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True Plagiarism
August 4, 2014 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Uneasy similarities between a famous scripted cable-TV show and an author with a devoted cult following lead to an expose
posted by Renoroc (68 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Outside of journalism or academia, I'm troubled by the idea of plagiarism. Shakespere would not fare well by these standards.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:42 PM on August 4 [6 favorites]


Not exactly the most convincing accusation of plagiarism I've ever seen. There's barely any identical text in the quotes, and what similarities there are, are common to nihilism.
posted by tavella at 6:43 PM on August 4 [13 favorites]


As mentioned in February.
posted by unliteral at 6:44 PM on August 4


Eh. Don't care. Seems okay to me.
posted by Justinian at 6:49 PM on August 4


I mean, the idea of human consciousness as a mistake is not something that appeared in 2010 when Ligotti wrote the book; Peter Watts wrote a whole novel about that years before, and that wasn't exactly the first appearance of the idea.
posted by tavella at 6:55 PM on August 4 [10 favorites]


And the Cthulhu-As-Obama-Hope poster being advertised on the sidebar adds a weird 4th dimensional plagiarism/citation aspect to the thing.

Does Ligotti deserve some attention for how he inspired/was used by Pizzolatto? Sure. Once I heard about the connection, I ordered a bunch of his books for my library and promoted them as inspiration behind True Detective. I hope he got some cash for the books I bought and some fans from the patrons that checked them out.

I'm not sure what else is needed here - do we need to acknowledge that Ligotti fans got there first and liked the sort of things Cohle said before they were cool? Fine! You get 3 points! But beyond shining some more light on an author that deserves it... but then again, I can't help but feel that this is some sort of cargo-cult of a concern post, owner of one site agrees with owner of other site to wring tentacles about a known thing to draw attention to said sites. People click and eyeballs flock, each orb picking up the writhing runes that linger just beyond the brain's willingness to acknowledge them. Why does the page load so slowly? Is it the pipe music? Surely, it twills and fills even though the page has been long since closed. But why? Why draw attention to what lurks beneath or is its attention being drawn to m
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:56 PM on August 4 [31 favorites]


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posted by Sebmojo at 6:58 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I agree that this is pretty thin, but I'm intrigued by the Ligotti's Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

I just ordered it on Amazon and was offered E.M. Ciorian's The Trouble With Being Born as another title I might be intersted in... I suspect one could mock up an equally shoddy plagerism accusation against Ligotti based on that book.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 7:01 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


The Expert’s Guide To HBO’s ‘True Detective’ And Weird Comic Fiction

(And the answer is "nope", despite clear magpie tendencies of a wide ranging nature.)
posted by Artw at 7:06 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Also there's a certain irony to this being in a Lovecraft zine - Lovecraft would have disappeared from history without fans cribbing from him in a similar manner.
posted by Artw at 7:11 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


I would guess a Letters of HP Lovecraft Markov Generator would produce a similar output.
posted by benzenedream at 7:23 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Except of course, more racism
posted by benzenedream at 7:23 PM on August 4


What's with the internet plagiarism police these days?
posted by elwoodwiles at 7:33 PM on August 4


My beginning disclaimer is that I have not seen True Detective, lacking HBO and, as a vulture of television, I will not nibble at a still-twitching carcass, rather the wholly dead, well-hung for seasoning, must be devoured all at once, then subjected to a period of lethargy and contemplation of digestion. I got about a third of the way through Conspiracy Against the Human Race, stopping not because I disliked it, but because I had already agreed to its basic premise long ago; to say I have dabbled in anti-natalism is like mentioning Mark Spitz might have dipped his toe in the water. The book had a feel of someone who had been called upon to justify their worldview via quotes and citation, which is not a bad thing, wrapping himself in, if not fellow company, at least the cloaks left behind by lonely swimmers who swum out deliberately beyond their endurance and had never returned from the sea.

The Rust dialogue listed through the article taps at my faint memories of the introductory quotes of the chapters, such as "Look at your body— / A painted puppet, a poor toy / Of jointed parts ready to collapse / A diseased and suffering thing / With a head full of false imaginings." (The Dhammapada) These introductory quotes are as similar as the text itself, though maybe not without a reason. Our limned diction is not spare whilst our vocabulary of despair is limited. This could be of a purpose, although one might say that we naturally find such things too awful to contemplate, and so turn our florid explosion of words to brighter things. This also is part of the conspiracy against the human race: those who are heedless of the horrors of existence might be more fruitful than the unlucky who are given to thought and pause.

Perhaps it is not too shocking that lonely crag where you might see a stone bearing the phrase BETTER NEVER TO HAVE BEEN has but one path to it when scarce few visit at all. The grimmer byways of Ligotti's sources are largely dead ends, often theses sharply punctuated with a suicide, but their reasonings and explanations all have a similarity of sound, as the flattened aspects of a hundred bridge jumpers might be cousins in their limp, dead-eyed resignation.

Or the guy could be a sticky-fingered Hollywood hack.
posted by adipocere at 7:43 PM on August 4 [8 favorites]


I'm an English professor, and therefore obviously hard-wired to look for plagiarism.

So. Um.

My first response is that there's a huge mish-mash of banal philosophical concepts here, so if they're plagiarized from Ligotti, Ligotti is not very interesting. (Er, sorry, Ligotti fans. And True Detective fans, for that matter.)

In any event, that's the problem. If you squint at the evidence on offer, you can see a couple of smoking guns, mostly at the level of the phrase (e.g., "that should not exist by natural law"). But many of the guns aren't actually smoking, unless you want to argue that Ligotti was plagiarizing (e.g., "human existence is a tragedy," which isn't original to Ligotti). This is the problem, because from the evidence, both our writer and Ligotti are attracted to cliches. "Everybody is nobody" is not original to Ligotti--it's a common turn of phrase. Ditto "the world hurts." Ditto "the bliss of non-existence." "Family, god, country," in that order, is not obviously based on Ligotti's original (not as common a turn of phrase, but surprisingly, not infrequent). Dear Lord, "illusion of the self" is so not original to Ligotti. "Fabricate meaning"...no, not Ligotti. "The true heart of things" has nothing to do with Ligotti's original. Even the larger philosophical and artistic concepts, as tavella and Artw point out, predate Ligotti, sometimes by thousands of years. You could make a reasonable case for the deleted "Nowhere to go" line, except that since it rhymes, it could just as well be inspired by a frequently anthologized poem by Benjamin Franklin King. The most you could say is that Ligotti has influenced the writer, but it's not all that easy to make a straightforward "he plagiarized!" case, not least because the author has been upfront about drawing on philosophers like Nietzche--whom, I presume, he has in common with Ligotti, and from whom he would derive a similar vocabulary.

This has been your pedantic post for the day. Not coincidentally, the school year starts in three weeks.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:45 PM on August 4 [58 favorites]


What's with the internet plagiarism police these days?

People get sick and tired of getting ripped off and then seeing a talentless hack move up faster than the originator who is too busy working on the actual contents of their work to schmooze. Then the empty-heads fawn over the thief, citing his creativity and genius when he has neither.

And even when you have proof, you are still dismissed as paranoid/jealous/crazy because there is too much money at stake and no one wants to admit they were naive enough to back a fraud. People then snap and revolt and then you have the Internet Plagiarism Police making sure no one gets away with being a leech ever again.

If some people get oversensitive, it is understandable, but I do not have a problem with texts being scrutinized -- give attribution and the problem is solved...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:49 PM on August 4 [10 favorites]


I went in hoping for some juicy rip off action and I have to say I'm completely starved. The sad thing for me is that the author and his contact clearly believe that what Ligotti is spouting is somehow original creative thought. Most of the text and ideas they excerpt from his work could be found in the term papers for a freshman Intro to Philosophy course.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:00 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Anybody else getting that "Blink-182 ripped off Green Day!" vibe of a dude who is not as widely experienced as he'd like to think he is?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:18 PM on August 4 [31 favorites]


Dear Lord, "illusion of the self" is so not original to Ligotti.

That's Buddhism. This guy wants to make it a conspiracy against the self he says is an illusion.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:18 PM on August 4


People get sick and tired of getting ripped off and then seeing a talentless hack move up faster than the originator who is too busy working on the actual contents of their work to schmooze. Then the empty-heads fawn over the thief, citing his creativity and genius when he has neither.

Except that quite often the cries of plagiarism come from cases in which the "talentless hack" is the person who claims prior art, either on the basis of having come up with a particular idea for a story (heedless of the fact that ideas aren't copyrightable) or, in the case of the most notorious suit against J.K. Rowling, that they had a character named Larry Potter and used the word "Muggle" in some of their books. (Never mind that their use of the word was completely different from how Rowling used it.) This show's creator has acknowledged Ligotti's work, but the guys behind the blog post have an axe to grind and, by Cthulhu, they are going to grind that mother. (I'm especially amused by their linking to a Bleeding Cool post to the effect that the show uses a bit of dialogue from an issue of Top 10 by Alan Moore, when the BC post notes that that issue was in turn inspired by a Homicide: Life on the Street episode which in turn was inspired by a real-life event.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:28 PM on August 4


What's with the internet plagiarism police these days?
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:34 PM on August 4 [21 favorites]


I don't think ligotti sounds particularly original, but I think an extended and thorough meditation on the futility of existence is at least 'rare'. I think he was being lazy in cribbing from ligotti instead of actually thinking through the philosophy himself a bit and coming up with his own way of communicating it. I'm not sure it was exactly plagiarism, though.

Why haven't we heard what ligotti thinks?
posted by empath at 8:45 PM on August 4


I don't think ligotti sounds particularly original, but I think an extended and thorough meditation on the futility of existence is at least 'rare'.

You don't know enough white men in their 20s. They're endemic in freshmen philosophy classes. Set up a system where these guys are the elite if the world, the wealthiest, healthiest, best educated, etc., and a fair proportion will start wailing about the awful horror of existence.

Also, I suspect both these guys probably are stealing lines from a Vampire the Masquerade novelization.
posted by happyroach at 8:58 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


Why haven't we heard what ligotti thinks?

"Tom, the writer of True Detective has been accused of plagiarizing you. What do you think?"

"I think it is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately—imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live?"
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:04 PM on August 4 [7 favorites]


I dunno, I think the "borrowing" is obvious enough to have deserved discussion before folks started asking Pizzolato about it. But once they did, his response in this Wall Street Journal blog post from February, where Pizzolato (finally?) gets around to acknowledging his debt to Ligotti, seems like it should have been enough:

[Q] When did you first hear of and read Ligotti?

[A] I first heard of Ligotti maybe six years ago, when Laird Barron’s first collection alerted me to this whole world of new weird fiction that I hadn’t known existed. I started looking around for the best contemporary stuff to read, and in any discussion of that kind, the name “Ligotti” comes up first. I couldn’t find any of his books in print, and their used prices were prohibitive for me at the time. But I located a couple at libraries, and his nightmare lyricism was enthralling and visionary.

[Q] What work of his do you find the most influential? Are you more attracted to his fiction or his nonfictional writing? Have you read his nonfiction book, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”?

[A] I read “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” and found it incredibly powerful writing. For me as a reader, it was less impactful as philosophy than as one writer’s ultimate confessional: an absolute horror story, where the self is the monster. In episode one [of "True Detective"] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got.

The philosophy Cohle promotes in the show’s earliest episodes is a kind of anti-natalist nihilism, and in that regard all cats should be unbagged: “Confessions of an Antinatalist,” “Nihil Unbound,” “In the Dust of this Planet,” “Better to Have Never Been,” and lots of Cioran were all on the reading list. This is before I came out to Hollywood, but I knew that in my next work I would have a detective who was (or thought he was) a nihilist. I’d already been reading E.M. Cioran for years and consider him one of my all-time favorite and, oddly, most nourishing writers. As an aphorist, Cioran has no rivals other than perhaps Nietzsche, and many of his philosophies are echoed by Ligotti. But Ligotti is far more disturbing than Cioran, who is actually very funny. In exploring these philosophies, nobody I’ve read has expressed the idea of humanity as aberration more powerfully than Cioran and Ligotti.


I get why fans of a cult author like Ligotti would have been upset, but even if he was under pressure when he revealed the relatively unknown source of much of his main character's character, he did acknowledge it. That he didn't do so on the DVD commentary, or in any interviews before folks started asking questions, does seem kind of dickish, as if he was trying to hide that much of what folks had been loving about his show was actually drawn fairly directly from someone else's work.
posted by mediareport at 9:17 PM on August 4 [5 favorites]


The article's link to the Bleeding Cool Swipe File discussion about what seems to be a direct cop from Alan Moore's Top Ten in True Detective's final scene is interesting, too.
posted by mediareport at 9:23 PM on August 4


(I'm especially amused by their linking to a Bleeding Cool post to the effect that the show uses a bit of dialogue from an issue of Top 10 by Alan Moore, when the BC post notes that that issue was in turn inspired by a Homicide: Life on the Street episode which in turn was inspired by a real-life event.)

Stealing direct lines seems to me worse than repurposing an earlier story in a new setting with new dialogue.
posted by mediareport at 9:26 PM on August 4


Shakespere would not fare well by these standards

Who ever accused someone who adapts a novel into a movie (say) of "plagiarism"? That's the equivalent of what Shakespeare did.
posted by yoink at 9:41 PM on August 4 [2 favorites]


You know, just as a guiding principle, if I were looking at a plausible allegation of plagiarism about philosophical writing, I'd expect it would, at a minimum, probably spell Nietzsche's name the right way.

from the evidence, both our writer and Ligotti are attracted to cliches.

True dat. None of the supposedly damning evidence in the article amounts to more than pastiche or adaptation in the first place, and all it really demonstrates convincingly is that Pizzolatto and Ligotti are boringly pseudoprofound in similar ways.
posted by RogerB at 9:47 PM on August 4 [3 favorites]


Afaik, there are no citation styles for even written fiction, much less television. I donno if Nic Pizzolatto has copied more heavily than others, but if so he should add to the credits an "inspired by .." screen like Thomas Ligotti, etc., or even "the modern weird fiction community", retroactively for DVD sets, etc. It's dickish not to, not just to Ligotti himself, but to fans of both Ligotti and your work, whom you're depriving of entertainment. And there is more money to be made in keeping the fans more focussed on your subgenre too.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:01 PM on August 4


Utterly unconvincing claims of plagiarism. Literally an insult to those who have actually been plagiarized.
posted by effugas at 10:02 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


From an interview with Ligotti:

These literary thieveries are really just the tip of the iceberg concerning what I’ve taken from other writers. Any time I’ve come across a work of fiction I wish I had written, I’ll do my best to write something as close to it as possible. Fretting about being a stylistic original is a waste of time in my opinion.

http://wonderbooknow.com/interviews/thomas-ligotti/
posted by misterbee at 10:42 PM on August 4 [17 favorites]


My reactions to this story, as they occurred:

1. outrage at Pizzolatto's plagiarism, post on twitter.
2. read other MF comments, reflect and soften stance. Post the Ligotti quote above.
3. read entry about Alan Moore being ripped off in final scene of series. Get outraged again.

I loved True Detective, and I'm sure Pizzolatto is a very fine writer, but I can't help feeling all my favourite scenes/dialogue have been lifted from other places.
posted by misterbee at 11:19 PM on August 4


Of course, one of the amusing ironies here is that the idea of fiction copying itself and imposing itself on people is a major trope within the "King In Yellow" mythos. The original works by Robert Chambers are, after all, about a play whose reading draws its readers into its mad world. And that was published in 1895! In its modern interpretation, the whole framework for The King In Yellow is predominantly metafictional, with characters losing their sense of "reality" and getting sucked into frame narratives. It could hardly be a better environment in which to have characters espousing the words of others with the conviction that they came to them all on their own.

Not that the charge isn't worthy of some concern. But as Jonathan Lethem has pointed out, the idea of "owning" an idea or a sentence, such that it can be "stolen," is a dangerous attitude for people to adopt about art.

That said, I'm surprised people haven't made more of is the fact that template for the show's thematic atmosphere is laid out in this excellent but obscure roleplaying sourcebook. It's certainly a much less ambiguous source of the show's ideas, imagery, and metaphors than Ligotti's writing is.
posted by belarius at 12:38 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Maybe i'm a total cock, but none of this surprises me if it's true.

Because honestly, i think how good the show turned out, barring the ending, was basically a fluke.

It's like the bands, made up entirely of just out of high school aged kids, who manage to write one really kick ass album and just can't really ever do it again. Especially stuff thats not super technical. They just managed to be doing the right thing in the right place at the right time, and that was basically all the good they had in them.

I'm not saying i think he's a hack, but more of a one hit wonder whose also a cocky douche. My primary criticism of the show before this stuff came out was that i felt it didn't respect the audience, as an extension of his disrespect of the audience with relation to to the ending basically being a slap in the face direct at all the fan theories, and also somewhat of a really lazy mattress-flop of frustration from someone who couldn't come up with a truly interesting ending after really building it up.

Maybe it's just that i'm always wary of people who create things and also come off as way too cocksure, swaggery, and full of chutzpah when they have little to no experience... but i can't really stop myself from going "Ok, you did something pretty cool even if it sort of lost steam towards the end, but you lifted quite a bit from other works. Still, it was a fairly impressive first outing. Now do it again".

Because i'd bet almost anything he can't. Part of it is ye olde "you get your whole life to write your first album", another part is that he seems a hell of a lot more like a dick swinger and a talker than a doer.

And i'll admit that a big part of my want to see him crash and burn is the deep disrespect of the audience thing. It's arguably more shameful than even what BSG did. You spend 6 or 7 episodes building up all this mythos and interesting potential for either something supernatural or something really interesting, weird, and cultish with a lot of backstory in other works of fiction... and then just go "hahaha nope none of that mattered it's super basic!". It went above and beyond blue balls, because if you watch his interviews he's basically mocking people for having theories based on stuff that was strongly hinted at or plainly shown and then just discarded.
posted by emptythought at 2:00 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Also there's a certain irony to this being in a Lovecraft zine - Lovecraft would have disappeared from history without fans cribbing from him in a similar manner.

On the other hand, Lovecraft invited his friends to borrow names from his work and did the same, so it's a different situation.

On the other other hand, expecting a show called True Detective to somehow be entirely new material, never conceptualized by a human brain before, is a bit... strict, perhaps.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:56 AM on August 5 [5 favorites]


These accusations are inane. Excited Ligotti fans were the people who had turned me onto the show in the first place.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:10 AM on August 5


If the next video compression standard is based on plagiarism look-up tables, we'll be able to watch most TV channels through acoustic couplers.
posted by Devonian at 4:33 AM on August 5


> I think an extended and thorough meditation on the futility of existence is at least 'rare'.

It's as if nihilism and existentialism never happened!
posted by ardgedee at 4:59 AM on August 5


> expecting a show called True Detective to somehow be entirely new material, never conceptualized by a human brain before, is a bit... strict, perhaps.

I don't have any horse in this race, having neither read Ligotti nor seen True Detective, but one of the things that's struck me about the complaints of the show is not that the content is lifted from elsewhere, but that it's lifted from so very many sources. It might as well be advertised as a remix culture era TV series.

But it also seems to be a demonstration of "bad artists borrow, good artists steal." If the sources are too obvious, their creators' signatures were too strong to be overwritten by Pizzolatto's own.
posted by ardgedee at 5:10 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


Outside of journalism or academia, I'm troubled by the idea of plagiarism. Shakespere would not fare well by these standards.

I dunno, Shakespeare certainly borrowed plots, characters, themes, settings and so on from literary and historical sources (and even more from what was "hot" at the time), but his words were his own. Similarly, no one accuses West Side Story or Throne of Blood of plagiarism despite being entirely based on Shakespeare's work. In these cases, the dialogue (and musical numbers) set the works apart, as well as the ways the dynamics of the new settings affect the relationships between the characters. The article linked above accuses True Detective of lifting chunks of text verbatim from other sources, which would be plagiarism.

I don't think that Davis does a particularly great job of supporting his thesis, however. As noted above, it's not like these ideas or the basic ways of expressing them are unique to Ligotti. For example, you might as well claim that Ligotti plagiarized the idea of human evolution as a mistake from "At the Mountains of Madness" rather than accepting that it's a fairly common idea in the West from the 19th C onward. So, yes, it's possible that True Detective was plagiarized (and I think there is no doubt that it's derivative of many things, but that's not an artistic, much less a civil, crime), but this article doesn't really prove that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:20 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


True Detective is only a work of plagiarism if we redefine "plagiarism" to mean "the extent to which True Detective uses themes and imagery from other work". The dialog cited is not nearly similar enough to the alleged "source material" to warrant this kind of opprobrium. Pizzolatto has not hidden his Ligottian influence, nor would anyone (let alone Ligotti) insist that Ligotti's philosophical ideas are so unique that to have a character follow them without citation would inappropriate.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:26 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Plagiarism? Hardly. I agree with the many posters upthread that what TD and Ligotti's works speechify about (the misery of the human race/the mistake of giving us consciousness, etc) is nothing new under the sun. It's hardly unique. As much as I enjoyed the show--and I stopped enjoying Ligotti's works years ago when it all seemed to be much the same theme in every single tale--using either one as a basis for real philosophy or outlook is very very flawed. I mean, Rust's dialogue alone sounds like stuff I would have spouted on a regular basis to friends and family as a 17-year-old, hoping to shock them with how "deep" and "bleak" I was.

The best man at our wedding gave us a copy of Ligotti's Conspiracy Against the Human Race this past year for our anniversary (he is always giving us weird shit on our wedding anniversary) so Shepherd read it and more or less deduced that "Thomas Ligotti is a very unhappy man. That was a waste of my time." I was never going to bother to read it as I have done my time reading his fiction in my youth.
posted by Kitteh at 5:50 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


One of the complaints is that he took his closing scene from an Alan Moore comic? The same Alan Moore who based the entire climax of Watchmen on an old Outer Limits episode?
posted by maxsparber at 6:01 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]


It never occurred to anyone that Rust Cohle, so mired in his own misery and self-pity, passed off quotes from Ligotti as a way to weave together some semblance of a belief system in order to keep on going?

That it's not Pizzolatto plagiarizing Ligotti, but Pizzalatto writing Cohle as plagiarizing Ligotti? Reducing Cohle, for all of his talents, to little more than a sad, alienated overgrown adolescent? (Until, of course, the end of the series, when he throws off that borrowed overcoat.)

Did people seriously not figure that out?
posted by gsh at 6:07 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


And i'll admit that a big part of my want to see him crash and burn is the deep disrespect of the audience thing.

I liked the show just fine, but I was flabbergasted when I realized, partway through the season, that fans on the Internet were expecting it to develop into some full-on Lovecraftian metaphysical horror in the final episodes. It didn't play that way to me at all, and I don't think it was intended to. As gsh points out, the show is not uncritical of Cohle and his nihilism, and it is partly about the way people retreat into cynicism and superstition as a reaction to the horrors of the real world.

And you can't blame the writer for the audience's presumably Game of Thrones and True Blood -inspired theories about a pretty standard pulp detective storyline. The show was locked before episode 1 aired. Nobody was being slapped in the face.
posted by Mothlight at 6:32 AM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Who ever accused someone who adapts a novel into a movie (say) of "plagiarism"?
posted by cthuljew at 7:47 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


maxsparber: "The same Alan Moore who based the entire climax of Watchmen on an old Outer Limits episode?"

In itself, Watchmen was a post-modern repurposing of the entire American comic-book superhero canon, with stylistic touches and tropes borrowed from '70s New Hollywood films and literary SF. Really, at least 4/5 of Alan Moore's "classic" output was basically a jazzed-up pastiche of previous sources, which didn't stop it from being really good. If Pizzolato found inspiration in Moore's and other writers' work (I've never read Ligotti and don't feel like I want to), I'm fine with that.

Nothing I see here suggests the same kind of blatant stealing that happened with the Shia LeBeouf/Dan Clowes flap from earlier this year. And if it doesn't give me an opportunity to talk smack about Shia LeBeouf, I'm not interested.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:51 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


The plagiarism accusation seems overblown to me.

In regards to "True Detective" somehow selling out its own supposedly nihilist values at the ending, and thereby (I guess?) "disrespecting the audience":

I find it very amusing that people who were excited by the Chambers, Machen, and Ligotti references in the show are so very bummed out that the narrative arc leaves Cohle in a place other than absolute despair. I mean, the big change in the character, his arc's ending point, is he can finally admit that his feelings about his dead child are simple grief and loneliness, ordinary stuff, not a sign of his uniqueness in the world, and certainly not a referendum on how the universe is actually built. And (I know, how enormously gauche), he has a newfound belief that she still exists at some level, if only in his mind, and still loves him.

I'm a big weird fiction fan, Lovecrsaft and Chambers and Ligotti very much included, but "True Detective" isn't a straight adaptation of any of that stuff, and it seems childish to me to be ok with tentacle monsters from other dimensions, Nyarlathotep in the woods, the King In Yellow appearing on videocassette, etc., but to reject the notion of love (either for or from) our dead.

Would that element be a problem (as in, badly out of tune with the rest of the work) in Lovecraft? Sure. In Ligotti? You betcha. But "True Detective" isn't the work of either of those two writers, and differs most prominently in that it deals a lot with parent-child and husband-wife relationships, concerns that are hugely important to many people, and not at all hard to find in fiction or television. In fact, Lovecraft and Ligotti are both a bit odd in how resolutely they don't concern themselves with domestic matters, like, at all.
posted by Ipsifendus at 8:13 AM on August 5 [7 favorites]


Yeah, everything about True Detective also read to me like a repurposing of preexisting tropes. Part of the pleasure of the show was watching it make explicit use of something very familiar and make it suddenly very unfamiliar, which is probably the thing Pizzalatto drew from Moore more than anything.
posted by maxsparber at 8:14 AM on August 5


Ligotti is a powerfully, distinctively nihilistic writer - but it would not be fair to say that an aggressively nihilistic character like Cohle is of necessity an instance of plagiarism. Ligotti's ideas did not spring to his mind fully formed either; he is influenced, consciously and otherwise, by those who came before, and his contemporaries. More homage than theft in my opinion, though the line can be indistinct. Also, Ligotti can be difficult to read, but I am glad if this show has brought him some exposure.
posted by Mister_A at 8:25 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


True Detective is absolutely a critical repurposing. It plays with weird fiction's ideas of madness and unreality. It is ultimately quite critical of Ligotti's ideas: indeed, to the extent that the show has a point, it is all about setting its two main characters on different paths.

Indeed, much of weird fiction comprises exactly this kind of repurposing. Look at what August Derleth, Colin Wilson, Thomas Ligotti, Kenneth Hite, Reza Negarestani, or even Ghostbusters did and do with Lovecraftian ideas. They each have their own angle on the material, and a huge part of the fun is being able to assemble the raw ingredients into different but familiar things.

I'm still baffled by the idea that merely quoting a thinker's ideas in fiction could constitute plagiarism. If a character in a show says, "evil is rarely flashy and alien, but rather more typically banal and familiar, committed by normal people", you don't need to flash Hannah Arendt's face across the screen.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:26 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Who ever accused someone who adapts a novel into a movie (say) of "plagiarism"?

As opposed to a book and a TV show?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:35 AM on August 5


As opposed to a book and a TV show?

If you're referring to the complaint linked to in the FPP, the accusation isn't that True Detective is an "adaptation" of Ligotti, it's that in writing True Detective the writers stole chunks of Ligotti's text. It so happens that they fail to back that accusation up, but if the accusation were true, there would be some basis for the claim of "plagiarism." There is, however, no basis for a claim of "plagiarism" when someone makes a movie version of a Jane Austen novel or what have you. Clueless is not "plagiarized" from Pride and Prejudice and nobody who is even mildly informed on the issues involved has ever thought that it was.

My point is that Shakespeare didn't copy chunks of Boccaccio's or Plutarch's words into his plays. He found plots in Boccaccio and Plutarch (et al.) which he adapted into entirely original stageplays. So the claim that "if Shakespeare were alive today" we'd all be accusing him of "plagiarism" is false.
posted by yoink at 10:45 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


also somewhat of a really lazy mattress-flop of frustration from someone who couldn't come up with a truly interesting ending after really building it up.

I liked pretty much the entire run including the ending. Not sure what you mean by "truly interesting".

This show wasn't about confirming truth in Rust's stupid depressing philosophy. He was one character who abused a large volume of drugs and alcohol and had a weird worldview. So if a significant trauma and near-death experience leads to a change in his philosophy, it's not necessarily a cop-out. It's part of a character arc that makes sense to me, at least. I mean, Rust never really came up with a good, compelling rationalization for why he keeps going. He strikes me as mostly depressed and damaged rather than someone who acts like he believes humanity is better off extinct, in the ways he keeps describing it. So in the end he gets some closure on the case he's dedicated himself to for years, gets to feel good about himself for the first time in a long time, and now he has some hope. He's accepted his weaknesses instead of trying to hide it behind his sketchy nihilism.
posted by Hoopo at 10:45 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


the accusation isn't that True Detective is an "adaptation" of Ligotti, it's that in writing True Detective the writers stole chunks of Ligotti's text. It so happens that they fail to back that accusation up, but if the accusation were true, there would be some basis for the claim of "plagiarism."

If it were an adaptation, Ligotti would have a case (literally, under current US law.) "Chunks of text" are clearly fair use, and don't require attribution. It's a TV show, not a PhD thesis.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:02 AM on August 5


If it were an adaptation, Ligotti would have a case (literally, under current US law.)

Yes, he would have a case; but not of plagiarism. He would have a case of unauthorized adaptation. The fact that an author has rights about who may or may not make adaptations of their work does not magically transform the act of adaptation into the different (albeit related) act of plagiarism.

Again, take Clueless as a useful example. Had Jane Austen still been alive when the film was made, she would have "had a case" that the creators were making an illegal adaptation of her novel. This would not, however, have been a complaint about "plagiarism." What the creators of Clueless did didn't suddenly transform itself from "plagiarism" to "not plagiarism" because of the particulars of the US legal code surrounding authorial intellectual property rights.

So, Shakespeare adapting the work of Boccaccio (dead for about as long when Shakespeare wrote as Austen had been when Clueless was made) or Plutarch or whomever is still not--even by current standards and definitions of the term--"plagiarism."
posted by yoink at 11:13 AM on August 5


SPOILERS

My issue with the ending of True Detective was not Cohle's transformation (which I liked), but the fact that the actual solution to central mystery was so meh, after so much wonderful set-up. All of this wonderful mythology, all of these hinted-at conspiracies, and the bad guy is an insane redneck. Boo.

[So that this is not tangential, no I don't think this is plagiarism. I agree with gsh that it is, at most, Cohle parrotting stuff he read.]
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:17 AM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Yes, he would have a case; but not of plagiarism.

Which is an institutional construct, not a legal one. It's meaningless outside of those institutions that enforce it, which is why this is so vexing. Fiction makes unattributed references all the time.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:22 AM on August 5


. All of this wonderful mythology, all of these hinted-at conspiracies, and the bad guy is an insane redneck.

I think there is more than that. He's a product of the conspiracy, his decay and madness recasts inbred redneckism as being a sort of Lovecraftian decay like you might find at Innsmouth. There are definitely indications that there is a cosmic element to all this, including Kohl's vision in Carcosa. Beyond that, we learn that Errol Childress had to teach himself how to speak again after his scarring (we hear his actual voice, and it is slurred), and he did this by impersonating voices he heard on television, which he imitates flawlessly. But he speaks with a different voice when he is in Carcosa, and it seems to come from everywhere and nowhere.

I don't think it was Childress speaking in Carcosa. I think the voice in Carocosa is the one Childress imitates.

I mean, that's just my take, but it's a fair interpretation, and there is every reason to think the story is supposed to have these Lovecraftian secrets.
posted by maxsparber at 11:32 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]


Understood, maxsparber, and that's a valid interpretation. I just wanted more.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:42 AM on August 5


Does Ligotti deserve some attention for how he inspired/was used by Pizzolatto? Sure. Once I heard about the connection, I ordered a bunch of his books for my library and promoted them as inspiration behind True Detective. I hope he got some cash for the books I bought and some fans from the patrons that checked them out.

I'm not sure what else is needed here - do we need to acknowledge that Ligotti fans got there first and liked the sort of things Cohle said before they were cool? Fine! You get 3 points! But beyond shining some more light on an author that deserves it... but then again, I can't help but feel that this is some sort of cargo-cult of a concern post, owner of one site agrees with owner of other site to wring tentacles about a known thing to draw attention to said sites. People click and eyeballs flock, each orb picking up the writhing runes that linger just beyond the brain's willingness to acknowledge them. Why does the page load so slowly? Is it the pipe music? Surely, it twills and fills even though the page has been long since closed. But why? Why draw attention to what lurks beneath or is its attention being drawn to meep meep
posted by gwint at 1:12 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]


Plagiarism!
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:32 PM on August 5


But "True Detective" isn't the work of either of those two writers, and differs most prominently in that it deals a lot with parent-child and husband-wife relationships, concerns that are hugely important to many people, and not at all hard to find in fiction or television.

Even the great anti-natalist himself contradicts himself on the show about the importance of this.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:40 PM on August 5


My issue with the ending of True Detective was not Cohle's transformation (which I liked), but the fact that the actual solution to central mystery was so meh, after so much wonderful set-up. All of this wonderful mythology, all of these hinted-at conspiracies, and the bad guy is an insane redneck. Boo.

The conspiracies are still there, it's just that Rust and Marty are powerless to do anything but scrape off the mole at the top of it. I think one of the most important scenes in the series is the newscaster talking about how allegations about those in power are just rumors (something to that effect - basically showing that all of Rust's tapes and evidence packages were useless).

That's why I don't get people saying that the ending is triumphant. It's pretty deeply cynical, and a repetition of the Reggie Ledoux case. It just seems that, at that point, Rust and Marty give up and resign themselves to a partial victory.
posted by codacorolla at 6:17 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]


Why haven't we heard what ligotti thinks?

I suspect he is exhausted.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:17 PM on August 6


I suspect he is exhausted.

Well, sure, have you seen all the existing he's been doing lately?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:33 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


:-P
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:07 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


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