Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Blair's Emily Dickinson: Plagiarism, Borrowing, and the Facts of Life

Before you watch the following episode of The Facts of Life from 1979—Season One, Episode 6, in which Blair (pictured here) plagiarizes a poem by Emily Dickinson (not pictured here) to fulfill an English class assignment—you might want to check out Season 2, Episode 1, of Leave It to Beaver from 1958 (now streamable on Netflix). In that episode, Beaver commits the same offense, turning in as his own a poem by his father Ward and—just like Blair—winning a poetry contest for it. And lest you think the topic of plagiarized poetry one of the distant past, take some time to mull over the case of Paris Hilton, who presented on Larry King Live what Joel Stein writing for the LA Times called "by far the most famous poem of this century" as evidence of the transformation that her stint in the clink worked on her, only to have it later revealed that the poem was actually written by a fan, Judi DeBella, who sent it to Hilton in a fan letter.

Now, we here at P&PC aren't saying that there's any specific connection between Hilton and the television shows other than the general subject of plagiarized poetry—although Paris is something of a tv creation in her own right—but what about the connection between Leave It to Beaver and The Facts of Life? Could it be that, in coming up with a script about the subject of stealing poetry, The Facts of Life actually cribbed the plot of Beaver from twenty years earlier? If so, do we call it an homage? Do we cry foul? Or do we agree with Blair herself, who remarks, "Who's cheating? I'm just borrowing a poem from a woman who died in 1886. I mean, it's not like I'm copying from the girl in front of me. Besides, it's only cheating when someone finds out"?