On The Colbert Report
the other night, during a segment called The Wørd
, Stephen Colbert gave a wonderfully insightful and hilarious monologue about “Wikiality
,” the “reality that we can all agree on.” He spoke about how as long as a majority of people think something is true, it is
true. What people believe to be true is more important than what actually is true, and those people who stick to the facts are branded as crazy.
During The Wørd, Colbert asked his audience members to go to the entry about elephants in Wikipedia and write that the elephant population had tripled in the last six months, thus demonstrating that Wikipedia allows for a democracy of knowledge in which anybody can determine what is and isn’t true. In response, a huge number of people rushed to Wikipedia
and made the change to several different articles about elephants, thus causing the Wikipedians to put protections on the articles and ban certain people from editing them.
On forums such as the Colbert Nation message board
, one can see how the fans felt about these Wikinazis (as Colbert might call them). A number of Colbert Nation members are calling on one another to vandalize Wikipedia articles, adding false bits of information that have been mentioned on The Colbert Report
. Others asked that Colbert put Wikipedia “On Notice,” as Colbert does with seemingly random things that upset him in some way.
I noticed very few, if any, comments about the actual meaning behind Colbert’s monologue. Colbert's actual subject matter wasn't Wikipedia: it was the society in which we live. The fans were in awe of Colbert’s power to disrupt a popular website, but they completely missed his point: that people in our society actually are just coming to a consensus about what is true without paying close attention to facts. Colbert mentioned (truthfully
) that the percentage of people who believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction had gone from 36 percent to 50 percent in 18 months, despite the fact that this has never been shown to be true.Euphemisms
, and truthiness
have turned truth into an enemy, and Colbert is acutely aware of that. As he stated on the first episode of The Colbert Report
, “we are divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.” He’s trying, in his brilliantly satirical way, to get the truth out, but it seems that large numbers of people are missing his point. The day after the Wikiality incident, the big news was that Colbert had a huge impact on Wikipedia. It was one of Colbert’s best Wørds to date, and the story should have been how painfully true it was and how dangerous that truth is for our society.