A Million Little Pieces

Totally original and edgy artwork copyright 2007I’ve wasted way too much time today reading the internet hubub about how a webcomic was ripped off by an art thief. Actually, “art thief” isn’t as good a description as “some dude who makes crappy drawings from internet catchphrases and puts them on T-shirts and paintings and has made obscene millions doing so,” but I feel obligated to do my part in the nerd fight.

The whole thread where it went down is on somethingawful.com, but it’s interminable and filled with your standard internet “nerd rage,” as the victim points out. The highlights for me were the truly awful company started by the guy, and this article about his gallery showing in Vegas. Even without the clear-cut plagiarism charge, I don’t see how anybody can read that article after seeing his work and not just be filled with an ill-defined rage and a queasy feeling about the state of humanity.

There’s been a good bit of this going around; charges of lying or plagiarism followed by an internet outrage. There was James Frey’s smackdown on Oprah, then more recently the stand-up comedian slap-fight between Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia over Mencia’s stealing comedy material, and now this.

What gets me is that all the cases have one major thing in common, one that frequently gets overlooked: the perpetrators all suck. Everybody made a big deal about how Frey lied, and how Mencia, and Dane Cook, and now Todd Goldman all steal. But people don’t give enough attention to the fact that they all put out really terribly awful shit, and make millions and millions of dollars off of it.

It was hard to get too incensed about the Rogan/Mencia spat, because I’m no fan of Rogan outside of “News Radio.” But as was the case with all these stories, you start reading little bits about it on the internet, and then start digging deeper and finding out more about these talentless hacks, and it just gets worse. I’d never seen Mencia’s TV show, but of course I had to go on YouTube and see this god-awful stupid video of his catch-phrase song, which just raises the question “The dude makes this and people’s biggest complaint is that he steals material?” The only defense of Mencia I ever saw was this blog post from one of the series’ writers, where he says that Rogan was just jealous, and that the jokes in question were so obvious anybody could’ve made them. Seriously, that’s his defense. The guy gets paid to write this crap, and he justifies it by saying that it’s not plagiarism, it’s making completely obvious and uninspired commentary that absolutely anyone could’ve come up with first. In other words, he’s a total hack.

The T-Shirt guy fiasco is even stupider. Here’s a compilation of thefts and alleged thefts. What bears repeating: this is an intellectual property argument over novelty tees, and not even particularly clever ones. And the guy has made an obscene amount of money selling them. And his defense, at least at the moment, is that he “unintentionally” took the design from a submission and didn’t research it enough. Note that the guy isn’t just talentless and dishonest; he’s a total douchebag. But back up a step to really appreciate his “defense:” the guy takes drawings “submitted” by other people, paints them on a canvas with his name on it, and charges thousands of dollars for them. And they sell. I can’t help feeling like we’re all victims in this scenario.

Whatever happened to stealing and lying to come up with something good? Self-important hipsters have been saying for years that the only way to really make a lot of money in the arts and entertainment is to make stupid, non-challenging crap that’s been dumbed down for the mass market. Despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, I just can’t believe that’s true.

I’ve still got my theory, but I’m afraid it might be overly optimistic. I like to think that the reason these cases get so much attention is because there are still enough people who get it and recognize them as being talentless hacks. Once a revelation of lying or plagiarism comes out, all the anger isn’t just at the dishonesty, but at the idea of being such a bottom-feeder and still being obscenely successful from it. Outrage over the awfulness of the result material is what gives it its initial traction, and it snowballs from there. Most people really want to see good, original, intelligent stuff. The internet rage is really about quality, not just money or copyright.

And the fact that “Robot Chicken” is not only still in production, but it regularly gets some of the highest ratings on the Cartoon Network, is because people are just naturally inclined to be nice and give a helping hand to the mentally challenged.

Just humor me on this one. I want to believe.