While browsing through a magazine yesterday, we read something about director Morgan Spurlock‘s new documentary, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. While the film itself sounds interesting, a tongue-in-cheek look into product placement, what stopped us was seeing the outfit the Super Size Me director was wearing to help promote the film at Sundance. A suit, otherwise indistinguishable from any other except for its wide assortment of sewn-on, embroidered corporate logos. Clever and well-made for promotional attention, certainly (here he is in an interview showing off his logo-adorned jacket), but it also seemed entirely similar to work made in the late-90s by the duo The Art Guys in their very successful and widely-seen project, SUITS: The Clothes Make the Man. In collaboration with designer Todd Oldham, the two wore black suits with sewn-on embroidered corporate logos for a full year as they traveled throughout the United States. To us, it seems, Spurlock’s new promotional suit isn’t just similar to The Art Guys’ project, it’s an exact copy.
We got in touch with the artists who told us, “in our opinion, there is no doubt that Spurlock has plagiarized our idea” and that they “find it unbelievable that this is just a coincidence,” considering the amount of attention their project received internationally (their suits are currently in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston). Furthermore, they bring to light a number of other coincidences, like their appearance on CBS News Sunday Morning and Spurlock’s recent appearance on CBS News, which they feel, when placed together, sound incredibly similar (“If one watches closely, much of the conversation is almost word for word. Compare the sections of our ad pitches with his. Coincidental?”). The Art Guys arrive at a point of contention larger than in the copying of the suit itself, but point to Spurlock’s film as a whole as perhaps the larger issue of plagiarism. Here’s from The Art Guys:
In his promo on his website and on YouTube, he talks about having an archivist for the project. Any cursory search on Google would turn up the SUITS project. Again, with all the media attention the SUITS generated, both printed and electronic, including CNN, CBS News Sunday Morning , and given the fact that there’s even a book about it available on Amazon, we find it beyond belief that he did not just steal our idea. Additionally, there was a documentary about the SUITS made by Zenfilm in Houston, that covered all of the issues that Spurlock claims to in his movie including the saturation of marketing and product placement – everything! Here’s a link to a segment of that documentary.
In the CBS Sunday Morning interview and in the SUITS book, we credit various inspirations for the SUITS including race car drivers, to the extent of making efforts to have ourselves photographed with them. We acknowledge and credit our inspirations.
…Spurlock talks about making real money on this thing, on the order of millions. We wonder if the companies who have invested in this would appreciate this “coincidence.” Or maybe the companies associated with Spurlock don’t care as long as their brand gets out there. We have yet to decide what we will do about this.
Regardless, we think it’s nasty business. The Art Guys have made work about media and marketing in many different ways over the years. It’s one of the major themes that we deal with. We’ve even done work covering the topic of appropriation. But at least we’ve given it all serious thought and given credit where credit is due.
We have attempted to contact Morgan Spurlock through his website, but as of this posting, neither he nor a representative have replied.
Update: While the story made the rounds today, Spurlock quickly responded, repeatedly issuing a statement across a number of sites that picked it up (including a response to us on Twitter), reading in part, “This accusation is preposterous. I never even heard of these guys until today, and all of their claims are baseless.”