Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A New Twist or Plagiarism?

I'm sitting here on the couch, watching the movie "Obsessed," and I'm a little disgusted.

I realize that Hollywood's not an area known for showing a great amount of originality, but I think it's a little ridiculous how many parallels this movie contains to the '80s classic "Fatal Attraction."

I'm also not too happy with the manner in which the film differs.

Basically, "Obsessed" looks like the drunken result of someone ranting about the fact that women can claim that Dan deserved having to deal with that crazy Alex character because he shouldn't have cheated on his wife. Add Beyonce's poor "acting" ability, and if you like movies, I strongly suggest skipping this one.

But this is a writing blog, and while I watch far too many movies to be considered completely sane, I am not a movie critic.

So why am I writing a blog about this movie? Because it's a recent DVD release, and therefore provides a recent example of the concept of how much a writer can steal from others before it becomes plagiarism.

Many people contend that there are no new ideas. Everything has been done. Every plot has been written. Adding to this philosophy the fact that all writers are human, and therefore influenced by the media which surrounds us every day, and every word which graces a page (or a computer screen) these days is an appropriation from a myriad of previous works and ideas.

Thus arises the question: when is it NECESSARY to cite a source?

One situation is in an academic paper, when a scholar is often directly replying to a certain academic writing, or wants authoritative sources to back his or her point of view.

Another situation, such as I saw in this movie, is when there are enough parallels to an older book/movie/etc. that if the writer of the material hasn't read/seen/etc. this prior work, then the writer is clairvoyant or something. (In case anyone missed this, I think "Obsession" is one such case.)

Upon taking a brief, biased survey of the people who are watching "Obsessed" with me, my mother noticed the parallels when I pointed them out, my boyfriend had never seen "F.A.," but guessed that I had that movie in mind when we watched the commercial, and my 17-year-old sister and her 19-year-old friend had no idea that the "F.A." movie existed.

So maybe Hollywood thinks it's okay to do a movie obviously taking many cues from an '80s movie, because the under 20 crowd has never heard of it.

Yet I think that we writers need to pay attention to our influences, and make sure that we don't copy too much material from another work. Or at the VERY LEAST, that we make sure to note our sources if we're going to so blatantly take ideas from a single source.