When I first moved to Philly I used to spend some nights with my then-girlfriend at the Pen & Pencil, a private club for journalists which is still the oldest continuously operating press club in America. The entrance was tucked away on Latimer Street between 15th and 16th. Just as the Badda-Bing could claim and boast of the likes of fictional mobster greats like Tony Soprano, the P&P had its share of famous members and guests, including former president William Howard Taft who used to give his bodyguards the slip in order to banter at the club til the wee hours of the morning. The walls were lined with signed photographs of past members in Geno-esque fashion. You had to be a member or know someone who was to get in. And you had to knock.
Being in the company of established journalists was a great experience. While my ex worked as a bartender at McGlinchey's just a few doors down, her career as a photographer was beginning to take off. Her series "The Regulars", which she presented at the P&P one night to a group of local journalists, appeared in a 2004 issue of The New York Times Magazine and gave her national exposure and the window of opportunity to pursue photography as a bona-fide career. One thing I respected about her work was that it was not lifted from anywhere--at least explicitly.
Kaavya Viswanathan's, the Princeton sophomore whose book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life was pulled from the shelves after it was discovered that the book was laced with plagiarized style and structure, has become a kind of poster-child for plaigarism. Along with Jayson Blair's undermining of the integrity of a stalwart like The New York Times with his "borrowed" material from other journalists, and the accusations against Obama for his 'second-hand speech giving' ("change you can Xerox,") the scandals of Stephen Glass', Viswanathan's, and Blair's, serve as reminders that plaigarism is alive and well...and has very real consequences. (Just when I cancel my Netflix account, I find a movie that looks worth watching! Shattered Glass recounts the tale of then 25 year old Stephen Glass' fall from grace as a young journalist at the New Republic. He's played by Hayden Christenson of Star Wars fame, and Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State, Boys Don't Cry) as Glass' editor, Chuck Lane).
An emerging trend to be noticed is the attitude towards journalistic and literary integrity in a new generation of young writers. Foster Winan was quoted in an interview which appeared in Black Table as saying, “The younger generation thinks that everything has a reset button that wipes away the past and the consequences. [But] life teaches us that it takes experience and time to become the kind of success we truly want to be.” Winan did time for his 'quick-money' scheme at The Wall Street Journal, while writers and journalists like Glass, Blair, and Viswanathan try to reinvent their lives in the aftermath of their blacklisting. These were young, ambitious writers who gambled with their character and integrity...and lost.
One of the safeties of using your own life as lit-fodder is that you are in no danger of plagiarism, since you are pulling your information straight from the source. Which is why I am so excited about the possibility of co-writing a screenplay, as well as the possibility of making some (serious) money this summer penning a play for upcoming 2008 Christmas productions. With Jeannie's help, and some diligence, there's nothing to keep it from happening and becoming a bona-fide playwright. It's encouraging to know there is potential in something you can claim as your own...like having your house sitting over top a geo-thermal pool: all you have to do is harness the energy. But after reading about all the fallen angels in the world of journalism and literature, the danger of having it all be taken away with one misappropriated idea is a reality whose presence is felt ever greater the closer one draws towards prime-time success.
Much thanks to Foster for his comments on yesterday's post. Best of luck in the future Foster!