What’s The Story, Stolen Glory?

First I hit my play club, then my spoon, followed by a wee slash with my rutting iron. The next hole it was brassie, mashie, niblick. Then just a cleek and a nudge and I was in with the record.

That, of course, is how my rich fantasy life would have it, until suddenly the fade to black opens up to a new scene, some 500 years later. In the present I can indiscriminately flog antiquated Scottish golf terms hither and yon with the best of them but at the end of the day must return home through the biohazard of Los Angeles. Where is the heather? Where is the gorse? Where is the Swilcan Burn as the crack of a shot rings out?

In the virtual reality of my mind, which is perhaps the ultimate recursive reality (and some might say the only reality) my imagination is so incredibly vivid, dense and well-developed that I don’t need a Second Life — I already have one. And while I find this ceaseless urge to create a separate space for myself within the confines of life quite natural, I frequently see the result when people take their private yearnings out into the world and misguidedly make them public. We have all seen the pop star diva wannabes on American Idol explode in a series of off-key squeals, now ingloriously preserved for all eternity. We have all been forced to watch the painful contortions of overweight contestants on So You Think You Can Dance? And we have all fallen prey to the disquiet engendered by The Biggest Loser when a 500 lb. man celebrates an 8 lb. overnight loss of what can only be water weight. As Americans in this era of inescapable reality TV we are forced to watch people’s dreams come out and play in the light of day, and the results are often disheartening.

What is worse is that we as a people like this kind of discomfort. We like the awkward humor of The Office, the self-imposed exile of Survivor, the hand-wringing idiocy of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? We are suckers for dreams and dark secrets and anxious moments of truth. The next contestant toes the line and we — the arbiters of truth, justice and the American way —  stand willing to judge them and decide their fate. Based on their one moment in the sun, whatever that reveals, we decide whether they live, or die. Are they hot, or not? Who will they be when they open their mouths — William Hung,  or Susan Boyle?

And why is this so? You may as well ask why the world is round. Man is the great voyeur, the mammal that laughs when he should cry and will do anything for the sound of two hands clapping in a lonely auditorium. I often think that much of what we call “misappropriation of intellectual property” is really just a misguided attempt to reap the benefits of the fantasy life we see in our heads when we close our eyes. When people copy from other sources without attribution (plagiarism) or misappropriate whole works as their own (copyright infringement) often I think that what they are doing is simply striving for a result they wished for but did not feel capable of achieving. They saw it in their mind’s eye, but something was lacking between imagination and creation; that final spark of invention never caught fire.

And the shame of it is that they can appreciate genius without quite being able to demonstrate it themselves. They hear an inner voice that says “That phrase. So aptly turned. How can I improve on it? Yet why should it languish in this little book, unseen by the rest of mankind?” So self-serving, this dialogue, so corrupt, yet so beguiling all the same. It whispers to them (us) with the confidence of the huckster, enticing them (us) to sample just a bit, to appropriate a dash of charm, a pinch of luck, a smidgen of skill, to mix and mash and borrow until the palette is well and truly mixed and no one can tell from whence the colors (or words) came.

Sometimes the world calls this “sampling” (if done artfully enough), sometimes the world doesn’t quite know what to call it (cf. Reality Hunger). And sometimes, of course, the man who tries to pawn off Romeo and Juliet as his own is not only derided as a lunatic but chucked in the clink.

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