January 9th, 2008

summer reading

From Plagiarism to the Generational Divide...It's All in a Day's Blogging

I've been following with great interest though few comments (thanks to an immensely painful flare up of the carpal tunnel - typing's Not Fun just now) the Smart Bitches series of posts regarding Cassie Edwards and possible plagiarism.

I've never read a CE book - I'd pick them up once in awhile and if I could get past the cover, I'd read the sample passage just inside the cover that's supposed to draw one in; they never did draw me in...quite the opposite, I'm afraid. Thus my impressions of her as a writer have been my own negative reactions compounded by the nearly universal negative reactions I've heard from others. Bad writing isn't a bar to popularity, however (oh the authors I could name here who are popular and who I consider awful writers) and obviously lots of people love her stuff or one wouldn't see her books all over the damn place. So in a sense I come to this, I suppose, with a slightly negative bias towards Ms. Edwards. Partly because of her bad writing and partly because I hate that her bad writing, thanks to its popularity, is a kind of de facto representative of a genre of books that has a bad enough image as it is.

Before moving on I'll just say the plagiarism looks pretty clear cut to me and while it may not be legally wrong, I certainly find it ethically so. Further, I think Signet, at best, blundered rather badly with their response to the whole issue. The "Ms. Edwards has done nothing wrong" comment is lunacy and the "Although it may be common in academic circles to meticulously footnote every source and provide citations or bibliographies, even though not required by copyright law, such a practice is virtually unheard of for a popular novel aimed at the consumer market" comment is nothing short of condescending (not to mention also wrong since there are popular novels which do provide citations and sources).

One of the tangents the whole series of posts has inspired came thanks to Jenny Crusie. After seeing her original explanation about why she thought outing this information was just more Cassie Edwards bashing on the part of Smart Bitches, I didn't quite *get* what she was trying to say. She made a post today on her own website to explain her thinking process further. Now I can say I kind of understand where she's coming from, even if I quite disagree with her stance.

That disagreement made me wonder if part of the divide has to do with generational differences. Because, on the surface, I would've assumed someone from Crusie's background would be wholeheartedly supportive of the concept of outing a plagiarist. She's been in academia, she's been a teacher, she's been a writer...don't those factors add up to someone you'd assume would be so against plagiarism that the person or people who brought it to light would be the least of her concerns? But that's not the case. So it made me think about the fact that there are some kinds of humor that cross cultural and generational divides and there are some kinds that don't. For myself, I've recently noticed a trend in some areas towards a kind of humor which I find mean, but which - apparently - younger people find funny. I wonder if something similar isn't happening here. I've never taken anything the Bitches have posted to have been done in a spirit of meanness, but apparently that's just how it strikes Jennifer Crusie. Is that a difference in perception that can be chalked up to the fact that no two people see the same thing exactly the same way, or is the difference in perception due to something more? Apparently several people agree with Crusie and found the tone of the posts to be bashing Cassie Edwards and going too far. I found the posts rather restrained, all things considered, as well as succinct and to the point in laying out the facts.

This is off the main topic at hand, of course, but I find the minutiae of communication interesting. It's funny how one's assumptions about another person's thoughts and opinions can be formed with what seems like complete information, yet there can be something unexpected in the mix that you never would've imagined. And of course, a lot of what we say to one another is based upon our assumptions about how the other party to the conversation will receive what we're saying. We edit ourselves all the time to make what we're saying more acceptable to other people. In blog format, though, the communication is - in a way - more pure. There are cues we can add to indicate jokes or sarcasm, and sometimes one must exaggerate those cues in order make the joke or the sarcasm visible. But when there are no body language clues for others to interpret, the meaning is all in the words.

I'd be interested to know the ages of those who think the Smart Bitches are right on in comparison with those who think they've Gone Too Far. But I'm likely the only one with such an off-the-track interest in this whole situation, so it's probably time for me to shut up here and get back to lurking the SB comments.