Friday, 23 January 2009

From the desk of Guy Incognito...

Once again, my bigmouthery has stretched beyond this page. Below is another contribution to Katherine Lyall-Watson's blog at This time it's a big ol' wank about those reprehensible pussies who want to latently serve their own interests by working in our industry and then yellowing out as reviewers, using fake names.

Hi again Katherine. Hope you're enjoying the steamy Brisbane soup.

In addressing your extremely well-made points about the use of pseudonyms, I must reluctantly touch upon an issue that came to light in mid-2008. I stress that the sole reason for briefly exhuming this side issue is to provide a measure of context for the attendant ‘nom de plume’ matter.

A number of your readers and contributors will already be familiar with an incidence last year in which a theatre website published a batch of reviews that contained content clearly reproduced from other sources, without crediting the authors of the original work.

In the course of making these findings known to many of my friends, peers, colleagues and the people who administer the website, it was brought to my attention that a number of reviews on the site were written under assumed names, including one of the reviews containing reproduced content.

I raised this, briefly, during my correspondence with one of the people responsible for the running of the website, asking if they 1) were, or 2) knew the identity of, the person operating under one of the false names (the one responsible for the plagiarised review). The first question was denied, the second ignored. The person operating under this false name (or someone acting on their behalf) had apparently relished the idea of writing under a fake name so much they created a Facebook page for this ‘character’, complete with an avatar of a person with a long nose, à la Pinocchio.

As I was engaged in investigating the other matter, I did not dwell too long on the on the pseudonym issue, except to say the following in a response to an email from the website:

“In your initial apology online, you stated that the contributor found to have plagiarised reviews would no longer write for the website. If your attitude towards pseudonyms is such that you believe it is acceptable in these circumstances, does this mean that [the reviewer] will no longer write for the website, but might be allowed to write under a nom-de-plume? If the disciplinary action accorded [the reviewer] was to have her dismissed as a contributor, will the same action apply to the person using the [pseudonym]?

“There are a number of people in our theatrical community who actively pursue the dual roles of artist and critic. Whatever their views, they are to be admired for having the gumption to stand by their words and face the possibility of opprobrium from those they review. This should, in my view (and I hasten to add, the view of an increasing number of supporters) be the standard position of anyone who finds themselves with a potential conflict of interests on their hands.”

With no prompting, another member of the website’s team, presumably having read the above, felt compelled to contact me via email to admit and defend their use of a pseudonym, despite no allegation being made against them.

Their defence? 1) “Personal sustainability” and 2) “I know of numerous other arts contributors in Brisbane and Australia who do the same for various reasons”.

Throughout all correspondence with the people concerned, their stance seemed to be that I was in the wrong for daring to make my findings public. They were of the opinion that I should have shared the information with them, and only them. My response was along the lines of ‘how does that ensure accountability on your part’? They even went so far as to accuse me of “making slanderous allegations” and suggesting that “you don't want to make enemies”.

I probably wouldn’t find the whole pseudonym thing so abhorrent and ethically bankrupt if the people involved here weren’t locked in such brutally ignorant thought processes. They engaged in ‘fallacies of virtue’ (we believe we are coming from a place of ultimate right and good, therefore we must be right, no matter what our actions are). They engaged in the ‘lemming fallacy’ (‘other people do it, so it’s okay for me to do it’) and, most disturbingly, they engaged in the classic In Terrorem or ‘appeal to fear’ (“you don't want to make enemies”).

If I may be allowed some candour, the simple fact is that anyone who is actively involved in an industry and then hides behind a fake name to comment about that industry is ethically shoddy. I don’t care if they claim to ‘make no secret’ of their identity or “book [their] tickets under [their] own name”. If you are so up-front about it, what’s the point of having a pseudonym?

Off the top of my head I can think of three people in Brisbane who either are or have been both artist and critic: Nigel Munro-Wallis, Dan Evans, and yes, Katherine Lyall-Watson. They’re all willing to tell their truth and stand squarely behind it, despite the potential vitriol coming from those who might feel slighted.

In discussing this topic with a colleague, it was suggested that I leave the plagiarism ‘thing’ alone (I honestly didn’t want to dredge it up at all). But having read this, I’m hoping you can see it was necessary in order to provide context, and perhaps more importantly, illustrate one of the ethical dangers inherent in the use of pseudonyms in this manner.

If you do it, you don’t deserve your bullypulpit. And…if you do it in a town with an industry like ours, some grumpy bigmouth will catch you, eventually.

(If anyone is interested in seeing more detail around any of the bits and pieces mentioned here, feel free to email me at ).

Sorry for the longwindedness. Happy Straya Day.

There seems to be a culture of secretiveness developing around a certain section of our community. Kinda makes y'wonder what else they might be hiding.