By now, you’re probably aware of the plagiarism allegations leveled against True Detective creator, Nic Pizzolatto. If you haven’t read all the comparisons Jon Padgett, founder of Thomas Ligotti Online, and Mike Davis, who runs The Lovecraft Ezine, have found between Thomas Ligotti’s work and some of Rust Cohle’s lines, take my word for it: They are very similar, so much so that it’s impossible to argue that Pizzolatto didn’t borrow from the work of Ligotti. And the thing is, in a separate article, Pizzolatto has acknowledged that he’s read Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.
Here’s what he told the Wall Street Journal back in February:
I read “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” and found it incredibly powerful writing. For me as a reader, it was less impactful as philosophy than as one writer’s ultimate confessional: an absolute horror story, where the self is the monster. In episode one [of “True Detective”] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got.
The philosophy Cohle promotes in the show’s earliest episodes is a kind of anti-natalist nihilism, and in that regard all cats should be unbagged: “Confessions of an Antinatalist,” “Nihil Unbound,” “In the Dust of this Planet,” “Better to Have Never Been,” and lots of Cioran were all on the reading list … In exploring these philosophies, nobody I’ve read has expressed the idea of humanity as aberration more powerfully than Cioran and Ligotti.
There, he did exactly as he should have: He acknowledged the connection, and basically suggested that he was paying homage to Ligotti. Good for him!
And if Pizzolatto continued to acknowledge the homage to Ligotti when confronted by plagiarism accusations, there’d hardly be an issue. You can see echoes of other stories and other movies all throughout True Detective, and in fact, that’s why so many of us were drawn to it. The literary references deepened the series for many of us (even if it turned out the references ultimately did not inform the storylines).
The Ligotti stuff is just but one of many homages or references. It’s what filmmakers and writers often do, but most filmmakers are smart enough to acknowledge as much. “Hey! That scene was totally inspired by Tarantino.” Talk to Vince Gilligan for five minutes about Breaking Bad, and he will mention half a dozen influences.
In Pizzolato’s response to accusations of plagiarism, however, Pizzolatto took the dick’s way out.
Here’s his statement:
Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.
OK, first of all, he didn’t acknowledge the ONE guy that Jon Padgett accused him of stealing from: Thomas Ligotti. And again, if you compare the words of Rust Cohle in several scenes with the words of Thomas Ligotti, the similarities are inescapable. And it’s not just about the philosophy espoused by Ligotti (and others); it’s the way in which he expressed it.
Look: This is almost certainly not going anywhere. Legally, there’s no real actionable offense. But what Pizzolatto did was unethical. It’s what got a Buzzfeed writer fired a few weeks ago, but there’s way too much riding on True Detective to fire Pizzolatto over a few lines that were clearly cribbed from another author.
But the stand-up thing to do here would’ve been to acknowledge the inspiration, mention LIGOTTI’S name, and tip your hat to the author. Mentioning several others without mentioning Ligotti and frivolously dismissing the allegations is kind of a douche move.