Remix Or Rip Off: When Does Inspiration Go Too Far?

[UPDATE: Magazine veteran Kim France points out on her blog that Tavi's idea for “Ask a Grown Man” is actually quite similar to Sassy magazine's column “Dear Boy” — does this make a difference?]

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But is it?

Yesterday, Racked pointed out  that a recent video feature by Seventeen magazine was very similar to fashion blogger wunderkind Tavi Gevinson's series “Ask a Grown Man.”

The original feature includes “homemade” videos of famous funny men, including Jon Hamm, Paul Rudd, and Judd Apatow, blurting out their awkward and honest advice based of off questions sent in by Rookie's teen girl readership. Seventeen's videos also asked male “celebrities” for dating advice young girls, but the guys were a younger and more quaffed.

Tavi voiced her opinion on the matter, and admitted she felt that Seventeen was stepping on Rookie's toes, telling Racked, “This is the first time that I've felt that something I've done, or Rookie has done, has been copied.”

There is just something so magical about a scruffy looking Jon Hamm answering questions submitted by teenage girls with topics that range from farting to flirting, and the “off the cuff” style behind it are what made it so popular.

Tavi basically admitted that she thought Seventeen was trying to cop her style but completely missed the boat, “I feel like this is Seventeen's attempt to reach people in a certain way that Rookie succeeds at, but they kind of missed the point about why Ask A Grown Man is celebrated by making it about asking an ‘A-lister.' They wanted to repurpose this feature because they saw that people like it, but they missed the point of why people like it, and it's the same quality that's missing from the rest of their magazine, too… I feel like if I followed their articles about boys and truly believed it was as important to do certain things or avoid certain things as they say, I would probably go crazy. Sometimes their 'embarrassing' stories are literally about boys finding out that you have your period. I'm just tired of stigmatizing totally normal body stuff like that, which is already a little scary and weird to some girls.”

Tavi isn't the first person to have her work mirrored. Remember when Topshop copied those jewelry designs from Wendy Brandes? Or, in less extreme cases, when bloggers lose their individuality.

While using inspiration to spark creativity is a healthy way of creating content, what happens when “inspiration” becomes “replication”? Even more, what happens when the copy cat is a bigger company, blogger, designer, etc.? Tavi was lucky enough to have a platform to have her side of the story voiced, but not every blogger has that opportunity.

On the other side of things, do copy cats push us to be more innovative? And if people want to copy what you are doing, does that mean you are doing something right?

Check out Tavi's video versus the Seventeen video and let us know your thoughts on the subject:

Seventeen magazine's video:

[Image credit: Style Rookie]


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17 Responses

  1. Trez

    The fashion industry is a revolving door of emulation and evolution. How many countless other quirky columns do more than one magazine share? If anything, this whole occurrence will only generate more press for Rookie, and Tavi. As difficult as it is to make it in this field, I feel she should take it as a compliment- especially coming from such a large publication.

  2. Alexandra the Tsaritsa

    It’s called a meme, and Tavi should be flattered that her piece went viral like that, to the point where the idea is being adopted by a national print magazine.

    That being said, this article is very poorly written.

    • katie385

      I’m curious how you would feel if YOUR idea was “adopted” by a national print magazine which made profit off it.

  3. Valentine

    Hard one…

    I love both videos. I love John Hamm of course as I am fan of Mad Men but in term of advice and style I prefer the second video even though I don’t have a clue who that guy is. (must be too old 😉

    I don’t really know if we can talk about copy here as the “ask someone” video concept is not new but probably Seventeen introduced their idea too soon after Rookie.

    I think that Rookie didn’t invent anything here, they re-used the concept by asking to questions a specific group: the grown men, which was indeed very clever, but not totally new. I guess Seventeen re-used as well the concept with the A-lister. Now, where they inspired by Rookie? Most probably…

  4. Sharon

    This type of segment is nothing new. I have seen ask a “somebody” videos before, like ask the Dr. I have even seen it done on the red carpet. The concept is not new. I also think that it is a meme . . . like when everyone started doing Sh*t people say videos.
    P.s. Diggy is so handsome. Let the cougar in me submit and leave.

  5. Lyn

    it’s just like fashion trends/fads… what clicks with the public, gets replicated by many. though one may not like their “original” idea being “copied”, it’s part of our modern culture. of course, if it’s plagiarism, then it’s a totally different matter!

  6. Yasmeen (Castle Fashion)

    I think it’s hilarious that some people are getting offended by her being offended. Her language doesn’t really lend to the idea that she’s totally distraught or anything. Let her feel what she wants.

    That said, I think Rookie’s image is quietly misleading. What they’re doing is light years ahead of so many other “outlets for teen and preteen girls.” I really respect and admire Tavi and she nailed it with this quote:

    “I feel like if I followed their articles about boys and truly believed it was as important to do certain things or avoid certain things as they say, I would probably go crazy. Sometimes their ‘embarrassing’ stories are literally about boys finding out that you have your period. I’m just tired of stigmatizing totally normal body stuff like that, which is already a little scary and weird to some girls.”

    PS: If it wasn’t clear, I don’t read magazines; particularly not the genre we’re discussing here.

  7. A Sunny Day in LA

    Eh, how can she be outraged when she did it herself…is it because now it’s asked via video? lol

    The Girls of a Certain Age blog ( pointed out that Tavi obviously divined inspiration (copied?) Sassy magazine’s “Dear Boy” feature.

    At a tribute to Sassy Magazine, Tavi herself said she has “found endless inspiration in Sassy, and she even said that she might want to steal the “Ask A Boy” column.” Read the last sentence at the bottom….

  8. Linda

    I think the two concepts are very similar. Tavi is well-known in both the blogging and fashion communities– there’s no way that Seventeen coincidentally posted its own “Ask” feature.

    If you like someone’s idea and you’re itching to copy it, respect his/her work and give some credit (ex. I saw this outfit on so-and-so and it inspired me to wear this item, or so-and-so does a weekly blog feature and I want to incorporate it into my calendar). Or present the idea with a unique, fabulous twist that makes it different from the original.

    I have no worries that Tavi will bounce back with more fresh content for Rookie. She’s an incredibly creative girl.

    “You don’t want to be the best at what you do. You want to be the only one.” -Jerry Garcia

  9. Kristian

    While ripping off someone’s work is something that happens and is unfair… I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that this instance is ripping someone off. Writing into someone for advice is not a new thing. Most newspapers and magazines run some form of these types of columns. Neither is writing in and someone making a video of the answers, and, once again, neither is it unusual for it to be girls asking guys about dating (or vice versa).

    Both videos are well done and interesting. Both are very different in style though, not the least is the fact that Ask a Grown Man is, well, an adult answer to teens, versus Seventeen Magazine’s being young person to young person advice. They each ace their own twist or “remix” to the idea. Tavi herself pointed out that the features are not they same when she says the magazine “missed the point.” (I’d argue that the point of the two features are not the same, so while I rather prefer the point of Ask a Grown Man, I’d argue that Seventeen was going for something different, something more in line with their tagged audience.)

    Like I said, ripping off ideas is awful, but there’s also a difference between content getting ripped off and a competitor coming up with a similar item. We don’t get mad that Puff mades tissues like Kleenex. Apple sounds silly when it gets mad that other tablets have the ability to “swipe” with users’ fingers. Same case here. The form and function of the features maybe similar, but the content and purposes are different. I think both will thrive.

  10. Chloe

    I know some may look at my comment and think “who are you?” But I think it’s only fair if you were to take an idea from someone to give them credit.. I agree with Linda’s suggestion.

    I felt a little irritated when a youtuber who I spoke with visited my blog and took my styling inspiration and pulled it off as hers.. of course I didn’t mention it to her (why bother, I’ve just started blogging and she’s an established youtuber) but I also felt a little flattered at the same time.