“Anyone who has worked with shared and borrowed materials for a long time knows that there is a certain degree of craft involved, something LaBeouf has no clue about. Plagiarizing well is hard to do. Had he done it well, he might not have gotten the blowback that he has.”—Kenneth Goldsmith
Perhaps, it was only a matter of time before the controversy surrounding Shia LaBoeuf’s plagiarizing of Daniel Clowes would circle back to Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age.
In an e-mail interview with Bleeding Cool about his use Clowes’s work, LaBoeuf used the published words of several thinkers including Goldsmith to explain his actions. Quoting Goldsmith, LaBoeuf wrote, “It’s not plagiarism in the digital age – it’s repurposing” In light of LaBoeuf’s interview, the controversy surrounding his various apologies, including the use of both Twitter and sky writing, Nailed interviewed Goldsmith to get his take on the various issues raised by the controversy.
Goldsmith believes that the LaBoeuf scandal has been helpful in “jump-starting a conversation that needs to happen” regarding notions of authorship and originality in the digital age. He also believes that LaBoeuf’s unorthodox round of apologies and non-apologies has been interesting and productive. Goldsmith explains:
Instead of the usual rounds of apologies and promising to do better next time, he’s had a change of mind, one that says, hey, maybe what I did wasn’t so bad if I could frame it properly. So, in the aftermath, he’s scrambled to cite folks who have thought long and hard about how to view cultural materials as shared, rather than proprietary, as befits the digital age.
However, Goldsmith also believes that LaBoeuf’s methods did not work quite so well:
That said, [LaBoeuf’s] plagiarizing of those materials and apologies and so forth, have been very sloppy, and as such, not tremendously convincing. Anyone who has worked with shared and borrowed materials for a long time knows that there is a certain degree of craft involved, something LaBeouf has no clue about. Plagiarizing well is hard to do. Had he done it well, he might not have gotten the blowback that he has.
In the interview Goldsmith also suggests that the debates surrounding the LaBoeuf/Clowes scandal should not be as scandalous as many have perceived it to be. Internet-born Millennials are, in some ways, more comfortable with a culture of repurposing and appropriation. Moreover, these debates regarding the use of copying are hardly new to us:
A century ago, we learned from Marcel Duchamp that moving something from one context to another is an act of art in and of itself. Duchamp anticipates the digital age and grants us permission to call these gestures our own. The fact that we’re still wondering if it’s okay to do so makes me consider that we certainly don’t know our own history. These are old, tired, and well-resolved issues. Look to modernism and you’ll find that artists and thinkers have long-dealt with these issues and have come up with some pretty good answers.