Be careful what you tweet. Just ask Ashton Kutcher, who tweeted that September 11 — the start of the football season — was “the greatest day of the year.” More recently, Kutcher came to the defense of Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach accused of covering up the alleged sex abuse of young boys. Kutcher tweeted to his 8.6 million+ followers:
How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.
Kutcher later claimed he didn’t “have the full story,” and decided to suspend his tweeting, “until I find a way to properly manage this feed.” Now the latest celebrity Twitter victim (although the wound is self-inflicted) is Bret Easton Ellis, who recently weighed in on the subject of bullying, which has been tied to a rash of gay teen suicides or attempted suicides throughout the country. Ellis tweeted:
When I was bullied: you manned-up. You learned something. You realized: I’m not getting the gold star. You realized: you lose. Deal with it.
While one might be tempted to give Ashton Kutcher the pass for being merely clueless, not malicious, Bret Easton Ellis probably isn’t getting off the hook so easily. After all, this literary provocateur knows just how to get a reaction. Boycotts, hate mail and death threats accompanied Ellis’s novel American Psycho all the way up the bestseller list.
And so what, if anything, are we to make of Ellis’s latest provocation, which appears to take aim at Dan Savage’s anti-bullying It Gets Better Project? At its best, the social Web can function as a filtering mechanism. That is to say, our collective wisdom can be used to call out the worst in us and make us all better citizens. On the other hand, one could make the argument that Ellis should simply be ignored. After all, we live in a culture where ideas can be tweeted on a whim, and if they offend us, we are conditioned to react — and often overreact — just as spontaneously. This phenomenon has been described as “manufactured outrage,” and cable news depends on it for ratings.
Another option is to consider Ellis in the context of other literary Twitterers whose tweets, some have charged, suffer greatly in comparison to their prose. As a novelist, Ellis has been criticized for displaying a lack of critical distance between himself and his murderous protagonist, Patrick Bateman. And yet, in an interview with Big Think, Ellis describes the many self-censoring mechanisms he employs in his writing, which includes refraining from writing anything for a full year:
What happens with me is that something is bothering me or I’m feeling alienated, or isolated, or I have questions about things that are bothering me and those feelings begin to form an idea for a novel…And then I start to make notes and then I start to answer some of those questions, then those notes form into an outline. And then that outline turns into a novel.
In other words, as Ellis describes it, his novels are highly constructed products that emerge from a long cognitive process. These novels originate “from pain, from an emotional place,” and then over the course of a year are translated into notes, and then into an outline, and finally into a novel. Ellis’s tweet, in comparison, reads like a raw, uncensored emotion. So what would happen if we applied the same approach to tweeting that we did to writing novels?
Watch the video here and decide for yourself: