Jun 14 2009

The Point: Twitter, Celebrity, and Being Human

Posted by Lisa in Uncategorized

I’m used to discussing internet presence and authorial voice with academics (mainly medievalists), but I am recently reminded that it’s not discipline-specific nor is it only applicable to academic blogging. The most recent Congress session on Weblogs and the Academy focused on open, pseudonymous, and anonymous blogging. And when addressing this topic the discussion necessarily touched upon voice, audience, and honesty.

To wit: I started blogging in July 2003, and even then was aware of what internet presence meant: I started two blogs, one under my own name and a second (on LiveJournal) under a pseudonym I’d used online for a decade. Both were me, but with different foci and degrees of formality in voice. I locked my casual, personal journal, and conducted myself on my profession-focused blog with the awareness that what I wrote wasn’t just words. It doesn’t take a computer scientist to parse that an author doesn’t find themselves in the position of apologizing for hoof-in-mouth disease if they keep their feet out of their mouths to begin with, so I thought before I posted and conducted myself honestly no matter what name I blogged under. That last was a conscious decision – a decision many on the internet do not make.

Which is why there is a cloud that can surround the academic who blogs anonymously (ironically, the choice to be anonymous by a blogger usually stems from a fear that honesty will work against them professionally.) Pseudonymous blogs, therefore, attempt to avoid the pitfalls of both, and are also more likely to use a less formal voice, to be written by junior faculty and women, and to address academic life in ways that serves to demystify, to bridge gaps, and to create collegiality as well as professional and personal networking and the opportunity to interact with far-flung individuals with similar interests/POVs/disciplinary foci – i.e., they attempt to connect and create community.

None of this is news.

But the reason I’m blogging is that I have been recently reminded of the universality of the question of anonymous v. non-anonymous in regards to creating and maintaining community as I’ve watched an interesting internet drama unfold. Interesting because of the way it illustrates the asymmetrical nature of internet interaction and for the way it shows how those most would argue as privileged end up having to fight for the most basic things the rest of us take for granted.

Trent Reznor was on, and is now (hopefully temporarily) off, Twitter.

But that’s not what this is about.

Not really.

But before I get too far I must confess some bias: In 1990 I first heard Nine Inch Nails, and have been listening ever since. I grew older, occasionally wiser, and gained life experiences and responsibilities… and each new album somehow still resonated with me and addressed ideas with which I was then (often unsuccessfully) wrestling. Through the years I developed a healthy respect for Trent Reznor, his brains, and his talent (yes, that means through my own shit as well as witnessing his – I’m imperfect and do not expect more out of others than I can expect or accept from myself). I’m afraid I’m not a “fangirl,” however … and I’d be a pretty piss-poor one if I tried – I lack the time, money, and energy to be anyone’s One True Fan. (Even if I wanted to be.)

I’m OK with that.

I also don’t construct pedestals. I prefer sticking with the Real – “perfection” isn’t inspirational, it’s annoying. So, flaws accepted, certain known personality traits expected – I was there for the music. My native inability to objectify human beings, as well as short attention-span when it comes to anything that doesn’t much Matter to me in the greater sense, means I have no attraction to the ‘famous’ nor have more than a very few individuals I respect enough to have shown any sort of long-term ‘loyalty’. I’m hard to impress.

I’m OK with that, too.

(And I’m also OK with the fact that a bunch of medievalists are likely reading this with O_O looks on their faces. Jaws might be off the floor by conference-time next year.)

So although the drama in question may be centered on Mr. Reznor, the fundamental issues that need to be considered are not — nor are they specific to ‘rock stars’ (not really) — but he’s where I need to begin to do this right (and context is long – bear with me).

By way of introduction I’ll quote the Webby Award website:
“The Webby Awards is thrilled to honor Trent Reznor with the Webby Artist of the Year Award in recognition of his album, The Slip, which debuted for free download in May 2008 on his website. By making his music available to fans for free, Trent Reznor embraced the true openness of the Internet, similar to the release of the album Year Zero, which launched with an award-winning alternate reality game. Trent Reznor’s ability to connect with fans far and wide through the Web makes him a qualified ambassador of online culture, and arguably one of the most-recognized artists harnessing the power of the Internet to spread music.”

And so it’s the results of his attempts to connect (to demystify, to bridge gaps), specifically via Twitter, that unleashed what can properly be described as a shit-storm.

I have a rather acute wank allergy: I have no patience with jackassery and no tolerance for bullshit. So I’d made a point of staying well away from the nin.com forum (therefore I have not read the many, many, pages of flailing and wankage), and had intended on waiting the storm out. I’ve avoided entertainment “news” sites, other blogs, and anywhere else I would be bombarded by the information I already had, repackaged to stir their readership. Despite my best efforts, however, I couldn’t avoid ‘the perfect storm’ for long – said shit hit the fan in my LiveJournal ‘friends list’… and after I stopped rolling my eyes at the knee-jerking and emotion-packed vitriol I found there, it occurred to me that a forensic study of the spatter pattern (as it were) was called for, since it’s really not about what everyone seems to think – wants it to be – about.

Because by focusing on what it’s not they don’t have to talk about what it is.

Because that would be uncomfortable. Because they’d have to look at themselves, and maybe – just maybe – they wouldn’t like what they find.

The timeline: approximately 10 days before Mr. Reznor’s engagement to musician Mariqueen Maandig was announced (congratulations10!) their Twitter accounts were spammed (by individuals, and accounts apparently expressly created for the purpose) with crude, racist tweets. Once the media ran with news of their engagement the tweets continued and increased (I read through many of them: malicious, racist, threatening, unconscionable comments), both in number and vituperative quality. In addition to these comments, he was besieged with accusations of ‘going soft’ and complaints that he wasn’t ‘the old Trent’ anymore. Then there were the threads of commentary on nin.com pontificating on how he deserved what he got for posting ‘personal stuff’, how the harassment was his own fault for being human on Twitter. (more was happening re: his recent charity initiatives, but that’s another story) He fired a warning shot across the bow over a week ago.) And four days ago he’d finally had it, and posted his decision to back away from social networking – ie his attempt to connect to fans — on nin.com. This wasn’t a carefully-worded press release — it was honest, off-the-cuff, and designed both to inform the fanbase and take a jab at the group primarily responsible for the ongoing harassment. For space reasons I’ll just quote the section devoted to the latter, but I encourage you to go read the whole post:

” Looks like the Metal Sludge contingency has discover Twitter! Finally! For those of you that don’t know what this is, please let me explain. Metal Sludge is the home of the absolutely worst people I’ve ever come across. It’s populated mainly by unattractive plump females who publicly fantasize about having sex with guys in bands. Kind of like a role-playing game where people NOBODY will fuck make up stories about their incredible sexual encounters with people they WISH they could fuck. It would be kind of funny in a sad and pathetic way except the fun doesn’t stop there – hate and good old-fashioned outright blatant racism are also encouraged to spice things up and remind you how truly ugly these scourges are. TRULY ugly on the inside (the outside is obvious).
Cutter’s tip for my friends there: remember to cut along the length of vein, not across. Bigger payoff.
So when you see the new accounts that pop up daily on Twitter spewing exactly the kind of thing I just discussed, usually from picture-less creatively named profiles, spewing hate at Mariqueen and I, take a moment to visualize the sad couple people behind them.

A few years ago some people tuned me in to that world and when I figured out who these people were, I was amazed that I’d been seeing them in the front rows of the shows for months. I really don’t understand what kind of “fan” spends that kind of time and money to travel across the country seeing a band, to then dedicate an incredible amount of time and energy into non-stop hate diatribes online. That one puzzles me a little.”

Right. I read this a few hours after it was posted – I had been on the road, on my way to that evening’s concert.

Any of you who are irl friends of mine, or who have attended the Congress, know I’m a fat broad.

I was not offended.

I initially thought there must be a Reason behind his word choice. And that thought was followed by another, which involved my not giving a good rat’s ass what he thought about fat chicks. I mean – c’mon! You’ll be called on the carpet for a remark about just about any group of people you can think of except the “plump” — pick on them and you’ll be given your own syndicated show.

Honestly, the only thing that concerned me was the notion that if a member of the band saw me in the pit Assumptions Would Be Made. And I didn’t want to be erroneously associated with the dregs that would send harassing tweets just because I’m zaftig.

I got over it. (It was an effing awesome concert, and I had a blast in my last pit at my last NIN show, thanksverymuch.)

Let me repeat: I was not offended. I know better than to take a whole lot of things personally, and, my duckies, I can tell you that there is nothing Mr. Reznor posts that’s ever about me. I am really not that important. Others have a different relationship with reality and view of their own importance than I do, however, so a great many responses to his post were… what’s the correct internet term? Oh yes – butthurt.

And so he made a clarification post to let the acutely butthurt know he hadn’t intended to offend them.

He made an unfortunate wording choice. And he was man enough to apologize and explain precisely why he said what he did. But by the time I read lj two days later knees were frenetically jerking in reaction – name-calling, crying for negative attention by feminist websites, and all numbers of outrageous bullshit.

Jackassery, in other words. I sigh.

To cries of ‘They’re just trolls!’ ‘He should have just ignored them!’ ‘You’re just a big meanie!” I call foul.

Are they trolls? Well, duh. Hasn’t the standard operating procedure since the internet was born been to ‘Please Do Not Feed The Trolls’? Again, duh. Is the man human?! Aye, there’s the rub.

He is. Despite ideas to the contrary by those who do (and who do not) call themselves fans, he is. If someone were harassing me (and to a significantly lesser extent, been there and done that) could I shrug it off? Most likely: I have. If someone were harassing a member of my family? Not on your effing life. What would happen would look a lot like momma-bear meets Godzilla hopped up on Red Bull and doing the Tokyo stomp – I’d make Trent effing Reznor look like Little Mary effing Sunshine.

(and those friends of mine irl who’ve read this far are nodding vigorously right now, I guarantee – they’ve heard my recountings of Em’s IEP meetings)

So do I get the frustration and anger? Oh hells yes, I do. And am I willing to fault him for being as human as I? Not on your life.


And this is where we get to the point.

The man who was just given an award for attempting to be real and connect with his fanbase is being (shrilly!) faulted by some peeps claiming to be fans for attempting to be real and connect with his fanbase. Can I get a OMGWTF!?! brothers and sisters?

Certainly, this is firmly grounded in the nature of anonymity and the internet (aka the inherent truth of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory). But it’s also about what it means to be a fan and the need of some fans to raise their idols to a level beyond that of us mere mortals. And then hold them to it.

In other words, it’s about denying him the right to be ordinary.


And what I want to know is: who the fuck are you to deny anyone that?

8 Responses to “The Point: Twitter, Celebrity, and Being Human”

  1. Calderon08 Says:

    Good read, nice. He should read it 😛

  2. OMS Says:


  3. marodi Says:

    Like I’ve told you, it is a fantastic read. Very accurate and incredibly well written. Bravo, my friend!

  4. Elisabeth Says:

    Thanks ladies! 🙂 Sometimes things just need to be said…

  5. Amanda Kay Says:

    Wow. I found this on nin.com (don’t hate). You said EVERYTHING I wanted to say about the social networking broohaha. Just goes to show no idea is original, just the way it’s worded. Good job. And I believe TR absolutely read this and appreciated it.

  6. Elisabeth Says:

    Hi, Amanda! Welcome!

    Thank you! There is so much more about social networking that needs time for consideration and discussion… but those are posts for other days. I hope you’re right… that, were Himself to read it, that he would have been OK with it. But he’s busy in Europe – many more important things to do! 🙂

    (And don’t worry, I’m on nin.com, too, as well as twitter — I’m not a hater! But the forums have really denigrated, much to my distress (so I’ve just been on to check for PMs and then skedaddling) — and I thought this issue was ultimately bigger than TR’s recent experiences, alone — so upon consideration I decided a public comment was more appropriate than a response on the forum… even if it does put me out there and make me a target, too.)

  7. goo Says:

    Hello Liz. I understand your point but i think that Reznor has done enough to attract this kind of reactions: he (just like trolls)also feels the right to fuck other people in the web: like the attack he did on poor never-will-be-the-same Chris cornell, silly new age acid-trip-forever Billy Corgan and poor untalented Rivers Cuomo to name a few. So, if people (mostly girls with a lot of troubles i think)keep on making negative statements about his relation with Mariqueen is just as logic as Slayer fans carving names with blades on their backs and Elton John fans with rainbow flags: they do what their idol figures do…
    Loved your writing skills, are you a scorpio? Thanks for the article. Peace.

  8. Elisabeth Says:

    Hello goo. Thank you, and no — I’m a Cancer.

    Sure, there’s no denying the fact that he shoots from the hip (yes, Cornell is an example: although I can’t say I disagree with the assessment, nor is TRez the first musician to have an opinion about other musicians’ work–it was just the medium) and he’ll be the first guy to point out that he’s kind of a prick. But being kind of a prick and a perfectionist professionally does NOT justify racist commentary EVER. EVER, EVER, EVER.

    I think the cowards, the crazies, and those who think that every famous person they have latched onto is their bitch are a different lot than the followers who do/say whatever their hero-of-the-day does (although I grant that there is likely some overlap, but I don’t think they’re necessarily part-and-parcel). At this point the internet in general, and social media specifically, means questions of access and privilege in regards to celebrity (and that runs the gamut – actors, musicians, writers, artists, random public and not-so-public figures… technically since I’m Known to medievalists some could try to argue that I fit the bill, too) require consideration. Twitter’s reaction to what was happening and to suggestions of ways things could change to help make it a better place for all involved (and specifically for TR and Q and celebs in similar straits) were ignored. The usability of Twitter is obviously not Twitter’s prime concern, it’s just numbers at this point… which is a shame, it could be a far more useful tool if they bothered to see how it’s actually being used.

    It’s time to address those questions.

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