Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Plagiarism Police: Savage Sex Stealing

It’s been a long time since I did a Plagiarism Watch, but this story is an excuse to download the accompanying prurient image. The New York Press, a weekly alternative newspaper that is the lamer rival to the famed Village Voice had to fire it’s latest sex advice columnist. It seems that instead of soliciting letters from hapless folk on the web that seem only too eager to air dirty linen, she stole old letters from Dan Savage’s "Savage Love" column. If you are going to steal, be a little more discrete. This is like submitting a John Updike story to the New Yorker. You are going to get caught. See if you can notice the similarities (and see Jezebel for longer quotes):

New York Press, 2007
I'm beginning to be weirded out by her relationship with her brother. They're always touching in each other. Then, one day, I come home and my girlfriend is in her brother's arms on the couch. As soon as I walked in the door, they jumped up, and I saw a clear view of the outline of his boner. They both looked guilty.
Dan Savage in 2006
Two weeks ago I came home and found my girlfriend in her brother's arms on the couch. They freaked at my sudden arrival and jumped up, providing me with a clear view of the outline of the boner in his pants. Guilt was on their faces.
This is a clear case of someone trying to get away with Plagiarism Excuse® #7 (I didn’t copy. I changed a bunch of words.) but the official excuse was closer to #5 (It was a youthful indiscretion.):
She has told us she was unaware that using questions from Savage's column was a breach of journalism ethics. She has offered her resignation, and we've accepted it. We apologize to our readers, and to Dan Savage, for this error in judgment.
In his podcast, Savage Lovecast, Dan has said that one of the most common questions he gets is “How do I get your job?” His answer is to not bother. There is only one of him and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Out of context that sounds incredibly arrogant, but the germ of truth is that the alt-weekly sex column niche is pretty narrow and if you are going to compete with the market leader, you need to find a better gimmick than just rewriting letters about siblings that are a little too close and the sterility of urine. Dan has officially stayed classy, but he can afford to. In an e-mail to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he says it doesn't quite rise to the level of plagiarism:
"I don't think she did this on purpose," Savage wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "The borrowing was an accident, not malicious, and doesn't rise to the level of plagiarism, in my opinion. She could've avoided this ... if she'd said, 'I don't have any letters yet, so here are some I swiped from 'Savage Love.'' And I would've given her my permission to use 'em."
Now the Press is taking open auditions for their smut advice writer. If I knew it was that easy, I would have gotten into the sex columnist business. Any questions?


Cham said...

Probably you couldn't do Mr. Savage's job and I know I couldn't. Dan is gay, and has had more than one experience with kink. He often cites his own history when responding. I read his column, many many people read his column, all for the same reason. It's not like we are all thinking about having sex with a pot bellied pig, we are all perverted voyeurs and we all secretly want to know more about what goes on in the bedrooms of our slightly odd neighbors. That is, before we go to church and pat ourselves on the back for being pillars of the community.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I was young not that long ago -- some might say I still am -- and I'm pretty sure that for as long as I've been involved in publishing in one way or another (which has been since I was 19), I could have told you that you don't copy letters to your frickin' advice column from other advice columns. I mean, it's kind of bad form to make up the letters in the first place, though if you're starting a new column you've got to seed it somehow. A more acceptable method is to get your friends and family to submit letters (though in this case maybe you don't want to know about their kinks). Even making them up yourself from scratch would be better -- surely if you're going to take this job, you need to have a certain degree of imagination about sex, enough to make up some kinky but plausible scenarios. But to copy them from the one column that you know your target demographic reads? Dumb dumb dumb!

Having said that, I admit that I've been in vaguely similar positions of having an ostensibly reader-driven feature with no feedback -- I was the arts editor of my college newspaper and we made up the letters to the editor of our arts section pretty regularly, but we made them so ludicrous and over the top that I'd like to think that nobody thought they were real. The fact that we were making them up was part of the joke, or so we justified it to ourselves.


trusty getto said...

Hey YJ, does this mean I have to research and give credit to the inventor of whatever position I'm using on a given evening?

What if the position goes so far back, that it pre-dates the written word? Is that still plagiarism?

yellojkt said...

Your college newspaper wouldn't happened to have been Penthouse, would it? Because I'm pretty sure all the letters in there are all fake.

I inherited a copy of the Kama Sutra from my father-in-law and they got about every position imaginable and a few that aren't. They all have to be in the public domain by now. If you can come up with something those randy Hindus didn't think of, you should name it after yourself and go on the cable talk show circuit.

yellojkt said...

being a voyeuristic, vicarious hipster by reading alt-weeklies is on of the last vestiges of youth I have.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

All I can say is it's a good thing we have you on watch for these kinds of things. I know... it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it!

Mooselet said...

Yes, I have a question. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Oh, you mean a sex question? Ummmm, no. If I haven't figured out sex after popping out 4 kids I have bigger problems.

yellojkt said...

You're in the running for Comment of the Year, mooselet.

Unmolested Altar Boy said...

mooselet, European or African?