The scandal of Olivia Newton-John: 12 surprisingly controversial Wikipedia pages
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- Heroes on trial: 16 superhero court cases
- Over there: 30 foreign series that need immediate legal import to the U.S.
1. K.D. Lang (or k.d. lang)
If the iPod can have a Wikipedia entry that respects Apple's quirky capitalization, why can't Canadian chanteuse k.d. lang get the same consideration? "Proper English spelling takes precedence over stylistic interpretation," say the defenders of Wikipedia's style rules. "It's her name to capitalize as she sees fit," say her fans. "Her proper english name is spelled with capitals. I appreciate that you are great fans and all, but this is an Encyclopedia," answers someone else (who incidentally fails to capitalize "English"). To which Jackbox1971 grumbles, "It is amzing in this day and age where we can clone sheep we can't find away of allowing a person known to mass-culture to use his/her preferred style of writing their name. I think this is another example of the way in which we as a culture have allowed ourselves to sucuumb to the inertia of binary (machine) thinking rather than embrace the human." With all the energy expended on uppercase vs. lowercase, the debate over whether to prominently mention lang's sexual orientation and animal-rights activism barely heats up at all. Some issues are just more important.
2. Oral sex
To see what's bugging people the most about Wikipedia's "Oral sex" entry, start with the history page, which lists notations of edits, accompanied by terse explanations like "An encyclopedia is not to give advice… the purpose of Wikipedia is to present facts." Another editor responds, "These are facts—trivial for mature lovers and fans of Dr. Ruth, but pages are not written for the already knowledgeable." Among the points up for dispute on the discussion page: whether oral sex is biologically designed to be pleasurable for the giver ("Why not just try it? Then you can partake of this commonly known fact yourself," quips Zuriam); whether the images accompanying the entry should skew toward homosexuality; what skin color the figures in the images should have ("What posessed you to think including Interracial sex would be a brilliant idea? Who elected you god of morality and needlessly offend other cultures?"); and all manner of college-health-class-level queries about the absorption of "sexual fluids" into the body, the best way to achieve orgasm via fellatio, and the hygienic problems with performing cunnilingus during menstruation. And of course, some people are up in arms because the article exists in the first place. Webmistress Diva writes, "There is a law for this and I believe that Wikipedia has violated those laws. To make matters worse, this article gets a 'Top' rating which means that 'This article has been rated as top-importance on the importance scale.' What does that mean??? Oral sex is now on the high priority for the list of things to do?"
3. Olivia Newton-John
This issue has divided our nation—nay, the world—for too long. Presidential candidates have debated it. Families have been torn apart by it. Gibb has been pitted against Gibb by it. Wikipedia, can you tell us once and for all: Is Olivia Newton-John British or Australian? Yes, we know she was born in England, but moved to Australia at age 5, and left again at age 17. But such details don't settle the linguistic and existential question of her essential nationality. Nv8200p "think[s] there is no doubt that Newton-John identifies with Australia," but the ensuing complicated discussion covers dual citizenship, British birth certificates, whether Mel Gibson counts as Australian, and ultimately whether Australians have an inferiority complex. "English-born, Australian-raised" is the phrase that currently describes Newton-John in the first paragraph of her entry, but the issue may not be settled for user wikilock, who opines hopefully: "I would imagine that Australia must have a fair amount of famous and respected true Australian-born and raised personalities who are known around the world." If you fit that description, please leave a note on the talk page for Olivia Newton-John's entry, so the Aussies can sleep at night. (Or as they call it, "billabong.")
4. Rotary International
The entry for this stolid civic organization masks a seething mass of vitriol on the talk page, manufactured by hilarious user/vandal Pierre Larcin of Lille, France. Throughout 2006 and 2007, Pierre tried to add lists of famous Rotarians to the entry, including honorary memberships given to Pinochet and Hitler (complete with details of their crimes), information about Rotary's failure to "emit any action against the armament, the prostitution, the AIDS," and the charge that Rotarians are crypto-Freemasons, because Hamas called it a "freemasonical and Zionist organization." The resulting edit war is one of the most entertaining on Wikipedia. As users AndyJones, Aldux, and Bridesmill try to repair the damage, M. Larcin starts sections called "CONTROVERSY OR SEGREGATION? vote here!" and "The blanking of Rotarian Conferencemakers by BridesMill- Polemic," while accusing his opponents of being "pro-Episcopalian theists" and "racist against French." "That's the first step to war," he continues threateningly. "You should be ashamed to speak about Mensa in your profile You GIVE US PAIN." A sad fate indeed for a user so dedicated to the truth: "Who fiddles here?… There is NO INFO in ALL your posts. Just controversy. WE here place INFORMATIONS."
Defining a musical genre can be tricky, but when the attempt moves from barstool game to the Internet, it can get downright contentious, even when the genre is as eager to please and seemingly easy to define as pop-punk. "Pop punk," the entry begins, "is a fusion genre that combines elements of punk rock with pop music, to varying degrees." Sounds simple enough. But the discussion page houses a lively, hairsplitting debate about what kind of music belongs under the pop-punk umbrella and what doesn't. "Fallout Boy and Panic! at the Disco need to be removed. They are NOT punk, and that is NOT opinion," one poster goes. A much longer debate rages over whether bands who "take influence from 90s pop punk groups rather than punk rock itself" should be classified as pop-punk. The head spins. But the present discussion page only suggests the rage found on the archived discussion pages, where topic headings include, "ARE YOU PEOPLE INSANE?!", "Pop Punk, An oxymoron?", and "Pop Punk Revival is QUALITATIVE EXCREMENT (part 1)," a 4,000-word-plus debate spurred by the proposal to merge the entries for "pop punk" and "pop punk revival."
6. Speedy Gonzales
Speedy Gonzales cartoons are filled with what can politely be called dated, uninformed depictions of Mexican culture, which has attracted controversy in times more culturally sensitive than those in which they were created. The present Wikipedia entry for Speedy addresses this situation reasonably well. But the behind-the-scenes discussion on the Speedy Gonzales page takes a fascinating detour into the proper terms to describe Speedy's speech. Some users find that the phrase "Mexican accent" and "stereotypical Mexican accent" both come up short. Others suggest "inauthentic Mexican accent" as a possibility. "I would still go with 'inauthentic,'" Shadowy Cabal suggests. "No one, not even a linguist, has the authority to analyze Speedy's speech patterns and label them stereotypical." At present, the phrase stands as "comedic Mexican accent," but the debate rages on.
7. Barry Manilow
Usually, when there's an argument about Barry Manilow, it's between old-school rockists who think he sucks, and 55-year-old women who weepily ask why people have to be so hurtful. But on Wikipedia, the arguments mainly focus on one question: Is this dude gay, or what? Some, like Ladycascadia and VertigoXpress, think it smacks of homophobic censorship to leave out references to Manilow's years performing in gay bathhouses, and the widespread speculation on his personal life. But Wahkeenah vehemently disagrees. "You are trying to push your own personal agenda of 'outing' someone who has not stated publicly what his orientation is. I don't care if you have TEN books that say he's gay. Until HE HIMSELF says so, or until someone has published a verifiable photo of him making out with another man, it is irrelevant." And while one person points out, "I heard that he's with some new chick named Keely," another replies, "Keely Watson is a gay man." Meanwhile, some are sick of the whole debate. "Just to clarify, Barry Manilow is straight," an anonymous writer insists. "Married once, then in long term relationships with women. I think this person who keeps writing here about it is the gay one. One thing that should be outed though is his plastic surgery—he can hardly move his face."
8. Bonnie And Clyde
Somewhere in the annals of history, two rugged individualists pushed each other to greater and greater acts of violence and deceit as a way of defending their dignity in a time of trial. Depression-era bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow? No, "old windy bear" and Mytwocents, the editors of Wikipedia's "Bonnie and Clyde" page, who spent much of May 2006 at each other's throats over how much of the article to cut and reshape under Wiki's "Neutral Point Of View" standard, to keep the entry from devolving into a pulpy True Crime story. Mytwocents' excisions were excised, restored, re-excised, then re-restored. Increasingly, old windy bear warned about "the 27 rules of engagement" that require editors to "work toward consensus," to which Mytwocents replied, "I will edit the Bonnie and Clyde page as I see fit… My changes have nothing to do with any editor, they are to make the page more NPOV. NPOV trumps consensus." Finally, by the end of the month, cooler heads prevailed, as old windy bear wrote, "The only constant in the universe is that there are none except God. I have been through chemo 3 times in the past couple of years, (had to stop twice, couldn't take the side effects) so you are more on the money than you may know that I at least may literally be gone tomorrow. I do wish a new start." The olive branch was accepted, because, "This page is really not about Old windy bear or Mytwocents, it's about Bonnie and Clyde." Really? Because the other page is way more fun.
9. 4Kids Entertainment
The company that distributes shows like Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is called "4Kids," but the people attacking its Wikipedia entry are grown-ups with an axe to grind, and have been referred to by their opponents as "racist asshole Otakus" and "anime fundamentalists [who] just won't give up their useless annoying crusade for cartoon riceballs." At issue? The way 4Kids alters Japanese cartoons to make them friendlier for pre-teen Americans. Or, as Tommy 11111 puts it, "They have sidestepped around death by throwing scenes around clumsily and paying little or no attention to continuity. They have changed religious symbols that would have no meaning to the audience at large and wasted money on paint edits. They have Made crappy writing and attempts to make stupid puns. They have given Don Krieg Poison suction cups that make no sense in their delivery. They have given Monkey D. Luffy an annoying voice, as was done to Sanji and Usopp. Thay have given Luffty Dumbass jokes. They have replaced the BGM and Opening with a stupid rap. They have onitted nearly 40 episodes in order to get to the chase of something. They have committed Racist edits. They hae put music in that has no point to the storyline. They have replaced Onigiri with cookies and ruined the oint of the salt/sugar edit. They have made Naval marines carry toy guns. They have blacked out writing on covers no one will read. They have removed shout and confusion marks from the characters. They have replaced technique names and confused them to hardcore fans. I could go on and on about this." And judging by the fervor on the discussion page, he isn't the only one.
10. Geordi La Forge
Star Trek in all its incarnations has given fans plenty of fuel for debate over the years. It's easy to see how Trekkers are rabidly split over J.J. Abrams' upcoming reboot of the franchise, but it's surprising that The Next Generation's blind, friendly, capable engineer Geordi La Forge (played by LeVar Burton) has become such a controversial figure. Okay, so this isn't exactly the rabid "Who's the best captain?" debate. Still, the discussion page of Geordi's Wikipedia entry sparks many galaxy-shaking arguments: Should his eye color be listed as "genetically brown" or "iris-free and milky white"? Was his trademark VISOR inspired by a hair accessory worn by Gene Roddenberry's wife, or by a girlfriend of ST designer Mike Okuda? Is Geordi more of a Magical Negro than Guinan, Whoopi Goldberg's Next Generation character? And if human beings can fly to the stars in the 24th century, why can't they cure blindness? One debater is particularly perplexed by the entry's assertion that Geordi "fails the standards of Afrofuturism." Clicking on Afrofuturism leads to another set of conundrums—including the eternal question of whether George Clinton and Sun Ra can truly be considered Afrofuturists. (What, no Dr. Octagon?)
Capitalize, or don't capitalize? Include a trademark symbol, or not? And shouldn't the search function be changed so that the canned meat comes up as the main article when someone types in "spam," rather than the slang term for junk e-mail? These are but a few of the questions that keep the guardians of the Wikipedia article for "Spam (food)" up at night. The other big arguments? How many of the popular joke "SPAM" acronyms to include. ("Salt Poisoning And More"? "Squirrels Possums And Mice"? "Stuff Posing As Meat"?) Also, whether the article is neutral enough. (It's "wholly filled, top-to-bottom, with SPAM-worship," complains Gspawn.) But there are petty squabbles as well, like whether people in non-SPAM-eating countries will understand what the article is talking about. Terence Ong writes, "I see SPAM is different from luncheon meat, but I suppose they are about the same. I prefer an aritlce about luncheon meat being created. It is very misleading to non-Americans like myself, as we all refer SPAM as luncheon meat. I'm confused, very confused indeed."
Wikipedia's entry for "truth" should be applauded for its cleanliness and concision; it touches on schools of thought like constructivist theory and philosophers like Kant, then directs users to those respective pages. But the battle behind the scenes is much uglier, running through 12 archived pages with subject headings that range from "truth in jurisprudence" and "the semantic theory" to "Oi! You SIMPLIFY!!!!!" and "Please Kill Me Now!" The behind-the-scenes discussion captures Wikipedia's tendency to collapse into autobiography. "When you trace out all availible information from science and experiences," Jiohdi says, beginning a long take on a personal approach to truth, "they all trace back to one core understanding, namely, that everything perceived is generated by the perceiver and is thus not a completely reliable guide to reality nor truths about reality." "These," Rick Norwood responds, "are beliefs discovered by most people in their sophomore year."