Pretty Important guest post
By: Joe Larkin
I’m sure a title like that has many of you scoffing. “That fool!” you think, “ignoring one of the most versatile user-created sites on the ‘net! Why, the only people too good to use Wikipedia are pseudo-intellectual, self-important hipsters and my English 110 professor!” I swear though, it isn’t what you think..
There was a time, not long ago, when I loved Wikipedia. A couple of times I literally spent hours following links, reading pages and pages of random information and occasionally correcting a typo. If someone had a question, about pretty much anything, I’d be the first to champion Wikipedia as a go-to source for information. The times they are a-changin’, however, and not only do I avoid using Wikipedia, I urge you to do the same. The direct catalyst for my change of heart? An Internet viral sensation known as Tourette’s Guy.
For those of you not familiar with the meme, Tourette’s Guy is a series of short videos, shot in a reality- or documentary-like style, featuring the foulmouthed Danny in his everyday life. Danny, a Tourette’s sufferer, is prone to ridiculous bouts of cursing and other outrageousness, such his ever-present Tony the Tiger shirt and seemingly pointless neckbrace. Go watch it; it’s funny. Then go check the Tourette’s Guy Wikipedia page.
I guess I should have said, “Go TRY to check the Tourette’s Guy Wikipedia page”, because there isn’t one. The page was deleted some time ago and repeatedly denied recreation by the Wiki-Powers-That-Be. Why, you ask? The relevant discussion page at the time seemed to indicate two reasons: that Tourette’s Guy was offensive and did not meet notability guidelines. And on this, my friends, I cry complete and total shenanigans.
Notability guidelines? Tourette’s Guy at one point had its own web domain, a message board, and merchandise. Search YouTube and you’ll find heaps of “best of” videos, compilations, and full episodes. A couple of pro-Danny friends of mine in their mid-twenties work and go to school with kids just out of high school; this younger crowd is generally acquainted with the meme. People are certainly aware of it. Besides, about the only thing not notable enough for Wikipedia are ordinary people. Tons of internet viral videos have Wikipedia pages. Tiny towns that nobody has heard of have Wikipedia pages. Every imaginable (and imagined) sub-genre of music has a Wikipedia page. Frankly, to say Tourette’s Guy is not notable enough for the site is absurd.
Declaring Tourette’s Guy non-Wiki material because it is offensive is also absurd. This is a website that not only has an entry on the sexual practice of fisting, but a picture on said page depicting the “silent duck” hand position. There are pages for the Internet memes Mr. Hands and goatse; for anyone who doesn’t know what those are, the former is a video clip of a man being sodomized by a horse (when it first appeared, it was widely believed that description should read “being sodomized—to death—by a horse”) and the latter is a photo of a man using both hands to display the impressive diameter to which the human anus can be stretched. There are pages for Nazis, serial killers and rapists. Pages for hate groups and “deviant” sexual behaviors. Pages upon pages exist for pornography and the porn industry, including a bio page for director Max Hardcore (currently imprisoned on obscenity charges, which is another rant altogether). Pages on South Park, the movie Kids and books that were burned a century ago. Tourette’s Guy contains foul language, and it admittedly does intentionally and insensitively misrepresent the symptoms of a legitimate mental disorder, but just because some people might find it offensive (a completely subjective concept to begin with) does not mean it is not worthy of inclusion in an encyclopedic website. Especially if it’s one that contains a picture of how you should position your hand for full insertion into your sexual partner. If you’re offended by it, you don’t have to look at it. Or, in this case, look at an encyclopedic entry about it.
And, ultimately, this is the problem. Wikipedia bills itself as “The Free Encyclopedia That Anyone Can Edit”, but is fast becoming “The Free Encyclopedia That Only Certain People Are Allowed to Edit”. The promise, and key innovation, of Wikipedia was that anyone and everyone could contribute. This wasn’t an encyclopedia written by hooded figures in a solemn monastery, or by pompous, tweed-jacketed intellectuals. Wikipedia was different; a dynamic, proletariat experiment that allowed the wealth of the masses to be collected, shared and improved upon. The so-called “Web 2.0” revolution was that MySpace (and more importantly, Facebook) let us all have a website, YouTube let us all be television stars, and Wikipedia let us all be intellectuals. No longer were such things the domain of the rich, powerful, talented or lucky. Media—and by extension, information—was in a way never before the realm of the public at large.
Wikipedia, however, has abandoned its roots and stated purpose in favor of approval from the very system it once undermined. In hopes of credibility in the eyes of high school teachers and liberal arts professors, in an attempt to replace World Book or Encarta as the go-to source for information in the Information Age, Wikipedia has begun a crackdown on who can edit its pages and what those edits can contain; a shift of which the deletion of the Tourette’s Guy page is only a part. Will this effort to be more accurate and scholarly to eliminate citation-less factual errors and late night “u r gey” vandalism? Of course it will. But it will also eliminate the hilarity of checking Sam Jackson’s biography and discovering how, by the age of 10, he was the most hard-assed dude on the block. It will cause pages on underground or subculture-based phenomenon to be limited to information that can be cited from outside sources (causing those pages to lack accuracy and credibility, much like an MTV report about punk rock). It will, and has, brought the deletion and omission of cultural information that The Wikipedia Elite doesn’t approve of. Wikipedia will turn from a noble experiment in shared information to just another canonical, cookie-cutter encyclopedia. In short, this is pure and simple censorship.
And that is why I boycott Wikipedia. Information should always—ALWAYS—be free and available to anyone willing to look for it. It doesn’t matter if the flow is obstructed by the government, by the church, by burning books or editing Wikipedia—omitting data from a cache of information is an embodiment of social control, and the antithesis of freedom. This might seem like a trivial instance, and maybe it is, but to me it is a matter of principle. Don’t tell me “anyone can edit it!” if that just ain’t true. To paraphrase Danny, “I used your encyclopedia. The one supposedly anyone can edit. And it made me feel like a PIECE OF—”