Heart Work (Aorta)

This is only tangentially linked to the previous two entries. In fact, it’s almost an afterthought. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a for a long time and especially recently with all this discussion about the “illusion” of a meritocracy.

When Trey Parker and Matt Stone created The Spirit of Christmas, they did not put their names on it. There’s a few reasons for this, key among them simply their own feelings that since this was some for-hire animation job to be someone’s Christmas card, they didn’t bother. It just didn’t occur to them, and they had no expectations that it would blow up the way it did and land them where they are now.

Stories like this are common, with Parker and Stone‘s being one of the more Cindarella-like ones. There are more egregious stories of people who essentially throw away a golden ticket and have to fight tooth and nail for what they deserved in the first place. Bill Finger is a more recent example that’s come to light, although his contributions to the creation of Batman (previously credited solely to Bob Kane) were known to people in the industry for a very long time.

In the Comedy Central special 6 Days to Air: the Making of South Park, which details the production workflow that allows an entire episode (maybe even multiple episodes, it’s not especially clear) of South Park to be produced within a week without violating any labor laws. It’s a big team working in shifts that let night owls be night owls and early birds to be those irritating jerks who don’t understand some people need coffee to function… we’re getting off topic. At one point in the special, Trey and Matt off-handed mention a peculiar consequence to producing Spirit of Christmas anonymously.

Though they wouldn’t name names, there’s a modestly-sized list of people who have gotten jobs either in animation or the entertainment industry in general by taking credit for Spirit of Christmas. Needless to say, now that South Park has become an institution unto itself and a global phenomenon that has endured for over 20 years, this isn’t something people can do anymore, but between the release of the original special and the first few seasons of the series proper, there was this period when arguably no one would have been any the wiser to dispute a claim of ownership.

Of course, plagiarism is no laughing matter. It is fraud. It is misrepresentation. It is horrifically dishonest. What I have to wonder, then, is whether or not any of these people have been found out (assuming they’re still working) and what kind of situation this revelation has put them in. To put the question another way, how many of them have since proven they didn’t really need the little white lie to get where they are? Were some of these people legitimately talented animators who simply weren’t getting anywhere until they fudged one little fact that got their foot far enough in the door that the dishonesty is virtually academic? To take that point a step further, have these instances of little white lies buoyed by redeeming talent also served as an indictment of an industry that wouldn’t recognize talent if it bit them?

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