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Week in Review: The thorny layers of the ‘True Detective’ plagiarism scandal

Week in Review: The thorny layers of the ‘True Detective’ plagiarism scandal


Like some elaborate act of God and conspiracy that crosses timelines and layers of philosophy and perspective worthy of True Detective itself, a dense conversation has formed over the last week regarding whether True Detective showrunner Nic Pizzolato plagiarized the character and idea of Rust Cohle off of similar ideas in the book Conspiracies Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti. The debate first started when writer Mike Davis over at The Lovecraft Zine posted an interview he conducted with the head of Thomas Ligotti online, Jon Padgett. The article cites numerous instances of fairly similar expressions and turns of phrase that feel inspired by the Ligotti novel from 2010, including arguments that Pizzolato only brought up Ligotti in interviews when prodded and never alluded to the author on the DVD commentary. Padgett alleged that this was particularly serious because Rust’s character helped make the show unique:

The most egregious instance of Pizzolatto’s plagiarism involves some of the most captivating and most quoted of all the scenes from the series: namely, the car ride in episode one in which Rust Cohle outlines his pessimistic, anti-natalist worldview definitively and powerfully. It is a fact that (in that crucial, character-defining scene) almost every one of Rust’s infamous lines is either taken word for word or is a paraphrase of Ligotti’s distinctive prose and ideas from The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Bear in mind as well that this scene is the lynchpin of Cohle’s character – and it is the scene in which  True Detective goes from being just another cop buddy procedural to something different, something of exceeding interest to HBO’s audience and a credit to the writer who created Rustin Cohle. It is that difference—along with randomly used red-herrings from Robert W. Chambers’The King in Yellow, to which Ligotti refers in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race—which set True Detective apart from more generic shows. In no uncertain terms, the pessimism and anti-natalism of Rust Cohle as articulated by Ligotti is the hallmark element of the show and sets up Cohle’s change of heart, so to speak, on which True Detective closes. Take Rust Cohle’s Ligottian worldview and the weird fiction references away, and you lose what makes the show special.

Since then, the Internet has had its say in more ways than one. Davis followed up by saying that even if Pizzolato’s alleged plagiarism wouldn’t hold up in any court, what he did was still wrong. Some pointed out that Pizzolato has in fact publicly cited Ligotti, even if that came after a similar observation when the show was getting going, or that other famous moments seem to have been homaged/lifted. Some columnists called hypocrisy by saying that an H.P. Lovecraft fan of all people shouldn’t be upset about people copying other work. Still other columnists have been quick to assert that art is a much thornier place to lobby plagiarism claims. Unless you’re Shia Labeouf blatantly ripping off writers and Yahoo! Answers as part of an elaborate art movement, you run into territory of wondering if every rom-com ever made is plagiarized or if Coldplay ripped off Joe Satriani because they used the same set of notes or chords.

If the similarities between True Detective and Ligotti is no coincidence, then it’s also no coincidence that it has come out just during Emmy voting, or as rumors on Season 2 of True Detective have been flying with Colin Farrell, Elisabeth Moss and Vince Vaughn all in conversations, or that Pizzolato was featured as a “disruptor” on the cover of the coming issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

But finally this week, Pizzolato did come out via Deadline and respond to the allegations:

Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.

Fresh off an Emmy nomination for his show Derek, Ricky Gervais is once again reviving his career-making character from The Office David Brent. A press release stated that the film will be called Life on the Road, a Spinal Tap-esque movie in which Brent tries taking his guitar playing on tour after years of selling cleaning supplies and toiletries. It sounds fantastic, firstly because The Office has always been an indirect descendant of This is Spinal Tap, but also because Gervais is both perfectly at home playing Brent and because he’s a pretty solid guitar player. T-Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers said about writing “Please Mr. Kennedy” that if you’re going to write joke songs, they still have to be ones worth listening to, and Gervais seems to have that down. Watch the video of Brent giving guitar lessons and singing “Life on the Road” above.

In today’s world, the best way to get anything done is not to get off your feet and actually lobby for change but create a Facebook Group or a Reddit forum and hope your obscure thing goes viral. For one person, that meant putting a petition on in order to convince the NFL to get “Weird Al” Yankovic to play the Super Bowl halftime show. Presumably he was not on most short lists after people watched the Bruno Mars performance, but “Weird Al” is a populist performer, he’s technically a legacy act, he plays all sorts of music, and hey, he even had a Number One album this year. The petition at time of writing has over 88,000 signatures with 61,000 left to go before the goal is reached and the petition is sent to the NFL, which of course means nothing.

Universal has just picked up a film to be directed, produced and starred in by The Lonely Island, the collective minds of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer. Judd Apatow will produce the as-of-yet unnamed and unspecified plot in which Taccone (MacGruber) and Schaffer (Hot Rod, The Watch) will co-direct what is said to be a “music-themed project”.

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