Monday, March 15, 2010
If Helene Hegemann and Bushido had a baby, would it be theirs?
Thank God for the French!
Whoever thought I would say that one day? After weeks of listening to Germans make excuses for a young, hip plagiarist Helene Hegemann until my stomach turned at the thought of the empty-headedness of the German literary intelligentsia, the French stepped forward and showed the Germans what it’s really all about.
This is what happened: The young, hip Berlin writer Helen Hegemann, who just turned 18, wrote a popular book entitled “Axolot Roadkill.” After a while, websites began mentioning that some passages in her book had been published previously in books of other authors. When she was confronted with the concept of “plagiarism”, she said something like, “Oh no, that’s different for my generation, we recycle everything, it’s a different way of creating art.”
Literary types from Berlin to New York – even the New York Times picked it up - began discussing this new form of creating art, afraid, probably, that if they just stood up and said, “Wait a minute, that’s plagiarism plain and simple,” they would appear not to understand the modern world. So they took the girl seriously. The Leipzig Book Fair even nominated her for an important book prize (she didn’t win).
Eventually, the publisher had to print a 6-page list of all the “cut and paste”-sources she “borrowed” from and call all the publishers involved, and there were no legal repercussions.
It’s not about Hegemann herself – she’s a good writer, and inexperienced in “borrowing”, which everyone does, so she didn’t think of thanking her sources in the book and she said stupid things t the press. It’s about the reaction to her.
What turned my stomach was the passive, naïve way the German literary world accepted her childish “everybody’s doing it, you don’t understand”-excuse. The gutlessness of the German literary world has bothered me before too… hm, let me think… Oh yes! When the Danes got into trouble in the Muslim world for printing the Mohammed caricatures, an awful lot of German intellectuals stood up and bravely said: “Well, you shouldn’t insult other religions like that.” What a minute – that wasn’t the first time, either. There were similar things said back when a fatwa was put on Salman Rushdie.
What does that have to do with Helene Hegemann? It’s about copyright and free press, which go together. A writer – and these wuss-ass-commentators I’m talking about are writers – lives from copyright and free press. Without copyright and free press, he could not live from his writing. Copyright and free press should be holy to a writer. But these guys are so soft-headed they believed the crap served to them by a (then) 17-year-old girl.
Well, all that’s fine when nothing’s at stake. In German literary terms, Hegemann’s book is just another flavor of the month book that barely took in what it cost to print it, and the scandal is just another subject to while away the boredom with. It’s not about money.
Pop music on the other hand is - thank God for that - about money.
Bushido is Germany’s foremost rapper and a million-seller. When the French gothic band Dark Sanctuary discovered their work plagiarized on no less than 13 Bushido albums, they didn’t sit down and discuss art in the age of the Internet, they sued. Now, the court has decided: Bushido has to pay, and some of his albums have to be taken off the market.
There was no talk about cut ‘n paste or a new generation or a different way of creating art or any other kind of nonsense. It was about real theft, of the kind that, when something has been stolen from you, you notice that it’s gone and you want it back. I like that.
I also have a suggestion for Bushido: Now that he’s lost his source of inspiration, he can ask Helen Hegemann to write his songs for him. I’m sure she’ll come up with something.