Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama, Plagiarism and Musical Quotation: Another Perspective

The latest media storm surrounding the election concern charges from someone in the Clinton camp that Barack Obama stole from speeches of Mass. Gov Deval Patrick. Accusations are flying faster than donuts at a police convention, but what is the truth? Is it plagiarism or not?

Those who are quick to level the charges seem to be trying to equate a political stump speech with a research paper. But they are not equivalent forms of communication. A research paper, by its very nature, has to be original, and any "borrowings" that are not footnoted with the source acknowledged are considered, with good cause, in all of Academia to be plagiarism, and god help anyone, from freshman to doctoral candidate, who gets nailed for doing it. I've spent enough time, both as a student and as a college instructor, in the Groves of Academe to know what I'm talking about.

A political stump speech, to my way of thinking, is less like a research paper and more like a symphony. If you listen to both of them, you'll see they contain the same kind of movements and pacing: adagio, allegro, allegro non tropo, etc. Neither a political stump speech nor a symphony is intended to inform; they are both intended to work at the emotional level.

The inclusion of bits and pieces from other orchestral works has a long and varied history in classical music, to the point where it even has its own name: "Musical quotation". (See also From ancient Greece to John Williams: music has always been the same.)

And that, I submit, is why Obama's use of something said in another political stump speech by his friend Deval Patrick is the political equivalent of musical quotation; it is not "plagiarism".


Anonymous said...

history will follow..

frank said...

LOL!! When ya can't win em over with facts, dazzle em with BS. I hope to gawd that all this school-yard hose pucky from the Clinton campaign doesn't get independents and wise GOP voters to turn off. I would suggest to the Clintons that concentrating on the bush regime and how their ideas are better would be more productive than dissecting Obama speeches.
It seems like after "super Tuesday" when they didn't sweep the states, the Clintons have devolved into a kind of "island hopping" strategy like McArthur during WWII.With a drop in fundraising, they are having to fight for what they believed was a given. It's getting a bit unseemly.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

Imo: (and I'm hardly ever wrong except for the times I am:)
The Republican race turned boring. It wasn't exactly a barn burner with a Jesus Freak and a fat old bastard with one foot in the grave against each other at it's best, but stick a fork in it now.
The MSM demands suspense and conflict, or they'll make their own - which in this case - they are.

The most efficient recycling plant in the world is politics. NOTHING gets thrown away! There's only so many ways you can promise the moon, and we've beem at this for quite a long time now.:)

Anonymous said...

I am a music teacher at a suburban high school, and your analogy is very astute. I hadn't thought of it myself, but the more I consider it, the more I think that it's right on the mark. Good work.

Farnsworth68 said...

Thanks, anonymous. Occasionally I do experience a small, weak flicker of brilliance...