Yesterday I was alerted to this article on The Rumpus exploring Kim Kardashian West as a self-portrait artist situated in the intellectual and cultural history of such feminist icons as Frida Kahlo.  Tye, who has written for The Rumpus in the past, pointed out that the structure and certain turns of phrase were eerily similar to an article I wrote for VICE last year. After I posted about the similarities on Facebook, several dear writer friends came to my defense by posting Facebook comments on The Rumpus’s link to their piece. (image below)


So I emailed The Rumpus with my concerns and they responded. The correspondence went as follows:

From: Laura Jean Moore
Date: Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 11:33 PM
Subject: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: xxxx@therumpus.net

Dear xxxxxx,

Although I am aware of the possibility that such intellectual arguments can emerge independently of one another, the similarities in structure and certain turns of phrase to my VICE article (http://www.vice.com/read/kim-kardashian-west-is-the-outsider-artist-america-deserves-848) are striking.

While it is obvious that the author did her own research and contributed further supporting points to my original argument, my concern is that my work was not cited or acknowledged. This would not bother me, so much, except that the main thesis of the article is practically identical to my own and without divergence.

I would appreciate it if you would read my article and make your own determination. If you find that the similarities are too striking to ignore, a simple cross-posting or linking of my article to acknowledge precedent would satisfy.

Thank you for your swift response and consideration.

Best regards,
Laura Jean


Laura Jean Moore
laurajeanmoore.com


From: xxxxxxxx <xxxxx@therumpus.net>
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 9:11 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: Laura Jean Moore

Hi Laura,

Thanks for reaching out. Our editorial team is looking into this, and the editor who worked with Sarah on the piece is trying to get in touch so they can discuss how Sarah and The Rumpus might want to address this issue.

That said, can you help us understand the specific similarities and turns of phrase? I see why you might feel that your article could have been cited, but certainly don’t think this was plagiarism (there seems to be no lifted text) and I am now finding that this a topic frequently explored:

http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/24636/1/kim-kardashian-v-the-classics
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/visualarts/article4526872.ece
http://www.salon.com/2015/05/08/the_surprising_high_art_theory_behind_kim_kardashians_selfish/
http://all-that-is-interesting.com/selfie-history

And that’s just a quick Google search and the first few results. I do believe that Sarah wrote this piece without being aware of your piece, and other pieces she did not cite. So while she may choose to add a note about this (that is what our Film/TV/Media Editor is exploring with her), I don’t think that the piece that ran yesterday is identical in thesis or execution to your piece (also a valid, well-done take on Kardashian and selfies).

But as a writer, I understand your feelings completely and don’t want to minimize them. Again, if you could point me to specific examples that make you feel suspicious that this was taken from your article that would be helpful. And please know that we are a small, volunteer-run literary site and of course we did not know of your article when this piece went up. As I said, I’m taking this very seriously and we will continue to look into it. Plagiarism is a serious word to use and we treat it as such.

Again, thanks for reaching out to me directly. I really do hope we can work this out in a way that leaves everyone feeling okay about the situation.

With thanks,
xxxxxxxx


While formulating my response. I received additional correspondence from another editor at The Rumpus.

From: YYYYYYYY <YYYYYYY@wustl.edu>
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:33 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: XXXXXXXX <xxxxx@therumpus.net>, Laura Jean Moore
Hi XXXXX and Laura,

I want to reaffirm that I, too, take this extremely seriously. As a writer myself for whom ideas are the main form of currency, and as someone who has for over a decade vetted plagiarism cases at a university level, few issues mean more to me. Since I was apprised of the VICE piece last night, I have contacted the author, Sarah Murray, and conveyed that she needs to acknowledge Moore’s piece from 2015 and make clear how she is building on it. The author indicated that she had not seen this essay before in her research, and would be happy to acknowledge it in a new paragraph she drafted early this morning:

“The claim that Kardashian West is an “artist” has already been made by authors such as Laura Jean Moore for Vice; her 2015 article “Kim Kardashian West Is The Outsider Artist America Deserves” outlines the ways that Kardashian West has pursued a traditionally male genre, the self portrait (aka the selfie), to break free from gendered stereotypes of what it means to be a woman—essentially beating them at their own game. While Moore believes that America itself is well suited for Kardashian West’s creative reception, I would argue that she is especially improving the landscape for women artists and entrepreneurial creatives for those to follow.”

To clarify, when Murray’s piece was first submitted to me, it was only 600 words and its basic premise was pretty simple: Kardashian West should be considered a self-portrait artist. Given how many articles, including Moore’s, have orbited this general claim, that on its own doesn’t seem to be plagiarism. I was admittedly surprised by the syntactic crossover of “Enter Kim Kardashian West” and “Enter the female self-portrait artist.”, and I do feel adamantly that Moore’s work should be acknowledged. But given that Murray’s work is nearly 2500 words and focused more in depth on the art historical context of both Kardashian West and Kahlo (something that I encouraged her to do in my feedback), so long as Moore’s idea is cited, I don’t think the Rumpus essay should be pulled.

Please let me know if this solution is amenable to you. The author–a new author for The Rumpus–is understandably troubled by this turn of events, and eager to make things right. So am I–and I also completely understand why Laura has every right to be concerned about her ideas not being cited. At this point I’d like to come to a resolution that satisfies all parties involved to the fullest extent possible. I welcome your feedback.

Sincerely,

YYYYYYYYY
Rumpus Film & Media Editor


And then the original editor responded:

From: XXXXXXX <XXXXXX@therumpus.net>
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:36 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: YYYYYYYY <YYYYYYYY@wustl.edu>
Cc: Laura Jean Moore

I will share with both of you my concern in adding that paragraph—there are at least 3-4 other essays that exist that also touch on this. Laura, I’m curious to know how you feel about this as a solution. If this works, and Sarah is comfortable with it, we can add that paragraph. But I also want to be careful about setting a precedent. Because Sarah didn’t know about your article, citing it seems a little unusual.

For now, I’m going to wait to hear back from you, Laura, before making any changes.


And finally I was able to articulate myself:

From: Laura Jean Moore
Date: Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 10:41 AM
Subject: Re: Regarding the Kahlo / Kardashian piece
To: XXXXXXX <XXXXXX@therumpus.net>, YYYYYY <YYYYYY@wustl.edu>

Hello all,

Please see the attached document for a side by side comparison of similarities in the article published yesterday on the Rumpus and my piece from VICE. Examples include thematic / content similarities and odd “coincidences” in certain turns of phrase.

The links that XXXXX provided do not share the same similarities.

The point here, and my concern, was never plagiarism of the copy-paste variety, but a stealing of argument and idea without acknowledging source. I would prefer a publishing landscape in which we, as writers and cultural commentators, were in dialogue with each other rather than tearing each other down. I feel as though my piece was used as a structural guide for Murray’s. While hers adds even more supporting evidence for the larger point of the selfie as art, and Kardashian as its expert non grata, it does little (in my opinion) to present a new perspective beyond that (or even a complication of my original argument).

If my piece had even received a minimal nod, I would not be bothered. She clearly did a lot of work to cite additional sources here.

I am perfectly satisfied by the author’s new paragraph.

I appreciate all of you taking this seriously. Thank you for your swift response.

Best Regards,
Laura Jean

Attached document: (link below)

therumpusvs-vice


And so the resolution was found. The point of all of this, and the reason I am sharing, is two-fold.

We have a responsibility as writers and cultural commentators to do our due diligence and acknowledge the thinkers who have come before us. They are asking that we stand on their shoulders. We can only build upwards with a solid foundation of intellectual history behind us.

And secondly, in a media landscape where writers get paid so little, and the editors who even work for The Rumpus and other literary publications do so out of a love and commitment to good writing, rather than because of any monetary renumeration, it is worth it to consider that the only currency we have as writers is the ownership of our ideas.

When Tye first alerted me to the similarities in the two pieces, I did not know if I should even say anything. I am so accustomed to the melt and churn of content creation that I had an attitude of learned helplessness, even when confronted with what appeared to be someone using my piece as the structural backbone of their own. However, thanks to my dear community, and the love and respect of my peers, I got to stand up for myself and for my work and original thinking. My hope is for most such potential controversies to end with the same dialogue and acknowledgement. We do ourselves no favors when we vilify fellow wordsmiths.

I suppose I still believe in an olive branch before the guillotine.

Thank you to everyone who defended me, to the editors at The Rumpus for being so professional, and to Murray for her ultimate compromise.  — LJ

Image Credit: Detail of the cover of ‘Selfish’ (2015) by Kim Kardashian West
Pro-tip: email subscribers, click title to see embedded images and a hot pic of Ms. West

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