Plagiarism, misattribution, internalizing, homage:
Intentional, unintentional, accidental, deliberate.
Good lord, I don't know why I chose to dive down this rabbit hole. Or, well, I DO—Kelly's tumblr post about the dialogue surrounding the John Green/Melody Truong saga got me thinking and wondering—but now that I have 87 zillion tabs open and my computer's started to smoke, I'm reconsidering my decision. Oh, well. HERE WE GO.
Unless you've not looked at, like, ANY YA-related media in a few days, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. If not, here you go:
Right up front, credit where it's due: he became aware of the problem and he fixed it, by talking about it publicly, crediting the original author, paying her retroactive royalties, adding an entirely new poster of hers to his store, with a bonus call to arms to viewers about working to better ourselves about fact-checking and attributing sources. While there isn't an actual I'm sorry apology in the video, he takes responsibility for the situation, and he explains what he's done in terms of restitution. With the exception of the call to arms—most people don't have a platform from which to suggest these things—all of those items are actions that I'd hope any decent person would take.
Most of the coverage I've seen about this has been overwhelmingly positive—CNN paints him as the hero, with "Green was upset that Truong was being accused of stealing his quote: "I'm the thief!" he proclaimed."; the HuffPo gives glowing praise for the fact that he's paying Truong for her work, with "Now that's how you make up for your mistakes."; and the Guardian goes so far as to call him a 'victim', with "But it’s not only a problem of modern technology, John. Here are some other authors who have been victims of misattributed quotes."—and for the most part, I attribute that to the fact that most people learned about the situation from John Green himself, rather than stumbling across the original reddit posting¹. And, as much as I'd like to assume it's all due to that, the WaPo's mention of the video's "charming honesty" makes me think that there's some of the usual John Green Effect at work, too.
I do think that he's entirely right about the disturbing lack of fact- and source-checking on the internet—as I said on Twitter earlier, we see and do this stuff all the time, like when Banksy gets credited for another artist's work; or when we get enraged about articles without looking to see if they're satirical; or when we share articles based on the headline and not on the content²—but I don't feel that the fact that it's a systemic problem, the fact that we should all do better, equates to not talking about it, or pretending it never happened.
Along those thinking-and-talking-about-these-things lines, let's look at two other cases that spring to mind. Keep in mind: these are just the first two cases that came to mind—they aren't meant to be exact parallels, etc., etc.
2013: Sarah Rees Brennan and Cassandra Clare are accused of lifting a line from The Hunger Games movie and using it in their short story, "Vampires, Scones, and Edmund Herondale". Brennan took full responsibility for the line and defended herself here. Other authors—including John Green, who had some things to say about reading and criticism and his "job as a reader" that I disagree with wholeheartedly, but that's a rather huge digression—got involved and due to Clare's history in the fanfic world³, it all got super ugly, super fast.
Related side note: Researching THAT situation led me to this post, which asks some questions about the connections between the work of John Green and the work of David Foster Wallace: in terms of inspiration versus internalization, allusion versus regurgitation, appropriation as homage versus appropriation as "lifting without mention". Which, good lord. Is this why I went away from tumblr for so long? BECAUSE IT'S SO EASY TO LOSE HOURS AND HOURS THERE, FOLLOWING THREADS AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT ALL?
2006: Shortly after publication, news broke that Kaavya Viswanathan's book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life contained a lot—A LOT—of similar phrasing and in some cases, full passages from a number of other books, most notably the first two books in Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling books. After a brief attempt to smooth it all over, Little Brown ended up recalled the books, and they were pulped.
At the New York Times, Kaavya Viswanathan is quoted as saying she "wasn't aware of how much [she] may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words", and that it was "unintentional and unconscious". I find it fascinating that her explanations are so similar to explanations given in other situations—not just the ones that I've talked about/linked to here, but other cases, too—but that while others are met with understanding and empathy, she was roundly vilified and her career ended.
And yes, it WAS different—the passages were long, they were many, they were pervasive—but I can't help but wonder if celebrity schadenfreude was a factor, too, and that the fact that she was a 19-year-old wunderkind debut author ultimately worked against her. Then again, if celebrity schadenfreude was a factor, you'd think that Postergate wouldn't have turned into such a media lovefest... but again, the details of the situations and the ways in which the stories broke were entirely different. (Sidenote: I'd forgotten about Malcolm Gladwell's HIDEOUSLY MADDENING essay about this.)
That's all I've got for now. I don't think I've said anything horribly rude or controversial here, but feel free to yell at me in the comments, I guess.
¹That said, there's kind of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't problem when it comes to approaching a person with a passionate fanbase. In this case, it all worked out, because Green appears to be a fair-minded, decent guy... but if you scroll down to the comments before he stepped in, the original poster was getting flack for even MENTIONING it publicly. And, as Green mentioned in the video, Melody Truong has been on the receiving end of private messages on tumblr attacking HER for 'stealing' John Green's work. Which, wow.
²If you care about book challenges, that one, especially, should resonate—because jumping to conclusions based on a headline is a whole lot like challenging a book based on an out-of-context quote.
³I am not opening that can of worms in this post, because A) I'd like to not be writing this for the REST OF MY LIFE and B) I don't know fanfic culture well enough to comment on it. Also, almost any conversation I've ever seen about it devolves into name-calling and so on really, REALLY fast, so yeah. No, thank you.