Earlier this month, someone created a Wikipedia page for Barbenheimer, the internet phenomenon inspired by the simultaneous release of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, two highly anticipated movies with rave reviews that are expected to bring in millions at the box office this summer. The creation of the Wikipedia page was followed by weeks of debate about how the page should be organized, where it should live, what images should be included, if Barbie’s full name needed to be a part of it, and if all of this should just be deleted.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Barbenheimer is an online meme referencing the fact that the Barbie movie and Oppenheimer were released in theaters on the same day, July 21. While it has certainly picked up steam in the last few weeks, the actual origins of the meme date back to April 2022, when WB Discovery announced that the then-upcoming Barbie film would be released on July 21, 2023. Internet users quickly noticed that was the same release date for Oppenheimer and soon began making jokes about seeing the two movies on the same day. From there, fan art, custom t-shirts, and poster mash-ups were created and spread all over social media. Even actors involved with the films have acknowledged Barbenheimer.
So, a pop culture phenomenon of Barbenheimer proportions certainly warrants a Wikipedia page. I mean, it’s not like the creation of this page would lead to an online war, right?
On July 1, Wikipedia user Freoh created a redirect for Barbenheimer. Anyone who searched Wikipedia for the online phenomenon would be “redirected” to the Oppenheimer film article. A few minutes later, Freoh changed their mind and redirected users to the Barbie movie page instead. According to Freoh, the reason for the change was that it seemed like “the Barbie movie people have embraced it more.”
A few hours later, Wikipedia user Manasbose got involved. This user didn’t think the meme should be a redirect. Instead, they thought it deserved its very own Wikipedia page. So they quickly created one and started to expand on it. As pointed out by the Twitter account, Depths of Wikipedia, the first hours of the Barbenheimer page were wild. In its infancy, the page suggested that “Oppenbarbie” was a common alternative name for the meme. For the next few hours, it was mostly just Manasbose and some other users editing and expanding the page.
Then more users got involved. On July 10, user Shmoovyshlasagna removed the alt name Oppenbarbie and added a comment that “nobody cool” says that. “That shit scrapes my whole mouth,” said Shmoovyshlasagna. “Barbenheimer rolls smoothly. Think about it.”
At this point, the page was growing fast, with lots of edits being made, sections being changed, entire parts of it being deleted, and then all of it changed again by dozens of users. Some wanted Pikmin 4 thrown into the mix, as it also was set to launch on July 21. Some wanted better, less ugly images of Barbie. And some wanted it all gone.
On July 11, user InfiniteNexus nominated the Barbenheimer page for deletion. They explained that they weren’t sure why this article was created, suggesting this was just one of the dozens of viral memes that pop up every year. They believed that the page didn’t need to exist and instead, a short section about the phenomenon could be included in the articles about the films Barbie and Oppenheimer
“It is unlikely that this topic will receive significant, sustained coverage,” said InfiniteNexus. “And even if it does, it is too early to tell at this stage, when neither film has even been released.”
When an article on Wikipedia is nominated for deletion, other users weigh in on the matter and vote for what they think should happen next. Many times, these conversations aren’t too intense or lengthy. This is some really behind-the-scenes, deep-in-the-bowels of Wikipedia shit that most people who use the site never engage with or think about.
But that wasn’t the case this time. Instead, the request for deletion page for Barbenheimer exploded.
Some editors cited the 20-Year Test, an old Wikipedia standard that suggests only things that will be remembered or understood in 20 years should receive articles. They believed this online meme didn’t pass the test and that in a few years, nobody would care about the Barbenheimer phenomenon.
However, the vast majority of Wikipedia editors involved disagreed and began voting en masse to keep the page alive. Many cited that Barbenheimer had grown beyond a simple internet meme and was actually affecting ticket sales, was being talked about by Hollywood stars, and was being reported on by reputable outlets like Variety, IGN, etc. Others also pointed out that there was too much information in the article to simply dump it all into the Barbie and Oppenheimer movie pages. And in the future, the Barbenheimer page could even provide useful information and context for researchers looking to better understand the whole phenomenon.
After five days, nearly 100 different editors voted and only about 20 suggested the page be deleted or merged into the main films’ articles. In comparison, most deletion debates only get a dozen or so votes and often end in the page being killed. But not this time. On July 16, after thousands of words had been written across multiple sections of Wikipedia’s often unseen bureaucratic channels, Barbenheimer was allowed to live.
Though the war over the page’s existence was settled, people weren’t done fighting.
A quick peek at Barbeheimer’s talk page (a more behind-the-scenes forum where editors discuss changes and tweaks) reveals various debates about the article.
For example, there was a lot of controversy over including Barbie’s full name in the caption below the page’s top photo. This eventually evolved into people suggesting the caption should also include Oppenheimer’s full name and nickname, Oppie, too. Another debate happened over which photo of Barbie should even be used in the article.
Things have finally calmed down over on the Barbenheimer Wikipedia page after weeks of arguments. Most of the recent edits are minor, fixing typos, adding new links, or rearranging sentences.
However, the war is likely not over—some of the editors involved with the page’s deletion nomination suggested they might return to the debate in a few months, assuming nobody will care by then.
But I know the internet. I know Wikipedia editors. Someone will still care. And nobody is going to give up an inch on this digital battlefield, even if it means fighting for months or years over a page about a silly meme.