Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Why I stopped writing film reviews

Dear readers,

I have been using this blog to share the reviews I have written (with permission from incinemas.sg and fridae.asia) since I began a career as a professional film reviewer or film critic, if you're using the old parlance. This blog began as a space to ensure that this writing would survive link rot and website obsolescence. In 2013, when Fridae restructured its website and closed its film column, I continued to watch and review films for my own pleasure here.

As you may have noticed, it has been a long while since I've posted here. To put it simply: I stopped film reviewing. I stopped wanting to be a film critic. That is not to say that I lost my love for films, but I did lose my love for writing about films.

The Thief, from Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain
During a routine check for plagiarism, I discovered in Q3 2014 that my reviews were popping up on other people's websites, under different people's names. Pro-tip: If you do any writing that's published, whether it's work for hire or your own self-published work, it's a good idea to google snippets of what you've written.

I know for one that there are a few Indonesian teens running a film blog on Blogger that have republished some of my reviews, word for word. This is not about them. They're not thieves.

At least not on the scale of Marcello Milteer, the owner and chief editor of the erstwhile Japancinema. Marcello mostly stole reviews of Asian films from bloggers based in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. These are the countries where Asian films would be released ahead of the USA, and whose film bloggers would write in English. It's a colonial legacy kind of thing.

In the beginning, Milteer would steal reviews in their entirety, publish them on Japancinema.net under someone else's name. Then Milteer got more creative. He'd cut and paste a brand new review by cobbling together a paragraph each from 3 to 4 different reviewers, and publish them on Japancinema. Then Milteer got stupid. He created an IMDB user called "marcello", and post these as IMDB user reviews. And finally, Milteer got greedy. He started taking paragraphs from film sections of the Village Voice, Hollywood Reporter, and even Slant. I kid you not.

Eventually, Marcello Milteer was found out by his own stable of legit writers and contributors. He made a half-assed apology, blamed everything on unnamed contributors, and denied he was the plagiarist. Again, I kid you not. When you steal indiscriminately and leave your calling card for everyone to see, and people begin to document your plagiarism, it's a matter of time before consequences ensue even if Mr Milteer refused to reply to emails, twitter, or facebook messages about the plagiarism.

Sure, Marcello Milteer was caught in the act. Despite his refusal to take ownership of his theft, Milteer no longer operates Japancinema.

That doesn't mean the issue had been resolved. Mr Milteer isn't the smartest guy in the room; he sure isn't, wasn't, and won't be the only person running a plagiarism racket.

There of course is the monetary harm Milteer inflicted on his victims; the syndication fees he would have had to pay if he asked Village Voice on one end and Joe Blogger at the other, the very taxable monetary value of the DVDs and swag he bragged he got "for free" for "reviewing" niche films.

What drives people to publish, often for free, in the long tail of the internet is the belief that when well-crafted, a perspective can be credible, unique and of value (if however non-monetary, and however deferred if potentially monetary). Plagiarism isn't just about the value of the work, but erasing the identity of the author - and thus erasing the value, uniqueness and goodwill that a dedicated writer generates over time.

Refusing to publish, as I have, was not an emotional decision, but a purely rational one. There was no reason to publish on the long tail of the internet if publishing on the long tail of the internet involves the high risk of being plagiarised, cannibalised, and erased by unscrupulous operators of larger sites.