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Wikipedia and pop culture ~ a special symbiosis

by Hersch

There may be a few of you out there who, like myself a few short hours ago, did not know that Lily Cole is the successful supermodel who put the “LOL” in “Lolita.” And then, just a few years ago, she adopted the business model that was first perfected by Bono, and augmented her career by becoming a social activist. All this inevitably attracted the attention of Wikipedia’s own Jimmy Wales, who gave his support to Cole’s project called “Impossible.com,” described as an “altruistic social network.” Those of you who have followed Jimmy’s career may now be asking, “Altruistic? But Jimmy is a devotee of Ayn Rand, who rejects altruism.”

But as it turns out, Ms. Cole has made her own unique contribution to this debate:

When you give, you release chemicals – oxytosin [sic] – that make you happy. The act of giving is self-involved, it has enriched my life.




…thus cutting the ethical Gordian Knot. This reasoning evidently impressed Jimmy, who told the Telegraph that:

She had a deep understanding of what in fact makes up a huge part of human life: doing nice things for each other with no expectation of any particular return.

Of course, not everyone was feeling the oxytosin. There was a snarky write-up in the Register. There is also a long-running discussion thread here at Wikipediocracy. But Cole’s project did attract the interest of the British government, which kicked in £200,000 to support the project.

Now, it goes without saying that Wikipedia has a biographical article on Ms. Cole. And although Pop Culture topics are the one area where Wikipedia generally excels by providing truly comprehensive coverage of the subject matter, there is a problem: biographical articles are always tricky at Wikipedia, because they attract both admirers and detractors of the celebrities in question. Last week, a person who represented herself or himself as Cole’s sister and colleague Elvie Maxwell posted a comment to the article talk page, raising a number of issues concerning the article’s treatment of Ms. Cole. Things get a little murky here, because the person who created the “Elviemaxwell” user account thoughtlessly signed her initial entry “Lily,” and then corrected it one minute later.

But regardless of who raised them, issues were raised, including a dispute over whether the article was correct in characterizing Cole as an “ally for Western Shoshone.” Treehugger.com says she is — who could argue with a source like that? Certainly not Elle magazine. In response to the controversy over such characterizations, noted Wikipedia critic Midsize Jake wrote the following:

Elvie isn’t a liar, she just doesn’t bother to look things up. If she had, she’d see that someone from the Western Shoshone Indian Nation published an “opinion column” on the Indian Country Today Media Network site back in 2005 (since deleted), in which the author presumably stated that Ms. Cole became their “ally” when she quit as the “face” of DeBeers, the international diamond-mining concern, over the fact that gold and diamond mining often results in the displacement of indigenous peoples by the mining companies. The Shoshone are in a situation that’s very similar to that of the African bushmen of Botswana, but have a difficult time getting celebrity support because they’re mostly in Canada and have not been featured in charming indie movies such as The Gods Must Be Crazy. So, they are (or were) forced to claim that celebrities are “allies,” probably without asking in advance – and perhaps not realizing that the word “ally” has a more formal connotation in Europe and the UK than it does in the US and Canada.

What this means now is that when this assertion was picked up by Reliable Source treehugger.com, it became “verifiable,” so by the pretzel-logic of Wikipedia, to remove it now would be “removal of reliably-sourced information” and grounds for a block – even though the less-reliable Indian Country Today Media Network no longer carries the original page on which the “ally” assertion was made, which in turn would probably be covered under WP:NEWSBLOG if it still existed.

In effect, Ms. Maxwell is asking Wikipedians to violate WP:V by removing the claim that Ms. Cole is an ally of an Indian Nation she has never heard of.

Midsize Jake went on to speculate about the sort of discussion which might hypothetically take place in a chat session between Jimmy and Lily, regarding problems with the latter’s Wikipedia bio:

[09:25am] *** jwales (n=jwales@wikia/jwales) has left IRC (Nick collision from services.)
[09:25am] *** jwales (n=jwales@wikia/jwales) has joined #impossible-com
[09:25am] * uksupermodel is now known as lilyco
[09:25am] <lilyco> Hey Jimmy, nobody is updating my wiki page
[09:25am] <jwales> sofixit
[09:25am] <lilyco> What, do it myself? You said I shouldn’t do that, remember?
[09:25am] <jwales> do it on the talk page
[09:26am] <lilyco> Oh okay can I just say whatever I want?
[09:26am] <jwales> you need reliable sources
[09:27am] <lilyco> What are reliable sources?
[09:27am] <jwales> beats me, some stupid rule they put in
[09:27am] <lilyco> I’m reliable, right? I’m goddamm Lily Cole goddammit
[09:27am] <jwales> nah, they have rules about that too
[09:27am] <lilyco> Fucking bastards!
[09:27am] <jwales> sucks huh
[09:28am] <lilyco> Can’t you do anything? You’re the bloody founder
[09:28am] <jwales> my talk page trolls would be all over me if I did it
[09:28am] <lilyco> Qu’est-ce que c’est “talk page trolls”?
[09:28am] <jwales> just about everybody on the internet apparently
[09:28am] <lilyco> FUCK
[09:30am] <jwales> maybe we can get them to find sources for you
[09:30am] <lilyco> How?
[09:30am] <jwales> post the changes to the talk page as somebody else
[09:30am] <lilyco> Like who?
[09:31am] <jwales> say you’re a publicist or your sister or something
[09:31am] <lilyco> Sister? How did you know I have a sister?
[09:33am] <jwales> i, uh, lucky guess
[09:33am] *** lilyco (n=uksupermodel@impossible/lily) has left IRC
[10:12am] *** lilyco (n=uksupermodel@impossible/lily) has joined #impossible-com
[10:12am] <lilyco> OK, done, what now?
[10:13am] <jwales> just have to wait
[10:13am] <lilyco> How long?
[10:17am] <jwales> no sources provided, could be weeks, even months
[10:18am] <lilyco> MONTHS? This is fucking SHITE, Jimmy!
[10:18am] <lilyco> I’ve got phase 2 deployment for the VC demo in 11 days
[10:18am] <lilyco> Everything must be PERFECT
[10:18am] <lilyco> I AM NOT HAPPY
[10:19am] <jwales> might be a way to speed it up
[10:19am] <lilyco> Yeah? How?
[10:19am] <jwales> do you know any wikipedians
[10:20am] <lilyco> I’m a fucking supermodel obviously I don’t know any bloody Wikipedians
[10:21am] <jwales> ok good point
[10:21am] <lilyco> GAAAAAAAAAAAAH
[10:24am] <jwales> okay, try this, call that friend of yours at the bbc
[10:24am] <lilyco> You mean Anne-Marie? The one whose head-shape is super-weird compared to mine?
[10:25am] <jwales> yeah get her to write up something flattering and post it on bbc.com
[10:25am] <lilyco> What good will that do?
[10:25am] <jwales> this guy i know will hate-tweet at her for writing a puff piece
[10:25am] <jwales> trust me this’ll work
[10:26am] <lilyco> OK BRB
[10:26am] *** lilyco (n=uksupermodel@impossible/lily) has left IRC
[03:47pm] *** lilyco (n=uksupermodel@impossible/lily) has joined #impossible-com
[03:47pm] <lilyco> Okay, done
[03:56pm] <lilyco> Fuck that didn’t take long
[03:57pm] <jwales> next he’ll post it on wikipediocracy
[03:57pm] <lilyco> Qu’est-ce que c’est “wikipediocracy”????
[03:58pm] <jwales> website for people who hate me
[03:58pm] <lilyco> Must be a popular site
[03:59pm] <jwales> they’ll see the talk page post from elvie and make fun of it
[03:59pm] <lilyco> WOT?
[04:00pm] <jwales> the talk page trolls will read it and one of them will fix your bio for sure
[04:00pm] <lilyco> Why?
[04:00pm] <jwales> just to spite them
[04:01pm] <lilyco> COOL
[04:01pm] <jwales> should be no more than 48 hours
[04:01pm] <lilyco> kthx
[04:02pm] <lilyco> Hey jimmy? Mind if I ask
[04:02pm] <jwales> anything
[04:03pm] <lilyco> Why do you insist on using IRC when our offices are right across the hall from each other?
[04:04pm] <jwales> i dunno i just prefer it
[04:04pm] <lilyco> I just get this weird feeling like you could be doing anything in there and I’d have no idea… oh well, see ya
[04:05pm] <jwales> ok later
[04:05pm] *** jwales (n=jwales@wikia/jwales ) has left IRC
[04:06pm] *** lilyco (n=uksupermodel@impossible/lily) has left IRC


Here at Wikipediocracy, we have become accustomed to the fact that we call attention to a particular article at Wikipedia, new edits to that article are bound to ensue. The Lily Cole bio is no exception. But what conclusions may we draw from this protracted drama? None, really, other than that Wikipedia and Pop Culture function synergistically to enable people in the Digital Age to obsess about the personal lives of celebrities like never before.


Image credits: Wikimedia, Flickr/Joi ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

3 comments to Wikipedia and pop culture ~ a special symbiosis

  • Ross McPherson

    Deep down I have always liked Jimmy Wales and I have just discovered why. He reminds me of Kevin Costner – it is not just something about the face. It is about his belief in the power of giving without a damn for the prospects of success.

    Build it and they will come.

    Yes, ‘Field of Dreams’. There Kevin the baseball fan builds a ballpark in the middle of nowhere (Iowa) and nobody else knows why. Then the magic happens. Famous stars of bygone days ghost out of the corn stalks and start playing games. Word soon gets out and finally the roads to Jimmy’s farm are thronged by cars stuffed with fans eager to see the dream with their own eyes. The oxytosins have gone crazy.

    The film ends at that point. We don’t see what happens when the multitude finds itself in the middle of nowhere without hotdogs, toilets, accommodation, games or baseball stars. We don’t see Jimmy getting chased around his ballpark by all the people who got taken in by his oxytosin-fumed dream. We don’t see how they all start fighting each other, with Jimmy being so elusive and everyone now blaming everyone else for spoiling everything for everyone. It was such a beautiful dream.

    Visit a Wikipedia talk page if you want to see the reality. Stand amid the cornstalks of an article trampled into the dust by trespassing fans. See the padlocks on the barn doors, keeping out thieves. Try not to disturb the trolls and ghosts, haunting the place day and night for a game always about to start. Try to understand.

    It was the oxytosins.

  • Lily Cole is just gross. The more I find out, the more I don’t like about her. That article from The Register was a good find. It pointed me here, https://www.impossible.com/aboutus/ to Lily Cole’s so-called altruistic social network. Who advises Impossible? Among others, Chelsea Clinton, Tom Uglow, Jimmy Wales and Professor Muhammad Yunus. Chelsea Clinton (roll eyes); Tom Uglow is some big honcho at Google X. Yunus won a Nobel peace prize for microfinance, which is turning out to be proven something of a scam.

    How was Impossible funded? Impossible has been so far funded through gifts from several individuals, companies and a grant from the British government.

    Ugh… the British government! Sounds like improper use of public funds to me, or maybe a non-factual statement. It is depressing, either way.

  • Oops, I’m sorry. I read this post again, more closely. Lily Cole definitely got that grant from the British government, just as you said. The only (carefully) neutral coverage of her ridiculous charity and Jimmy Wales, other than The Register, that I noticed was in the Wall Street Journal, http://blogs.wsj.com/scene/2014/04/10/lily-cole-promoting-the-gift-economy/

    Q.Did you have much of a presence online before launching the site?

    A.Honestly, I use computers but at that point in time I didn’t have a presence on any social network. I’ve come more and more to appreciate the capacity that the Internet offers.

    Q.Your backers include Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia. Does your celebrity help?

    A. It’s been very helpful with opening doors. [But] the only reason [people] have contributed and become advisers and got involved is that they genuinely believed in the integrity of the idea. It’s not about how I look, it’s what I am talking about.

    What a tarty oxytosin she is. Why does Jimmy Wales hold her in such high regard?! There exists some not-so-latent pedophilia among certain Wikipedia editors, as noted here in the past. Is Jimmy Wales beholden to them in some way, do you think? For financial or other largess? Lily Cole has her rabid fans, but I can’t see Jimmy Wales being one of them, not for THAT reason.

    I was worried when I saw “Elvie” as there is a Wikipedia user named Elvie or maybe Elvey. I wondered why he appended “Mr.” to his signature sometimes. Maybe he was mistaken for sleazy Lily’s sockpuppet? Although I argued loudly with (Mr.) Elvie about Open SSL on meta Wikipedia last summer, I know that he is a very nice, erudite person. I hope the Elvie/ Lily thing is merely coincidence.