By Cornpone T. McGillicutty
Wikipedia, used by inebriates to settle bar bets, and by politicians, judges, physicians and the general public to plaster over gaps in their education, is well known as a crowd-sourced encyclopedia.
A better way to think of it is that Wikipedia is organized roughly the same way as a lynch mob: someone gets upset, rallies a handful of ignoramuses and cranks, and they ramble on down to a piece of culture or history, pull it out in the street and give it ‘justice.’
I’ve picked out a seasonal example for us today, so make yourself a cup of hot cocoa or mulled rum, sit down, and we’ll look at Baby, It’s Cold Outside, which is your shady uncle’s favorite Christmas song. The article itself is nice and boring for the most part:
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a song written by Frank Loesser in 1944. It is a call and response duet in which one of the singers (usually performed by a male voice) attempts to convince a guest (usually performed by a female voice) that they should stay together for a romantic evening because the weather is cold and the trip home would be difficult.
Originally recorded for the film Neptune’s Daughter, it has been recorded by many artists since its original release.
If your experience with social media and crusades is anything like mine, though, you’re not here because you were whistling the tune in a shopping mall, you’re here because of ‘rape culture.’
Just this week, musicians Josiah Lemanski and Lydia Liza were promoting their sanitized version of the song that emphasizes consent, and it’s a well-known trope that many consider Baby, It’s Cold Outside “a date rape classic.”
I’m not going to take a position on that issue, that’s not the point of this article. Let’s instead see how the classically-educated editors of Wikipedia tackled the controversy.
Well, if you scan the article, you might not even see it, but tucked in at the end of the lead, just past where most people stop reading a Wikipedia article, is this fortune cookie:
Although some critical analyses of the song have highlighted parts of the lyrics such as “What’s in this drink?” and his unrelenting pressure to stay despite her repeated suggestions that she should go home, others noted that cultural expectations of the time period were such that women were not socially permitted to spend the night with a boyfriend or fiance, and that the female speaker states that she wants to stay, while “what’s in this drink” was a common idiom of the period used to rebuke social expectations by blaming one’s actions on the influence of alcohol.
That’s a sentence, folks, just one sentence. It may look like a paragraph, and contain more than one idea, but someone has thoughtfully used a mechanized can crusher to compact this thing so it might stand behind a single period.
That is the sole mention of the ‘date rape’ controversy about this song currently being discussed in various media. No section about the controversy, just this half-ass, truncated accusation and defense of Loesser’s classic duet plopped into the butt of the lede.
What in tarnation happened? If you’re looking for the origin of crapola like this in a Wikipedia article, always turn to the article talk page first. Here we find the characters in our little morality play. Almost six years ago, the squabbles and slap-fighting began. In some of the early entries, an editor using an IP address located in the fine state of Georgia argues that “Adding this so-called “controversy” to the standard wikipedia entry compromises the whole purpose of wikipedia, which is to post sound factual information about specific subjects.” That’s a nice sweeping generalization you have there, may I have some peach cobbler to go with it?
The struggle is real, and somewhat surreal. At one point almost two years ago, there was a reasonable consensus found and a section about the controversy. But then the section was abruptly removed after a back and forth tussle about tobacco use in popular music.
That’s right. Teach the controversy:
This song, with the typically female lyrics of “maybe just a cigarette more”, has been a major vessel for targeted tobacco advertising to women and children since the time it was first published almost 70 years ago. It is a tobacco industry favorite because the women who sing it are usually chosen for having reputations of being good role models for young girls (e.g., it is the only time a female singer has sung the word “cigarette” in a song for many of the women singing it in this article), it is a duet so the song can have double the star power backing it, and it is a Christmas song so it is a good way to target children under the guise of “poetic license.” It seems that a Wikipedia editor (or editors?) is being pressured or is otherwise unduly influenced by the tobacco industry to keep this song in a good light here at Wikipedia.
Tinfoil hat provided for free by editor H. Nicole Young (now blocked). It’s touching to watch people try to reason with this editor’s world view and then get swept back by an elbow to the face.
If you know Wikipedia, the results are no surprise.
We have an article about a piece of our culture, a well- known song with a well-known controversy, inadequately covered, a squashed sentence being the ragged remnant of disorganized and at times conspiracy-fed ‘editing.’ No managing the volunteer editors allowed (it took almost a dozen editors, working against each other for six months, to assemble that mangled sentence).
As I lean back in my rocking chair, I remember an old saying, “Reality is determined by the craziest person in the room.” This really should be a Wikipedia policy, just to formalize how things are done there.