Friday, September 6, 2013

On "Insipid Twitter"

[Note: the crux of this argument borrows from to Jeb Lund's excellent article on Twitter plagiarism, located here:, and Luke O'Neil's treatise on Michael Ian Black here: . They are both better writers than I.]

I used to play video games a lot more than I do now. Currently my favorite game is frantically minimizing Twitter when a coworker pops into my cubicle. But I used to, and a lot of my social interactions amounted to dropping by friends' houses for an hour or two of abusing our thumbs on junky controllers. On one occasion I traipsed down into a pal's basement and caught him playing some shooting game. He was good at video games but seemed to be mowing down the opposition with no resistance. I mentioned it and he replied offhandedly that he was playing on Easy. This troubled me.

"Insipid Twitter" is a derisive label given to a collection of Twitter users as a means of distinguishing them from their forebears in "Weird Twitter" which is also a derisive label. Where Weird Twitter resisted trends and classifications - a common response was that it was simply people making each other laugh - Insipid Twitter has embraced them. Motifs include line-break conversations, heelys, authority figures behaving childishly and vice-versa, a faux-innocent appreciation for nature, and references to a misanthropic VOID.

There is nothing wrong with any of these themes. Many of them originated in Weird Twitter and are still used there. Where Insipid Twitter incurred the displeasure of Weird Twitter is in the commodification and blanding of said themes into an easy method of garnering favorites and retweets, the currency of Twitter if that can be a thing.  Think Eduardo Saverin telling Mark Zuckerburg "it's time to monetize the site" in The Social Network, or Hot Topic selling Che Guevara T-shirts. As many Weird Twitter users came to the site from the SomethingAwful message boards, their style of humor had an exclusivity to it - meant to make one another laugh, not for mass consumption. Any popularity was an incidental result of hav(e)ing fun online.

Now, invoking heelys or a beleaguered stepfather is a get-rich-quick scheme of Insipid Twitter where, as Luke O'Neil writes, the writer can "expect the mere mention of it to do the heavy lifting of a hypothetical joke." Adding to the contempt is jealousy of the "commercial success" of this strategy, garnering Insipid Tweeters thousands of followers and celebrity attention. Will Arnett and Owl City are early celebrity adopters of Insipid Twitter, to the chagrin and derisive mirth of Weird Twitter users.

More recently, Insipid Twitter users were outed as using direct-messaging to coordinate and reciprocate "favstar blowups," in which multiple users will retweet a glut of popular tweets to bolster one another's popularity and, of course, rake in more favorites.

As Luke O'Neil concisely puts it, "obviously none of this matters." It's a website populated largely by teens begging pop stars to notice them. Shouldn't enjoyment be the only goal on a meaningless joke website? Yet as Jeb Lund writes, "Twitter provides a unique medium for creative discourse that people would not otherwise find." It is a "circumstance in which we establish value" (also Lund) and therefore the same principles of hard work and fair dealing apply.

I do not mind grubbing for favorites - as an aspiring comedian, the response to my jokes is a fair barometer of whether I try to expand on a concept and bring it into my act. What frustrates me, is that, as a competitive comedian, seeing others rewarded for pandering makes me feel silly for my "principles." Seeing people accumulate followers not for the merit of their writing but rather the promise of reciprocation cheapens my effort. It's bowling next to someone with bumpers. It's playing on Easy.

The easy argument is that I care too much about Twitter. I disagree: I care about ideals that I (possibly mistakenly) apply to Twitter. I'm trying to get better at writing and making people laugh, not maxing out my high score.

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