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The Guardian / Life - Entertain

Emma Cline’s plagiarism suit – just another story of a man acting terribly

The Girls author’s ex-boyfriend claims the bestseller was based in part on his emails. Our style expert in her weekly column asks, is this the latest example of men thinking women owe them it all?

What are we to make of the insane story of author Emma Cline’s ex-boyfriend suing her for plagiarism?
Eve, by email

Just when you think you’ve reached the limits on toxic masculinity, along comes another story of a man acting terribly and a lot of men around him encouraging him in his terribleness. Emma Cline is the young novelist who wrote The Girls, one of my favourite books of the past five years. She has an ex-boyfriend with the unforgettable name of Chaz Reetz-Laiolo, which I assumed initially was a joke as it sounds so much like the name of a bad stoner boyfriend in a Tarantino movie. Reetz-Laiolo claims that Cline plagiarised fragments of her novel from him by installing spyware in his computer and reading his emails. As it happens, The Girls is loosely based on the Charles Manson story and the really ironic thing about Reetz-Laiolo’s (can we just call him Chaz? Yes, let’s do that) Chaz’s suit is, in its aggression and apparent loopiness, that it doesn’t sound a million miles from the kind of conspiracies Manson used to share with his followers about how Dennis Wilson or Terry Melcher had “betrayed” him and were preventing the world from seeing his genius.

Anyway, one of Chaz’s lawyers is a certain David Boies, who worked briefly for Harvey Weinstein. Last summer, Boies sent Cline’s lawyers dozens of screenshots of intimate online conversations Cline had had with various men in the past because this proved, according to Boies, that Cline is “not the innocent or naif she portrayed herself to be”, as though that has anything to do with writing a book. Boies insisted this was in response to Cline describing Chaz as “abusive” (he has denied accusations of physical abuse), as though, again, Cline having previous relationships does anything to disprove that allegation. One of the lawyers representing Cline, Carrie Goldberg, told the New Yorker last week that what Chaz’s lawyers were saying was, “Hey, if you don’t give us what our client wants, we’re going to put this very personal information out into the open, and the whole world is going to know the inner workings of your sex life and your sexual history and every proclivity that you have.” Boies’s firm responded by saying that Cline’s lawyers were the first to raise aspects of the parties’ sexual history.

After Boies’ work for Weinstein had been exposed by the New Yorker, his law firm, Boies Schiller, sent an amendedment to their original draft to Cline’s lawyers with the references to Cline’s sex life removed, and now both Cline and Chaz are suing one another.

There is so much I’d like to say about this case but, apparently, I’m not allowed. So let me instead just end with these thoughts. To quote the late, great Nora Ephron: women, never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from. If that guy has anger issues, or ego issues, or self-pity issues, or is just your garden-variety sociopathic narcissist, then do not go there. Only date kind men. Feel free, in 20 years time, to send me all the money this advice saves you, as it will spare you years of expensive therapy, binge drinking and yoga retreats.

But it’s really you I’m looking at, men, and here is my message to you: the world does not owe you, or your egos, or your dicks, any favours. Get over yourselves.

As for Cline herself, I wish her all the success she so clearly deserves. And most of all, I wish her to be spared of any more men called Chaz blocking her sunny path. Words for us all to live by.

Surely – surely! – we are done with famous men being exposed as sexual harassers, right?
Suzanne, New York

I mean, you would think so, Suzanne. We’re getting to the point where pretty much only Mr Snuffleupagus and Mister Rogers are left blameless in American TV land, and my hands tremble typing those words, as if tempting fate (heaven knows where Snuffy’s trump has been, and don’t even get me started on the mysteries of Mister Rogers’ closet). But we are missing the obvious one, the guy who so obviously should be named, shamed and sacked now, and everyone’s response would be, “Well of COURSE he’s gross with women. Everyone knew that! It’s amazing he lasted so long. Yes, this all makes total sense.” I speak, of course, of Donald Trump.

It is one of those remarkable quirks of history – and how many there seem to be these days – that if Trump had never run for president, if he were still just playing a fake boss on a reality TV show, he would, no question, be out of the job now. If American network NBC was willing to ditch Matt Lauer, long-term morning news anchor, then it definitely would have been willing to chuck Trump, star of their show The Apprentice. Trump, lest we forget, has been accused for decades of harassing and assaulting women – 20, I believe, at the last count (Trump, predictably, says they’re all lying). So yes, if we hadn’t slipped out of the wrong timeline – she says, making like Doc Brown in Back to the Future Part II and getting out her chalk and blackboard – then Trump would be up there with Charlie Rose, Geraldo Rivera and all those other 80s throwbacks who, for some reason, are still on American TV despite having the personality of a giant tongue, and are now, to no one’s surprise, being accused of sexual harassment.

And yet, we are at the point in America where the ethical standards are higher for morning TV presenters than they are for the president. Thus the people who churn out garbage such as A Bad Moms Christmas now look like America’s moral arbiters and the people ostensibly running the country make invertebrates look upstanding. So, you ask, who on Earth is left, Suzanne? Donald J Trump, that’s who. But don’t worry – he ain’t going anywhere.

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