June 9, 2022

#188 Into the Depths

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

Inspired by @depthsofwikipedia, this week we dive deeper into three of our favorite weird Wikipedia pages.


EMMANUEL DZOTSI: From Gimlet, this is Reply All, I’m Emmanuel Dzotsi.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman.

EMMANUEL: And Alex, you and I are joined actually by a new producer who’s been working with us the past couple of months. Her name is Kim Nederveen-Pieterse, hello Kim.

KIM NEDERVEEN-PIETERSE: Good job, Emmanuel, you pronounced that so well.

ED: Oh, good job on like your last name?

KIM: Yeah. [EMMANUEL laughs]

ALEX: I wasn't even going to attempt it.

EMMANUEL: I mean I've said it in credits like several times now.

KIM: That’s true. So, um, I am so excited to be here now because I wanted to talk to you guys about this one idea that I had for a thing we could do on the show today.

EMMANUEL: Uh huh. 

KIM: The idea comes from this social media account, and it’s called Depths of Wikipedia. And I have spent the last few months just eating this thing up. And I like it so much because I know that Wikipedia can be really dry and like go on forever. Uh, but the person behind this particular account does all of this work to surface the most like, obscure, strange, hidden gems in the Wikipedia universe. 

And I recently had the joy of talking to the person who made this.  

KIM: Ok I want to- I want to start with a question that may be formal but I like it, which is, can you introduce yourself?

ANNIE RAUWERDA: My name is Annie Rauwerda. I am a 22 year old, and I just graduated from the University of Michigan, and I post screenshots from Wikipedia on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram and the account is called Depths of Wikipedia.

So, a couple years ago, when Annie was a sophomore in college and Covid hit, she was spending a lot of time at home going through Wikipedia and getting lost in the strangeness that is there. 

KIM: Was there like, one particular thing that you came across on Wikipedia that made you feel like, “I want to share this with the world?” Like do you remember what your first post was?

ANNIE: Yeah, I was on an article basically about brain-to-body ratios in the animal kingdom [KIM: Uhuh.] and there was a little animal called the bony-eared assfish [KIM: Mmhm.] and it has the smallest brain-to-body ratio so it’s just really dumb and it’s an assfish and it made me laugh. 


KIM: The things that Annie finds it’s like, they all open doors into these weird little worlds.

And so that’s what I want us to do today. I want us to hang out in the depths of Wikipedia.

So, me and two other producers – Anna and Sanya – we have decided to take our favorite posts and go even deeper.


ALEX: So today on Reply All, we have three stories for you: cute aggression, the Pittsburgh toilet, and Guy Standing. 

That’s after the break.


ALEX: Welcome back to the show. Up first, Producer Sanya Dosani with cute aggression


SANYA DOSANI: When I saw that there’s actually a Wikipedia article for something called “cute aggression”, I was immediately like oh. I think my friend Marie has this.

And just for context, Marie’s the kind of person who, we could be having the most intense conversation, like two-way street of trauma dumping, and then a corgi walks by and she’s completely out of commission.

So I called her up. 


SANYA: Are you excited to hear what this is about?

MARIE: I’m honestly like, more nervous than I should be. There’s no reason to be nervous but I am.

SANYA: What does the phrase ‘cute aggression’ evoke for you?

MARIE: Oh my god. [SANYA laughs] It is both my religion, my burden, my obsession–

SANYA: Your pleasure, your pain.

MARIE: [laughing] I can’t…


MARIE: I think probably for as long as I’ve been sentient, I’ve had the urge to absolutely dropkick cute things. I like, squeeze my hands into a fist and I’m like oooph, I need to punch something.

SANYA: So yes, Marie has cute aggression. and honestly that explains so many bizarre things she's said. There was this one night when we were at her apartment watching Charlie’s Angels – the one with Lucy Liu, obviously. I was snuggling with her cat Jasper, and she kept saying she wanted to “throw his stupid little body against the wall.”

MARIE: I want to fucking roll him into a ball and punt him like a football, like straight through the endzone. 


MARIE: I regularly tell my cats that I wanna crush them, and I don’t actually, hopefully by this point in the story you’ve explained that it’s not that I actually want to harm them; it’s just that I’m experiencing an overwhelming amount of positiveness that will either come out in tears or in a misplaced emotional desire for aggression.

Now, at this point in the story I should probably explain that it’s not that Marie actually wants to harm them, it’s just that she’s experiencing an overwhelming amount of positiveness that will either come out in tears or a misplaced emotional desire for aggression. 

That's a distressing feeling! And it happens to Marie a lot. 

MARIE: I do think I have it worse than a lot of other people do. If I had to rate myself, I’d be like, an 11 out of 10 on the cute aggression scale. Like, does it interfere with my everyday life? Maybe a little bit.

SANYA: Why do you think you have it worse than most people?

MARIE: I don’t know if I have it worse. I mean, I definitely have it worse than you, you know? 

SANYA: Wow, drag me. 

MARIE: I’ve actually never had anyone be so confused by my cute aggression. Like, everytime I say something you’re like, “that’s fucked up dude.”

SANYA: That’s not true! I understand cute aggression!

It is true. I fundamentally do not understand cute aggression. When I see a corgi on the street, I register its cuteness and then I just keep walking, my hands relaxed by my sides, jaw loose as a goose.

So now I’m just wondering what’s going on in Marie’s brain that makes her want to dropkick her cats?



So I called up Dr. Oriana Aragon. 

ORIANA ARAGON: Hello! How are you?

SANYA: Good, how are you doing?

She is the person who, just seven years ago, published the first ever scientific paper on cute aggression. 

ORIANA: It hadn't been recognized in the literature, it had never been empirically investigated, and yes I did think of the term cute aggression.

SANYA: It's a great phrase.

ORIANA: [laughs] I didn't know it would take off like it did, I really didn't. 

She first noticed cute aggression a decade ago in 2012. She was watching Conan, the guest was this actress named Leslie Bibb.

LESLIE BIBB: Ooh that baby’s so cute I just want to punch it in the face [laughter].

As a grad student studying emotions and how people express them, Oriana had a million questions [MUSIC]  — is this is a special case? Does it only happen with cuteness? 

So she started studying cute aggression in the lab — she brought in volunteers…

ORIANA: And I hopped them up on baby photos. [laughing] And then I- I know, it was actually really fun to run.

She showed people photos of animal babies, human babies, human babies Photoshopped to make them extra cute– 

ORIANA: Large foreheads, big eyes, small mouths, big cheeks.

And then she measured how people responded with brain scans, questionnaires, and even bubble wrap — like, how many bubbles does a person pop when they see a computer-manipulated super cute baby?

And she's convinced that not only is cute aggression real, but it actually serves a useful function for people like Marie who tend to get all can’t-breathe-can’t-think-conked-out by cuteness. 

ORIANA: The people who were like, “Err, you know, I want to pinch it”, those people come back down off that baby high [laughs], you know, faster than the people who didn’t.

SANYA: Just having that aggression helps you come down off the baby high.

ORIANA: Yes, yeah, exactly. 


"Baby high." People – get ripped – on baby. That is weird to me; and it gets even weirder. Oriana said that sometimes a “baby high” makes the brain produce another contradictory-seeming emotion: "cute sadness.”


ORIANA: The corners of their mouth will go completely down and they'll go, “Oooh” [SANYA: Oh yeah!] like they're, like, so sad. [SANYA: Right.] And even their forehead wrinkles. Like, it was just like they saw the most horrible thing, so if you snapshot that and show it to people and you say, “What are they feeling?” they’re like, “Oh they’re overwhelmingly sad right now, and it’s like, “No they saw a cute baby.” 

Okay so at this point I’m lowkey spiraling, because, like duh, of course I’ve seen people do cute sadness – even done it myself – but I didn't realize that it's supposed to be an involuntary reflex.

I thought we were all doing it on purpose. You know, making a conscious choice to communicate, "Yes, I see and acknowledge that your baby is, in fact, cute."

Oriana is saying no, no, no — for other people it’s happening involuntarily; their brains are trying to emotionally regulate, because they literally cannot function due to the cuteness. And even though it seems like cute aggression and cute sadness are just random levers that the brain is panic-pulling, Oriana thinks that each of them is actually signaling something distinct to whoever is observing.


So imagine you’re walking down the street with something conventionally cute, like, I don't know, a human baby, and someone comes up and smiles.

ORIANA: I know that there’s positivity within their smile, and that they’re probably going to treat my baby well and there’s a really nice social signal.

But cute aggression and cute sadness are better signals. Let’s say someone comes up and they’re all like, “Oh my god, I just wanna pinch your baby’s chubby little cheeks!”

ORIANA: That’s giving extra information that they want to be extra sort of playful and rev that baby up, and they want to sort of roughhouse with my baby.

Which, maybe you're like, “No thanks, it's not rev up time, it's actually nap time.” But if someone comes up and they’re like, “Awwww what a cute baby”, in kind of a sad way, they like your baby too but they’re calmer and they’re probably aren't going to mess up the nap.

ORIANA: You just wanna see it and sort of marinate in the cuteness [laughs]. And that’s what our research shows. And so it might be the reason why it’s been evolutionarily preserved because it’s just a really good signal. A smile doesn’t deliver the extra information of how you’ll interact with the baby.

SANYA: The smile is actually the poker face in all these instances.

ORIANA: Yeah, exactly, yeah, it’s giving less information.

So, cute aggression, says Oriana — it's a societal glue, a communication tool. One that I personally have no use for.

Which is why I was so shocked to learn that sixty fucking percent of the population experiences it.


Statistically speaking, you, you sick freak listening to this right now, you probably do too!

And Oriana was pretty surprised, too —  once she started looking into it and poking around, she discovered that people all over the world had already named cute aggression in their own languages. In Indonesia they say gemas. In the Philippines they say gigil. In Guatemala they actually just call it “the thing,” like, “that puppy gives me the thing.”

It feels like I’m on this lonely island surrounded by a turbulent sea of cute aggressors.

And I like it here. I just think it's more relaxing this way. But it might not last. Because a couple of weeks ago something happened that made me realize that nobody — not even me — is totally immune to cute aggression.

Let me explain. 

When I first started working on this story, I was talking about it with my editor, Damiano Marchetti.

And like, cute aggression is very not Damiano. He’s a fellow inhabitant on my island of composure. He's famously level-headed, even frustratingly so. Like, he’s been described by colleagues of mine as possessing– 

TIM HOWARD: Equanimity to the extent of, like, full dissociation.

And serenity in the face of brewing conflict.

ANNA FOLEY: I call him flowy Damiano. He’s always just trying to smooth the waters, I feel.

But a couple weeks ago, Damiano messaged me that he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about our conversation about this story. Because, at 32 years of age, Damiano has fallen prey to cute aggression.

I asked him if I could interview him for this story. He said, and this is a direct quote, “oh hell no.”


DAMIANO MARCHETTI: Are you recording me?

SANYA: Mhmm.

DAMIANO: Oooookay. What.

SANYA: Ready?

DAMIANO: What, do you want me to just talk?

SANYA: I’ll ask- I’ll ask you some questions. [laughs] Um…

DAMIANO: Well I was- here, I’ll just tell you, I’ll just tell you it’s just like you told me about the cute aggression thing [sighs]. I don’t know, all of this is so humiliating, I don’t know why. But I’m just like oh god ughhhhhhh.

All right, I’ll say it: Damiano’s been feeling a lot of cute aggression lately – for his girlfriend.

DAMIANO: I’m not like an- like an extremely cutesy person, you know like some couples are like baby-wabying everything, do you know what I mean? [SANYA: Mmhmm.] Like that’s not me.

But these last few weeks it’s like his insides have turned to mush and he’s leaking love and tenderness from every single pore in his body. He’s way past baby-wabying, and somehow it’s still not enough.

DAMIANO: There's like an itch you can’t scratch, that’s what I feel like I have now. It’s like the roof- you know when like, the roof of your mouth is itchy? [SANYA: Mhm.] And like, I just have to, like, keep taking to take it to new extremes, like this morning I went up to her and was like, “You’re just so fucking cute, I just want to like- I want to peel your skin like a banana [SANYA laughs] and I want to, like, eat the insides like the- like the flesh of a banana” and I was like, “You’re fucking weird.” And I say shit like that to her all the time.

SANYA: [laughing] That’s evocative.

DAMIANO: And I feel like something’s wrong with my brain. 

Yeah, it’s called hormones. See, Damiano’s girlfriend is pregnant – and he said that’s the only thing he can think of that would have triggered these, quite honestly, deranged feelings.

SANYA: On a scale of like, 1 to peeling skin like a banana, where were you on the cute aggression scale pre-pregnancy?

DAMIANO: I was like a 2, man. I feel like her being pregnant has activated like, she has released some like, pheromone into the environment [SANYA: Mmhmm.] that we live in that has turned me into like a simpering sloppy mess. My girlfriend calls me a simp now. Like she’s like, “You are a fucking simp.”

SANYA: A simp for her, or for your baby?

DAMIANO: For her. For her. [SANYA: Okay] I just follow her around the house like, “I want to core you like an apple.”

Even though to me all of this just sounds really exhausting, Damiano was like, well it’s not bad, it’s kind of like when a 16 year old is caught up in the turmoil of a debilitating crush.

SANYA: You feel like a teenager is what you’re saying.

DAMIANO: A little bit.

SANYA: I think it's nice. I think anytime that you get to feel like a teenager as an adult [DAMIANO: Is great, right?] is great and you should savor that for sure.

DAMIANO: Yeah and as you like, get older your feelings just get like a lot more tempered, like, the dark stuff is darker and the light stuff is less light, you know? Do you know what I mean? Can you embarrass yourself now because I’ve embarrassed myself? 


I would have chosen death over admitting this to Damiano in that moment, but listening to him describe those feelings made me a little jealous. Like, maybe I'm missing out on something great. ‘Cos I don't actually think his brain is malfunctioning, it just kinda seems like he is about to start an exciting new phase of life and he’s actually getting to indulge in every ounce of that excitement.

And so maybe it’s actually very beautiful and correct that Damiano is so overwhelmed by tenderness for the mother of his unborn child that he wants to quote “crawl under her skin like a worm you get in the river and kill her.”

DAMIANO: But in a cute way.


ALEX: After the break, more from the depths.


ALEX: Welcome back to the show. Next up, producer Anna Foley with the Pittsburgh Toilet.


ANNA: If you’ve ever used a Pittsburgh toilet, and I mean this with 100 percent sincerity, you are brave. 

Because a Pittsburgh toilet is a toilet installed in the basement of a home that has no walls surrounding it – no door – it just sits completely exposed to the vast expanse of the basement. 

So say, nature calls and you go to use your PIttsburgh toilet. You’re sitting there, and you’re just trying to let nature run its course. And absolutely anybody – your mom, your cousin, your nosey next door neighbor who somehow has a key to your home – can just open the door to your basement and see…everything. 

I mean, c’mon now. It is not just my Southern prudery talking here. That is literally a nightmare!  Why would anybody in their right mind choose to install one of these in their homes, let alone use it?!  

I had never heard of this horrifying toilet until I came across the Depths of Wikipedia entry for it. Which was odd for me, personally. My dad’s whole family is from Pittsburgh. I used to visit there all the time. 

I know about Primanti's and the pierogi run at PNC Park and the horrible merge lane on Fort Pitt Bridge. So why have I never heard of the Pittsburgh toilet?


ANNA: Dad? 


ANNA: Hey! Can you hear me? 

JOHN: How come I can't– yeah I can hear you. How come I can't see you? 

ANNA: I called you Facetime Audio. I just– I Facetime Audio'ed you. 

JOHN: That's crazy! 

ANNA: It's not crazy. 

JOHN: If you want to pick the least likely way to get ahold of me, that would be it. [laughing]

I figured my Dad, born and raised there, could tell me about the Pittsburgh toilet. But when I asked…  

ANNA: Did Uma and Papa have one in the house that I went to when I was a kid? 

JOHN: No. And I never had one. 


JOHN: Um, we had basements in both of the houses that they had in Pittsburgh and we never had one. Any basement that I can think of that I was in,  in like, high school or what not, there was no toilet so I was a little bit surprised that it had a name. 

ANNA: Uh huh. And it was the name of the place you grew up and had never seen one before? 

JOHN: I've never heard anybody call a toilet in the basement a "Pittsburgh toilet."


I was not expecting that. Like are Pittsburgh toilets more lore than reality at this point?

So I decided to call the one person I know who might know Pittsburgh better than my dad.  


JOE: Hello?

ANNA: Hi Joe!

JOE: Can you hear me now? 

ANNA: Yeah, I can hear you. 

JOE: Good. [ANNA laughs]

My friend Joe, from college. I tell him there’s a thing I need to ask him. 

ANNA: …that I think could really help me understand this which is, um, the Pittsburgh toilet? 

JOE: Let's go! 

ANNA: [laughing] Ok, ok, so you know what it is?

JOE: I know what it is. 

ANNA: What is your first memory of one? 

JOE: I want to say it was high school. 

ANNA: Ok. 

JOE: It was high school and it was- it was- I can't recall the person's house but it was someone was having a party and there was a toilet there in the basement. I mean so yeah, it was just, you know, wall-to-wall high schoolers and- 

ANNA: -and a toilet. 

JOE: And a toilet. No one was using it thank god. We all had the common decency among us to ... that we knew that was the line that we weren't gonna cross. 

ANNA: I guess I have to ask though, have you ever used a Pittsburgh toilet? 

JOE: I have not. 

ANNA: Oh, Joe! 

JOE: Every time I run into one I'm with a group of people! Do I lose points? Am I penalized for that? 

Joe does lose points in this particular assignment. I think he scores a solid C. Like, yes, he helped me confirm that Pittsburgh toilets do exist to this day, but he can’t speak to the experience of using one. 

So I asked Joe - is there anybody you know who might have a Pittsburgh toilet? 

JOE: Probably my brother's friend. His name is John Ballog. 

ANNA: Ok. 


John, Joe told me, is what they call a Yinzer. A lifelong, dyed in the wool, never missed a Fish Fry during Lent in his life, lover of Pittsburgh.  

JOE: Did a couple of summers selling beers at PNC Park during Pirates’ games. He's got a Turners Tea sticker on the back of his car. 

ANNA: What does that mean? 

JOE: Uh Turner's Tea is uh, a local brand of iced tea made in Pittsburgh. [ANNA: Yeah.]  In the past couple of years it's sort of been marketed as Yinzer fuel.

ANNA: [laughing]

JOE: As a matter of fact.

John was at home when I talked to him - his new home, actually. He’d just bought it from his grandma. And he was really excited about it.

ANNA: Like before you bought it,  [JOHN: Mhm.] can you describe it for me? What- what did it look like? How did she decorate it? [JOHN: Mhm.]  Kinda paint me a picture?

JOHN: Um, well, luckily I don't need to paint it because it still looks like it. 

ANNA: [laughing]

He showed me the living room, floor-to-ceiling fake wood. 

JOHN: She has, um, panel walls. 

ANNA: Uh huh, peak 80s. 

The kitchen backsplash that looks like it was painted like brick.  

JOHN: So I'm thinking about what I'm going to do with all of that.

And then, the basement.

JOHN: So I just walked down these stairs here. 

ANNA: Ok. Pretty narrow. 

JOHN: Very- very steep. 

ANNA: Yep.

JOHN: Um, it's ver- it's unfinished. 

ANNA: Uh huh, ok. 

JOHN: Nothing's really ever been done to it. Here's the chimney that goes through the house. We actually used to like ride our bikes around this chimney growing up. [ANNA: Yeah] And there's the toilet too... 

ANNA: Oh my god! [MUSIC] There's the Pittsburgh toilet! Oh my god.

The toilet was wedged in a corner of the basement, up against a cinderblock wall, right next to John’s half-packed moving boxes. It was sitting on its own pedestal of poured concrete, and directly faced the door to John’s backyard. Honestly, aesthetically, it fit in. 

ANNA: And you have toilet paper down there too. Very dignified. 

JOHN: Yeah, exactly. No like, um, shower curtain or anything.

I mean, back in the day what people would do was, you know they could park their car out in- out in that garage back there, right? [ANNA: Mhm.] Um, if they were a mill worker or whatnot, and I still do this, like, if I am dirty outside, I will walk directly down into here and I can go to the slop sink and clean up where I have a drain down here and I can go to the bathroom too, without really having to go back upstairs or worrying about dirtying you know like, dirtying up my one toilet upstairs if I'm dirty or-

ANNA: So you've- you’ve- you’ve used your Pittsburgh toilet. It's not- it’s not just for show. 

JOHN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, it is- no, no, no, no, it is not for show. Definitely not for show.


John does actually use his Pittsburgh toilet. He's fearless. But weirdly, the more I looked into it, I learned that Pittsburgh toilets weren’t really meant to be used at all, at least, not as actual toilets. They were installed as a sort of an overflow valve to deal with fickle sewage systems. By having a toilet in the lowest part of your house, it meant that if there was a sewage overflow, it went to your basement, not into your nice, “have company over” bathroom upstairs. 

Lots of cities all over the Northeast had them. But Pittsburgh is the place where these toilets stuck. It’s the place where they grew from a plumbing solution to a legend. The one John just told me about, the one about the mill workers. I’ve also heard it also about steel workers, coal miners - all of the people who, for a lot of Pittsburgh’s history, were the lifeblood of the place. 

Those people, they’ve mostly disappeared. But in a lot of ways, Pittsburgh is still strangely frozen in time, more than anywhere else I've been in the US. Whenever my family goes up there, my dad takes us on a driving tour of his neighborhood. And it’s sweet. I get to see everything the way that he saw it when he was a kid – his old street… 

JOHN: The house I grew up in, the elementary school I went to.

His first job.

JOHN: Cool Spring Driving Range.

ANNA: [laughs] I didn’t know you worked at a driving range. 

JOHN: I worked at a driving range.

ANNA: What did you do?

JOHN: I picked up golf balls. I was too young to work at night…

You just feel closer to history there.

JOHN: Whenever I’m always walking around going, “Oh look. There’s that, there’s that” and everything. That’s where I grew up.

And you can see that history everywhere, like even in the toilet that’s sitting all by itself in the middle of the basement. 

In its own way, it's beautiful.


ALEX: And now, Kim Nederveen-Pieterse with Guy Standing


KIM: So the post that I got interested in is about this page on Wikipedia, for someone whose name is Guy Standing. First name Guy. Last name Standing. 

And in 2014, the main picture on Guy’s Wikipedia page was of him in a beige blazer, powder blue polo, and he is sitting in a chair. And someone saw this and decided to change the caption of his Wikipedia picture so that it says, “Guy Standing sitting.” 

A tiny joke. 


But big enough apparently to start a battle on his Wikipedia page. 


For 7 years now, editors have removed the joke, saying "it has no place here" — and vandals put it back, saying "yes it does!" A screenshot of the joke went viral, throwing way more fuel on the fire.

I love it because it’s like you’re seeing the best of Wikipedia – this careful structure that makes this huge crowdsourced encyclopedia work at all – except it’s fritzing out on the silliest possible slice of it, kind of like watching a Roomba get caught in the corner of the living room.

Everyone seemed to have an opinion about the joke except arguably the one person that actually mattered: Guy Standing. I wanted to know what he thought of the joke. 

So I decided to reach out to him. But as soon as I sat down and went just the tiniest bit deeper on who he is – I know this sounds absurd – but I started feeling really nervous. 

Guy Standing, it turns out is no joke. Guy Standing is probably the most serious man this could have possibly happened to. 

MINTON: I'm Zanny Minton Beddoes from The Economist, uh, with me is Guy Standing.  

SPEAKER 1: For many of you, Guy needs no introduction. But for those who don't know his work, Guy is one of the leading advocates for basic income worldwide.

Guy Standing is 74 years old. A professor at a university in London, a senior official and consultant to the UN. 

SPEAKER 2: Cofounder of the Basic Income Earth Network and leading expert in labor economics. 

MINTON: But he's also I think, and forgive me, I think he's become the moral conscience or one of the moral consciences of the WEF.

Guy’s best known for this term he coined, "the precariat," to describe the countless people who live on the edge of poverty — and he's spent his entire life trying to make their lives better.

So, yeah, I’m feeling pretty fucking sheepish when I send him that email and I tell him that I’d like to talk about his Wikipedia page. That I imagine he knows what I’m referring to. 

I am reaching right past all of the things he cares about — and reaching straight for the fluff.

And Guy writes back and says he'll talk. 

KIM: Hello?


GUY STANDING: Hello? Can you hear me? 

KIM: I can hear you. Can you hear me?


STANDING: Yup. I can. Clearly.

KIM: Will you- will you just introduce yourself? Yeah kind of, what’s your name?


STANDING: Okay. I'm Guy Standing. I've been a professor of economics at various universities, and I — many years ago founded the Basic Income Earth Network, where we've been piloting basic income, promoting basic income around the world. My main books are about rentier capitalism, about the growth of the precariat as a new class in the world, and about economic insecurities that, that are multiplying. So that's a brief overview.


KIM: So I find this stuff  [laughs] really interesting and I feel, yeah, very kind of silly and to be honest, a little embarrassed because of all of the very important work that you do, the thing that I reached out to you about is perhaps the dumbest thing on your very extensive Wikipedia page.


STANDING: I'm longing to hear what it is.


KIM: Uh, I, I will tell you about it in a moment. And so, uh, I just want to ask how, how familiar are you with that page and with like the joke around it? Is it something that like takes up space in your life?


STANDING: I, I can honestly say I've never looked at it.


KIM: Incredible. Incredible. [laughing]


STANDING: I, I was told by somebody that it exists.


KIM: Okay.


STANDING: But I've never looked at it.


KIM: Okay.


STANDING: And I'm not going to do so after this conversation either, but, but what is the joke?


KIM: We'll, we'll get into the joke probably much more [laughs] than you want to. Um, so, uh, essentially — okay, so the place that I want to start is that in 2016, a meme went viral, right? So a little, you know, screenshot of a part of your Wikipedia page and it was of this joke. And I think what I want to do is tell you both what that screenshot is tell you what the screenshot is and then read you the discussion that happened on the talk page. 


STANDING: Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.


KIM: And what I would love to know by the end of it is whether or not you think the joke should be there 


STANDING: My goodness.


KIM: Ok so the first time the joke shows up on your discussion page is in February of 2015. Someone makes a request to edit the caption of your profile picture, which is you reclining in some chairs at a conference and they want the caption to say, "Guy Standing sitting." 


KIM: And it was rejected. And then a few years later, somebody says, “Reinstate the sitting photo. Humor in education is a well known and endorsed method of increasing learning.”


And then they cite an article from the American Psychological Association, that's the APA, to support them.




KIM: And then somebody says, “Wikipedia is meant to be formal and factual, not funny or opinionated.” And then somebody says, “Yes, but it is factual. It's in fact more factual than the current revision because the man is in fact sitting.” And then somebody says, “No, we don't caption the lead image on Stephen Hawking, ‘Hawking sitting in the 1980s’, because that would be stupid.” And then somebody says, “Of course you don't, because Stephen Hawking was pretty much always sitting. Guy Standing, on the other hand, dot dot dot.”




KIM: And so I think the question that I have to ask you is, um, where do you stand on this?  

STANDING: [laughing] My goodness. What a waste of people's time, I'd have thought. It's sad.


KIM: So? So why? Why do you say that?


STANDING: Well, I think one of the sad things about social media —


KIM: Mm-hmm?


STANDING: And that goes to Wikipedia    is how it superficializes connectivity. And how, how it trivializes our use of time.


KIM: Hm.


STANDING: And it plays not in this particular case, although it's a joke, that I don't think is particularly funny, it's a schoolboy [KIM: Mm-hmm.] level joke, uh, uh, playing on your, your name and playing games with that. I've had to put up with that, all the whole of my life. You know, the funniest one is that when I make, make love to a woman, there's always a misunderstanding.


KIM: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait —


STANDING: Now that one, I much prefer.


KIM: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.  

STANDING: No. If I make love to a young woman, right? There is a “miss” understanding. Got it? Because a misunderstanding, you're playing on the word "misunderstanding", you see? So a miss a miss being, a woman —


KIM: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.


STANDING: Under — you got it now?


KIM: [laughs] Yeah.


STANDING: You got it now. I mean, you know, I can —


KIM: [laughing]


STANDING: I, I — okay? Now, I mean, that's, that's to me — 


KIM: An unmarried young woman.


STANDING: That is hardly amusing — exactly. Exactly. But, but there are a lot of people who have far worse names than, than mine for being teased.  

I, I just feel that we are at the moment, when all of us should be devoting as much time as possible to getting a better world. We're talking with the background of a disgusting war. And as it happens, we're talking on the same day that we've heard that the Supreme Court in the United States is going to throw out Roe vs. Wade, which is a terrible step back. And that's what we're really concerned about. 

And when you see Wikipedia, which is a commons [KIM: Mm-hmm.] and you see that process being subject to trivialization?


KIM: Mm-hmm.


STANDING: Then I, I find, you know, my humor is stretched. But the joke is fine, I don’t mind the joke. If it amuses people. 

But, but I hope that in that it draws people's attention to the serious messages that I've been trying to convey through my work. And if, if, if it's a little aside that draws people to smile, that's great. Because we need a little humor in our lives, especially at this horrible time. 

KIM: Okay, okay. Well, thank you for humoring me on all of that.


STANDING: And it’s good that we’re both smiling at the end of it. So that’s ok. 



KIM: Um yeah, so I- I would love to take also the time and the fact that we are here, um, to talk about some of the ideas on your page. If there's one thing that you would want people to learn from stopping by your page for this kind of useless thing, what would that be?


STANDING: Without a doubt, I would want them to understand that a basic income as a right of every individual in every society is a realistic possibility. It should be a source of joy that we could find the means to make sure that every man, every woman, every child each month can get a modest amount of income as a right. We're there to meet their basic needs. And I just hope that your generation, if you like, are going to take this up. 

And if you can mix that with good humor, good company, good sex, good whatever else you want, then that's great. But we must, we must take a different approach. And, and that, I think, is the key message I want to give you. And I want all of us to give it to each other.


Today’s episode of Reply All was produced by me, Kim Nederveen-Pieterse, Sanya Dosani, Anna Foley, and Phia Bennin. It was edited by Tim Howard.

This episode also wouldn’t have happened without the rest of the Reply All team, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Alex Goldman, Damiano Marchetti, Lisa Wang, Bethel Habte, and Aaron Edwards.

Our intern is Sam Gebauer. This episode was mixed by Sam Bair, with fact-checking by Isabel Cristo, and music and sound design by Luke Williams. Additional music by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, Mariana Romano, and Tim Howard. 

Special thanks to Kalila Holt, Katherine Stavropoulos, Michelle Harris, Sadia Ali, Samantha Krabbe and the Wikipedia editor known as formaldude. 

Also, Damiano’s baby is here! Welcome to the world teeny, tiny person! 

Thank you for listening.