Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lessons on Plagiarism, Authorship, and Invention from Fraggle Rock

The scene where Red finds her song. Image from The Muppet Mindset blog.
When I was younger, I really enjoyed watching The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, which, as most of you know, are Jim Henson creations. Lately, I've been trying to rediscover what it is I loved so much about Jim Henson's work by watching clips of the muppets on YouTube and Season One of Fraggle Rock on Netflix. Now that I've been watching them, I'm amazed by how much you can actually learn from Fraggle Rock. Though it's a children's show, it addresses many hard-hitting issues, touching on racism, ethics, religion, community, class, gender, and even slavery.

There is lots of writing that goes on in Fraggle Rock, as well. Uncle Traveling Matt leaves postcards about outer space (which is really our world) for the fraggles during every episode. Mokey keeps a journal that she writes in almost everyday. Doc, the human tinker, keeps a journal, too, about his ideas for future inventions. I didn't think, however, that the show would really offer anything about Composition, other than these brief glimpses of critters who write. Surprisingly, I was wrong; there was an episode that spoke to Composition, Episode 18 from Season 1, "The Minstrels."

In "The Minstrels," a mystic minstrel with a magic pipe and his posse come through Fraggle Rock with the intention of having the fraggles sing a medley. The medley is supposed to be composed of all of the fraggles' songs, stemming from the medley leaders' song. Red volunteers herself for the leader position. What she quickly finds, however, is that finding "her song" is not an easy task. She insists that her song is hidden in the magic pipe, which she later steals. When Red reveals that she was the culprit of the theft to the Minstel and explains that she stole it because she believed her song was hidden inside, the Minstrel tells Red, "The song is inside you. Without you, the pipe would be silent." It isn't until Red stops insisting the right song is out of her own control that she is able to produce her song.

For writers, this strange juxtaposition that Red experiences between ideas being in our control and out of our control is ever-present in the writing process. The power to write is always within us, but we don't always know how to make the words come forth. For Red, she must simply sit still a moment and listen. For humans, this simple remedy doesn't always work. We may have to wander in search of inspiration, freewrite until a kernel of truth presents itself, or aimlessly poke around the internet until something strikes out fancy. And when the ideas do come, it seems like magic, like they were there all along waiting to bubble  up to the surface. The way they come is somehow out of control and very much a part of us at the same time.

What never works, however, is assuming that the answer is hidden somewhere outside of us and that we must wait for it to come to us. It is also faulty to assume that there is some magical tool/strategy/format that can make our writing awesome (for example, the perfect thesis statement or plagiarizing an "expert"). We must have confidence in our abilities, and give up the notion that others can do it better than ourselves. Red's fear of judgement is what leads her to steal and prevents her from true creation. As writers, we should be aware of audience, but that doesn't mean that we need to fear it. We must be courageous enough to put forth our own voices. Red can't find her song in the minstrel's magic pipe, and she can't handle the music that comes from it. She suffers because she isn't being authentic. When she is finally ready to accept the music of her own heart, the melody comes to her.

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