True Detective: Intellectual Property Theft?

True Detective:

Intellectual Property Theft?



Well– that didn’t go quite the way I was expecting it, now did it?

With all the wonderful, fun speculation as to the hidden and not-so-hidden weird fiction references in HBO’s True Detective I thought I would see if anyone had dug up a little Arthur Machen, by any chance.  After all, Lovecraft seems to have been well catered for and we might even have a chance at seeing a Robert W.  Chambers revival with all the hoo-lah over The King in Yellow; so why not dear old Arthur, the out-of-print and cruelly forgotten Welsh Bard and weird literary genius?

Little did I know when I went a-web searching on Wednesday that a rather big controversy had just erupted. And one, moreover, that centered on that most distasteful of words:  Plagiarism.

Together, Mike Davis (editor of that excellent site The Lovecraft eZine) and Jon Padgett (founder of Thomas Ligotti Online) have put forward a compelling case for…yikes, plagiarism from Nic Pizzolatto, the Emmy-award nominated screenwriter and creator of True Detective.

But is it compelling enough?

Theft or Influence

I’m not exactly good at sitting on the fence, which is why I’d never make a politician.  It’s supposed to be comfortable and out-of-the way there, but in the long run I find that it never is.  You just end up looking like a bit of a boneless wimp.  This time, though, I’m going to make an exception…at least until we hear what Thomas Ligotti has to say.  And he has been rather deafening by his silence at least up until the time of my writing this.

I also have to say with some embarrassment that as an avowed Lovecraft-head I have never read Thomas Ligotti.  I had heard his name but despite the fact that I now see that he has been described as a literary descendent of HPL I had never come across his work, although now I’m bursting to!

Basically, Davis and Padgett say that some of the lines—especially in that wonderful speech from Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) in the car during the first episode– are pretty much lifted, if not verbatim then with a few changes, from Ligotti’s non-fiction work The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. 

Certainly, from what I now learn of the author, the fictional character of Rust Cohle shares quite a bit of Ligotti’s pessimistic outlook.  So, does that mean it’s a rip-off?

Here are a couple of the examples given:

COHLE:  There is no point.  Nowhere to go, no one to see, nothing to do, nothing to be.

CONSPIRACY AGAINST…:  There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know.

Yeah, I have to admit, that doesn’t look too great for Pizzolatto.  So how about:

COHLE:  So my daughter, she spared me from the sin of being a father.

CONSPIRACY: …non-coital existence…the surest path to redemption for the sin of being congregants of this world.

There are literally pages of comparisons and the two accusers have been nothing if not thorough.  Here, by the way, let me utterly refute the nonsense being spoken by Pizzolatto’s defenders: that Davis and Padgett are only drumming up publicity for themselves and a writer that they admire.  I have no doubt that they thought long and hard before entering this particularly nasty arena and have done so in good faith.

It would be easier to give Pizzolatto the benefit of the doubt, if he weren’t coming across as such an arrogant bastard. (Although I can forgive him a lot after that mask-nudge to Cthulhu.)  After all, he could have given Ligotti some credit—and not under grudging duress as he has done.  As Davis and Padgett point out, Ligotti isn’t even acknowledged on the DVD commentary.  Still, there is a case to be made that he is only having Cohle present a particular world-view.  A weak enough case, but still a valid one.  And some argue that Lovecraft himself has been plagiarized for years.  The difference there is that in his lifetime HPL encouraged people to lift from him.

There is another example that Davis and Padgett point out and that is what they contend is a lift from one of comic book writer Alan Moore’s less well known works, Top 10.  As it happens, that one is sitting on my shelves and lads, I would have to say that this one is—I think—homage, not stealing.  After all, Pizzolatto as far as I know has never denied being a comics nerd.

And here’s something that I don’t believe anyone has mentioned yet.

Alan Moore himself was guilty of plagiarism some thirty years ago.  Who says so?  He does.  Who spotted it?  He did.

He speaks of reading over one of his Time Twisters after it had gone to print and being horrified when he realised that an idea wasn’t original to him.  He immediately had the offending tale withdrawn; but as he pointed out, anyone who reads or watches as much as him is always in danger of accidently coming away with someone else’s idea. It’s just one of the hazards at that level.

I don’t think that there’s much more to be said by me.  This little brief round-up is only meant to spark your interest.  There is more on the internet than you will ever be able to wade through at the moment.

Until Ligotti himself makes some kind of a statement, then we’re in Limbo; although there is no doubt that if Pizzalotti does pick up an award now, then his win is definitely tainted by this.  And by his less-than-helpful attitude.

As to Thomas Ligotti, he may be mainly out-of-print at the moment, but something tells me that’s all about to change.

Author: Charley Brady

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