So…I was a fan of James Somerton. If you don’t know who that is, he was a video essayist on YouTube who discussed queer media, mostly movies and television but with a few detours into comics, heavy on the history of queer folks in Hollywood.
I say was because Harry Brewis, known on YouTube as Hbomberguy, dropped a video yesterday utterly obliterating any semblance of credibility Somerton might have had. It was revealed that Somerton had heavily plagiarized nearly all his scripts from other, lesser known authors.
I was horrified. I had been following Somerton’s channel for over a year at this point. I had considered him a useful source of information, even if sometime he said things that made me kind of side eye my screen sometimes. But I try not to expect people to be perfect. I have my limits, but the older I get, the more I realize how complicated the world really is, and how some people deserve the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. I would hope other people offer me the same latitude when I fuck up, because I do. I have decades of fundamentalist upbringing that I’m still trying to overcome. Sometimes I speak before I think.
But something like this…this is not misspeaking, it’s not someone trying to unlearn our societal conditioning. It was exploitation, plain and simple, by someone who knew what he was doing. Within hours of Brewis’ video releasing, Somerton had nuked his socials, deleted his discord and Patreon, and removed commenting from all the remaining videos on his channel. Those are not the actions of someone who made an innocent mistake. The sheer volume of what he stole from other, lesser known queer writers and activists speaks quite clearly of his intentions.
The worst part of it is: this was apparently not the first time Somerton had been called out for plagiarism. It simply took someone with a better YouTube pedigree and a bigger following to make people actually listen.
It’s a terrible situation, but not a surprising one. We are all laboring under capitalism, and that means we don’t have the benefit of uncritically consuming anything, not even free media analysis on the internet. The Algorithm rewards quantity over quality every time, and we have seen time and again how people will do anything to game that system.
If there is a takeaway from this, it should be: always check the sources. In the current political climate, we do not have the luxury of accepting anything that is served to us on a digital platter as truth. Don’t be an unwitting perpetrator of misinformation and exploitation.
It fucking sucks to have to do that. I know. But if we do not hold the people who are disseminating our stories, our perspectives, and our history to a higher standard, we will continue to have people willing to bypass any standards at all in favor of slick production values, ad revenue, and societal capital.
Someone on Tumblr helpfully put together a list of the people and sources Somerton plagiarized. I reblogged it here. Brewis also posted a playlist of queer creators, at least one of whom was affected by Somerton’s plagiarism.