Monday, September 3, 2007

The Great Divide

Dennis Cozzalio's recent reflections on the "31 Days of Spielberg" captures the dread that some of us feel right now the blogosphere. As he observes, the film blogging community (if it can be called that) has experienced something of a ripple that struck a chord with many of us, whether we have written about it or not. As for me and my place in online film writing, I will admit that I've been a little unsettled of late. Although I have remained relatively quiet until this point, I have kept up with its backlash over the weeks. Right now I still don't have much to contribute outside expressing my upset over the situation. Arguably more interesting than Damian's actions, however, is how others have responded and used these media to express their views. Some have lashed out on Damian and others have shown their support, but sparing you all a disertation-length analysis of the communicative proccesses of online writring, I think it's important at this time to maintain a certain amount of professionalism as us film bloggers grapple with this situation and its implications. In light of my recent SCMS research assignment of cinephila, film criticism and blogging, I will say that the events have given me much to think about regarding the implications of blogging and the free-wheel form of writing its participants have enacted. In many ways, this event has elucidated for all of us the major schism between blog writing and published writing, no matter what the style (which I touched on somewhat recently). This divide must be taken seriously, even as we try to break it down.

4 comments:

Piper said...

Ted,

I am a supporter of Damian because I don't believe he did what he did out of maliciousness.

I guess what surprised me is the overall backlash that occurred. Someone would make a point and then they would make it again and again. And then there were some who questioned the sincerity of Damian's apology which I find interesting. I myself have read through it a few times and found it to be nothing but genuine. Overall, it made me feel a little jumpy and quite frankly paranoid. Paranoid from that fact that most of the people who lashed out at Damian were not authors of blogs and not from people who even frequented Damian's blog because I never saw their comments before that day. And then there were people who called into questioned Damian's writing style and said that 31 Days of Spielberg wasn't that impressive. And I thought who are these people to pass so much judgment? And to me it was needless badgering. Kicking a person when they are already down. And if there was anything that made me second guess blogging, it was this mob mentality. On a much smaller level, I very much equate the mentality to the buzzards who wait for a movie star to fail.

As I have stated before, I don't excuse what Damian did, but I'm not ready to damn him for it either. Matt at The House Next Door was right to disassociate himself with the 31 Days Of Spielberg because he is a critic and he has built credibility. And that's what this is ultimately about. Credibility. Will people believe Damian and return to his blog, or won't they. I will.

Ted Pigeon said...

Thanks for commenting, Piper. In response to your stated views, I will openly voice what I withheld in my original post. First, I think you make a number of good points. I, too, know Damian to be a very nice, perceptive individual with nothing but enthusiasm for cinema, writing, Steven Spielberg, etc. So I think it's very easy to defend him for something that he was not totally aware of and was a few small instances that we know of. But I could not even write that last setence without extreme discomfort.

Plagiarism, for me, is very different than has been discussed on Damian's blog and others in light of these events. Sometimes, it's pure laziness; someone trying to cash in on others' naivete, counting on their foolishness, and not for one moment taking them seriously. That is one form. Another, but far more prominent form, is the "innocent" kind, in which the writer is unaware of the bounds of plagiarism or has no malicious intent in claiming someone else's work for his or her own.

If someone plagiarizes with the best of intentions or in an innocent manner such as the sort Damian engaged in, that does not make it excusable. Now I'm not in favor of raking Damian over the coals or calling him a bad person or anything. But, in my mind, plagiarism of all kinds is totally inexcusable, an infringement not just on an author or a writer but on an entire institution. And this should not be taken lightly. People work extremely hard to be able to publish their work and they exhaustively research the subject. Even the smallest form of plagiarism is an offense against everything that writers or artists stand for.

I don't want to sound more fire and brimstone than I am. Like I said, I like Damian very much, not just for his contributions to my blog but for his tenacity and enthusiastic approach to cinema. I have always found his entries enjoyable. And I know that we all make mistakes no matter what field we're in or contributing to.

As a professional editor (writer), I am full aware as to how we develop as writers and embody many style of writers we admire. And I know that someone can acknowledge that and take it to thenext level, a la the Tarantino statement someone made at Damian's blog, about stealing from everything. The bottom line is that yes, we are all influenced. But human thought and any kind of contribution to it (be it artistic, scientific, etc.) must respect and acknowledge the work that has influenced and enabled one's own ideas to contribute something to that medium, specialty, or field.

I believe that original ideas of all kinds are possible, however only achievable by respecting one's peers and thereby the insitution one seeks to contribute to. We all come to our own unique ideas based on material to which we have been exposed and therefore influenced by. But in order to really contribute to a field, we must acknowledge this work and engage itm, wrestle with its ideas and how they may contrast with others, and so on and so forth. No one person can encapsulate all information or substance of a given field, but that field or area of study only grows based on how individuals can productively engage the texts that shape it and then from them form one's own text that may contribute to a field.

And that is what makes "the blog" such a fascinating writing vehicle and place of communication. Essentially, we can bypass all of these values if we want, which is why I believe this medium will only work if participants stop labeling it a forum of democracy nd think of it as a logical extension of published writing. Yes, it has new properties and combines elements of oral and literate language and communication; but we must be careful not to think of it as something totally new and different in the writing media. Only from the established norms of other media do these digital media make sense.

Piper said...

Ted,

I agree with all you said. So my question is this: what does everyone want? The hand slap has happened several times. Do people want Damian to stop blogging? I've read everyone's opinion on plagiarism and I agree that it is a serious offense and I don't know Damian personally so I don't know if he will take all this to heart or not. If he begins again, he will be judged no doubt and people will decide if they trust him or not. You state your position, but you have not said what ultimately you think should happen.

Ted Pigeon said...

It doesn't matter, essentially, because this medium enables any one of us to write what we want, when we want, and in whatever manner we want. Damian can follow any course of action he likes. Will I continue to read his blog should he decide to continue it? Sure, but my motivations have slightly changed.

There are a small number of people who aim to take this medium seriously and use it for benefit. I cannot stop anyone from using this so-called medium of democracy, so it's not my place to say whether someone should or shouldn't do it. I suppose it's easy to say that it should be used for productive ends, but my desire for that function of blogging goes against its inherent properties. I attempt to use this medium productively precisely because I recognize these properties and understand that the medium itself is the message, and the message ain't good.

98 percent of people (or more) who publish blogs engage in discourse that is inherently immediate, heavily flawed from a grammatical and informative standpoint, and which isn't the least bit investigative. Blogs are a haven for people to articulate their opinions. Only by acknowledging the function of this medium and understanding the various media and technologies from which it has emerged can one turn a medium like this against itself and use it for good. Low and behold, however, these people only can do so by making themselves an alternative to a dominant ideology. Therefore, the level of productivity that can actually be achieved within the discursive norms of blogging is difficult to say.

I know this might seem like I'm skating around the question, but I'm answering it in the only way I know how. I don't think I can say either way whether Damian should continue blogging. I think that's a loaded question that cannot be simply answered without investigating the underlying assumptions under which we operate when talking about blogging. The question itself is geared towards a yes/no, right/wrong schemata that may sidestep the real issues.

Long story short: I have a lot of figuring out to do. But I don't take these issues lightly and my reflexive state about blogging prevents me from really engaging this level if discourse in the way that others have until this point. I can, however, observe with interest. And I am more than interested in whether Damian will return or not and how that will bode for him, what with all the commenters who emerged from the woodwork after the plagiarism claims surfaced.