Post Academic

Follow-Ups: Wisconsin Protests and “Chef Law”

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on February 27, 2011
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We wanted to follow up on a few of our better trafficked posts from the past week, Caroline’s on the Wisconsin protests and Arnold’s on plagiarism in Top Chef.

Wisconsin Protests: Thanks to all the wonderful comments to our post on the ongoing Wisconsin saga–to cite a cliche, we can disagree without being disagreeable!  Lest we get too far into the political principles of the thing (and anyways, you know where we stand), Talking Points Memo passes along an interesting note on who’d be one of the first affected by the Gov. Scott Walker’s threats to start laying off state workers: the school counselor wife of the GOP State Senate Majority Leader, a chief political ally.  In fact, all 34 of that particular school district’s teaching staff have been given their preliminary walking papers.

Here’s a YouTube of the protests, which apparently stars a friend of ours –well, at least her hat for an instant or so–who’s a prof in the Wisconsin system…

Chef Law: On a much lighter note, this week’s Top Chef plagiarism controversy has generated a lot of interest, though we’re betting that anything that happens on the show leads to a storm of posts on the foodie blogosphere.  Mike Isabella, the cheater, has washed his hands of the whole thing, claiming that it was all editing and that Richard Blais, the cheated-upon, bears no ill will and agrees with him.  Uh-huh.  One of the more interesting perspectives on this tempest-in-a-teapot comes from Dale Talde, who was chopped (to mix reality-show catchphrases) from the episode.

When asked by TV Guide in a post-show debriefing, he basically pooh-poohed the idea of plagiarism, even as he called out Isabella for bad form:  “You can’t patent food, but you also can’t straight-up tell people that you ripped this dude’s dish off and you won $5,000 and shove it in his face. That sucks.”  And like we pointed out in the post, you just can’t give plagiarists an inch, which is something Dale had apparently been advising Richard all along: “He’s been very forthcoming with information….Why are you telling people this? I think he’s learned his lesson now. I’m not stingy, but it’s like: Dude, do your homework; do your homework. You know you’re going on the show, so do your homework.”

So something else that Top Chef’s confirmed for us about plagiarism is a lot about bad form and  that it’s never cut-and-dried, never black-and-white.  And the best way to not get embroiled in it is to not get into the gray area of helping a little too much.

What Top Chef teaches us about plagiarism

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on February 24, 2011
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One of the sillier things we’ve done on the blog over the past almost year is the “Top Grad Student” fake virtual reality show series, based on my fave reality show, Top Chef.  But who knew that Top Chef could also tell you everything thing you wanted to know about plagiarism, how we react to it, and how people can get away with it?  Just like every school has an honor code that students are presumed to abide by, apparently there’s something called “Chef Law” where you aren’t supposed to steal someone else’s culinary ideas.

Richard Blais (aka the plagiarized) by Godofbiscuits (Creative Commons license)

So to recap what happened on this week’s episode (spoiler alert!): It began with a seemingly innocuous scene where Richard Blais, the mad scientist and (imho) the most creative cheftestant, was showing Mike Isabella, a skeezy operator (again, imho), a Moleskine notebook full of his crazy musings, complete with drawings.  So flash forward to the Quickfire challenge, when apparently Mike preps a Fried “Chicken Oyster” in a shell that was originally Blais’ fantastical creation.  So throughout the challenge and the judgement, Blais gives Isabella the stink eye, while Isabella avoids his gaze; on the voiceover confessionals, Blais calls Isabella out for plagiarism, as Isabella claims that, though he got the idea from his competitor, others have done it before so it’s not copying.  You know how this turns out–Mike beats Richard, and pockets 5K out of it.  Richard is bent of shape, and Mike rubs everyone’s face in it by saying he was inspired by Richard.

Cut to post-challenge, when Mike is somehow pissed at Richard for not acting like either a winner or a loser should.  Meanwhile, Antonia tells the other contestants what happened, that Mike basically cribbed off Richard (we get a flashback scene here, I think) for the win, to which everyone invokes “Chef Law” and how dastardly Mike is.

Ultimately, Richard bests Mike at the end of the episode, then talks some mild s**t (Blais might be full of himself a bit, but he’s too geeky, nervous, and seemingly well-meaning to be a brash trash-talking type) about keeping his best recipes for himself.  So there’s order to the universe in the end, right?  Not so fast…

Here are a few lessons we learn about plagiarism and plagiarists from the episode…

1. Keep it to yourself: Whether Richard was willingly showing off his little notebook or Mike is one of those nosy people who’s always in your bizness — in Chinese, his type roughly translates to “butt-following bug” — there’s no reason to let anyone know more than they need to, especially in a competition.  I don’t know, I guess I know how Richard feels, since I liked sharing notes and all, but it’s something else to give someone your thesis and outline.  Hold on to your best ideas for yourself and resist showing off more than you need to.

More of what we learned about plagiarism from Top Chef, after the jump…