Why haven't I been spiderbabied?
This tongue in cheek self-query is not entirely in jest. Rather it is a measure of the temperature in the zeitgeist teacup.
Lianne Spiderbaby is the horror fangirl who writes for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fangoria, and FEARnet on line. In print, she has appeared in the Rondo-award-winning Video Watchdog, Vice, Film Journal International, Cineplex Canada, and apparently even Horse Sport magazine. Ms Spiderbaby was herself awarded a Rondo1 award, as host on a YouTube internet show called Fright Bytes with her brother. The 5-102 foot blonde Canadian also appeared in a horror film, the similarly named Coffin Baby, and St. Martin's Press is slated to publish her survey book Grindhouse Girls: Cinema's Hardest Working Women, later this year (2013).3 But Ms Spiderbaby's impressive and energetic credits were soured over the weekend (July 12-14) when Mike White of Impossibly Funky revealed the prolific writer as a serial plagiarist. The fallout has not settled yet, but there are rumors that a key member of Tarantino's creative team was fired, which may or may not have anything to do with the Spiderbaby affair.
Among the many victims was my colleague Shawn Levy. Mr. Levy wrote a review of Pedro Amodovar's The Skin I Live In for the Oregonian. Ms. Spiderbaby wrote about that film, a knock off of Franju's Eyes Without a Face, among other films, for Video Watchdog. Ms. Spiderbaby lifted whole paragraphs from Mr. Levy's review. And as a Cinema Studies graduate from the University of Toronto (in 2007 ... with honors), Ms Spiderbaby was also savvy enough to steal from Laura Mulvey and Mary Ann Doane for the same piece. Well, after all, one can't expect the editors of small journals with a specialized audience to be familiar with the heady discourses of film theorists or the reviews that appear in cultural backwaters such as Portland, Oregon, even if they are posted on the Internet for the globe to read if it so chooses. At least we now know of one person who dod.
Ever her pen name is borrowed, from a Jack Hill movie called Spider Baby. Directed by Jack Hill. Hill is a favorite director of Quentin Tarantino. Who is dating Spiderbaby, which is partially why the story has been getting such traction in the L. A. Times, the Guardian, and elsewhere.
On the various fan boards and talk backs, people have jokingly asserted that they are now famous outside the small world of Internet fandom thanks to her spiderbabying them. But this touches on a real mood. Our desire to make ourselves known – as Spiderbaby wished to be known – can result in a distortion of our ethics. Hell, if my words are stolen, by Tarantino's girlfriend, that's almost like he knows me!
There is reason to believe that Ms. Spiderbaby has heard of me, since I have published books on her boyfriend. But either I haven't written enough on horror, or she deemed my prose unsuitable for her performance piece project. I'm almost insulted.
Think that plagiarism doesn't have an impact on the victim? Look at the situation of Neal Bowers. The Iowa State U professor and poet was plagiarized by a Portland, Oregon, area resident using the name David Sumner4 over the course of several years, couldn't get him to stop, and Bowers, according to Wikipedia, felt compelled to stop writing poetry for 10 years in the wake of the relentless plagiarizer's endeavors and Mr. Bowers's own frustration in getting editors and others to take the matter seriously. The story was covered in the New York Times.
Like a controversial court decision or a whistleblower incident, the Spiderbaby case has become a nexus for numerous interesting threads in the culture, or at least where culture and sub-cultures meet. What is plagiarism? Why is it not taken seriously? Why do people do it? Why do people write for free on the Internet in the first place? How do these virtual societies police themselves? What do people get out of liking horror films, anyway? What is the role of women in the horror fan base? How pervasive is the sexism? The Spiderbaby case brings to mind the situation of one Damian Arlyn, an Oregon actor and video store clerk who started a blog in 2007 more or less dedicated to his favorite director, Steven Spielberg. He initiated a gimmicky project – common in blogs to this day – called 31 Days of Spielberg, in which he was going to view the helmer's films in order and write on them daily. He ran into trouble and apparently began to life passages from other sources, embarrassingly from the work of Warren Buckland, a prominent Spielberg scholar. In a mealy-mouthed response to the accusations, Mr. Arlyn admitted to making mistakes, and attempted to turn himself into the victim, with the help of friends who rushed to make comments and offer support and sympathy for him in his time of trouble.
Reading the fan sites and talk backs concerning Ms Spiderbaby has been fascinating. Similar agents of disingenuousness have emerged. There were the properly aggrieved writers desperately trying to get others to take the charges seriously. There was the fascinating adding up of yet new daily discoveries of Ms Spiderbaby's perfidy. There were those who rushed to defend her as someone who simply made a few mistakes. Editors came forward with strained defenses that needed to be almost immediately retracted in light of yet more revelations, and crusty old venerated elders and sacred cows let out their sexist and homophobic burps, like noxious bubbles from a cartoon drunk. Yet when you add up the names and nicknames, only seven to 10 people are really taking the situation seriously on any given website. Hovering over all these statements is the shadow of Tarantino himself, the nerd who made good.
I'm reminded of one of my best friends, a woman who moved to Hollywood to write about film, and maybe to write films herself. Like Ms Spiderbaby she wrote for an array of websites and worked at fly-by-night operations, meeting other critics and of course inevitably filmmakers themselves.5 She is pretty but also smart, a dedicated defender of her favorite actors, actresses, movies, and directors, and a good arguer – you tangle with her at your peril. My friend conducted herself ethically. Ms Spiderbaby is the black swan side of what my friend tried to do with her career, and one bit of fallout from Ms. Spiderbaby's strategy is the gloom and suspicion it casts on legitimate members of the film and criticism community.
1 The Rondos are an annual independent award named after acromegaly-suffering actor Rondo Hatton.
2 Ingrid Bergman's height
3 Ms Spiderbaby won a Rondo for "Best Multimidea" and was a runner-up in the "Best Writer" (!) catagory. Perhaps that last catagory should have been "Best Writers."
4 Real name David S. Jones, then of Aloha, Oregon.
5 She even encountered Tarantino himself from time to time. At a public screening once she saw him staring at her shoes from his end of their shared aisle.