In sports, the line is pretty clearly drawn: you inject a banned substance into your body – expanding your biceps but shrinking your genitals – and bang, you’re cheating. There is little debate about this either way.
The media goes into fake-outrage mode, fans follow suit, and the culprit is branded a cheater for the rest of his career (or what’s left of it).
But can an author, singer, or artist of any kind actually cheat? What is their equivalent of an anabolic steroid?
You can’t blame this one on the rain, dudes…
Back in the 80’s there was a pop duo called Milli Vanilli. Google them and you’ll no doubt laugh out loud – if not at their music, at their multi-colored jackets with terrifyingly-large shoulder pads.
This was a very popular act for a while, and they had some big pop hits circa 1989 (even winning three American Music Awards) but one fateful day the cat got out of the bag: it was revealed that on their albums they weren’t really the ones singing. Fab and Rob were just puppets – lip-synching on stage, and pretending they were the ones with the talent in the studio.
Six months and 27 lawsuits later they faded into obscurity, and their legacy became nothing more than a punch-line for late-night television hosts.
A more recent example of a high profile lip-synching disaster is Ashlee Simpson. Jessica’s little sister was on the fast-track to fame: moving millions of albums, selling out concert venues, and appearing on every mainstream outlet you can imagine.
Until one fateful evening in October of 2004, when she was performing with her band on Saturday Night Live.
Jude Law introduced her, she came out, and lip synched…to the wrong song. She stood on stage like a deer caught in headlights as her voice came from the speakers.
She inexplicably Irish-jigged off stage, and ultimately off the public radar.
You are not an artist, you’re a fraud…I think!
These aren’t artists…they’re phonies! They’re filthy cheaters! Right?
They’re completely illegitimate and should be ostracized from society. In fact, they should be banished to an island and forced to fend for themselves with nothing more than a tent and a bag of rice (hey, that would make for an interesting reality show…)
But what happened to their art? What they produced? Surely at least some of the people who purchased their CDs enjoyed them at the time. So what changed?
The sound coming out the speakers didn’t change. The authenticity did.
The artists are so intertwined with the art that we have a hard time making a separation in our minds. And if we don’t believe in the artist – if we feel like they’ve taken a shortcut – we don’t believe in their art.
Milli Vanilli? Ashlee Simpson? But these people are jokes!
True. But let’s take this concept a little farther. What if someone of massive historical significance was not who he, or she, said they were?
There has long been a conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare was not responsible for his own work – or at the very least has some assistance with a number of his works. This will likely never be conclusively proven one way or another, but for the moment let’s assume it was.
Would you tear up your copy of Romeo & Juliet? Would 12th Night and The Tempest no longer be relevant works?
Should educational institutions stop teaching his work?
After all, someone wrote this stuff. It’s been loved, and studied, and has inspired people for centuries – would the revelation that it was someone other than Shakespeare himself behind the quill be all that damaging? And what would it actually change?
If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.
Let’s face it, art is an illusion.
A professionally-produced song can be the result of 200+ takes and a lot of digital editing.
Even the best novelists have ghost-writers, multiple editors and script doctors.
And I know of a very successful comic book artist who pays talented people to craft the layouts, character designs and rough pencils before he even picks up his Wacom pen (and then does the finishes and takes all the credit).
Yet we read books, listen to songs and watch movies, often unaware of the real artists behind the art we’re enjoying.
And let’s face it, millions of people are willing to look the other way if they feel connected enough to the artist, even though they know that they’re ‘cheating’ in some way. What would Ke$ha have sounded like in the pre-auto-tune era? What would Hollywood stars look like if it weren’t for Photoshop and cosmetic surgeons? What would an unedited book read like? (If you’re wondering you can pick up one of the Twilight novels)
Every form of art has an available shortcut of some kind, especially when you have the money to afford one – but what’s acceptable, what’s not, and what constitutes cheating?
The end of this post isn’t going to be written by me – it’s up to you. Comment below and let the flame war begin. 😉
I love you guys…