Wil, I've been here ten years and I can't
usefully answer your
question "what's going on?" in a sentence (or a paragraph or an
essay). You can only learn by participating. You can learn some things
by reading all the justifiably-banned users have to say, but I'm not
sure they're things that will stand you in good stead. Probably the
best way to answer your actual question is to dive in, write stuff
with references, add photos, etc. It's actually pretty good nerdy fun
and I recommend it if you're the sort of person who read encyclopedias
for fun as a kid.
I'd definitely say there's no royal road to knowledge of Wikipedia.
Dive in and do it and discover how lovely and infuriating your fellow
humans are, really.
Thanks, David, and I agree 100% that there's a lot that I can only
learn by participating. That's one reason I'm here. :) I've also been
uploading sound loops to Commons, and I'm working on a few new
articles on various pet interests of mine. I think the one thing left
that Fae suggested I do is edit a BLP, IIRC. I know that there has
been some discussion about how to handle BLP's here and on WO. These
particular issues seem much harder to grok without some experience, so
I think Fae was on-point when he suggested I just dive right in.
I've also learned a lot from Wikipediocracy, but YMMV. :)