Forrest Wickman is a hero. Oh, not the kind you’ll read about in history books or in the morning paper, but still: There’s no other word for the service he’s performed in the name of cultural criticism.
You may have seen in the last week or so reports circulating that Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street had broken the record for the use of the F-word in a motion picture: Variety said so, as did Time, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Guardian, Fox News and the Today show. There’s just one problem. Every one of those pillars of the mainstream media neglected to perform an elemental function of journalism: checking their source. “According to Wikipedia” is good enough, at least for a quickie post and its corresponding traffic spike.
So Wickman took a two-pronged approach. He dug through the editing history of the relevant Wikipedia page to discern when and why the Wolf entry was added — Dec. 25, opening day, in response to a report on the parental-advisory site ScreenIt — and he conducted his own tally, which came to a whopping 544. He was transparent in his methodology, explaining that “Did the Emperor of Fucksville come down from fucking Fucksville?” would count three times, and even posted his raw data:
This is, mostly, good for a laugh — or ammunition for those who argue that Wolf is a work of unique moral turpitude. But it’s also a sobering reminder of how quickly a single piece of clickbait, especially one published by an outlet that’s historically mustered some claim to authority, can become fact, or at least close enough. In the space of an aggregration or two, “According to Wikipedia” becomes “Variety reports,” and then it’s off to the races. In this case, Variety, Time et al. turned out to be right, or right-ish. But the truth is they didn’t care if they were right, just that they had something to post — or, heaven forbid, print — on a slow news day. And that’s fucked up.
Update: Vulture’s Gilbert Cruz weighs in with his own totals, counting 569 effs to Wickman’s 544. More importantly, he has graphs to back it up.