Candy LandI am a fan of Peggy Orenstein.

When I read Cinderella Ate My Daughter for my book club, I blogged about it (see here) and recommended it to friends and family. I found Orenstein’s indictment of the princess culture cogent and important, especially since I am the parent of a teenage girl.

I am also a fan of a blogger and writer named Rachel Marie Stone, whom I met last year when I was speaking at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. That was the only time I have ever met Stone, but I was impressed enough by her to check out her blog and eventually to endorse her book, Eat with Joy. While poking around on her blog last year, I was particularly intrigued by her series of posts about the evolution of “skinny toys” — how toys like Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears have slimmed down since I was a child in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

So I was disturbed this week when Stone contacted me to ask for advice about an odd development.

Stone pointed me to an excellent blog post that Orenstein wrote earlier this week about the game Candyland, in which she demonstrated to great effect how the game has transformed over the years. Characters who once wore overalls and were a little pudgy have become gorgeous—and highly sexualized. Orenstein has also just published an Atlantic article on the same topic.

Stone’s book editor, Al Hsu, observed in the comments to Orenstein’s personal blog that she had failed to give credit to Rachel Marie Stone’s blog post from 2012 on the topic of Candyland, which first posted the images that Orenstein used. He also raised the question of whether the ideas in Orenstein’s post were entirely her own. She defended herself most vociferously:

Orenstein rebuttal

So let’s do a quick comparison of the posts and see whether it is possible that Orenstein came up with this idea entirely independently, as she claims in the comments, and was not at all influenced by Rachel Marie Stone’s 2012 writings.

1) Photographs. Orenstein suggests that after she had written her post, she Googled images of the game Candyland and used ones that popped up without attributing them to their original source. Unfortunately, this happens all the time with bloggers, and I’m afraid to say I’ve even done it myself, so I find it an entirely plausible explanation. When Orenstein discovered that the images belonged to Stone, she inserted an update in her post to acknowledge the source:

Orenstein Update

So, fair enough.

Mr-Mint-candy-land-2194615-194-500

2) Language and ideas. There are no “smoking guns” in the language that Orenstein used in her blog post or the Atlantic article. I can certainly see a similarity of ideas, examples, and the order in which they appear. The similarities are striking, but in no way definitive; I don’t think they alone are proof of plagiarism. It is conceivable that two writers who were both working on issues around gender, weight, and childhood might both turn to pop culture for examples, and it is conceivable that they would come to similar conclusions. It’s not a big stretch to see that Queen Frostine now resembles a sexualized doll, as both writers point out.

3) Errors. This is where the plausibility theory begins to break down for me because of one thorny problem. Rachel Marie Stone made a factual mistake about the game Candyland when she posted her blog last year. She mislabeled a character named “Mr. Mint” (right) as “Mr. Candy Cane.”

There is no character named Mr. Candy Cane in the Candyland game. Stone never corrected this error on her blog post.

Orenstein’s blog post also refers to Mr. Candy Cane, which is an awfully big coincidence:

Mr. Candy Cane OrensteinIf you Google “Mr. Candy Cane and Candyland,” the only direct references that appear are the post written by Rachel Marie Stone in 2012 and Peggy Orenstein’s writing from this week (which has been linked to many times). If you Google “Mr. Mint and Candyland,” you get thousands of hits.

What are the chances that both authors independently made the same silly mistake?

I hope that there is a viable explanation for this, but so far this week Orenstein has been adamant in her own blog comments and also in a Twitter conversation that all of the ideas in her post and Atlantic article were entirely her own and not influenced by Stone. In fact, she says she “might equally accuse Rachel of plagiarism” and suggests that perhaps Stone heard one of her talks on Candyland and then wrote about it.

At this point, I would say that the burden of proof rests with Orenstein to demonstrate that she did not copy any portion of Stone’s post, even though the use of Stone’s photos and the exact replication of Stone’s unique error don’t appear to support that claim. Perhaps Orenstein can lay these questions to rest by posting videos of the talks she says she has been giving on this topic over the last few years, links to bloggers’ posts who might have attended such talks and written about them, or evidence that there was a very good reason for calling that particular character “Mr. Candy Cane” other than that the stripey fellow does in fact resemble a candy cane.

I have not been able to turn up such evidence myself, but I so hope I am wrong about this. Unintentional borrowing sometimes happens with writers who read widely, especially in the age of the Internet. We don’t always remember what we’ve read and where it came from. I hope there is a reasonable explanation for how this occurred.

 

The image of Mr. Mint is from Fanpop.com.

 

 

14 Comments

  1. The posts have some striking similarities, but there are some significant differences as well. I agree that if you’re well-read it can be hard to remember where you first heard an idea. If you’re not paying attention, it’s even easy to think you came up with something yourself. I remember one time “writing” a section of melody for a song I was working on, only to hear a piece of music several weeks later that had a nearly identical hook. I had heard this piece of music maybe one other time, and it had obviously gotten wedged in my head without my conscious recognition. Though I hadn’t shared my song with anyone else, I remember feeling surprised and even a little embarrassed.

    Just to make sure I’m careful to avoid this issue in my own blogging: if Orenstein’s post had been prompted, researched, or supported by Stone’s, the appropriate thing to do would be to attribute it and link to Stone, correct? I mean, she can still write about the topic and include her $0.02, but she needs to make sure she’s correctly citing sources, yes?

    • Jana Riess

      Katie — good question. Yes, if one of your own posts is drawn from or even inspired by someone else’s writing, the right thing to do is to link to the original work. This is what Orenstein did with the photographs when pressed, but not with any of the written content, which she says was entirely her own.

      Some bloggers are really strict about this kind of thing and actually use footnotes, which I find over the top for the medium since a link works perfectly well.

  2. Thank you for this analysis. When I saw a link to Orenstein’s article I immediately remembered Stone’s. I thought that certainly Orenstein was coming at it from a different angle. Too bad I was wrong!

    • Jana Riess

      Bonnie, thank you for your comments. Yesterday, Peggy Orenstein wrote the following note on her blog. If you believe that the only suspicious connection here was the identical photographs, then yes, she has given credit where credit is due. If you still have suspicions about the post’s content, then no credit has been given; she has only reiterated that the ideas and content were entirely her own.

      “A note on this blog post: I have been discussing Candyland for years–since I got it for my own daughter. I also mention it in my talks. It is one of the best examples, along with the other toys linked below, of sexualization of toy culture. This particular post was inspired by a post on my facebook page from reader Lisa Marie Norton, whom I don’t personally know. In trying to write a quick post, I pulled photos from Google that were from Rachel Marie Stone’s blog. She and her followers have been unhappy with that and I apologize. I was sloppy. I don’t think of blogging the way I do my articles and books in terms of journalistic standards, mostly because it seems bloggers themselves don’t; it is a new world to me. At any rate, I hope the changes below will make amends. That said, please understand that my ideas are my own, they are long-standing (on Candyland, toys, and the sexualization of girlhood–the links in this very blog post are a trail of crumbs). I often see people writing identical revelations about princesses without quoting me. That is their prerogative. There were also many great books about the sexualization of girlhood before mine (Packaging Girlhood, So Sexy So Soon, The Lolita Effect). Mine was neither the first nor the definitive word on any of the issues I covered. Our voices all play a role in change. Thank you.”

  3. As a fan of Peggy’s and a friend of Al’s, I found this very interesting! Having caught others in the act of plagiarism, I would be very upset if that is truly the case. I haven’t yet gotten to do more than skim the two blog posts, so perhaps I shouldn’t even be commenting, but I did go ahead and do a preliminary Google search of my own. I did find others making the same “Mr. Candy Cane” mistake, actually, though not a lot. It doesn’t seem to be implausible that they would both make that error, in my opinion, but I think the evidence needs to be taken all together, of course.

    Here is what I found by searching “‘Mr. Candy Cane’ ‘Candyland'”:

    A YouTube commenter a couple years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAhGGKJZl4Y

    A blog post from 2011 in which a child calls him Mr. Candy Cane: http://lifewithsophia.blogspot.com/2011/01/playing-games.html

    A comment on an artistic reinterpretation of Queen Frostine references Mr. Candy Cane: http://sheezyart.com/art/view/636076/

    A livejournal post from 2006, which uses both Mr. Mint and “Mr. Candy Cane Man”: http://marvel-mimi.livejournal.com/5454.html

    Some random forum post from 1998 (yes, 15 years ago!) where someone was talking about Star Wars characters entering Candyland and makes mention of Mr. Candy Cane: https://groups.google.com/group/alt.religion.kibology/tree/browse_frm/month/1998-05/8f4031e2e0e931e2?rnum=61&_done=/group/alt.religion.kibology/browse_frm/month/1998-05?&pli=1

    I also Googled “‘Mr. Candy Cane’ ‘Candy Land'” (which is actually the technically correct spelling of the game title) and got a few additional results:

    A 2012 blog post: http://thefannings.blogspot.com/2012/02/project-time.html

    Some random reference to Candy Land which includes Mr. Candy Cane (note that there is language here which might offend some): http://www.freewebs.com/albionateam/team.htm

    So clearly, it’s not the most common mistake in the world. But it’s also not at all original.

    • Thanks for this exhaustive search. I only find one of these to be a valid comparison (A 2012 blog post: http://thefannings.blogspot.com/2012/02/project-time.html)

      The other examples show that one can use the name Mr Candy Cane to refer to Mr Mint, but only the one instance is similar. Surely a kid referring to Mr Candy Cane is not another instance of a person referring to Mr Mint as Mr Candy Cane in the context of writing a cultural analysis of the board game. These are both careful writers, which makes the duplication of an error all the more conspicuous. Compare this with a search of “Candy Land” “Mr Mint” in which one gets 7,140 results (of course many of these will not yield valid results) and the broader search Mr Mint and Candy Land gives you almost 4 million results (these kind of results are very imprecise, but they do offer a general perspective).

      • Tim, I’m a bit confused about why only one result counts. I was never implying that these results were engaging in cultural analysis of the game. I consider that to be entirely irrelevant. The point is only that people do occasionally make the mistake of calling Mr. Mint “Mr. Candy Cane” based on his appearance. To say that it’s much fewer people than call him Mr. Mint is to state the obvious. Most people use the correct name. My point was never to demonstrate that “Mr. Candy Cane” and “Mr. Mint” are interchangeable. Just that there was a possibility that Orenstein did just randomly make the same mistake Rachel did. You’re treating this like an open-and-close case, but it’s not. It’s not that I think it’s unfathomable that someone could have plagiarized. It just seems dishonest to say, “Nobody’s ever called him ‘Mr. Candy Cane,'” when that’s not true.

    • Jana Riess

      You mean like YOUR spam comment? :-) Yes. I am leaving yours up because I find it ironic and amusing that someone with the name “sizzling hot graj online za darmo” is concerned about spam.

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