Review of Bigipedia radio series
- Bigipedia is a Pozzitive Production for BBC Radio 4. Episode 4 will be available on the BBC iPlayer until late night on Thursday 20th August, 2009.
BBC Radio 4's recent comedy series Bigipedia has provided me at least with some food for thought as a Wikipedian.
For those who did not listen to the series or live outside the UK, Bigipedia is a four-episode long radio sketch show described by the BBC Press Office as, "a unique experiment in 'broadwebcasting'". It recreates for radio the experience of exploring a Wikipedia-like website, essentially a parody of Wikipedia.
Bigipedia shares many things that Wikipedia has, including articles (some featured), discussion pages and disambiguation pages, and audiovisual content. However, Bigipedia has its own vast range of unique "Bigi" functions, including music software programme Bigiband, health care service Bigimedic, dating service Bigiromance (which does not actually exist) and children's site Bigikids (which is no longer called Kidipedia "due to a misunderstanding"). Unlike Wikipedia, Bigipedia also has advertising, and suffers from a bombardment of pop-ups; the whole project is sponsored by a drink called Chianto ("Officially recognised by the EU as a wine-type product").
The series has managed to get quite a lot of favourable reviews from the press and it is easy to see why. There is a considerable amount of high quality writing. Mind you, the amount of writing itself is considerable. Even for a radio show, the sheer amount of wordy material is phenomenal.
Personally, my favourite sketches are the disambiguation pages. With these sketches, a term is used—for example, "Nazi gold"—and like its Wikipedia counterpart, a Bigipedia disambiguation page lists a range of different articles all about things connected to Nazi gold. However, with this being a comedy show, the disambiguation pages are starting points for a whole range of jokes using this subject: the disambiguation term is the punch line, and all the article descriptions are different jokes with the exact same pay off. So articles about Nazi gold on Bigipedia include "the now discontinued breakfast cereal", "the unacceptably nostalgic radio station" and "the colour of Jimmy Savile's tracksuit".
When I first listened to Bigipedia, I was not listening to it as a comedy show, but as a dedicated Wikipedian, I felt a bit like how certain rock stars must have felt when they watched Spinal Tap for the first time, thinking it was a documentary rather than a mockumentary. So as I listened to the first episode, I was constantly trying to point out things like: "Well, that's rubbish. Wikipedia doesn't accept advertising", or, "Perhaps Wikipedia should have a children's section. Then again, maybe not."
However, I do feel that rather than just attacking Wikipedia as a piece of inaccurate rubbish like some comedians, the writers have treated it more favourably. It is a bit like Stephen Colbert with his notions of "Wikiality", although his comments did lead to a huge wave of vandalism. Bigipedia is not just a mockery of Wikipedia, but of many of the annoying or ominous aspects of the modern internet, whether it be biased opinions, shoddy homemade websites, dating websites or the rising power of other websites. The final episode in a series featured a parody of Google Street View and saw Bigipedia slowly taking over the world from their base in the Philippines. Also, the principal writers for the series have attempted to edit Wikipedia to see for themselves what it is like and some of the sketches are directly inspired by actual Wikipedia articles. A sketch from the third episode about the "Bee Whisperer", the only person on the planet who keeps bees for their company and not their honey, was inspired by an article that was discovered by the "Random article" function.
Overall I found Bigipedia to be a very enjoyable series and I for one hope that it gets a second series soon.