left the bulk of it intact, then posted it.

I’ll just leave this here.

So, a few weeks go by and I don’t hear anything from the site about payment. Curious, I try and do a search on my word-count and don’t find anything.  I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on, so I started asking for some assistance. Soon enough a Good Samaritan happened along and offered his assistance if I was sure I didn’t want to be publicly embarrassed.

Confident in my writing ability, I accepted the offer secure in the knowledge that my work was solid. First things first, I listed my work and made sure to remark that my Adam Reed stuff was unfinished. I know how easy it is to catch a plagiarist in the 21st Century!  Help me find the source of my problem Kind Citizen!

 

Surprise asshole!

As it turns out my new friend had already done some plagiarism checking on my behalf, but rather than send me a private message telling me “Hey, guess what?  I found out you had plagiarized a bunch of shit!  Here’s the proof, now get your shit cleaned up!” he opts to try and play Colombo and bait me into a clever trap!

And boy did it work like a charm!  When he showed the evidence I immediately said “Oh, shit, I done fucked up here.”  You know, a true plagiarist always admits their misdeeds when caught out. They always say “Oh fuck me, did I really just do that?” as opposed to denying it somehow.

The best part of it, for me anyway, was when he posted statistics showing how my original content was continuously increasing as I worked on the Adam Reed stuff. Almost as if I was rewriting the Wikipedia stuff into something interesting.  The first entry was less than 20% original, the second was about 45% original, and final entry was 80% original, which kind of indicates that I was working from a template. Someone wrote an article that covered the main points, but did it in a shitty way. I was just fixing it, and by the time I was finished, there would have been about 3% of the original content remaining. That is to say, the names of the damn characters.

So, anyway, excuses and rationales aside, I am now a plagiarist. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, however, since I have very good company.

 

 

No, not this guy. Fuck this guy.

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing Lasts Forever

This is a sad truism of Existence: eventually everything falls apart. And when i say “everything” then I really mean that in the “encompasses all things in existence” sense of the word. Stars will die, buildings will crumble, civilizations will vanish.

This also applies to human creativity, loathe as many creative people are to admit it. Eventually you will run out of new ideas, eventually you will run out of GOOD ideas. And since all organizations have the exact same pathologies, it’s really only a matter of “when” and not “if.”

In the entertainment industry it’s called “Jumping the Shark” a reference to the seminal 80s sitcom “Happy Days” and an episode where Fonzi was going to ramp over a shark…kept in an underwater cage. You need to see this, in case you never have.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=t4ZGKI8vpcg#t=1s

Pretty awful, wasn’t it? Unfortunately, instead of serving as a stern warning to TV writers (and writers in general) it has instead become an example of stupid bullshit you can get away with because your audience just doesn’t fucking care. It was a lesson learned well by our good friends at the 24 hour news networks.

The trouble with 24 hour news coverage is an incredibly BASIC one: in order to do your job properly, you need to focus on one or two stories. If you are flooding your viewers with the several hundred news stories that occur every day, you are going to drown them in information and they will leave. So, instead, you limit it to a couple items and explore them in depth.

And look how well that has worked out for us. Looking at the situation in a completely objective way, both Fox and CNN do nothing to inform their audiences, and instead spend 90% of their time trying desperately to create drama to keep their audiences glued to the screen. And since stupid people outnumber intelligent people 4 to 1, it is a strategy that is working admirably.

And now we are seeing it happen to the Internet. Comedy megasite Cracked.com has been my favorite internet destination for about 5 years running. I go there for the articles, great videos, and quality research o various topics. David Wong runs a tight ship, and it is fucking great.

At least, it was.

Here’s a link to the Cracked video page. Ignore the videos that were NOT done in-house (this one) and you are left with 16 videos. Only two of which, are actually funny. And one is only funny because it is a Seinfeldian-Pointless-Yet-Funny sort of thing.

This is a seriously talented crew, look at some of their older stuff for proof of this. One of my personal favorites was from the “Those Aren’t Muskets” troupe.  And here’s another, riffing on the classic zombie thing. They are so good that it makes the current stuff look so much shittier, it’s like they aren’t trying any more. Cracked’s video team is now looking like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III. A fat, lazy version of it’s youthful self, bloated on it’s own success and capitalizing on the fact that people love routine and so they will continue to go to Cracked on a daily basis because it is part of the ritual.

They recently added their first non-white columnist since Christina H stopped posting a few months back, and he was the first minority featured prominently in a Cracked video EVER, which is unfortunate for him because it was this one. The reason I bring it up is because I, personally, was tired of seeing articles about racism and sexism being written by an all-white, all-male editorial staff.

I am aware that Christi Harrison and Christina H are editors there, and Harrison is consistently funny. Christina H, on the other hand, rapidly wore out her welcome by saying stupid shit like telling people to make their own coffee to save money is stupid, because they might be too lazy to make their own. (I”m not making that up, by the way.) And, since it was Cracked she was contractually obligated to do a racism article, she complained about Asians being stereotyped as being intelligent and hard working.

This must be a living hell for her, because by her own admission, she is quite intelligent and unmistakably Asian. It must be a nightmare for her to be a living stereotype, especially since that stereotype virtually insures that Asians are never unemployed in the US.

I hope that this is only a rough patch on the road and not a sign that Cracked has gone the route of TV because, due to the rigorous citation standards needed to get published by Cracked, they are aware that there are sound scientific reasons for why TV is an intellectually vapid wasteland. A wasteland where outposts of idiocy are intensely popular, far more so than the oasis of intelligence that pop up here and there.