When I was in school, the one tome that edged out Didion’s The White Album for the top spot in my personal college reading canon was one penned by many authors. It was the English Department’s compendium of plagiarism offenses, replete with red marks, documentation of original sources (Who would recognize the words of Norman Mailer at a University, after all?), and my favorite part: the huge, garish, circled question marks aggressively clawed onto the last page of the incriminating papers, like scratched profanity on dive bar bathroom stalls. They were the professorial equivalent of “WTF?!?!?!?!?!? WHAT FUCKING IDIOT DOES THIS!?!??” and spoke a thousand words.
I was always amused by the busting of plagiarists, probably because, as a writer, I’ve always found cribbing somebody else’s words to be the lowest form of both cheating and stealing. My soaring ego, then unchecked, also made me so confident in my writing “voice” that I remember thinking it incredibly tacky to be able to substitute someone else’s words for your own. If I didn’t get busted for plagiarizing, I would often say far-too-smugly, it would be a day of mourning for my pen. God, college students are obnoxious.
I think I’m hardly in the minority by turning up my nose at those who lift the work another writer has sweat and bled for. For chrissake, plagiarism just isn’t ASIAN. Yes, it’s important to us to be the best; we’ll do almost anything to achieve that honor in any situation. But we also need to know we’re actually the best. We don’t like knowing that somebody else is out there that can do it better, no matter what “it’ is, even if we’re taking credit for “it.”
When Intern Jasmine posted a link to Cinematical’s story about longtime movie review plagiarist David Eng yesterday, she emphasized how insanely long he’d been stealing from other no-name critics like, ah, Roger Ebert and EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum (Who would recognize the words of Ebert on the Internet, after all?): Five years. That’s actually kind of amazing, even in a world where most blog opinion serves as packing peanuts for the Internet, filling up space and getting tossed away by the general population without being given a second look.
But I would argue that Eng’s true offense is actually how BAD his plagiarism actually was, before he was called out by Cinematical this week and his movie review blog taken down (It still lives on, unfortunately, in the Google cache). The work was sloppy, sad, and lazy. He barely took the effort to compose poorly-worded opening and closing lines to mask articles pirated in full.
See how he took on Ebert:
SERIOUSLY? One would dare adapt The Great Ebert’s review to read: “In Joan Rivers’ world, no one is ever too old. You may have that idea about JOAN RIVERS???” Good lord, I’ve got a line up-for-grabs for Eng’s next review: “Johnny Depp loves an offbeat character. Some would say that offbeat would describe Johnny Depp…”
As if making a bid to be my *new* #1 read, Cinematical compiled a whole gallery–44 in all–immortalizing Eng’s poorly-scribed thefts. There are some gems in there–he precedes David Edelstein’s review of Toy Story 3 with a bit of elementary personal opinion, for example: “Have I told you recently how much I love Pixar. [sic] The talented folks just don’t know how to make a bad movie.” A paragraph later, Edelstein’s words stick out like two old ladies at a matinee screening of Twilight: Eclipse: “…the ‘summer blockbuster’ wasn’t a genre unto itself, a megabudget cartoon tooled to help us escape from our lives. It hadn’t been commoditized yet.” Um, whoops. Eng even claims Edelstein’s personal narrative, altering the NY Mag writer’s words, “I spent my childhood in an upper-middle-class suburb, one of those doomed artificial constructs in which the outside world is kept vigorously at bay” to read, “I spent my childhood in Chinatown and darkened theaters whenever I could escape.” The next line, all Edelstein’s, remains untouched.
Yes, Eng stole from great writers for a long time uncaught. But nobody really noticed, because he was, after all, a bit of a nobody. The real crime here is that ENG IS A TERRIBLE WRITER. He can’t tell the difference between professional prose and his own rudimentary rambling. And that’s a damn shame.
WTF?!?!?!?!?!? WHAT FUCKING IDIOT DOES THIS!?!??
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