The Culture Of Plagiarism

Ah, plagiarism, crutch for the underachievers and the hopeful slackers. Years ago, when the internet was still new and things were harder to search, there was a bit of a boon for plagiarists. You could look up almost anything if you had the time and dedication (well… time) to search the “information super highway” as we called it before we collectively realized that sounded stupid. From there you only needed to copy and paste it into  a text document and get blitzed for the rest of the weekend. It was a golden era right up until Google and other web crawlers made searching so simple that anyone could just quote lines right out of your work and find where they originally came from. Hell, there’s even software that’ll do it for you.

But unless you’ve been living under a rock you can probably guess why this topic came to mind for me this week. Melania Trump, wife to the future emperor of the wastelands of North America, gave a speech at the Republican national convention which was quickly noted to have lifted a significant block of text out of a speech given by Michelle Obama a few years ago. The internet was swift to not only spot the plagiarism but provide documented evidence and eventually go so far as to pick apart the rest of her speech until discovering there was a chance her speech writer might have even Rick Rolled her.

rick roll
Credit to the folks at imgur

Now, of course, Melania probably didn’t write- plagiarize this speech herself. She had a speech writer like most of these people do and someone within the organization has already taken credit for this humiliating mistake. Hell, a few days later, her chief rival Ivanka said the same line about “let you down”, so it’s entirely possible they had the same writer. But if it had been Melania we couldn’t really say it would have been much of a surprise. Plagiarism, despite the ease of detection, is still well alive today.

Especially from people who don’t think they’ll ever get called out on it.

The Unoriginal Sin

i made this

Plagiarism in the modern day is something most people will know just isn’t going to work. As I mentioned before, there’s software to detect it now. And as a result you find that a lot of stories about plagiarism today are from two groups in particular. The first group of people are the stupid slackers who haven’t figured out how easy it is to get caught. I would say these people are counting on their teachers, professors, or editors to be as stupid as they are but that would require a level of self-awareness their own actions demonstrate they lack. These people, eventually, are either going to figure it out or get flushed out of whatever system they’re trying to game. The second group, however, are probably going to be around for a long time.

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Famous people, whether they be celebrity or politician, are likely to keep pulling this shit long after they become aware it’s easy to get caught. A brief glance at the shit-storm that was Shia Labeouf will demonstrate at least one reason why. Seeing something he liked and rarely being told no in his life, Shia decided to “borrow” what was in front of him, turn it into a short film, then became a petulant child when people called him out for it. Why would he do this? Because Shia lives in a world where no one ever objects to his requests and someone inevitably does everything for him anyway. In a world where he could probably pay someone to wipe his ass (but wouldn’t, because that’s the accountant’s job), it never occurred to him that the idea wasn’t created for his use.

And that shell of yes-men is a big reason why some of the most visible people in the world just keep doing one of the easiest crimes to catch. Because the staff rarely has the sort of compensation or reputation to actually care if someone manages to catch them, they’re just hoping the person reading the speech doesn’t. And, unlike the students with the professors, there is some foresight involved. Dealing with people who have been coddled for a significant part of their adult life, these people are fairly comfortable in thinking their bosses wouldn’t know or care enough to run their work through Google. As far as they know, their employers don’t even know what a search engine is, let alone how to use one to make sure they’re not receiving stolen goods. And worse, thanks to examples like Shia Lebeouf and countless others, they know even if they are caught there won’t be any repercussions.

The reason why there won’t be repercussions is almost exactly the reason why they don’t get caught in the first place. When you’re putting words into the mouth of people who are essentially the living embodiment of fashion accessories, you can make a couple safe assumptions. The first is that, primarily being concerned with image, these people are only going to care that what you gave them is going to make them look good – originality be damned. Second, you know that all their image conscious peers have probably done the same. And third, admitting you did something wrong means admitting to the world that they couldn’t be bothered to read the damn thing before it flashed up on a teleprompter.

We also live in a time where bad behavior is more than rewarded, it’s celebrated. Once upon a time the general consensus was that only musicians could get away with being public nuisances. And, lo and behold, most of the biggest cases of plagiarism in the public eye were all done in the music industry. In fact, plagiarism is so prolific in that industry that they long ago evolved to simply calling it “sampling” and calling it a day. Few will be surprised in 20 years when speech writers manage to come up with the same. After all, they’ve already gone so low as to begin taking excerpts from Wikipedia, so what else is there left to do?

But, most importantly, the safe assumptions can made here not only because of the status of the speaker but because of who she is. Melania Trump is a woman with few things to worry about in her life. Knowing she had to speak at this convention was probably the most pressing concern for her in the last few years that didn’t involve labor or suppressing the natural gag reflex you have when you realize you’re married to an elderly orangutan. This is a woman likely more concerned with the fact she’s the third woman and second Eastern European to succumb to our man Agent Orange. And, with the growing evidence Ivanka was born to replace them all, if he were to get into office her pet project in the White House would be reaffirming the incest laws.

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She just needed to look good for 20 minutes and didn’t care how that happened.

And looking at the rest of the campaign, that’s the underlying strategy of the whole damn thing. Evidence has recently shown that Trump doesn’t really want to be president but stumbled into winning during a publicity stunt. For all the bullshit and crazy contradictions to happen over the last year, it all makes a hell of a lot more sense in that context. This is a man who depended on the culture of bad behavior getting rewarded but severely underestimated how far it’d gone. How else can you explain the fact a man who declared bankruptcy 4 times is only 4 months and a Clinton away from the world’s largest economy and the nuclear codes? This will be a funny story at the forced labor camps as we’re etching his name into the giant wall made out of the material that used to be our houses.

So of course they’re not worried about their hands being caught in the cookie jar, that hand’s been in the cookie jar for decades and they’re offered more cookies every time it happens. Our celebrity culture has developed to the point where they can get caught, scolded, and then rewarded all within the same day. Sure, it’s embarrassing, but these people long ago discarded their sense of shame and, in the grand scheme of things, something like this…

Won’t make them any poorer.

(I write novels and this blog. Occasionally I search the net to make sure I haven’t been ripped off. Funny enough, it usually just happens to my tweets.)

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