Wednesday, March 06, 2002

MISDEMEANOR PLAGIARISM UPDATE: So, of course, 12 hours later The Professor pull-quotes the exact same Lileks paragraph as I did. If this infraction constitutes misdemeanor plagiarism, all's I can say is, look at the time-stamps.

Meanwhile, Slate asks: Who's the better apologizer, Goodwin or Ambrose?

Mind Over What Matters stakes out this position on misdemeanor plagiarism: When it comes to works of fiction, there's nothing funnier than a throwaway unattributed quotation. Who doesn't guffaw out loud every time Stewie Griffin, diminutive hero of Fox's Family Guy, spontaneously relives whole scenes from Broadway musicals that predate his birth by a good 40 or 50 years? Or when Crow the Robot pretends to recognize the handiwork of 1970's ARP synth wizard Rick Wakeman in the soundtrack of some long-forgotten Lithouanian sci-fi film?

The answer is -- almost no one in the target demographic guffaws out loud. Such obscure cultural references are the author's way of winking at those elite few who've snuck in from outside the target demographic. It's the author's coded message to the right people -- the smart people -- that they've achieved membership in the "inner circle," with all the rights and priviliges accorded thereto -- which is to say that they could carry their end of the conversation if they happened to meet up with the author at a cocktail party.

But writers of non-fiction must understand that one simply cannot go about tossing off lengthy, unattributed quotes from another body of work, as if counting on the audience to treat such references as a sop to "the right people" who are smart enought to "get it." In fiction, such usages may be employed liberally, as an alternative to original thought, where it can pass for irony or serve double-duty as structural punctuation. But in non-fiction, it's just plain stealing. And when it comes to light that Goodwin and Ambrose have pulled this trick repeatedly throughout their works and careers, all that can be said is that they've literally outsmarted themselves.

For its part, however, Mind Over What Matters will continue to reference the esoteric hierchary of DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes in its Perma-Links ghetto, smugly secure in its culturally malnourished certainty that "the right people" are "getting" it.

(So far, my short list of "right people" includes Gary Farber and Ben Kepple for sure -- and for neoblogger Bill Sherman, it goes without even asking -- while Megan McArdle has privately confessed that the reference has whooshed right over her head. No small feat, that, as I can now personally attest to both her intelligence and stature!)


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