When someone creates a Wikipedia page for a poet, a porn star, a voice actor, or anyone in-between, there is no guarantee it will stay up. A group of largely anonymous Wikipedia admins gathers every day in a digital court named Articles for Deletion to sort through Wikipedia pages nominated for termination. Despite Wikipedia’s reputation as a nearly limitless space of learning, efforts are taken around the clock to delete sourced, factual information that a council of predominantly male administrators deems unnoteworthy.
Gregor Weichbrodt’s Dictionary of Non-Notable Artists is the most succinct list of deleted artists available, spanning ten years of artists deleted or nominated for deletion. Weichbrodt lists the name of each nominated person along with the argument that landed them on the Articles for Deletion page. Many of the rulings appear subjective: a “voice actor whose only major role was young Krillin in the Dragon Ball series.” Other nominations demean the person’s life experiences: a “[non-notable] air crash survivor, author, speaker.” Still others are downright mean-spirited: one little girl was identified as a “[n]on-notable 7 year old actress.” Weichbrodt, whose very own Wikipedia page was recently nominated for deletion, sculpts a dictionary of the different ways an artist’s work can be marginalized.
The word “unnotable” (or, often, “non-notable”) appears early and often, until it loses any semblance of meaning. Some artists are deemed “unnotable” because of a Wikipedia admin’s opinion: Gus Sorola’s life work was nominated for deletion because “[b]eing a computer technician and voice actor is not enough, not by a far stretch[.]” Weichbrodt highlights the admins’ disdain for celebrity nepotism, which leads to highly debatable claims in a supposedly objective forum. One of the artists up for deletion is nominated because “being related to a notable person in itself confers no degree of notability,” a claim that the Baldwin Brothers and every single high school could dispute.
As one of the few direct criticisms of Wikipedia’s deletion process, Dictionary of Non-Notable Artists carries a heavy weight. Gawker was the only major news source to dedicate a series of articles to questioning the validity of Wikipedia’s practices, but those articles mostly lingered on the oddity of individual Wikipedia articles. As the lone text standing up to one of the internet’s largest databases, Weichbrodt’s dictionary could have benefited from delving even deeper into these Wikipedia admins.
Recently I visited the Articles for Deletion Wikipedia page myself and chose a random Wikipedia admin to observe. The person I followed goes by the name SwisterTwister. When I found them, SwisterTwister was spending their afternoon arguing for the virtual deletion of eurodisco musician Michael Bedford. When I clicked on SwisterTwister’s name, I entered an entirely blank Wikipedia page. When I clicked on the “talk” link next to their name, I was allowed to peek into their conversations with other admins, which ranged from arguing semantics to inspirational cat photos. SwisterTwister is one of many people who decides what is and is not noteworthy on Wikipedia. SwisterTwister has no other name other than SwisterTwister. SwisterTwister, depending on where you click, is either a massive wall of white space or a bundle of work conversations.
Gregor Weichbrodt does not suggest in Dictionary of Non-Notable Artists that Wikipedia, one of the world’s largest and most user-dependent databases, could survive without admins. It would also be hard to expect anyone to edit such a database without any noticeable biases. But Weichbrodt does an excellent job proving, with the help of ten years of deleted articles and their reasons for nomination, that Wikipedia’s admins are operating with an unsophisticated and often antiquated view of what is or is not notable.
Notability and non-notability are volatile concepts on the internet. Often, a person’s sheer non-notability can propel them to the center of a community’s conversation. Wikipedia deemed the voice actress of young Krillin from the Dragon Ball franchise “unnoteworthy,” but tomorrow she might very well have her own dank meme stash on Facebook with thousands of followers (if Lincoln Chafee can make it, anyone can make it).
It is hard to fathom how much an artist’s web presence influences how they’re recognized and remembered. Wikipedia articles will no doubt continue to be a crucial component of any artist’s web presence for the foreseeable future. Weichbrodt labels his book a “dictionary,” and it is worrying but not impossible to think that Wikipedia’s admins are defining the careers of innumerable artists and closing the door on future conversations. Even as the internet’s communities embrace all things obscure, tangential, and unabashedly frivolous, Weichbrodt’s Dictionary of Non-Notable Artists is an excellent reminder that there are still human forces working to restrict our focus.