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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 02.14.11
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

The end of originality

David Cameron, I feel your pain.

Recently, Montreal Gazette columnist Josh Freed gently rebuked the British prime minister for snatching the word "neverendum." Freed claims to have hatched the term back in 1992 when it seemed increasingly likely that Quebec would continue to suffer referendum after referendum until les vaches retournaient de chez nous.

This news surely came as a surprise to Mr. Cameron.

"Cor, blimey! Bollocks! Pip-pip and fish-n-chips!" he probably said (because that's how they talk in England). "An' 'ere I thought I were so clevah, gov'nah!"

We all think we're clever, Prime Minister. We all do.

Yet, if the Internet has taught us anything besides the number of times Steve Martin has appeared on "Saturday Night Live" (15), it's that everything's been done.

Take, for instance, this scenario I dreamed up the other day:

Two guys are at a cocktail party when an older gentleman enters the room accompanied by a much younger though not especially attractive woman.

"Who's that with the geezer?" asks one.

"That's his wife," replies the other.

"His wife? But I heard she was hot."

"She was," replies the friend, "but she's really let herself fall apart."

"Ahh," says the first man with a nod. "Atrophy wife."

I assumed I was the first person in the world to come up with this wry, cerebral, must-share pun, making me by extension the wittiest person in the world, regardless of what my family tells me.

Enter Google.

If you search for "atrophy wife," you'll find it's, among others, the name of a band in Tacoma, WA with no upcoming gigs; a short story where the punch line has something to do with cannibalism; a self-effacing Twitter comment; and an entry in the Urban Dictionary that recommends saying the phrase with an Italian accent, for no apparent reason.

For all I know, people may have been making this gag for years. I bet it's a real knee-slapper down at the ol' physiology lab.

What do we learn from this? That I'm nowhere near as clever as I think I am, yes, but also that you can generally assume that, whatever your idea, someone has beaten you to it.

Originality is dead.

Mainstream Hollywood has given up even the pretence of trying to be original. In fact, they'll just go ahead and show you the entire plot of the movie in the trailer since they know you're not going to be surprised anyway. Take the film The Help. I haven't seen it, but from the trailer I've learned the following:

    - White people were insensitive bigots, but thank goodness that was back in the sixties.

    - Black people were downtrodden but proud and usually accompanied by a rousing gospel soundtrack.

    - It's a good thing there were a few nice white people to help the black people out.

    - If, as a filmmaker, you're worried your message is too subtle, put toilets on the lawn.

    - In the end, white folks and black folks can learn to get along, and yet no one can truly explain what's so special about Emma Stone.

    - Segregation was all about toilets.

Quite possibly originality has been dead for some time (or at very least moribund, or at very, very least cinnamon-bunned). It's just that now we can verify the fact because everyone posts everything online -- their brilliant screenplay treatment about baseball's first bisexual player (tagline: "He Swings Both Ways") or their idea for a breakfast cereal designed especially for pre-teen girls ("Estro-Genies: Part of This Complete Well-Balanced Puberty").

What this all means is that people can plagiarize with impunity or even with iPads. If someone accuses you of stealing his idea, you can claim the coincidence of duplicated brilliance. Besides, chances are your accuser's idea wasn't so original in the first place -- and likely not nearly as brilliant as "atrophy wife."

With no chance of winning, ultimately the death of originality might also kill off some of the lawyers -- and that can't be all bad.

(Incidentally, if you Google "originality is dead," you turn up 323,000 results.)

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through www.townships.ca. He can be reached at ross_murray@sympatico.ca.

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