Thursday, October 22, 2009

U.S. Steal

Several friends and a few strangers forwarded this the other day, expecting me to erupt.

"You've been ripped off!" they shouted. "This guy's cribbing Savage Mules!"

Yeah, well, yawn.

Writer Thaddeus Russell touches the same savage points I did in Mules, which isn't hard to do, once you've read a little American history. Attacking Democrats as warmongers didn't originate with me (though I think I brought my own flavor to the mix), and given my marginal status, I'm always happy to see those with a longer reach make similar arguments.

Still, it is curious how suddenly the main thrust of Mules is acceptable in certain liberal circles. The reality of Obama's rule has nudged a few people to acknowledge what cranks like me were saying a year ago. But if they are committed to exploring this critique, it would be nice to be invited into the conversation, since I did write a book about this very topic, released in the face of Obamamania, attempting to say what now can be at least partially heard.

I'm not holding my breath.

Stealing from other writers, "borrowing" in politespeak, is as common as shitting, and usually as fragrant. I've never bought into the "genius steals" concept, perhaps because I worked among comedians, where theft is rife, originality scarce, and fear and hatred drive ambition. Not every comic I knew stole bits, but a lot did; and when they discovered that audiences didn't care who originally wrote what, they were free to grab at will.

This made me crazy, and off I dashed to the reasonable, rational, well-adjusted world of lefty political writing. Before long, I realized that many comics were amateurs compared to journo-pundits up against deadlines. I saw ripping off on a regular basis, astounded by the shamelessness, but counseled that a good idea or insight is commonly owned, especially by those with recognized bylines. Several of my concepts, phrases, and critiques were openly taken and used by more celebrated figures, none of whom I'll name, but a few of which you might already know, my dear readers. Again, this was for the greater good, unlike comedy, where the sole purpose was to cash in.

This still goes on (hi Jane!), and I'm more or less resigned to it. The Web makes stealing easier, faster, and less recognizable, as readers flock to like-minded sites, anxious for daily reinforcement. Like night club patrons, countless Web surfers aren't interested in original thinking, much less in those behind it. They crave anything that might make their world less hideous, a hunger cynically and readily fed by various pen keepers. Information is supposedly power, but in our present state, it's a narcotic. Few ask who first cut the dope. Once the high hits the brain, it's the furthest thing from their minds.

Speaking of similar concepts, here's a premise I thought originally belonged to "Mr. Show," but now learn it first appeared on "Fridays" some 12-13 years before. The idea was to portray Satanists as Christian evangelicals, complete with bad wigs, Southern accents, garish staging, and pious wailing. This premise was more immediate when "Fridays" aired, when the religious right was surging in political influence. By the early-90s, the caricature of crazed preachers had been done to death. The "Mr. Show" version is still funny, perhaps even better than the "Fridays" original. But it remains a copy. What do you think?