Usually I don't pay much attention to "Twitter Feuds." And I didn't at first with the series of emails that actor Shia LaBeouf released over his quitting a Broadway play during rehearsals. But if you haven't followed it, this Twitterosity took a rare and spectacularly funny twist that caught even my attention.
Plagiarism. Yes, plagiarism in the land o' Twitter.
(Okay, the plagiarism actually occurred in an email, but it was Twitter that brought all of this to light.)
It's hard to tell what the background is -- and honestly, I couldn't care less. Apparently there was some feud between Shia LaBeouf with the director, Dan Sullivan, and co-star Alec Baldwin. Now, mind you, feuds with Alec Baldwin are no big news. Hey, even I got into a feud with him, and we've never even met! It was over a series of Huffington Post articles during the WGA strike in 2008. (Short version: I was right, he was wrong. It never got very far for one reason. I heeded one of my favorite pieces of advice from my friend, the oft-mentioned around this place Nell Minow -- "Someone is going to have to be the adult here, and I guess that falls to me.")
Hey, this isn't even the first time one of Alec Baldwin's co-stars in a New York play has quit in a feud with him. Been there, done that. (In 2006, actress Jan Maxwell quit the off-Broadway play, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, telling the NY Post, that Baldwin 'put his fist through a wall and was “throwing things around with all of us cowering.” An article about it on the Today show website was titled, "Baldwin scares actress into quitting play.") But in this instance, from what little information is available, it might be that Shia LaBeouf is actually the one at fault. Or more at fault. Or -- oh, whatever.
The far larger issue beyond what happened is that in one of LaBoeuf's emails which he released himself, he wrote to Baldwin the following, in part --
"A man can tell you he was wrong. That he did wrong. That he planned to. He can tell you when he is lost. He can apologize, even if sometimes it’s just to put an end to the bickering."
Very nice, very heartfelt. Except that eagle-eyed Dave Isikoff, a writer for the NY Times, thought there was an eerie similarity between this and a passage in a 2009 essay from Esquire magazine, "What is a Man?," by Tom Chiarella.
In literary circles, "eerily similar," is referred to as an understatement.
Plagiarizing in Twitter, in a moving apology. That's high cotton. Mind you, it really would be less than nothing if it had remained private between the participants. I suspect that many an apology in heart-broken love letters have been filled with plagiarism. But when Shia LaBeouf decided to take it all public, that's where it started to take on the stature of art.
And it reached an especially fine level when Mr. Chiarella himself jumped on board, taking it all in in amused, though pointed style. "It's comforting to me to know I'm read," he said. "I got into the business to be read. I didn't get into the business to be quoted without attribution and I didn't get into the business to solve debates between celebrities on nefarious emails." But better still, he wrote a response in the original source, Esquire. "A Response to Shia LaBeouf's Kind-of-Flattering Plagiarism." Take a look. It's pretty funny -- but with meaningful insight underneath.
In the end, there's a certain joy in the world when a writer can get so much attention and be the good guy in a spat between two actors. And when we can learn that plagiarism can even exist in Twitter. Sort of.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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