inTouch: Is Fake @MayorEmanuel Twitter Feed A New Form of Digital Literature?
The Economist asked if the fake @MayorEmanuel Twitter feed is “The first real work of digital literature?” And summarized it as: ”these tiny missives would morph into a complex, engrossing and even lyrical narrative.” Columbia College journalism professor Dan Sinker started sending fake tweets under Rahm Emanuel’s name when the rumors that Emanuel would leave his position as White House Chief of Staff to enter the mayoral race for Chicago began to circulate.
Sinker made excellent use of Emanuel’s reputation for profanity and reluctance to suffer fools gladly. While the El Bloombito Twitter feed, which parodies the New York City mayor’s attempts to communicate with his Spanish-speaking constituents, does not really have a story arc, The Economist describes @MayorEmanuel as chronicling “a flawed man who encounters obstacles in pursuit of glory. Aside from the constant cursing, the language is poetically economical and referential.”
Writing under his assumed nom de plume, Sinker got more than 40,000 followers and at one point the real Rahm Emanuel, a fan of the Twitter feed, offered to give money to charity if the writer would come forward. (Sinker did come forward, although not right after Emanuel offered the charitable donation).
Unlike a parody novel that is written, published and concluded, sometimes before actual events reach their conclusion, the Twitter feed was able to respond to current events and audience responses. The Economist compliments Sinker for his understanding of “how language works on Twitter” and for his storytelling techniques because “all his posts are self-contained and complete in and of themselves.” You didn’t have to read all of the previous posts to appreciate even just a few of the fake Emanuel’s tweets.
The Economist heaped a lot of praise upon Sinker’s fake Twitter posts: “But what catapults @MayorEmanuel into art is its conclusion. Unlike most of what happens on Twitter, and online generally, @MayorEmanuel has a resolution…By giving us an ending, Mr. Sinker satisfies our growing longing for closure in the infinite sprawl of the web.”
Sinker ended the Twitter feed because Rahm Emanuel really did run, really did become the mayor of Chicago, and the parody was no longer mere speculation. Although Sinker is no longer pretending to be Emanuel on Twitter, the feed lives on as a print book, The F****ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, that annotated, gives context to the tweets, so it is more than a printout of the digital posts. Emanuel even showed up to a book signing to meet with his alter ego and sign books for fans of the Twitter feed he inspired.
That’s pretty much a fairy-tale ending for someone who assumed the identity of a fiery political figure.
Do you think it’s okay to write as someone else? Is it okay if it is a parody?
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