The Twittering Classes

AethelreadTheUnread - who is not named Ethel and is not unread - wrote some very nice things about this humble blog, in particular my post about Twitter, and wrote a much more detailed response. It's good, have a read.

I started on a comment, but it grew somewhat and only got around to addressing one point - celebrity twitterers.

Celebrity twittering - it's a marketing exercise.

It may not start out that way and the celebrity may not want it to turn out like that, but I think the nature of modern celebrity is such that any public exposure of someone already well known becomes marketing.

This does raise the question of whether anyone has become famous through their twitter account - or facebook or myspace. Some former celebrities have revived their careers somewhat, but I can't think of a single case of new celebrity being created from nothing using only social media.

There's been a few bands already signed to record labels, who pretended to be unsigned and just starting out, posting improbably polished performances on youtube - paying to be featured videos. But this was just viral marketing - advertising created by the usual advertising consultants, for the usual sky high fees, but pretending not to be advertising. I think we're savvy enough about this now to enjoy the quirky video...and ignore the product.

Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton have turned out to be unexpectedly witty and smart on their social media. Their careers are kept ticking over and their fans are kept interested by these droplets of public visibility.

Wheaton in particular probably wouldn't have a career as a writer if his eloquent (and cynical) blog writing hadn't simultaneously built on and destroyed the hate figure image he got portraying that boy genius in that dated sci-fi show.

Some tweets from Spiner:
Please don't toy with anti-semitism. Would never engage in racism.

@mrspuy: What's the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up? -- An adult. It never happened.

@damashita: My 11 year old is a published author w 2nd story up for pub. Any advice 4 him? -- I think the question is, does have any for me?

And some tweets from Wheaton (WheatyTweets?):
Look, all you people who think torture is just great and is *ever* justified? You sicken me. Go watch 24 and leave me alone.

@BarackObama "It should never be controversial to ask our students to stay in school." Great minds think alike, Mr. President.

It's hard to convince kids that the world is flat and is orbited by the sun when they understand science.

Compare with Jonahthan Frakes, who seems to have an empty twitter feed and a job presenting crappy paranormal shows.

Sarah Palin's near-incomprehensible tweets gave her herd of deluded supporters a little injection of Palin every day to keep them going. But they also helped to finish off her career when recited verbatim as psychedelic poetry by...another Star Trek alumnus, Bill Shatner.

So it's a double edged sword. Which is why Sarah Palin's facebook posts are mostly no longer written by Sarah Palin. And celebrity tweets are increasingly being written by ad men, with no input from the artist themselves.

It's the usual pattern. Technology gives us a new way of doing things, and new things to do. It's good for a while, then the new ways and the new activities get assimilated into the old and we're back where we started. Same shit, different packaging.

Incidentally, while doing spot research for this post, I came across an advert with flashing text:

Get More Twitter Followers Fast More Followers = $ More Money $

And just how can you make these dollars? How about by selling twitter accounts to cybersquatters!


  1. I never follow any famous people, because really, why are they fountains of wisdom? What exactly can they do for me? That Wil Wheaton is funny! As is Data!

    I think humans crave intimacy and connections, to know that they're not alone. The problem is we get so tied up in the means to communicate that we fail to make make the connection, we lose the message in the messenger.

    Just because you've a telephone doesn't mean you ought to call everyone you know everyday to let 'em know what you're eating. Sometimes, a short hello and how are you? out of the blue is more meaningful than a daily tweet about what you're wearing.

  2. If you treat celebrities as brands, which sadly we probably have to do now, then literally any intervention they make into any public sphere can be interpreted as activity to promote the brand, and so make it a more valuable commodity. I'd like to think there are still some people who don't see it like that - in the same way that i still like to make a distinction between people who are famous for doing something and celebrities who are famous for being famous - but quite a lot of that is probably wishful thinking.

    Oh, and thanks for saying nice things. :o)