andrew burke





Dogwhistling Wikipedia

Posted on: 2014-10-06

I was idly surfing through Wikipedia today, as I often do, and I came across the entry for Vladimir Lenin. As with many Wikipedia entries, the first section gives an overview of all the important facts about the subject before digging deeper into specifics. Predictably, it covers his early life, his revolutionary activities, his rise to power, the creation of the Soviet state, his death, and his legacy.

However, a passage in the middle of this section caught my eye. Here's what it says as of about 8pm ADT October 6 2014:

Notice that? Somehow the most important things about the creation of the Soviet state are that homosexuality, abortion, and divorce were legalized, and everyone got access to birth control, free healthcare, and free education.

What about the civil war? The censorship? Ordering the executions of the Tsar and his family? Or how about equal rights for women? Or the New Economic Policy? Or maybe the mass industrialization, electrification, and urbanization that dragged a nation of peasants into the twentieth century? Lenin certainly got a lot more done in his career than reforming health care.

Why are these particular topics the first ones mentioned in this article? Because they're current hot-button political issues in the United States, key things that conservatives are fighting against. Abortion is mentioned twice!

You know who else wants divorce, birth control, and abortion rights? Liberals. You know who else is for homosexuality and free health care? President Obama. Clearly, that makes them just as evil as the seditious dictator who founded the Soviet Union.

This is an interesting new tactic in the culture wars: a post directly on the Obama page saying he wants to turn the USA into a Soviet state wouldn't survive the editors very long, but rearranging facts on the Lenin page to highlight the ways he's "just like an American liberal" seems to have slipped through. These are cross-referenced facts, so they can't just be removed, but it's their placement that sends the extra message.

It's a subtle thing, and seems to be a new kind of dog whistling - a subtle use of terms and juxtaposition of statements that make a political point that's "beyond normal hearing". I'm sure this is being done by the left, too, but I noticed this example first (and yes I checked the Hitler entry, and there's nothing there about, say, "Homeland Security" in the preamble).

But now, some kid in seventh grade in Iowa or wherever who has been assigned to do a paper on Lenin will look up the article and his main takeaway might be "huh, he was just like Obama."

Previous: The Charming Decrepit Textures of Venice
Next: Venice: The Details