1Gwen Stacy's Death in Amazing Spider Man #121
The panel in question, and the subsequent letters page
Forty years ago, nerddom went insane because of one sound effect.
In Amazing Spider Man #121
published in 1973, Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed off (oops, spoiler alert!), but it's HOW she died that caused such a conundrum. Gwen fell from a bridge and Spider Man attempted to catch her by shooting a web. Because the word “snap” appeared by her head, it was suggested that the in his attempt to save Gwen, he actually broke her neck. However, the Green Goblin says: “She was dead before your webbing reached her!” There was so much debate about who was responsible that fans flooded Marvel with letters asking for clarification. But even when they printed an editorial to say that Spider Man did indeed accidentally kill her, the debate raged on and even inspired a physics lecture you can watch below:
2“The” Beatles vs. “the” Beatles
The or the?
There are a lot of debates on Wikipedia (see #4) but this one was particularly intense and it's just about capitalization.
There is a faction of people that believe that John, Paul, George, and Ringo, aka The Beatles, should be referred to as “the” Beatles (lowercase) because of Wikipedia style manuals; they add that in 1970 and John Lennon said it was a lowercase “the” to further prove their point. Others say the "The" is a crucial part of the name that is trademarked. This Wiki-fight got so out of hand that some people were banned from discussion, some quit contributing, and the debate reached the pages of the Wall St. Journal. It looks like the lowercases prevailed, and you can read the whole bloody argument here.
3Toilet Paper: Over vs. Under
Proper bathroom etiquette is the fodder for this strange fight. In this case, it's those that hang their toilet tissue rolls with the paper rolling over the top against those that prefer the tissue coming out from underneath. The tissue issue became so widespread, advice columnist Ann Landers received over 15,000 letters supporting one side or the other. Ann herself chose the “under” camp, but she is in the minority; according to several polls, around 70% of Americans prefer the “over.”
4List of World Wrestling Entertainment Employees
Wikipedia is the current battleground for many virtual arguments (as shown in #2). Researchers from several higher learning institutions, including the University of Oxford decided to see which Wikipedia pages have the most edits, a sure sign of heavy debating. While most of the contentious pages were hardly surprising (George W. Bush, Global Warming, Christianity) one of the top ten was the list of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) employees. Apparently these revolve around the status and/or role of certain professional wrestlers that cause so much ire. See for yourself all the edits here.
5The Monty Hall Problem
“Are you SURE you don't want to switch your answer?”
Math/Logic problems are often the subject of debate, but this is perhaps the granddaddy of them all. It's called “The Monty Hall Problem” named after the host of the popular game show “Let's Make a Deal!” It became subject of a national uproar when it appeared in an “Ask Marilyn” column in Parade magazine in 1990. The “problem” is this: you are on a game show with 3 doors, one of which has a car on the other side, the others have a goat. You choose Door #1. Before showing you what you've won, Monty shows you what's behind one of the other doors – a goat – and asks you if you would still like what's behind Door #1. The question is, is it to your advantage to switch your choice? Marilyn said statistically it is (2/3 chance vs. 1/3) but the public refused to believe her. 10,000 readers chimed in and most were against her, including several PhDs. Eventually, many people “switched” their answer and sided with her, but not without continuous debate. In 2009, a 208-page book on the Monty Hall Problem was published by Oxford University Press.
6The Pastry War
I'm dying for a pastry...
There have been wars that have started because of a pig or a dog but these were stepping stones to an already escalating conflict. The Pastry War appears to have started and ended due to a pastry shop's destruction. To (briefly) summarize: in 1838 a French pastry chef living in Mexico complained to King Louis-Phillippe that his pastry shop had been ravaged during Mexican civil unrest some ten years earlier. Outraged, the King demanded 600,000 pesos for their citizen. Since that was a enormous amount of money, Mexico refused and it quickly escalated to war between the two countries. On March 9, 1839, the brief war ended when England convinced Mexico to pay the money and the French withdrew.
7The Emu War
In October 1922, there was an invasion of Australia by wild emus who began munching on the plentiful wheat crops. This caused widespread destruction of farmland and the emus were considered a threat to stability of the region. Two attempts were made to fight these marauding emus, with both times being complete failures – the emus were too resilient and fast. At the end, 9,886 bullets had been fired and only 986 of the 20,000 were killed. (They were eventually dispersed by poachers.)
8The “Niggardly” Debate
In 1999, David Howard, who is white and assistant to Mayor Anthony Williams, who is black, caused an uproar when he used the word “niggardly” when referring to the current budget. While niggardly sounds like the extremely offensive word we won't publish, they are linguistically unrelated (niggardly comes from Old Norse) and he said he was not trying to be provocative with its use (it means "stingy"). Howard immediately resigned from public pressure, but many people felt he was wrongfully terminated, including Julian Bond, who was president of the NAACP. Howard was eventually reinstated and the upside is that he felt it led to a national discussion about race issues and greater awareness about language.
9The Breastfeeding Fight About the Cover of BabyTalk
There have been controversies or fights over exposed breasts before, (see Super Bowl XXXVIII ) but this one seems truly strange.
BabyTalk, a magazine aimed primarily at mothers, received a large number of complaints for their “gross” cover, depicting a baby suckling from a mother's breast. Even though the picture was not meant to shock and the woman's nipple was not visible, it “exposed” the issue of breastfeeding in America. This was also the first time a parenting magazine had ever dared shown a breast on its cover. Of the 4000 responses, 25% felt the picture was offensive. In an unrelated study, it was found that 57% of Americans feel breastfeeding in public should be outlawed and 72% think it should not be shown on television.