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This is just... hilarious. I'm really at a loss for what else to do but laugh and laugh, and laugh some more at the absurdity of it.

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/an-open-letter-to-wikipedia

Basically, Philip Roth wrote a novel inspired by his friend's troubles with political correctness gone amok at Princeton (involving his friend Melvin Tumin) back in the 1980s. The Wikipedia page on this novel, though, attributes its genesis to a bit of gossip involving Anatole Broyard. Mr. Roth had someone write Wikipedia on his behalf asking them to fix it, but they refused without a secondary source, something beyond just his assertion. At which point Mr. Roth decided to write a 2,655-word open letter that was run in the New Yorker to set the record straight.

The story involving Tumin is actually interesting (and a bit tragic) on its own, and the open letter's worth reading for that telling alone. The fact that Roth felt driven to turn a story of office politics (Tumin was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, though I can appreciate the humiliation and frustration factors at work) into a novel of intrigue and murder, is a bit of an overreaction to those events. It may make for good fiction --I haven't read it so can't judge-- but the way he writes about it in this open letter, he's quite passionate about setting the record straight. Enough so that Philip Roth, Pulitzer Prize-winning author that he is, felt the need to pressure Wikipedia to change their entries when he thought they'd gotten it wrong and, when they declined to kowtow, he excoriated them in the New Yorker.

The irony, of course, is this whole piece just shows that maybe Wikipedia was on to something. I mean, this is obviously something Philip Roth feels strongly about, and it's not beyond belief that his own perception might not be unbiased, or that if Wikipedia's recorded version had any truth to it, he might be more forceful than was helpful in arguing for his chosen view. The two tales are different enough, I don't think this is a question of shades of grey, and Roth definitely knows what inspired his novel. But if ever you needed to show why secondary sources were a good thing...

What really has me giggling, though, is just how fandom the whole thing is. Not how fandom actually is, or all it is, but the bad reputation of the drama and the wankery and all that? That's definitely the vibe I'm getting here. Which is just so rich. Also a bit frustrating because this precise kind of point, when posted on LiveJournal or Tumblr in response to a fandom slight, is the kind of thing that proves fandom is silly and petty, but when it's Philip Roth talking apparently it rates a New Yorker feature. But mostly it's LOL-worthy.

Comments

azalaisdep
Nov. 18th, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
I also found the social history aspect of it fascinating - the light-skinned mixed-race people in 1950s New York wanting to "pass" as, for example, Jewish, but then being terrified that if they had a child that child might be darker-skinned and thus "expose" them. Not something I've ever really come across in the equivalent period in the UK (when, of course,our large-scale immigration from Jamaica and other parts of the Commonwealth was only just beginning).

But yes, the whole Wikipedia "secondary source" insistence does sometimes bite them back. As in the story (which might be apocryphal) of someone who posted a spoof comment, in an article about their favourite football team, about their fans wearing silly headgear (this wasn't in fact true). A British tabloid paper, however, then picked this up from the Wikipedia article and reported it as fact - after which Wikipedia refused to remove the spoof comment when others complained about its accuracy, because it was verified by a secondary source! Sheesh...

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