Blog Post

Wikipedia jokes

Back in April, I posted a few examples of Wikipedia jokes in popular culture on my personal blog. (Unfortunately the video clips are no longer available: Hulu giveth, and Hulu taketh away.) At the time, I thought the jokes--from The Simpsons and 30 Rock--were notable because they reinforced a popular stereotype of Wikipedia:

because anyone can change anything, the information on [Wikipedia] is inherently untrustworthy. In this case, a misinformed person like Homer can change whatever they want to fit their reality, and, in the case of the 30 Rock clip, individuals who don?t like how they are portrayed there can alter the facts to make themselves appear in a more favorable light.

Of course, this popular stereotype is worth reconsidering, particularly in light of studies that suggest that Wikipedia's accuracy rivals that of print encyclopedias (requires login) and that articles quickly recover from vandalism.

In the ongoing presidential race, however, there is evidence that Wikipedia is being treated more and more as a legitimate resource. First, fellow HASTAC-er Jim Brown reported last month on the accusation that one of McCain's speechwriters had plagiarized the Wikipedia article on Georgia during a speech. Second, during their Republican Convention coverage, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show's writers made this crack about Palin's acceptance speech:

(Here?s the full segment from The Daily Show site, for when Hulu inevitably removes the clip above--fyi: the full video is mildly NSFW. The section I'm referencing begins at about the 4:20 mark in the longer video.)

I think that it is significant that in both cases, Wikipedia is not treated as being inaccurate, but rather as an elementary research source, one that, in the case of the speechwriter, must be properly cited and, in the case of the Daily Show joke, the use of which suggests an elementary approach to research and, perhaps, world affairs. It will be interesting to see if other examples crop up in the coming months that similarly suggest that Wikipedia has now reached a level of popular respectability that it had previously lacked.

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