Cynical tactics encouraged by Wikipedia's abdication of thought known as 'No Original Research' and 'Reliable Sources'
created: 24 May 2009; modified: 16 Feb 2013; status: finished; confidence: highly likely; importance: 4
One of the most distasteful aspects of Wikipedia editing these days (>2009) is that the guidelines, as practiced, encourage editing in bad faith.
Consider the case of Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. Gainax was founded by a group of otaku to create anime for conventions of other otaku. Neon Genesis Evangelion (Eva for short) is in that same vein. It was created by otaku, for otaku, and fundamentally is about otaku1. Eva is replete with allusions2, borrowings, and parodies of previous Gainax works3, mecha anime, and SF in general. The ancillary material of the franchise explains much about Eva. But the overwhelming majority of Eva material—interviews, articles, and books, to say nothing of the usual merchandise—will never appear in English.
But, you say, as an artistic landmark, as a critically praised series that earned billions—then surely the mass media has covered it adequately? If it is such a densely layered work of art, then surely it is catnip to academia? One smugly concludes that if Eva articles labor under death-warrants, then fans have only themselves to blame; if they were less lazy and would put in some elbow-grease, they’d have all the sources they could need for a good solid Encyclopedic article!
Alas editors, this is a fond dream. The mainstream media treatment has been shallow, sensationalistic, and slightly mocking (and is surely no useful source). The scholarly treatment in the Anglophone world has been scanty, and the most prominent examples—there is no other way to say this—incompetent. And this is when they are even willing to publish anything at all, something which is ever more doubtful as publishers abandon entire areas (like anime and manga nonfiction4) to academic publishers (who themselves will publish little and have idiosyncratic standards of value).
What is a hapless fellow to do? There is tremendous knowledge in the fan community: dozens of translations of crucial statements and documents. Salted away in places like the Eva ML are fascinating insights like how the character of Kaworu Nagisa was originally a cat5 Do we quietly use them as references? Then we will ever tremble that a less fair-minded or pragmatic editor will come along and remove them in one fell swoop.
Or one could opt out of Wikipedia. This is a painful option; the nuclear option. It involves many costs, and will often not work. Some Eva fans have chosen this path, and have started an Evangelion wiki. They may succeed; they may not. (I wish them well, but Wikipedia is the poorer for it.)
The final option is the easiest, most effective, and the most corrosive of one’s (editing) soul. One falls to the dark side.
The dark side of editing is to cease to edit in good faith. It is to regard editing Wikipedia as a game of nomic, the guidelines as texts to be cynically adhered to and worked around, their spirit utterly disregarded. It is to see ‘reliable sources’ as palimpsests to be selectively quoted and interpreted as necessary to ‘cite’ something one knows to be true.
This may sound too abstract. Isn’t all research selective? Isn’t all quoting partial and misleading? So I shall give 2 examples.
A man of no account by the name of F—- published a book on Eva. His analyses & interpretations are miserable; his speculation improbable & unsupported, and his factual accounts limited. Were I editing in good faith, I would make use of some of his dates or figures or chronologies—and aught else. (And I would seek independent sources for even those.)
In academia, there is a Professor of English, Mrs. N—–, who has written about Eva. Interestingly, another Wikipedia editor objected to my use of her paper. The colloquy explains why she is such a poor source, and gives multiple examples of what I mean by dark side editing.
“I have read the full article in JSTOR. And I can say with conviction that it is utter rubbish. Not to say simply that I disagree with the points she makes (which I do) but it’s really just a thin once-over of the series that actually provides none of the in-depth psychological analysis you were looking for; it’s really a description of the series which frankly the current wiki-article for Neon Genesis Evangelion outperforms. It’s simply a basic description of the series. It’s a very weak article…in the sense that it has nothing to do with the short story”When the Machine Stops" but she tries to shoehorn it in with that. The first 5 pages are just…fluff. Complicated fluff. But don’t take my word for it.
Um…in terms of “useful quotes”…not much. She does a basic job of noting the Recession and the Aum Shinrikyo cult.
but much is just basic description:
“Constructing a mythic universe that is almost Blakean both in its complex mythic vision and in its dizzying array of Christian and Judaic religious symbols, the series questions the construction of human identity, not only in relation to the technology that the series’ plot and imagery insistently privilege, but also in relation to the nature of reality itself. Providing more riddles than solutions, the series takes the viewer on a journey into both inner and outer reality before ultimately leaving both its characters and its audience floating in a sea of existential uncertainty” (page 424)
“the other strand of the narrative is far more complex and provocative, as it becomes increasingly concerned with the problematic mental and emotional states of the main characters, all of whom carry deep psychic wounds and whose psychic turmoil is represented against an increasingly frenzied apocalyptic background in which it becomes clear that the threat from the Angels is matched by the machinations of various humans connected with Nerv” (page 435)
N—— barely understands the series and while she does seem to have watched the whole thing, she’s trying to shoehorn it into her own paper on existentialism. My point being, she focuses on all of the Christian and Gnostic symbolism, which Anno and other Gainax people have openly stated was just fluff they put in to look cool and not actually relevant to the plot. She point-blank says “they never reveal what the Angels are” (we here know the Red Cross Book ultimately said they’re from Adam as humans are from Lilith, etc.)
She didn’t understand that Rei is Lilith’s soul, so she misinterprets Rei’s interview in episodes 25 and 26 as being on a literal level.
She seems to think episodes 25 and 26 were seriously meant t be the ACTUAL finale, when they were not (though her analysis of them isn’t really affected by this).
Most of the time she’s just stating the obvious and things we knew already.
Worst of all….mid-paragraph she jumps from the Alternate Reality to the end. That is, she goes right from “he’s in this high school sex comedy happy version of his normally disturbing reality” to “I am me, I want to live in this world!”….ignoring that Shinji rejected the Alternate Reality even within episodes 25 and 26 itself. He goes through several mental shifts between the AR sequence and the final scene: she’s just conflating all of this together.
She mentions End of Evangelion in literally one sentence, in order to instantly disregard it as “just Anno’s revenge on the fans who didn’t like the TV ending and more of a parody of what they were expecting; using over the top violence” etc. She utterly disregarded End of Eva; we now know that End of Eva was more or less the originally intended ending (cell animation and scripts obviously in existence long before, Evangelion Proposal’s ending while different from EoE is more like it than the TV ending, etc.)6
In short, she simply proved my long held theory: The Evangelion TV ending was high-grade pornography for philosophy majors, who then took it and championed it as the “real ending” and dismissed End of Eva as trash. In reality, Evangelion is a psychodrama (she does admit that it has very well developed psychoanalysis) and End of Evangelion faithfully delivers the full message….the TV ending is basically “we don’t have enough money to make the movie….let’s take the Third Impact scenes and show them out of context as TV episodes
She doesn’t seem to grasp that “the world of Edenic bliss” offered by Instrumentality is explicitly presented as a BAD thing; there’s no pain but also no joy, and ultimately Shinji chooses to live in a world of flawed human beings because of their inherent “realness”, which is superior to any fantasy-world he can come up with, no matter how nice.
I think these are the words of a woman so shocked by the violence in End of Eva that she wrote it off instantly as “a parody” (LITERALLY one sentence) and utterly disregarded it. (for that matter, her works cited says she was using ADV’s “Perfect” collection DVDs and thus she never saw the Director’s Cut episodes.
13 years on, people have to let go of the “the TV ending is the only ending! And End of Eva was an insult! “ ideology, and embrace that End of Eva was indeed the originally intended, “real ending”, and the TV ending is an ‘’essential supplement’’ to End of Eva, essentially an extended version of the Third Impact scenes.
She focuses so much on “wow, there’s a million possible realities to choose from!”….ignoring the series’ ultimate message that basically yeah, Shinji can choose a million different audio tracks to play on his SDAT player and then crawl inside that world, just as otaku crawl into anime. But it’s all fake; there are millions of fantasy worlds, yes…but only one real world.
In conclusion, N—–’s article says nothing particularly new or original about the series or in-depth. She ignores End of Eva, literally mentioning it in once sentence, in order to disregard it. Now, even if you are an ardent supporter of the TV ending and hate the movie ending…..she doesn’t even grasp the TV ending that well. She randomly skips from the “Alternate Reality” scene to Shinji saying “I deserve to be here!” etc., mixing up events even from within the final episodes themselves. That said, she misses the entire point of Evangelion (which was made more clear in End of Eva) : yes, there are a million possible fantasy-world realities, but they’re not “real” at all; they’re just fantasy. What made the “Real World” have value was its real-ness. Just as Neo in The Matrix preferred the harsh reality of the Real World (and Cypher couldn’t handle it), Shinji realizes that the flawed real world is more valuable than any fantasy world, simply because of its “realness”. (This would seem to be a rejection of existentialism, actually). That’s why he rejects Instrumentality at the end. The Point is that I doubt that any of the N—– article is usable as a source for anything –Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici (talk) 07:33, 22 January 2009 (UTC)
This is a good analysis Veni. Way back when, I was only using her article for Lain refs, but this sounds about right.
But I think you’re missing the point. Reference-nazism is ultimately a very cynical, insulting, rules-lawyering point of view. You and I know EoE is not revenge on fans, we know the RCB and Secret Files contradict many popular views, etc. etc. But a reference-nazi cares only if the letter of the law is followed; they couldn’t care less about whether something is true or common knowledge or anything—just whether it has a ref meeting RS.
The proper response to such mindless skepticism is an equally cynical employment of references as needed. If I were writing an essay on Eva, I certainly wouldn’t use N—— because her level of understanding is far below even the average poster on eva-monkeys, say. But if I were writing a WP article, I certainly would. A published academic work, probably republished in one of her books… it meets the letter (but not the spirit).
N—— does some basic summary? Very good, then she provides a non-episode ref for some in-universe (oh noes!) plot summary.
She dismisses EoE as a parody? Very good, then we can introduce that as a criticism of EoE without fear of that snide
She discusses imaginary worlds? Very good, then we can now add the most basic interpretation of those episodes without being tagged for OR.
She covers Judeochristian imagery in too much detail, tracking down allusions? Very good, then now we can cite her when she’s right and quietly ignore her when she’s wrong.
She speaks in vague review generalities about how Eva “takes the viewer on a journey into both inner and outer reality before ultimately leaving both its characters and its audience floating in a sea of existential uncertainty”? Very good, we can quote her on this and perhaps readers will take away some understanding of the mindfuck-qualities of Eva.
So you see, V, N—— is just fine for us. From a certain point of view. –Gwern (contribs) 20:05 23 January 2009 (GMT)
So in short what you’re saying is, unfiltered, that N—— wrote a really bad article about Evangelion that obviously does not grasp the series at all and makes several major errors, but nonetheless that she at least touches upon several topics means we can quote segments of her writing out of context in order to make improvements to various articles, thus beating the “reference-nazis” at their own game?…Cool. But really I don’t think any of it is incorporatable, beyond say, that quote I provide above where she’s giving the most basic descriptions, like “it’s almost Blakean” etc. Yes, that’s a great idea: chop it up for out of context quotes to support stuff while not acknowledging that she barely even touched on the series (seriously, Eva has nothing to do with the “When the Machines Stop” short story she cites at the beginning, and she spent the whole thing trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Yeah use the quotes if you want, though I really can’t think of any way to salvage information from it. Thank you. Furthermore (this is not directed at you but my general feelings) : THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW ALWAYS SUPERSEDES THE LETTER OF THE LAW –Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici (talk) 23:11, 26 January 2009 (UTC)
Yes, that’s basically what I’m saying. I agree it’s a bad idea, and mining it for quotes is about all that can be done with it. I hope I demonstrated just based on your particular points that the quotes would do yeoman’s service in multiple articles.
And I do wish the old spirit of Wikipedia was still around. There was no need for this cynical approach back in late ’03 when I first started editing anonymously. –Gwern (contribs) 02:11 27 January 2009 (GMT)"
Bignole, fansites can absolutely be reliable sources. To take a favorite subject of mine: the Neon Genesis Evangelion articles. This anime franchise has made literally billions of dollars, has dozens of media properties (a TV series, ~6 feature length movies, a manga series that has been running for more than a decade, etc. etc.), influenced every mecha anime (and not a few non-mecha), made Gainax the major studio it is and so on; all of this has lead to quite a few academic mentions of it.
And these “reliable sources” you vaunt so highly, that you consider the be-all and end-all of editing—they are crap. They are pedigreed, peer-reviewed, published, “reliable” & “verifiable” crap. They are factually inaccurate, navel-gazing; they are ignorant of even the most basic secondary literature and Eva paraphernalia, much less the later ancillary material—and that’s when they are not quietly cribbing bizarre and fanciful interpretations from equally clueless sources like the American DVD commentaries. The most ignorant poster at a fansite like Evamonkey.com knows more about what Eva actually means, about what Anno (the director) has actually said and written about, about its development and role in anime history, than any reliable source I have yet found.7
Want some Anno interviews translated into English? I’m afraid you’ll have to quote a fanzine like Protoculture Addicts, which got the article from, yes, a fan. Want a solid translation of the Red Cross Book? Supplied by an pseudonymous fan on a fansite. Interested in the early conceptions of the plot and characters? Ditto. Did you find some useful sources and information in the back of the English manga editions? Oh, too bad—that author, he’s that ever so despised word, a fan, an amateur. To write good articles on Eva practically demands that one ignore the strict letter of the guidelines and policies which are oh so perfect.
You and your ilk fetishize notability, you fetishize printed sources. You raise up a god of process and bow down to it, burning useful good stuff as a holocaust with pleasing smell to it. You dare talk about quality? You guys don’t have the slightest clue what quality is. All you can perceive are the trappings that sometimes go with it. –Gwern (contribs) 04:16 21 December 2007 (GMT)
I feel I should emphasize that dark side editing is not the same thing as just bad editing, or trolling, or vandalizing. The articles are better off for having important information in them at all, even if the reference is shoddy. There is a reference for them—no one is making them up. It isn’t the same as if we took this poem by Ian Frazier and actually edited his article to say he’s only 40 and was born in whatever year; as obviously the article would be worse off for it8.
It’s possible that using bad references could inspire other people to use them, and thereby make the article worse, but this isn’t much of a concern: it’s very rare for editors to track down references and reuse them further—it’s rare enough for them to just check existing references. (The editing culture is trusting that way.) And besides, while I no longer edit as much as I used to, I still review my watchlist and can catch the odd edit by that unusual class of editor which is diligent enough to be misled by dark edits but not knowledgeable enough to know the true facts.
It’s more that we know better, but we act dumb to cope with an even dumber culture & set of guidelines. It is the pretense that wearies.
As in Star Wars, the dark side always offers power quick and easy. The cost is one’s self-respect. I sigh every time I make a dark side edit, I wish I could just edit the way we used to. But I see no way to write good Eva articles, which are in accord with guidelines, and to do so in good faith. The Wikipedia culture has shifted and forced this trilemma on us. And how I hate it!
One of the standard interpretations, supported by statements from the director Hideaki Anno and others who worked on Eva, is that Eva diagnoses otakudom as pathological, and attempts to cure its characters. A full treatment of Eva’s meaning is beyond a mere footnote’s scope, but this quote from episode 16 will have to suffice:
“We cannot weave our lives only out of things we like…”
"I’m going to be examining a nonfiction book about Japanese ghosts – Patrick Drazen’s A Gathering of Spirits: Japan’s Ghost Story Tradition: From Folklore and Kabuki to Anime and Manga, which was recently self-published through the iUniverse service. This is Drazen’s second book; the first one, Anime Explosion! The What? Why? & Wow! of Japanese Animation, came out in 2002 from Stone Bridge Press and was an introduction to many of the genres and themes that can be found in anime.
I think the switch from a commercial press to self-publication may indicate the direction English-language anime and manga scholarship may be heading in. A few years ago, when Japanese popular culture seemed like the Next Big Thing, there were more publishers that seemed like they were willing to take a chance on books about anime and manga.
Unfortunately, as I know firsthand (and as I’ve heard from other authors, confirming that it’s not just me) these books didn’t sell nearly as well as anyone was hoping, which in turn meant that these publishers didn’t want to take risks with additional books along these lines. After all, all publishers need to make money in one way or another to stay afloat. In the last few years, the majority of books on anime and manga have been published by university presses, perhaps most notably the University of Minnesota Press.
…However, this puts books like Drazen’s in an odd predicament. It’s not really an academic book, since it lacks the references and theories something like that would entail, which means it’s not a good candidate for a university press. However, since few popular presses have seen their books on anime and manga reflect positively on their bottom lines, there aren’t many other options these days other than self-publishing. Of course, these days publishing a book on your own doesn’t have nearly the same connotations it did decades ago, when vanity presses were the domain of those with more money (and ego) than sense. These days you can self-publish a quality product, get it up on Amazon for all to see, and (if you’re savvy about these things) perhaps even make a tidy profit."
Note the provenance of this translation. This is an archived backup of an email sent to the list, containing a forwarded message from an anonymous person, who translated an obscure Eva book. There may be further links in the chain. None of these people are credentialed in any way. Yet now we know why Kaworu smiles and has eyes like a cat.↩︎
The old idea that End of Evangelion is a revenge by Anno on ungrateful fans was largely inspired by an incomplete understanding of the movie. The movie had several photo-montages (not animation) consisting of letters sent to Gainax. Two or three of them are interpretable as death threats, but most are positive. See the Evageeks translation page.↩︎
As of February 2013, I should amend this: there are 2 peer-reviewed works which add genuine insight to Evangelion:
- “Aesthetics of Destruction: Music and the Worldview of Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion”, Heike Hoffer 2012 (master’s thesis; my summary/review). Hoffer thoroughly analyzes Sagisu’s music compositions and explains the use of motifs in context in a very insightful way.
- “Breaking Binaries: Transgressing Sexualities in Japanese Animation”, Gibbs 2012 (PhD thesis; my summary/review). One of the most reasonable discussions of the various characters, even if I disagree with her Freudian framework.