Earlier this week, “True Detective” and its writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto were hit with another accusation of plagiarism. This time, eagle-eyed followers of Thomas Ligotti’s work noticed striking similarities between the author’s “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” and the nihilistic diatribes of Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. (You can read the original article here, which has the line comparisons.)
Many news sites picked up the story, and it created a good amount of discussion among fans and detractors of the show, especially as its second season finishes casting. Now HBO and Pizzolatto have both issued statements about the accusations, denying all charges of plagiarism.
“Nothing in the television show ’True Detective’ was plagiarized,” Pizzolatto said in his statement. “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 Schopenauer, Friedrich Nietzche, 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.”
HBO mostly took the stance of supporting Pizzolatto and standing by the show, while commenting briefly on the nature of borrowing philosophy.
“’True Detective’ is a work of exceptional originality and the story, plot, characters and dialogue are that of Nic Pizzolatto,” the cable network said in its statement. “Philosophical concepts are free for anyone to use, including writers of fiction, and there have been many such examples in the past. Exploring and engaging with ideas and themes that philosophers and novelists have wrestled with over time is one of the show’s many strengths — we stand by the show, its writing and Nic Pizzolatto entirely.”
Neither of the statements are particularly revealing, but they both hit on many of the same arguments that Pizzolatto’s supporters have echoed in the wake of the accusations.
It’s almost impossible not to look at the line comparisons, complete with their suggestive highlighting, and not see that Pizzolatto was influenced by “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.” It’s just like when the “True Detective” finale ended with words that came close to matching ones comics legend Alan Moore used in his “Top Ten.”
Pizzolatto, like everyone who creates, finds inspiration in the work of others, and the writer hasn’t been shy about pointing out those references. There’s even an interview from The Wall Street Journal that is almost exclusively about how Ligotti influenced the show, in which Pizzolatto said, “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.”
So while some might argue that Pizzolatto crossed a line and cribbed too much from Ligotti or phrased his references too closely, I think it’s important to remember that the rest of the show, outside a few carefully and deliberately worded lines, was really, really good, and that you can’t steal from a book.