Plagiarism in Pop Culture: Boy Meets World

Boy meets world, buys term paper instead...

Boy Meets World Logo

Boy Meets World was a sitcom that focused on the trials and tribulations of being a teen in the 1990s, including dealing with romance, academics and heavier issues such as alcoholism and drugs.

The show began in 1993 and, after a 7 season run with 158 episodes, ended in early 2000. However, there is currently a sequel to the series, Girl Meets World, that is currently in its third season on the Disney Channel.

Boy Meets World focuses on the life of Cory Matthews, his big brother Eric and younger sister Morgan. For much of the series, Cory has a girlfriend, Topanga Lawrence, a best friend, Shawn Hunter and a teacher-turned principal, George Feeny, who is also the Matthews’ neighbor.

Though much of the show takes place at various schools, there isn’t a great deal of conversation about academic integrity. Instead, the show uses the school as a setting for other types of adolescent drama, including romance, friendship issues and so forth.

However, in one episode, plagiarism did come to visit John Adams High School, unfortunately though, it wasn’t the best-handled part of the show.

The Plot

Boy Meets World Episode Image

The episode in question is the second episode of the third season, entitled The Double Lie. In the episode, the plagiarism is actually the episode’s subplot involving the elder brother, Eric, and a paper that he had failed to turn in the previous school year.

The episode begins with Cory and Shawn watching as a couple quarrel in the hallway. It’s revealed that the girl, Veronica Watson, is the subject of Shawn’s affection and, after the break-up is complete, Shawn swoops in and secures a date with her.

However, Cory reminds Shawn that he will be staying at their house because Jonathan Turner, his current guardian, is going out of town for a wedding. Frustrated by the limitations the Matthews would place on the date, Shawn asks Mr. Turner to cancel but fails.

Around this time, Mr. Feeny approaches Eric in the halls to remind him about a ten-page term paper on The Manhattan Project that’s late. It was due the previous school year and, unless he turns it in soon, Eric’s “Incomplete” will become an “F”.

Back home, Cory catches Eric on the phone with Term Papers by Gerard, a fictional term paper company. Eric had just completed ordering a paper, even having taken out a credit card to do so. It’s then that Cory confronts Eric about his failure to pass along a message from Topanga, at which point the elder Matthews takes the opportunity to insult his little brother.

Fast-forward to the weekend, Shawn’s date is repeatedly interrupted by those in the Matthews household. This includes Mr. Feeny, who drops by to give Eric a package that was errantly dropped off at his house, namely the term paper. However, since Mr. Feeny hadn’t opened the package or apparently read the label too closely, he was still none the wiser about what was going on.

That night, Shawn decides to break curfew to get Veronica and go back to his (supposedly) empty apartment. However, there he finds Mr. Turner enjoying a date with an unknown woman. Both of them now caught being less than honest (hence the name of the title), Shawn storms off and Mr. Turner takes after him.

After getting some much-needed parenting advice from Mr. Matthews, Mr. Turner returns home to find Shawn, and the two have a typical sitcom reconciliation.

As the episode closes, Mr. Feeny approaches Eric about the paper he turned in. Eric bragged about how much he enjoyed writing the paper, but Mr. Feeny explains the paper wasn’t even on The Manhattan Project. Instead, Eric had turned in a paper about Abaraham Lincoln’s beard and, even worse, Mr. Feeny recognized it as one of Shawn’s previous essays.

Eric slips up and admits that he bought the paper but wonders what happened to the one he purchased. It’s then that Cory takes credit for switching them in revenge for Eric’s failure to pass along the message and his later insults. The episode closes with Eric chasing Cory through the school.

Understanding the Plagiarism

Boy Meets World Image

The actual plagiarism in this episode was not that uncommon in the mid-1990s. There were many companies that specialized in custom-written term papers and routinely advertised in the back of magazines or newspapers read by high school and college students.

Someone in Eric’s position would have had to do pretty much what happened in the show. That means calling up or writing the company, providing payment, and then waiting for the paper to arrive in the mail. It’s amazing how much the Internet has revolutionized paid cheating.

But other than the insight into pre-internet cheating, the show’s lessons are pretty much terrible.

In the conclusion of the episode, Eric admits openly to buying the paper, and there is zero scorn or backlash from Mr. Feeny. in fact, when Eric admits to buying the paper, Mr. Feeny simply asks, “Term Papers By Gerard?”. After Eric confirms, Mr. Feeny says “Oh, they’re good.”

Not only is the likely failure of the class and possible additional punishment not actively discussed, it’s tossed aside, so Eric can chase Cory through the school.

To make matters worse, this behavior is very out of character for Mr. Feeny, who could best be described as “tough but fair” on the students. Known for being a sage, guiding light to the children in his care, his dismissiveness of Eric’s cheating if off-putting.

The only bright side is that Eric was caught. However, the episode tries to make it seem as if the only reason he was caught was because of Cory’s prank. In short, don’t anger your younger brother, and you can get away with cheating.

In the real world, it’s likely Eric would have been just as caught if Cory hadn’t switched the papers. Feeny is very familiar with Eric’s work and if the slow-witted Eric began to wax poetic about The Manhattan Project, it almost certainly would have roused suspicions.

Still, the episode’s moral when it comes to plagiarism is that’s it easy to do, easy to get away with and, even if you do get caught, there are no serious consequences.

To be fair, I could almost forgive the episode for taking the issue so lightly since, in 1995, when the episode aired, the Internet was nascent and this type of cheating wasn’t nearly as rampant.

However, in 2016, this episode clearly sends the wrong message.

Bottom Line

When I did my write-up on the Leave it to Beaver episode about plagiarism, I thought we had hit the bottom of the barrel. Leave it to Beaver is a typical 50s and 60s sitcom and handled it in the way one would expect, as a 22-minute bit of fake drama with no real consequence.

Nothing on Leave it to Beaver was ever serious, plagiarism was no exception.

But Boy Meets World is not Leave it to Beaver. It’s a show that touched on a large number of difficult subjects and handled most of them relatively well, and that’s what makes its handling of plagiarism so egregious.

The Facts of Life, in an episode that predated the Boy Meets World episode by 15 years, showed that plagiarism can be handled well in a sitcom format. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the writers of Boy Meets World didn’t learn from those who came before and, as a result, gave a very bad message on the issue of plagiarism and cheating.

Let’s hope the sequel, if it deals with plagiarism, does a better job.

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