That was a tough headline to write. Clearly it’s pejorative. It’s offensive to many people. In fact, it’s kind of offensive to me. But, this post is about several things that are offensive.
The Fat Jew – The Liar
Josh Ostrovsky is an entertainer. He recently released a book, Money Pizza Respect. He has nearly six million followers on Instagram. He recently was in discussions for a show on Comedy Central. Despite having what he describes as a “dad bod” he was signed to promote Virgin Mobile, Burger King, Bud Light and Beats Electronics. He has a wine label called “White Girl Rose.” He is by just about any definition a social media star. He’s also a liar.
That’s not my description for him, it’s his. Ostrovsky, who is @thefatjewish on Instagram or simply, @fatjew on Twitter, built his Instagram following by reposting clever memes and jokes written by other people. You might wonder why this is a big deal. The problem that many people had was that Ostrovsky stripped any identifying information about the original author, making it appear the memes and jokes were his.
If you aren’t familiar with the comedy world, this is called plagiarism. In fact, it’s pretty much referred to as plagiarism no matter who you ask. Everyone seems to agree that it’s a bad thing except Ostrovsky himself. He defended his reposting of memes as acceptable behavior.
The internet is like a giant weird orgy where everything gets shared.
The problem for Ostovsky is that the memes he was reposting, (“aggragating” in his view) were often written by struggling comics and writers trying to make a name for themselves. A name that Josh Ostovsky was more than happy to make for himself.
Steve Hofstetter is also an entertainer. But, unlike Ostrovsky, Hofstetter hasn’t built his success by aggregating the work of others. Hofstetter regularly performs stand up comedy around the country. He’s the host of Finding Babe Ruth on FS1. He’s written for Maxim, ESPN and Sports Illustrated. His youtube channel has more than 30 million views. Some of his most popular videos are of him being heckled. It doesn’t go well for the hecklers
I’m smarter than you and I have a microphone.
Steve is one of a several comedians who led an effort to raise awareness of the issue of plagiarism, or “joke stealing.” He was instumental in getting Barnes & Nobel to cancel a book signing event for Ostrovsky last month. I recently had an email conversation with him about the controversy around Ostrovsky.
RMB: You recently started a facebook group called “Writers and Comedians United Against Plagiarism.” Originally the group was called “Writers and Comedians United Against Josh Ostrovsky’s Plagiarism.” You seem to be attempting to raise awareness. What is your goal for the group in general?
SH: I want to change the culture. I would like to see intellectual property held in the same regard as physical property.
RMB: You state that you want to cancel or protest all of Josh Ostrovsky’s appearances until he
1) Understands why what he did is wrong (and explains it to his fans)
2) Apologizes to everyone he stole from individually
3) Pays everyone he stole from.
Have you been in contact with Josh? How likely is it, do you think that he will do any of this?
SH: I’ve included him in many of my tweets. I do not know him personally. I don’t want to guess at the likelihood of any of this – all I know is that bookstore cancelation was either one heck of a coincidence, or a major victory for the good guys.
RMB: He’s now gone back and added credit to the memes he plagiarized. Why isn’t this enough?
SH: Why isn’t it enough that he retroactively added credit that no one will see unless they’re searching for it, for some of the jokes he stole, when he made millions of dollars off of them? Seems like an odd question to me.
RMB: Do you see Josh’s “career path” as a natural extension of our “reality TV” culture; the idea of fame being the goal and any means to accomplish that goal being justified?
SH: Yes. Some people see fame as the prize, and have no ethics about how they get there. That needs to change.
RMB: There was a recent viral video of an 89 year old man who did stand up for the first time. None of his material was original. His timing was not bad, but his material was all street jokes or jokes hacked from other comics. Do you feel as offended by this performance as you do by Josh’s actions?
SH: No, because he is someone that did it once that didn’t know any better. Ostrovsky did it for years despite being called out on it, and defends his actions to this day.
RMB:Is any publicity that draws people to comedy a good thing even if it is the result of plagiarism?
SH: Absolutely not. That’s like saying stealing a painting from a museum is positive for art because the story got people interested in it.
RMB:Social media has changed comedy in a lot of ways. Several years ago Sarah Silverman talked about how hard it is to work on new material when people will film her on their cell phones and immediately upload it to youtube. Michael Richards, obviously wasn’t considering the fact that his Laugh Factory melt down could end up online. Now Josh Ostrovsky has harnessed the power of that medium in ways that weren’t possible even just a few years ago. You obviously have embraced social media. How do you think we can balance the benefits of youtube, facebook, instagram, etc and still protect ourselves from the abuses? Is it even possible?
SH: We’re all adults, and deep down we all know what is right and what is wrong, no matter what the tools of technology allow us to do. The existence of twitter and instagram doesn’t make us immoral. It just exposes immorality quicker and to a larger audience.
What do you think? Social media has changed how we communicate. Has the immorality always been there and we are just quicker to notice on instagram and twitter? Or have the media themselves given rise to a new morality?
I wonder if my kids, and their peers see the problem with what Ostrovsky did. I wonder if they even care. I hope so.
(Josh Ostrovsky did not repond to an emailed invitation for an interview.)
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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