Friday, 27 April 2007

Intriguing Biographies on Wikipedia

by Edwin Hesselthwite

A number of months ago Charles Pooter pointed me in the direction of the Wikipedia article for Science Fiction writer and popular co-photographee F. Gwynplaine Macintyre*.

Mr Macintyre as seen in photographs with popular American journalist Andy Rooney, Playwright and London figure Toby Young, Politican Journalist and Comedian Boris Johnson and Science Fiction Writer Adam-Troy Castro

I have to admit, that I've been a little hooked ever since. The Wikipedia article itself is intriguing, we have these incredible events one after another - a disease so unusual Wikipedia doesn't have a page for it and it must be described in the article, expatriation to Australia, work on The Prisoner, poetry derided by the poetry community, heroic adventures to discover lost silent movies. I suggest you go read that article before continuing this one.

Wow! Please take note of the style of the piece, the list of "praisers" at the top of the piece - fame by association? The continuous references to mystery "few clues", "ghosting"... Then amongst this obfuscation there is all the inside information about his ghostwriting and relations with other poets and opinions on word use... I could go on at length about the unusual features of this Wikipedia article that yell fake from the rooftops, yet in the most interesting ways. Much like the novel House Of Leaves (reviewed previously) the obvious fabrications make the unseen underlying story more intriguing... Because there are still those definite photographs (what is a New Wave SF writer doing with Boris Johnson?), coming across like some bizarre Doctor Who figure in historical event after event.

So I dug a little deeper on Wikipedia, and it became obvious that almost this entire article had been written by the unregistered I.P address, and yet his novel The Woman Between The Worlds (doesn't sound like my taste, sounds a little too New Wavey for me but you can't tell without reading it), and his poetry are reviewed and available on Amazon. Curiouser and Curiouser.

At this point, an aside: back in my university days I knew a flamboyantly obese man whose name was something like Kevin, or Edward, or Tom, but insisted upon being called Napoleon. In the days when I used to go to heavy metal concerts he was the classic example of the sweaty guy you dreaded finding yourself behind, whose hair you discovered all over you after you left the gig and you could never tell if the sweat covering your once-black t-shirt was yours, or his. It was impossible to get to the bottom of Kevin's (as I will call him) personality because he covered his insecurities with fatuous bluster, and most people I knew just gave up on him after two or three attempts. I didn't hate Kevin, no one did, but no-one I knew ever managed to communicate with the man who was someone's brother, someone's son... They only managed to get Napoleon, the hard drinking computer programmer who had gained his nickname for hard-boiled tactics in role playing games.

As I read further into this Gwynplaine "myth" (I admit to spending over an hour thinking about this man) I kept seeing Kevin/Napoleon in my mind, but also seeing Borges and his fantastical fictional essays. To my tortuous view of reality, if the myth is good enough it justifies the lie (I personally have experimented repeatedly in the fabricated essay form elsewhere, it's probably my best fictional work), what I desperately wanted was some seed in the middle of this fantasy, something substantial to reveal it all. So what, or who, exactly is this Gwyn character? There are too many mentions of him in the science fiction world to write him off as a two dimensional fantasist, but much of the resources on the internet (alt.films.silent has extensive complaints about his lies and behaviour on IMDB) make one suspect... If you can find the key fact that makes his story fit together I salute you. This is more than a false Wikipedia article, because you don't just grow a massive set of mutton-chops like that in minutes, this man lives and breathes this myth he has created.

My suspicion is that he must have built up this identity of his before the invention of the internet, and now is stuck behind his farcical facial hair in a world where Google makes his fabrications all too transparent... A computer terminal with a man attached, wifeless in a small village in Wales is the image I have in my mind. And yet, yet, I sense a real respect for him in many places I have tunnelled. I hate to write off a man who has clearly contributed to the genre I love, but if you fill up a publicly owned balloon with hot air, I almost feel a duty to prick it. So, Gwyn (and if I have read your character at all I am sure you will find this article via Google within a day of posting) I salute you for your class, and respect your myths... But couldn't you have done, well, a better job of it?

* (Very soon after posting this piece a spoilsport Wikipedian stubbed the article, above is the original version and the new version is found here.)

After graduating from Belmarsh, Lord Archer returned to his successful career as a gardener


Jake Stichler said...

Gee, ya ever think of, oh, I don't know, FIXING it, rather than whining about it? In the time it took you to come up with this blog post, you could have put a lot of constructive work into that article.

Charles Pooter said...

"Gee"? Who are you, Richie Cunningham?

Edwin said...

Whining, hmmm... This appears to be a man who has got the wrong end of the stick.

I can understand that a dedicated Wikipedian might develop a chip on their shoulder about accusations as to Wikipedia's accuracy, but I believe that the above article demonstrates 2 things. 1) I have a full understanding of how Wikipedia works, 2) I don't care. I like untruths, I like myths, and I have absolutely no personal investment whatsoever in the project.

So, if you are the unfortunate obsessive who stubbed the article I would like to blow a raspberry in your direction... And, if you are really really desperate for something to do with your time, I can send you some first draft short stories I have written that could really do with someone checking them for "It's/its" errors.


Edwin Hesselthwite said...


I've been keeping an eye on the Wiki article, to see if Mr Macintyre has re-appeared...

The article is now approaching its old form (tho the lies have been toned down significantly), and these contributions have been added by... yes, the same I.P address that wrote the original article.

We salute you Mr Macintyre.