Thursday, 27 September 2012

Gimme Some Credit...

Hello Friends.

Comedian Louis C.K. has this show called Louie, which opens with a cover of that song "Brother Louie." The one that goes, "Louie Louie Louie Lou-eeee! Louie Louie Louie Lou-ayyye! Louie Louie Louie Lou-eeee! Louie, baby, you're gonna cry." This past Sunday at the Emmy Awards, the show and its star took home some hardware for their second season. I was glad as that season was really good, but there's been something bugging me about the third season which wraps up this week. Since the departure of the character Pamela at the close of the season two, Louie has seen a string of really crazy ladies. Over the course of a dozen episodes, three women offer to blow him, Melissa Leo cracks his head against the windshield of her car, Parker Posey takes him on a deranged all-night date after getting kicked out of a bar, Chloe Sevigny attempts to reunite him with Posey and is so excited at the idea that she masturbates openly in a coffee shop, Maria Bamford gives him crabs, Nancy Shayne has her vagina removed, and Sarah Silverman contemplates "cutting her tits off." Maybe this isn't misogyny exactly, speaks more to Louie's bad luck or the strange people he encounters, but it isn't as if the male characters on the show are alternately oversexed or castrated.

That's a long digression to explain that, in gathering this evidence, I had a strong article to pitch. Louie earns amazing accolades from columnists and critics. The auteur style of of production (he writes, directs and edits every episode himself) and his strange vignette-style episodes make his the cool show to watch. Despite scouring the internet for other articles about his treatment of women this year, I found nothing. I thought, perhaps, that my fresh perspective might stimulate discussion, or at least readers, on a entertainment/culture website. I picked because it's a site I visit often, I like their columnists generally, and they accept unsolicited submissions for article ideas, and they often pay. I pitched the piece on a Thursday, citing the above examples and using something like, "Louie's Girl Trouble" as my working title. I received no response from anyone at Salon and still haven't, but the following Wednesday they published this article.

I can't prove that they stole my idea, but doesn't it seem like it? It's very possible that someone else watching the same season of television I did would arrive at the same conclusions, but it's a pretty big coincidence that Salon would get pitched the same idea and not think to at least write a two line response to me like, "Oh thanks, but someone's contacted us with a similar concept." I hate the idea that some editor took my idea, considered it, then promptly outsourced it to a better writer. If my grapes are especially sour, it's because one, this article has been reblogged from several sources (including my blog, I guess) and two, I swear this has happened before.

Dream: Credit where it's due.

Goal: Achievable, I hope. Can any writers speak to whether this is common practice? It's curious how a lot of these websites work. Huffington Post, for instance, has enormous readership and accepts unsolicited submissions. They don't pay a dime, but one supposes the exposure an article could potentially get would be a fair trade. But the way they accept submissions seems intentionally slick. To pitch to them, you log into their site, click a link, and write your idea in a box and click send. At no time do you get the email address of the editor you're allegedly sending to, nor do you have the option to email it back to yourself. Your idea, once it's sent, is zapped into the ether of the internet and unless you're particularly computer savvy, there's no record of what you wrote them. Ostensibly, they could steal your idea and you'd have no way to prove they did.

Plan: Rise up, move on.

I have no plans beyond this blog to confront the folks at Salon. I have no leg to stand on, after all, nothing to prove that the writer of the published article didn't come to the same conclusions I did and simply get there first, or have stronger prose. Besides, there's nothing they can do to course-correct. Publish my article after hers? Why?

Similarly, I can't fight the folks at a storytelling website I have to be vague about as they could still pay me for future contributions. Every week they put out a call looking for stories concerning a particular theme. The examples I use here are changed to save my ass in case they read this, but trust that the coincidences were the same level of plausibility. So one week, they asked something like, "Do you have a funny story about seeing someone out of context? Like running into a teacher outside of school?" And I sent them a story about bonding with a teacher outside of school after we both got caught in a rainstorm together. They rejected the story but the following week sent out a call asking, "Have you ever been caught in the rain with someone? What did you learn?" It seemed really weird to me that they rejected my idea but seemed to steal the concept. Undaunted, I wrote, "Wow, what a coincidence! I'd like to pitch this story about being caught in the rain with my French teacher one more time!" but because I knew they had rejected the story earlier, I sent along a second story about being caught in the rain during a roadtrip with a friend. They rejected those, but the following week sent out another mass email saying, "This week, we want stories about roadtrips!" Again, these examples are fake, but the eerie coincidences are the same. And like Salon, I can't accuse them of anything because I can't prove that anything actually happened.

I'm not alone here, and there are terrible examples of this kind of behaviour in writing and many other industries. Dr. Jon knows of a PhD student whose supervisor began taking credit for his thesis, submitting it to journals and conferences all over the world as his own work. I know of an actress who set up an audition for what she thought was an indie drama. The audition turned out to be in a deserted office building on a Saturday and when she arrived she was given a flimsy bra to "change into real quick" for an on-camera test. My friend bolted and took a few other girls with her, but there are far worse stories where that theme is concerned. Another friend told jokes at a stand-up night featuring a more prominent comedian. Two months later he saw that comedian doing his jokes on television.

Plagiarism seems to be a fact of life, in one form or another (don't steal this, Wente), but I guess the onus is on the originator to protect his or her own work. Naivete only serves you well in the bedroom. For me, it boils down to being assertive and simply demanding fair and equitable treatment for my work, which is something the women's movement, for example, fights for every day. Their cause deserves more help than my own, but maybe don't ask Brother Louie, or you're gonna cry.

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