True Detective Accused Of Plagiarizing Horror Author Because Characters Sounded Similiar

from the the-horror dept

True Detective, the show so popular HBO couldn’t stream it properly, was undeniably a major hit in its first season. The series’ first iconic character, Rust Cohle, played by Mathew McConaughey, was a notably peculiar guy, often spouting philosophical statements that essentially dreaded humanity and the world in which we live. It was a big part of the grab of the show.

And, because some people just don’t understand that influence and/or homage is not the same copying, fans of the horror author Thomas Ligotti are accusing the show’s creator of plagiarism.

Mike Davis, the editor of The Lovecraft eZine, collaborated with Thomas Ligotti Online founder Jon Padgett to track down similarities between Rust Cohle’s dialogue in True Detective and a Thomas Ligotti book called The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. The duo found nearly a dozen instances in which Cohle’s dialogue seemed to be cribbed from Ligotti; you can compare them for yourself at The Lovecraft eZine.

The Lovecraft post solemnly outlines the definition of plagiarism — submitting as one’s own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement — and then goes on to say there are 12 different instances in True Detective where that definition is met. They are convinced the case is closed. Others, such as Slate’s David Haglund, are quite far from convinced.

Consider perhaps their strongest example, these lines from Rust Cohle, the character played by Matthew McConaughey: “I think about the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this meat … Force a life into this thresher.” At different points in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, Thomas Ligotti refers to people being “stolen from nonexistence,” says “we are meat,” and asks, “Why should generations unborn be spared entry into the human thresher?” It’s clear from these similarities that Pizzolatto has read the Ligotti book and borrowed from it—something he has himself acknowledged, about which more below. If True Detective was not a cop show on HBO but a term paper in a philosophy class, then it would indeed be wrong for him to lift such ideas and metaphors from an author without citing him in the work itself. But Davis, at least, does not seem to fully grasp that distinction: He explains his charges by quoting a Cambridge University statement on plagiarism that was explicitly provided for people giving and taking written examinations.

This is more commonly known as inspiration or homage. It’s not the kind of plagiarism typically highlighted. That’s because Cohle is a fictional character, created by Pizzolato and encompassing some aspects of Ligotti’s work as a small part of the character’s attributes. That’s no more plagiarism than using a more general archetype for a character. There is such a thing as plagiarism in fiction, but it typically involves significant amounts of a work being transposed into another. That isn’t what we’re talking about here.

Add to that the fact that, as briefly mentioned above, Pizzolato does indeed acknowledge Ligotti’s influence, and it’s difficult to understand what the hell anybody is upset about. Particularly since the accusatory post itself points this out.

Padgett also provides a timeline of people noticing those similarities and Pizzolatto acknowledging them. True Detective premiered on Jan. 12, and nine days later an interviewer mentioned “Cohle’s Ligottian worldview” in a question. In his reply, Pizzolatto didn’t refer to Ligotti by name. Nine days after that, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, Michael Calia, wrote admiringly of the parallels between Ligotti’s work and Pizzolatto’s, citing some of the same passages that Padgett has reproduced this week. (Padgett says he helped with research for Calia’s piece.) A few days later, Calia published an interview with Pizzolatto, in which the showrunner listed Ligotti first among the writers of weird fiction he’d point people to and said that the premiere episode of True Detective featured “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.”

That kind of verbal bibliography pretty much does the plagiarism charge in completely. So, for all of you Ligotti admirers out there, untwist those boxershorts and enjoy the homage to your hero, because plagiarism this is not.

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Comments on “True Detective Accused Of Plagiarizing Horror Author Because Characters Sounded Similiar”

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Mark Jensen says:

No, you're wrong, Tim. This is a clear-cut case of plagiarism.

I’ve never read much Ligotti, but I know plagiarism when I see it. Did you actually read the article that makes the charge top to bottom? The shooting script, word for word lifting is especially damning. And the way we here in tv land attribute material that we take this wholesale is by asking permission and paying the writer to whom we are borrowing.

Educate yourself.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: No, you're wrong, Tim. This is a clear-cut case of plagiarism.

Nonsense. I read the entire article, and there wasn’t one case where more than a few words were similar. Saying snippets like “we are meat” or “human thresher” amounts to plagiarism is insane. This ownership society has to stop. Everything is a collage of everything before it.

A non-mouse says:

Re: Re: No, you're wrong, Tim. This is a clear-cut case of plagiarism.

FWIW, Rust Cohle didn’t use the phrase “human thresher”, he simply referred to people/humans/etc. as threshers. Likewise, I could refer to someone(GP) as a “pompous windbag”, but it wouldn’t mean I’ve plagiarized any of the folks who have said it before me.

Besides, George Musgrave used the phrase “human thresher” over 150 years prior to Ligotti, so who’s plagiarizing who?

Mark Jensen says:

Re: Re: No, you're wrong, Tim. This is a clear-cut case of plagiarism.

You guys are hilariously clueless about what plagiarism is or isn’t.

COHLE (original screenplay draft): See, we fabricate meaning in order to deny what we are, so that we can keep on going. Family, god, country, art- these are the materials of our fabrications. We’re uncanny puppets on a lonely planet, in cold space, living and replicating and sending unborn generations into suffering and death because that’s our programming.

“Within the hierarchy of fabrications that compose our lives—families, countries, gods—the self incontestably ranks highest.” (CATHR, p. 103)

“We are gene-copying bio-robots, living out here on a lonely planet in a cold and empty physical universe.” (CATHR, p. 110)

COHLE (original screenplay draft): There is no point. Nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to do, nothing to be.

“Without the everclanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know.” (CATHR p. 116)

“(1) there is nothing to do; (2) there is nowhere to go; (3) there is nothing to be; (4) there is no one to know.” (CATHR, p. 115)

“…first, that there was nowhere for you to go; second, that there was nothing for you to do; and third, that there was no one for you to know. (TEATRO GROTTESCO, p. 238)

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: No, you're wrong, Tim. This is a clear-cut case of plagiarism.

Everything must be owned. If a reader is influenced by your words, then that reader becomes your property or at least their brain does because you can prove your words are in their head. That’s where you’re going, isn’t it?

You’re trying to lock ideas up. Once expressed, no one else can have them. They cannot be debated or revised, only attributed and paid for. Over and over again forever, amen. It’s not homage, it’s theft. If Pizzolatto had been a serious writer, he would have never read anything by anyone else ever. Once you fill your brain with other people’s words, how can you ever claim to be original?

Anonymous Coward says:

I know from watching countless horror “because it my hobby ” I’ve heard similar lines from many films. he may have influenced , but I’m sure there are many other influences there as well .

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.”
― H.P. Lovecraft, The Call Of Cthulhu

mitch henson says:


At this point plagiarism is not the issue. No one has shown a single instance in this case. It now appears that Pizzolattos reputation has been slandered. Whoever has access to Wikipedia’s Ligotti info page has erroneously posted that there have been demonstrated 11 points or instances of plagiarism. Nothing has been quoted verbatim, as is claimed. Ligotti has not demonstrated original intellectual property.
I think it is time for Pizzolattos to step up and take legal action.

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