Monday, June 18, 2007

Why I think Shakespeare should sue Rebecca Eckler

I have been following the Rebecca Eckler-Judge Apatow saga with great amusement and great exasperation. My friend Jen, aka Nikki Stafford, has published some absolutely hilarious commentaries on Ecky and her ilk generally, and this issue specifically (here, here, and here), and there has been a groundswell of writing in the blogosphere taking Ecky rather sarcastically to task for her narcissism and the generally inane nature of her lawsuit.

(For those unfamiliar with this comedy of errors, the erstwhile National Post and Globe & Mail columnist is launching a lawsuit against director Judge Apatow—he of The Forty Year Old Virgin fame—claiming that his recent film Knocked Up plagiarizes her memoir of the same title. I won’t rehearse the details of her claims here; everything you need to know is pretty much covered in the posts of Jen’s I link to above).

While on one hand this lawsuit doesn’t really deserve the attention it’s getting—a petulant, self-indulgent salvo from a narcissistic, not-very-smart “journalist” on extremely flimsy legal ground—on the other hand I agree with a number of people who worry about the implications this kind of frivolous lawsuit has for copyright law. It reminds me of that woman who took J.K. Rowling to court on the charge that Rowling had stolen the word “Muggle” from her.

Here’s the question I asked then: even if it could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rowling had stolen the term, what kind of damages could the court reasonably award? Did this woman truly think that the success of the Harry Potter series hinged on a single word?

There’s an old saying that someone should take the time to educate Ecky, Muggle-woman and others of their ilk about: “Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal.” Now, as an English professor, I’m death on plagiarism, but when we enter the creative realm we’re in different territory: can you imagine how many of our great writers wouldn’t have gotten out of the gate had they had to face Ecky-charges? Certainly T.S. Eliot would have spent all his time in court with the estate of Jessie L. Weston, Richard Wagner, Joseph Conrad and dozens of others. James Joyce would never have made it past the first round with his editor’s lawyers. And we’d be denied the genius of the greatest plagiarizer of all, William Shakespeare.

This of course is not to suggest that Judge Apatow is a great artist, or even a mature one for that matter (certainly The Forty Year Old Virgin would suggest he’s rather gleefully immature). It is however to observe that most, if not all narrative tends to proceed from the realm of common experience. Artists steal: they steal from other artists, from other people’s experiences, from the newspaper and from history books. I was once at a book launch party in Toronto, chatting with a bunch of people I didn’t know, two of whom were apparently novelists. One of the people in the group was telling a particularly funny anecdote about himself. When he finished, one of the writers turned to the other and asked “So do you want that one, or can I have it?”, much to the discomfiture of the storyteller. I once saw a play in the Toronto Fringe written by an ex-girlfriend, one of the characters in which exhibited a number of personality traits I recognized as mine (when I asked her about it after the play, she said airily, “Oh, he’s partially you, but he’s mostly the guy I dated after you”). And then there are those rather accomplished novelists you meet, whose keen glance as you’re talking to them has you wondering uncomfortably if they’re evaluating whether you’d make a good character in a story.

A professor of mine at York liked to claim there were only five stories, and that all narrative literature—as well as a great deal of history writing—are just variations on them. Other structuralist critics would say seven, or four, or ten. Joseph Campbell said there was just one.

The point, again, being that all narrative art, the high and the low, does not exist as hermetically sealed autonomous texts, but presupposes familiarity with certain stories, myths, conventions, situations, ideas, experiences, etc etc. Where do you think genre films come from? Can you imagine Francis Ford Coppolla suing Martin Scorcese for stealing his idea to do a mafia film?

So when Rebecca Eckler claims that her experience of pregnancy and motherhood is somehow singular to her, you can pretty much hear mothers all around the country exclaiming “Whaaaaaat?!” As Jen, aka Nikki says rather eloquently, “This is a perfect example of Rebecca Eckler's self-centredness... she's the sort of person to burn her mouth on coffee and think she's the only person on earth to have done it. But only after she's run outside to tell everyone she's discovered a new substance called coffee.”

(Jen: please notice I put your words in quotation mark and cited you. Don’t sue me!).


Nikki Stafford said...

I don't know who this Jen person is, but she's totally ripping me off by pretending to be me. I'm suing her. ;)

Sheena said...

I've got a wacky idea. A comic book about a supehero who gets his powers from some sort of freak urban accident and now dresses in a costume and saves people, all the while maintaining a less imposing secret idenity!

Or a romantic comedy about a girl who meets boy and falls in love. But there's already another man. This love triangle eventually crumbles and the girl ends up with the boy. We'll close on a kiss. Or maybe a wedding.

A film about some type of zombie infection that spreads through a city and a group of people try to survive.

A murder myster that keeps you guessing as to who the killer is!

How about an almost super human serial killer that keeps coming back film after film!

Something fantastical - possibly involving a quest and some wizards.

Using the colour white as a symbol for innocence.

Or a novel with a coming-of-age theme.

Or a dystopian future.

Or a poem about FLOWERS!

I am brilliant.

viagra online said...

Maybe because Shakespeare was gay, I think it could be the reason you're seeing that in this blog.