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.