Zero Dark Twitter: One Comedian’s Quest for Clarity

Celebrities use Twitter. We all know this. I even wrote about it last year when Kevin Spacey called attention to a misquote in an article. We all follow them hoping they’ll continue amusing us with their wit or do something really stupid (isn’t that why Amanda Bynes’ follow count skyrocketed after she came in contact with the blue wig shop?). Sometimes, they reward us.

Comedian Patton Oswalt certainly does. Like his character in Ratatouille, he loves adding ingredients and stirring the pot that is Twitter. Sometimes the soup turns out well. Other times, he’s being chased from the kitchen.

His tweets range from false apologies for insensitive Tweets he’s never sent to double-decker posts that get split down the middle in the most inopportune ways (one will read “A woman’s place is never in an office…” followed by a second that says “…where she is treated unequally and sexually harassed.”). His goal is to weed out the trolls, but more often than not he simply infuriates the righteous.

I get that his humor is not funny to everyone — as paradoxical as it sounds, it’s intelligent poop slinging turned into a social experiment. He posts things to get people angry and pointing fingers at a comedian who just doesn’t seem to understand how to be socially acceptable on Twitter. In the meantime, he also draws out the people who are equally uncensored.

Because I was born with a bizarre but good sense of humor and a knack for over-thinking everything, I found them amusing for the most part but even more interesting because the responses they elicited exposed much of the Internet community’s sensibilities (especially the feud he cooked up against virtual liberal soap box Salon).

And then he came out with this little ditty:

I just wrote a whole piece on the #YesAllWomen movement for Lydia Magazine on how men should be joining in on the conversation, not trying to talk over it. Oswalt’s so-called joke was funny and drew attention to the Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) infuriated by the post-UCSB feminist hashtag. As a comic fan and woman, I immediately got where he was coming from, but very few people recognized it for what it was — a joke. Our Remy-voicing comedian soon found himself fleeing from knives, dishes and uproar.

Perhaps this would have been a better diagram of Oswalt being accosted by the Internet community.
And all he was trying to do was just stir the pot of public opinion after the janitor MRAs ruined it for everyone.

In response to the outrage, he refused to apologize. Instead, he called critics out for their own flawed mindsets:

“I was trying to speak directly to all of the MRA dolts in my feed and all their disgusting reactions to #YesAllWomen. That ANY of you took it for a joke is beyond me. There is NO comparison between rape & any MRA concerns. THAT WAS MY POINT.”

Job well dumb, internet people.

Anyway, that must have been the icing on the cake, because on June 1 Oswalt posted this:

On Facebook, he had posted a memorandum quoting Camus, “Tyrants conduct monologues above a million solitudes.” To him, he had become a tyrant via social media and had decided that it was time to take a break.

“I’ve become my own tyrant — Tweeting, and then responding to my own responses, and then fighting people who disagree with me. Constantly feeling like I have to have an instant take on things, instead of taking a breath, and getting as much information as I can about the world. Or simply listening to the people around me, and watching the world and picking up its hidden rhythms, which crouch underneath the micro and the macro. But I’ve lost sight of them. And it’s because of this — there’s a portal to a shadow planet in my right hand, the size of a deck of cards, and I can’t keep myself from peeling off one card after another, looking for a rare ace of sensation.”

And now for why I wrote this post and spent 500 words explaining the Oswalt Situation.

First off, kudos to a guy who can make fart jokes on stage and quote 20th century philosophers online.

More on-point, I commend Oswalt for his recognition that the best intentions sometimes create the worst monsters. Social media has given all of us the ability to speak without consequence, which is equal to being able to speak without thinking. How many times have we said something we know we shouldn’t have an faced drastic repercussions? Just ask Donald Sterling — I’m sure he’ll tell you he shouldn’t have said those things about African-Americans. (And then he’ll say some more of them.)

But online, we’re free to maybe get some angry tweets back — or in Oswalt’s case, a mad article in Salon that practically sings “Ding, dong the troll is dead” — that scratch the surface of our e-gos before we heal and go on to write something else equally stupid. Rarely do any of us actually acknowledge the villains we’ve become thanks to social media platforms — consider Oswalt a pioneer in that sense. Maybe we should all learn from him.

(Or, you know, just clean up our acts and recognize we’re not all that interesting to begin with, let alone worth constant world-wide-web broadcast.)

Unfortunately I don’t have the ability to go dark. Unlike Oswalt, whose comedy thrives in-person and whose bank account is probably still adequately full from doing films like Ratatouille and Young Adult, a lot of my work depends on the ability to share things and learn things through 140 characters or less. Three articles I’m working on right now are based on things I found via Twitter, and one of my sources is from a conversation I started and moderated on LinkedIn. Although my Facebook isn’t key in my work — or in my social life anymore, really — Twitter and the power-suit-wearing LinkedIn are my lifelines and billboards. They’re the way I connect with readers and sources.

But if I could go dark, would I?

Probably. With life as cluttered as it is right now for me, the second-to-last thing I need are more voices screaming 140-characters at a time to get my attention. The last thing I need is another place to do my own public screaming.

Oswalt’s decision to disappear from the web (“shut his mouth” as FlavorWire called it) is an extreme that I don’t think many people could go to — we’re all too addicted. As another comedian, Jim Gaffigan, would say, Twitter is our McDonald’s. We know it’s bad for us, but we can’t help but consume it daily anyway. What’s worse is we can’t help contributing to it, either.

But for the next three months, Mickey-D’s is going to be far less appetizing without Oswalt’s gourmet rat chef serving up provocative comedy from the back.

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