Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lessons from Reality TV, Part Deux

When I started this blog a little over two years ago (WOW!), one of my earliest posts was a sort of serious, sort of tongue in cheek discussion about how watching reality television could make you a better person. My love for reality tv has dimmed a bit in the two years since I wrote this ode to its life lessons, but when I do tune in to see some of my favorites, I find that there are still lessons aplenty to be gleaned. And so I bring you the second installment of "How Reality TV Can Make You a Better Person."

1. Dancing with the Stars. Of all the shows I once watched pretty religiously, DWTS is the one that I have become the least enchanted with as of late. About halfway through this season, I found myself deleting episodes without watching. Part of the reason for the waning of my affection is a lack of time. With my work schedule and trying to fit in gym time and then come home and cook a healthy meal, I don't have a ton of time to devote to television, especially a two-hour behemouth like DWTS. The formula largely remains the same in terms of casting and even which celebrity gets put with which pro. The "twists" they've begun throwing in (Movie Night! Group Cha-Cha!) get a bit dull. Plus, they really are getting looser and looser with their definition of "star." Bristol Palin? Really??!!!??!??!! I did tune in to see the results last night (I only watched the last half hour because I knew the rest would be pure filler.) And there on my screen was a lesson that seriously brought tears to my eyes -- never count the old lady out. Sure, Cloris Leachman was an embarrassment, and Florence Henderson didn't get tremendously far. (I blame their ridiculous partner, Corky Ballas, for that, for turning their dances into dancing fart jokes rather than showing these women the respect they deserve.) There, hoisting up the coveted mirror ball trophy was my teenage idol Jennifer Grey. Jennifer Grey is 50. While she doesn't LOOK 50, her body is definitely 50 as she spent a large part of the season dealing with a variety of injuries, most seriously a bad back. (I can relate, having just spent a good week or so in enormous back pain!) Despite all that, despite the fact that she was in so much pain after Monday's perfect performances that she nearly didn't compete in last night's final dance off, there she was -- victorious. There is a new face to aging -- a youthful face. And yes, a portion of Jennifer's youthfulness may be owed to the plastic surgery that got rid of her Baby Houseman nose, but what I'm talking about here is a youthful attitude. Women like Jennifer Grey are proving to the world that 50 doesn't have to mean switching to polyester pants and applique sweatshirts. Women can age and still be active, sexy, trendy, and glamorous without it being a sad joke. And we can kick the asses of people half our age!

2. Project Runway: A sadder lesson was learned this season on Project Runway. All season long, there were a couple self-evident truths at work -- Mondo was a quiet genius, Gretchen was a deluded bitch. I didn't get too wrapped up in Gretchen hating, though, because I knew that Mondo would beat her in the finals and that it would be glorious in its severity. And then the unthinkable happened. Gretchen WON. Even now, I still don't get it. Even as someone who wears a lot of loose fitting, earth-toned clothing and works a sort of Ladies of the Canyon meets Annie Hall vibe on a nearly daily basis, I don't get it. Mondo's work was creative and bold and fun and youthful; Gretchen's was clearly the rejected costume design from It's Complicated. So what is the lesson here? Sometimes, creativity isn't enough. Sometimes, the good guy loses. Sometimes, the bitch wins. And it sucks.

3. America's Next Top Model: We'll see what next week's finale holds, but there may be a lesson brewing something along the lines of "Don't worry, awkward girls. A megalomaniac former super model with visions of being the next Oprah may some day find you pretty!"

4. Wife Swap: American families are screwed up. Plus, bacon is good for me.

I'm sure there are more lessons floating around out there (feel free to share in the comments), but I've got a Thanksgiving menu to plan. Now THERE'S an idea for a reality tv show . . . .

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A New Definition for Hubris

It's a slow day in my classes as students work on rough drafts and study guides which gives me a chance to catch up on some computer work -- working on the program for the fall play, writing tests, and a little net surfing. I tend to have Twitter always up on my computer because it's a way to keep up with the world outside the school walls and to send quick messages home. (These messages usually consist of "Hey, can you grab some lettuce from the store?" or "Did you remember to drop the Netflix in the mail?") I follow a lot of different people on Twitter, a lot of comics and writers and people whose work I generally enjoy. One of those people is Community creator Dan Harmon. Today he tweeted a link that led me to the story of Monica Gaudio.

Monica writes for a website called Gode Cookery , a site devoted to medieval cooking. This site featured a story on the medieval origins of the apple pie, including two recipes for the pie that date back to the fourteenth and sixteenth century. It's an interesting article, to be sure. Before you think that my cooking obsession has gone so overboard that I am scouring the net looking for medieval dessert recipes, let me tell you more of the story.

Monica was contacted by a friend asking her how she had managed to get her work in print. Monica couldn't answer the question because she didn't even know her work was in print. It turns out that the magazine Cook's Source had taken Monica's original article and published it virtually word for word. They gave her a byline, but never was she contacted for permission or offered any sort of financial compensation for her work. Nothing!

Monica contacted the magazine to find out what was going on and was asked what she wanted. Her demands were pretty simple (and completely fair): she wanted an apology on the magazine's Facebook page, an apology in print, and a $130 donation made to the Columbia School of Journalism (where we would hope ripping someone's work off is strongly discouraged).

The response that Monica received was shocking and, frankly, insulting. Editor Judith Griggs condescendingly informed Monica that anything published on the web is public domain.

The response continued:
"you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”"*

* this response can be found on MANY websites and blogs reporting on this, but I took this specifically from Geeko System .

Ummmmmmm . . . where do I even begin?

First of all, what is published on the web is NOT public domain, especially when said content is explicitly copyrighted, as Monica's page was. Credit has to be given -- whether it's from the New York Times, Gode Cookery, or The Ginger Files.

Secondly, I challenge Griggs's assertion that this sort of thing happens a lot and that, therefore, excuses her behavior. There's also a lot of binge drinking, drug abuse, and sexual assault happening on college campuses, so is that all okay now, too? Shouldn't magazines be a model of good journalism rather than displaying the sorts of grievous ethical violations that would get a college sophomore booted off campus?

Even more alarming is the defensive posture Griggs adopts here. Telling Monica that her piece was poorly written and in desperate need of editing is pretty crummy, even crummier when you consider that the poor writing Monica supposedly displayed was her use of the original Olde English her recipes were originally written in. (I won't comment on the many errors in Griggs's response. I'm too classy for that.)

I won't even get into the clear fact that Griggs has no sense of irony. The offense she takes at Monica's suggestion that a donation be made to the Columbia School of Journalism, arguing that the school is wealthy and doesn't need the money. While you could argue that a publication that receives advertising revenue should certainly be able to pony up a small sum for a story they ripped off (and did not PAY to publish), the deeper argument lies in that Monica is not asking for that money to in any way enrich the Columbia coffers. She's trying to make a point about journalism and ethics -- a fact lost on Griggs.

There are so many more reasons why this issue is so troubling. As an English teacher who routinely has to bust students for plagiarism, this is sickening. If it's okay for Cook's Source to rip off the internet (and profit from it via circulation sales), why isn't it okay for my freshmen to copy and paste their book reports from Wikipedia? And why am I giving them a failing grade for doing so? The point lost on Ms. Griggs is that the internet is not, in fact, public domain. Someone went to the work of thinking those thoughts, writing those words, and for anyone BUT that person to then take those words and seek to profit from it -- whether financially, academically, or otherwise -- is just plain wrong. A journalist with three decades of experience should know better, especially when the fifteen year old high school student sitting in front of me does.