Magazine | August 13, 2018, Issue

Terrifying Twitter Twaddle

Director James Gunn attends a premiere of the film Guardians of the galaxy, Vol. 2 in London, April 24, 2017. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

What did people do before Twitter? You imagine angry folk walking around just sloshing with opinions, red steam shooting from their ears, unable to vent, yelling at dogs, scribbling notes they tack to grocery-store bulletin boards.

Another timely question: How did we destroy jobs and reputations before Twitter? I mean “we” in the sense of faceless, howling mobs distributed around the country. We couldn’t! Why, kids today have fast, easy access to vindictive mobs; when I was growing up, if a famous person said something bad, the most you could do was write a letter to Time magazine.

Then came Twitter. Hurrah! A lively, democratic exchange of views from all sources high and low, smart and dumb, and also an enormous pipe fountaining out a ceaseless gout of sewage and rabid fire ants. Hot takes, misinformation, troll bots, hordes of jerkwads and dillweeds, ALL-CAPS WARNINGS OF WAR from some guy who says he’s the president (Editor’s Note: He is), all interspersed with cute videos of an otter playing with a Rubik’s cube.

It’s made society worse. We all know it. Everyone who uses it feels addicted to a Tabasco milkshake.

That’s why I quit. Really. Just stopped, like that. No more strangers shrieking about President Dumpf and the MAGArroids, no one on the other side posting that picture of a ghostly Jesus standing behind President Trump guiding his hand as he signs something. (I don’t know what Jesus is saying, but it’s probably not “You have to use her legal name in the document, not ‘Stormy’”) No one screaming at everyone else for being mad about Issue X instead of Issue Y. No one saying anything about soccer.

It was like undressing for a hot shower and realizing you had a cheese grater in your pants. Oh, that explains it. I feel better now.

Quit the Twit: Can’t recommend it enough. Anyway, my phone battery was recharged now, so I went back on Twitter. What had I missed? Who was getting dragged and WREKT today? Gosh, I hope it’s someone who has expressed opposition to some of my favorite ideas; that person is garbage and needs to be flung by catapult over the city walls.

The latest casualty — at least at press time; I’m sure a half dozen more careers will have been fed into the wood chipper feet first by the time this sees print — was James Gunn, Hollywood director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It seems he had a period as an “edgy” wag, making lots of jokes about sex and children. You get famous on Twitter for things that would get you arrested if you shouted them at the public swimming pool.

They were old tweets — not as old as Bernie Sanders’s musings on women’s rape fantasies, but weird and ookey. He’d laid off the pedo-tweets in recent years, so you could assume he’d realized that shouting sick jokes into a planet-wide amplification system wasn’t the wisest use of one’s time.

Disney, which makes the Guardians movies, defenestrated Gunn with such haste that his face probably rippled with G-forces when his agent phoned with the bad news. The firing led to the usual round of lamentations:

1) People are losing their jobs because they said something stupid, and this is wrong. There should be space for people to be dumb, and forgiveness and grace for those who atone. Unless they said something inexcusable, or something someone could construe as inexcusable, or something a lot of people have misconstrued as inexcusable. In which case, he’s got to go.

2) The Left started this, right? They’re the Speech Police, examining every utterance through the prism of grievance, finding isms and phobias in anodyne remarks. They’ll stop only if their side gets the same medicine in explosive-suppository form, repeatedly.

Really? Having learned how effective mob outrage can be, people will give it up because the latest scalp was one of their own? Imagine a scene from a Frankenstein movie, when the villagers are storming the castle with pitchforks and one sane man stops to address the crowd:

“Listen, listen! I know we’re upset because the scientist made an unholy shambling creature whose very existence is a mockery of God’s handiwork, and we’re pretty sure he threw a little girl into the pond. But look at us — raving, furious, ready to burn down what we do not understand. What if — hear me! HEAR MY WORDS! — what if we are the true monsters?”

Crowd mutters, grumbles; confused voices. Mob dissolves, except for a few who head to the castle to offer a hand of friendship, tendered with the hope that the dawn will break on an era of sanity and understanding.

Doesn’t happen. The mob might feel guilty for a moment after the damage is done, but then a torch-bearing villager shouts, “Victor Frankenstein is an agent of the czar!” and the mob surges forward again. Mobs are fun! And now you can participate from the comfort of Starbucks, liking and retweeting until you feel like your index finger should get a Medal of Valor award.

The solution? There isn’t any. Too many people are hopped up on a sugar high of self-righteousness and promiscuous anger. It’s going to be trench warfare forever and ever. But perhaps people will become less inclined to make pedo jokes to impress the lefty types who celebrate the destruction of decorum and other bourgeois notions. They might have to apologize for thinking that their odorous dribble about sex with children was funny. That would make them sound — shudder — conservative, and that’s the worst.

If Hollywood were prison, conservatives would be the people the child molesters beat up.

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