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Tarantino v. Turnitin: Projects, Pastiche, and Postmodernism

This article has been written by Karthik Rai (Batch of 2023). The cover picture has been illustrated by Anshita Agrawal (Batch of 2023)

Bemused by the heavily alliterative rubric? I’m sure what Calvin Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) is saying in this image is what’s resonating in your mind as you see the wacky title. Allow me to elaborate.

Tarantino is one of the best modern-era directors. I hope you got to see at least some of Tarantino’s amazing movies this quarantine-o. Name one Tarantino fan who just doesn’t love it when Sam Jackson shouts the Oedipal polysyllable? (I dare not say it, though. Do Professors read Quirk?).

One often wonders – how does this man have this ability to garner rave critical and audience reviews? Well, we need not look far, for the acclaimed director himself has the answer to this rumination: “I steal from every single movie ever made.”

Yes, Tarantino openly admits to chaapo-fying scenes from hundreds of movies across genres and countries, and using them in his movies. Most are audaciously copied to a T. For instance, the scene in Pulp Fiction where Bruce Wills, who is in his car, sees arch-nemesis Marsellus Wallace on the street and drives away immediately, mirrors a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Even the seemingly spontaneous, iconic Pulp Fiction dance routine featuring Thurman and Travolta is copied (sigh). Scenes from Jackie Brown are ‘borrowed’ from the movie Foxy Brown.

I can go on and on, enumerating the various sources of ‘inspiration’ (as Indian music composers and directors and Constitutional Law Professors often say) used by Tarantino for his movies. Applying this to Law School context, it parallels our attempts to seek ‘inspiration’ from already-written literature on our project topics, as we race against time to come up with a ‘novel’ project.

But there is a major difference. Tarantino is hailed as a master and an auteur for whom grandiloquent praises are sung. On the other hand, we — the students — whose Turnitin reports faithfully point to unsuccessful attempts at borrowing from internet sources, are in the soup. Teachers look at our Inglourious Turnitin reports, showing us (Death) Proof of our botched attempt at seeking inspiration, and Kill(Bill) our hopes of a great grade — by pointing out each and every line that was ‘copied’ from online sources written Once Upon a Time, without citing them (Huff, that took quite some effort).

Tarantino definitely got lucky, there’s no Turnitin for Hollywood. But there’s more to it than just that. Most of the similarities that I mentioned previously don’t exactly strike us despite watching his movies more than once (just like the answers to any HUF question in Family Law-2). The manner in which Tarantino adapts these sources and smorgasbords them into a wholly different film is a testament to his directorial abilities. Therein, I submit, also lies our ability as researchers, to come up with ‘novel’ projects. You may have heard the idea I’m alluding to here, given that we have all been through the whirlwind that was History-1: it’s postmodernism.

Postmodernism in film-making advocates that everything in the world of art is already there, lying in wait for auteurs to employ in their movies. How does the question of originality still arise? It is when the content already available is compiled and packed by directors in a manner different from existing source(s) of inspiration. Tarantino knows that even if he admits to ‘stealing’ from other movies, his content will be devoured by his fans. That confidence he has is because he takes two and two, and comes out with five: he magically spins out wholly new yarns of storytelling that he has masterful control over, with a paradoxical originality to them.[1]

This ability to take already-existing research material (in the form of books, research papers, articles, blogs, reports, etc.) and process them in a manner different to what was advocated in the original source would, I submit, define how our project comes out. This is the postmodern technique of pastiche.[2] Pastiches are successful in bringing the required element of novelty, because the sources of inspiration aren’t looked at as mere works (or, in our context, texts). Tarantino employs the pastiche-method, by understanding those existing movies, their context, and the time they were made in. Then he weaves a movie in a different time and in a different context altogether, while based on similar ideas or concepts as past movies, thereby bringing out something ‘unseen’ till now.

Law Schoolites, take cue. For us, too, having a humongous library is copacetic, in that we have a lot of legal literature to access. However, it serves as a stark reminder that what you intend to argue in your projects could already be present in legal academia. Impossibility, thy name is novelty.

Consequently, to take a stab at novelty in projects — traversing the postmodern, pastiche road just like Tarantino does — should be a good alternative. You could be a sceptic postmodernist and critique existing literature dealing with your project’s topic, hence reinterpreting arguments the works have propounded. Alternatively, you could examine the criteria which the book/article bases its arguments on, compare material dealing with the same issue, and emerge with unexplored interpretations from a combined reading of existing literature. Therefore, in a postmodern way, by understanding material not just in terms of what the text is, but by trying to understand the context and the intent or logic behind those points already made in existing works, and by subsequently invoking these points in a different manner, in a different context, we can evade the jaws of Turnitin in our projects. We don’t need to be original (according to postmodernists, we cannot), we need to be authentic.[3] And thus, we can emerge as Natural Born Researchers.

Anyway, best of luck for the projects! Work hard in silence, like the D in Django. Let the success (and the illuminating Turnitin Reports) speak for itself. Get back to project (and perhaps postmodern) work, all of you!

 

[1] It would have been too ironic if I hadn’t cited the one article I was ‘inspired’ from for writing this piece:

https://www.businessinsider.in/video/how-quentin-tarantino-steals-from-other-movies/articleshow/70441598.cms.

[2] There is often a debate about what pastiche exactly stands for. However, for current purposes, it is a technique that imitates motifs present in existing work(s) of art, not by way of mocking it (which is what a parody does), but by respecting, adapting, and honouring that work. Thus, in a way, postmodernism and pastiche get along.

[3] Dipankar Gupta, ‘A Critical Study of Trump, the Postmodernist’ (The Hindu, 30 April 2020) <https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-critical-study-of-trump-the-postmodernist/article31466682.ece> accessed 25 August 2020.

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