Monday, April 16, 2012

Haring Mystery

As soon as I saw this sculpture near Battery Park in Manhattan, the name Keith Haring jumped out at me:

I don't know how I know that it's a Keith Haring sculpture. I don't know where I learned his name, or anything whatsoever about him, other than a distinctive style I can identify but can't describe. What characterizes Haring's style? I don't know. To borrow a famous quote from a supreme court justice, I just know it when I see it.

There's another of his sculptures close by:

Are they fighting or doing it?

Whatever else it is, Haring's style is joyful, playful, and simple. I like that.


Recently, in an attempt to google myself (searching for "timblog"), I discovered another Tim Who Blogs. The other Tim is gay and much funnier than me, and recently wrote about a Haring exhibit he went to in Brooklyn.

This exhibit featured "So many dicks, y'all. So many dicks."

This is a side of Haring I was familiar with, but then again, I don't know anything about him. Is he gay? Is he still alive? What does he look like? No idea.


So to fill in this gap in my cultural intelligence, I turned to Wikipedia. I skimmed the article on Keith Haring, mostly ignoring all the arty academic talk, and tried to get a sketch of the man. There wasn't much. He died in 1990, at only 31, of AIDS-related complications.

Keith Haring, 1958-1990

The oddest thing: the article itself never mentions if Haring was gay. The only confirmation I get is that the tags at the bottom of the article include "Gay artists" and "LGBT artists from the United States."

This seemed like a strange omission, and since Wikipedia is edited by anyone and everyone, I started to get suspicious. Did homophobes not want people to know that he was gay? Or did gays not want to perpetuate the stereotype of the gay man with AIDS? Was it a political thing? Or did people simply think his sexuality was not important? There is no section on Personal Life in this entry, which you often get on Wikipedia bios. So maybe people just wanted to protect his privacy.

In an attempt to find the truth, I did something I've never done before. I looked through Wikipedia's revisions. Hundreds and hundreds of edits to this article have been logged over the years. Looking through them all is quite a harrowing (haring?) experience.

For many years, up until 2011, this sentence appeared in the section on "Early Life":

At age 19 Haring, who was openly gay, moved to New York City, where he was inspired by graffiti art, and studied at the School of Visual Arts.

Since that sentence is no longer on the current page, I had to dig through hundreds of revisions to look for when it was taken out, and maybe there would be a clue as to why. I had some theories, and one of them had to do with trolls. Every once in a while some idiot would vandalize his entry with a juvenile homophobic line like "His life was full of dicks and buttholes." I wondered if they removed the reference to his being gay to avoid that? That would be very disappointing.


In January, 2011, several incidents of vandalism on the Keith Haring Wikibio started with this edit: "Born in Reading, I turned gay Pennsylvania, Haring grew up in Kutztown and was interested in art from an early age."

Someone had inserted "I turned gay" into the opening sentence. Hilarious.

This further devolved into, "Born in Reading he turned gay which means loving other men. Haring grew up in Kutztown and was interested in art from an early age..." Eventually this addendum was also added to the end of the first paragraph: "n e He was a epic man!!!"

Clearly, some stupid kids were being dumbasses.

When this paragraph was cleaned up, ALL references to Haring being gay were removed, so it now just read, "At age 19 Haring, moved to New York City, where he was inspired by graffiti art, and studied at the School of Visual Arts." The only comment the editor made was, "Early life: rm vandalism"

And I guess the reference to Haring's sexuality never returned. Which is a shame, because the only reason it was removed was to stop/clean up vandalism by a stupid kid. Why let the vandals win?

A few days later, someone added, "he was gay" to the end of the first paragraph. Without any context, it's hard to know whether this was vandalism or just someone who thought it was important knowledge. It was removed immediately.

I don't know what to make of all of this, but I think it's an interesting story on the nature of Wikipedia.

So many dicks y'all, so many dicks.


Anonymous said...

I know one cannot assume all facts on the internet are true, but I did not realize that an established artical could be changed, such as a Wikipedia one.

I owe you one!


Tim said...

Have you never heard of Wikipedia, PK? There are no "established articles," it is constantly being updated/edited by anyone and everyone. That is how Wikipedia works.