Sunday, 30 March 2014
How Phil Sandifer read my essay, hosted a similar piece on his blog while refusing to mention mine, and then trashed it
This piece is a summary of some not particularly pleasant treatment I've had from Phil Sandifer lately.
Here's a comment I left on Jack Graham's guestpost on Phil Sandifer's blog:
This piece makes very similar points to a blog post of mine posted online on the 18th May 2013 (a sequel to one posted on 18 November 2011)
which both Phil and Jack have read. Here is a tweet Phil Sandifer sent me on 21 May last year indicating that he's read my blog post on Moffat and sexism:
[Contents of that tweet: "Right up until I get to the topic of sexism in Moffat's who and violently disagree with @RichardHCooper :)"
It remains the only time he has contacted me or mentioned my blog in any way. (He did go on to write the piece he mentions in that tweet, but it contains no reference to my stuff)
Here's Jack's blogpost praising mine, on the 21st May 2013:
If this newer piece had appeared on Jack's blog, I would have no problem with it, but Phil's site contains no mention of me or my blog, and no links to it. Here's an email I sent Jack when I read the guestpost:
Could you edit your guestpost on Phil's site to add a link to my posts on Moffat? This isn't a dig at you: I ask purely because whilst your own site has been such a good supporter of my work, Phil's makes no mention of me or my blog at all, even though I know from the one tweet he sent me that he's also read my Moffat sexism piece. Also, Phil has considerably more influence and readers than I do. Acknowledging me would mean that no-one reading my blogpost without checking the date would think I had read your guestpost on Phil's and derived from it witbout acknowledgement.
All the best,
This was Jack's reply:
I've messaged Phil about this, and we've decided that we don't think a link to your essay is called for. I'd hate anyone to come across your own excellent post and wrongly assume that you'd derived anything from me, so I'll add something to my own post at Shabgraff about the guest post, linking to your essay and acknowledging that you 'got there' before me.
I did consult your Moffat essays when I was outlining my own guest post for Phil, but (with respect) there was nothing in them that I wanted to adapt which I hadn't already noticed on my own.
I hope this does the trick.
None of this is egregious, just bad manners: for example Lawrence Miles's blog and SOTCAA are clearly influences on my blog, the difference is that I talk about and link to them on the blog and Phil Sandifer seems determined to do neither regarding me. As I said in the email, he has a larger following and more influence than I do (this piece has attracted more comments in less than 24 hours than my 2011 piece on Moffat has in two and and a half years). An abiding point here is RBC's comment: "I think Jack hits on a more incisive line of argument when he writes that "Fetishizing ‘power’ in women characters... isn’t the same as writing them as human beings."" Here's a line from my blogpost: "Unfortunately, a fetish for powerful, sexy women who like cheating people is no substitute for an interest in human beings."
Just to stress, all I would have liked was a brief mention or link. If you don't want to, Phil and Jack, I can't force you, but the next time you "consult" my stuff while you're outlining a piece for a bigger platform than mine, maybe show some courtesy, or kindness to a struggling blogger, particularly if you think it's "excellent".
This was Phil's reply to my comment:
I would suggest that perhaps complaining about manners and courtesy while trying to bully people into linking to your blog is ill advised. I don't link to you in my Moffat and Feminism post because I have not read or thought about you since that tweet nearly a year ago. This is because, to be perfectly frank, I found your essay unimpressive. It stimulated no thoughts whatsoever, and I had totally forgotten about it and you until Jack messaged me today. Looking at your piece again, I find it facile and fond of making cheap jokes to cover up the places where you have no actual argument. Though at least it's better than your 2011 post, which is absolutely abominable.
Similarly, I take Jack at his word that although he read your piece he was not in fact influenced by it, and that he had come to the same conclusions you did on his own. This is because, quite frankly, you do not actually say anything that hasn't been said by dozens of other critics within the extremely large body of work that has been written on Moffat and feminism, a body of which your single essay is a very, very small part.
This was Jack's reply:
Richard, if you want to accuse me of plagiarism, don't be coy. Come right out and say it. Don't pretend to be complaining about bad manners.
The bit you cite sounds similar, no doubt. Shall I spend 5 minutes on tumblr finding 50 people who said pretty much the same thing, in pretty much the same words, ages before either of us?
I acknowledged two people from whom I took specific points that wouldn't have been in the essay if they hadn't mentioned them to me. I didn't mention you because... well, you've already reproduced the text of the email I sent you in which I explain that.
People who have read both our essays will know that there's loads in mine that is nowhere to be found in yours (I don't recall you mentioning neoliberalism anywhere) and, likewise, loads in yours that is nowhere to be found in mine. There are points of similarity where we both go through some matters that are now pretty much 'common currency' on the internet.
I enjoyed your essay at the time and said so publically. As you mention, I devoted an entire post on my own blog to saying how much I liked it, quoting from it approvingly, and linking to it.
And, unlike you, I've never written for Salon.
Phil subsequently sent me this tweet:
I'm not sure there's a polite way to falsely accuse someone of plagiarism.
Before I respond to these points, here's a breakdown of the similarities:
From Mine: There's much emphasis on who she is, how often she's met the Doctor, what role she will play in his future, but is there really a character there?[ ...] there a single reason to care about her? What has she done except shoot people, flirt in a way that Moffat seems to think evokes Lauren Bacall but comes across like someone's drunken aunt at a wedding, and occasionally claim to be an archaeologist? (2011)
She's got poisonous lipstick, her all-time fantasy is a threesome with two Doctors, her last words before regenerating are "I'm concentrating on a dress size" , she promises that she's "a screamer - now there is a spoiler for you!" and her reaction to meeting the Doctor for the first time (from her point of view) is "you never said he was hot!" The "bickering" between the Doctor and River is excruciating because it's little more than the stage directions "they bicker" and "they flirt" [...]
This isn't a character, but a soulless collection of gender and TV reference points (2013)
Who the hell is River? She is an assemblage of gender essentialist tropes and wisecracks. When does she ever – beyond, arguably, her first appearance – behave like an academic or a scientist? When does she ever display anything resembling erudition or intellectual curiosity? When does she ever do or say anything to show or engender love? Admittedly, the Doctor seems to be sexually aroused by the way she shoots people… which is just charming. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, she is incarnated as Mels, a character we’ve never seen or heard of before, and plonked unceremoniously into the story out of sheer, brazen convenience. She stalks Amy and Rory (her unwitting mother and father) for years, pretending to be their friend, all because of her pre-programmed monomaniacal desire to get to the Doctor. She regenerates while “concentrating on a dress size”. She spends the rest of the episode obsessing over her hair, clothes, shoes and weight. River’s instability is finally conquered by the love of a good man. This seems intensely hostile and patronising. If that isn’t what was aimed at, then somebody is a very bad shot.
In the extraordinary two-part Comic Relief special Space/Time - surely the most masturbatory piece of Doctor Who ever broadcast - we hear that she only passed her driving test because she wore a short skirt, and then the combination of that same skirt and a glass floor causes Rory, working at the controls below, to crash the TARDIS. As a result, we end up with multiple Amy Ponds. Instantly, we have a gag about Rory hoping for a threesome, the revelation that Amy finds herself attractive, and its accompanying punchline that Rory finds this exciting
There’s even a ‘comedy’ episode in which Amy is said to have used her sexuality to pass her driving test (tsch, these women drivers!), is split into two people and literally fancies herself, thus providing lesbian fantasy fodder for the men around her. [...] The rest of the ostensible laughs come from Rory staring up Amy’s skirt… because it’s hilarious to violate her privacy without consent!
The characters [used to serve] as proxies for the younger viewers. It's difficult to see how Amy can do this in moments where she's asking the Doctor to "sort her out" in the bedroom scene at the end of Flesh and Stone, let alone how Jenny can do the same in the scene in The Crimson Horror where she strips off her coat to begin kung-fu and as the camera leeringly pans along her leather catsuit in slow motion, Matt Smith does an erection gag with his sonic screwdriver.
It is a mark of how little genuine respect is shown these characters that her unveiling as a ninja in ‘The Crimson Horror’ is just that: an unveiling, with the camera panning up her legs, clad in tight leather for the benefit of the male gaze. Oh look, we’re back at the sexism.
From mine: There is no aspect of Amy's character that is not defined by that male construction we call femininity. The five threats she faces are pregnancy, the abduction of her baby, the loss of either of the men she loves, infertility, and the idea that it's presumable that the man she loves will reject her for that infertility. Controlling these subplots are the same prejudices that lie behind soap operas - Am I still a woman if I can't have children anymore? Will the man I love reject me for it? Is it my fault? My Baby - don't let them take my baby!
The show repeatedly reduces Amy to the roles by which patriarchy constructs femininity: girlfriend, fiancée, wife, mother, ex… [...]
In Moffat’s show, women are overwhelmingly defined by their traditional gender roles or bodily functions.
From mine: the first Doctor Who story with an all black guest cast (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS) portrays them as an unscrupulous bunch of thieves
There’s the sheer privilege-blindness involved in making the first all black guest cast in Doctor Who play a bunch of fools who need to be captured and threatened into moral behaviour by the Doctor,
From mine (2011)
The very first episode of Moffat's reign, The Eleventh Hour, ended with the Doctor defeating alien opponents by reminding them who he was, a bizarre moment of creative hubris Moffat previously succumbed to in Forest of the Dead, his last episode for Davies's version.
There’s the hubris of having the Doctor frighten away enemies by touting his reputation.
Mine: Moffat's sense of what goes on in the head of a young woman and any ability with logical characterisation he may have had left take a nosedive in Let's Kill Hitler. Amy and Rory's baby has been kidnapped, but it's revealed that they've already known her all their life in the guise of their best friend Mels, who now regenerates into an adult, which Moffat genuinely seems to think resolves that particular "missing baby" cliffhanger. There's no point shouting "where's the baby - isn't someone going to try and rescue the baby?" at your TV screen as I did - Amy and Rory have let that go now, as have actors Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (as I've said before, the fact that the version of Amy left alone for 36 years in The Girl Who Waited never mentions it makes a mockery of anyone still claiming this is a show with any sense of emotional consequences or human resonance. (2013)
Even Amy's loss of the baby, abducted not long after birth, turns out to carry no emotional weight. Amy and her husband Rory go through whole episodes barely mentioning it, including the episode The Girl Who Waited where we meet a future Amy abandoned for 36 years: clearly post-natal depression isn't a factor in Moffat's universe. That this is supposedly because they've met River as a grown-up and know she'll survive is an extraordinary indictment of just how little interest in character motivation Moffat has, making a nonsense of the recent defence by one of his writers, Gareth Roberts, that the show was only a challenge for viewers to follow because of its "emotional complexity". (2011)
Jack's: Yes, it might be an admirable thing to show a woman who, having been violated with an unwanted pregnancy and birth, only to have her baby stolen from her, were shown as living past such trauma and refusing to allow it to define her… if we were ever given any real sense that the experience had been traumatic for her. It might be objected that this complaint amounts to asking for more concentration on the rape and the trauma. But I didn’t want to see SF rape on Doctor Who again at all! Even so, given that Steven Moffat made the unforced artistic/business choice to put SF rape in there, I’d have much preferred to see some indication that the victim found it more than slightly and briefly unpleasant.
Both mine and Jack's pieces also bemoan the Doctor's "tight skirt" line about Clara in Nightmare in Silver, point out that the Doctor's reactions to River shooting the Silents seems like "arousal" and make the point that sexist views of women are not made better just because they are presented with admiration.
First of all, to respond to Jack's claim, I'm never coy. If I thought I'd been plagiarised I'd say so and I'd use that word. When I said "None of this is egregious, just bad manners" I meant exactly that : it was thoughtless of someone who had read and admired my stuff to post a piece making so many of the same points on a website with considerably more influence and readers with no reference to me or my site, just as it was mean of Phil to refuse to put in a reference. There's no law against it. It's just shoddy behaviour which people who have yet to find support for their writing are hugely vulnerable to. Both Phil and Jack seem to feel pre-emptive action is needed, desperate to use the word plagiarism before I do and to counter criticism of their actions with accusations (in this case that I make "false accusations of plagiarism" and "bully people" into linking to my blog)
To stress another point I thought I'd emphasised in the email and the comment, I would have had no problem with this piece whatsoever if it had appeared on Jack's site - I wouldn't have expected a mention, given that he had already linked to my sexism piece elsewhere on his site, and that he links to my site on his "blogs I follow" list. I was puzzled that he responded to my email by adding a third link to my blog on his own: firstly, what's the point when you've already got two online links to it up and running, and secondly, why not put the link on your piece on Phil's site? (Surely the fact that Jack has no problem with linking to it from his own site proves there's no reason not to link from his guestpost on Phil's? To repeat, Phil's site has more influence and readers than either of ours). All I can do is write this blogpost pointing out it isn't cricket.
Phil and Jack's claim that the similarities can't be anything other than coincidental because even though they read the piece before hand they personally know it had no influence upon them, Jack's reminder that not everything in his piece is covered by mine and vice versa and Phil's rather desperate claim that after sending the tweet he'd totally forgotten the piece until my email and then, upon reading it, found it to be wholly without merit are textbook examples of responses to allegations of similarity, plagiarism or refusal of acknowledgement which have traditionally fooled no-one. It doesn't matter what you thought of the piece, whether it contains parts you didn't use, how much you added of your own or that you personally can vouch for yourself in not being influenced by it: if you read the piece and publicly acknowledged it at the time, refusing to make a single reference to that piece while posting your own on a blog with more readers is, frankly, below the belt.
What I hate most about this is not Phil and Jack's taking points I'd made and regurgitating them to a wider audience without so much as a nod, and the loutish way Phil has responded by sneering at my work (although if "absolutely abominable" and other example- free scattergun insults are the best he can do I clearly don't need to fear him as a future critical opponent) but the way Phil and Jack have tried to put the onus on me instead to either make a formal accusation of plagiarism or back down.
Anyone reading Jack's piece and mine can reach their own conclusions about how the latter did or did not influence it (something which wouldn't have been necessary if Phil and Jack had included a single casual reference to my site, but which would have been impossible if I hadn't blogged about this and I hadn't left a comment on Phil's site), just as people can judge for themselves whether someone who's read a piece can deny that it had any influence on a subsequently-written piece of their own that makes many of the same points.
Anyone can also judge for themselves whether the briefest mention of my blog post ("I didn't think much of this piece by Richard Cooper" would have been fine, just something to let people know the thing exists) would have harmed the integrity of Sandifer's site, and indeed whether acknowledgement is essential to any community, even that of Doctor Who bloggers which Phil and I, however much he wishes otherwise, share membership.