By: Carly Vaughn
Our in-class Twitter exercise reminded me of something that happened this summer. Ira Glass, host of the wildly popular This American Life podcast and radio show, tweeted. Something really dumb. About literature. This is what he had to say:
Now, whether you agree with him or not (most people did not), Glass is doing more than just saying “Shakespeare sucks”. He’s critiquing the Bard with some literary context. “No stakes”, “not relatable”, and “not emotional” are not actually dismissive phrases, but critiques about literary conventions of creating conflict and suspense, and perhaps saying that the work feels too cold or distant to fulfill those conventions. I’m sure there have been scholarly papers written about Shakespeare and his possible lack of “stakes”, but because Glass took to Twitter to give his critique people saw it as dismissive and pretentious. With only 140 characters to tweet with, it’s hard to convey tone.
Glass went on The Tonight Show and talked about the backlash against his tweet recently:
This reminded me of our class exercise because, in our group, we escalated into the terms of Twitter arguments and wars pretty quickly. We threw out pejorative terms about the characters in the Faerie Queene, about each other. We did do some actual critiquing, but like Glass, it sometimes felt like our point was overshadowed by a funny or dismissive hash-tag. I think this is an inherent problem with Twitter. Unless you are an exceptional word-smith, writing a coherent and persuasive argument on literature in 140 characters, let alone 140 words, is pretty difficult. It takes multiple tweets to quote examples from the text to support anything you’re saying, and by that time you might have already pissed off an army of tweeters. Just like Glass did.
The New York Times wrote an article about Twitter and literary criticism last year. “At first glance, it seems that critics, in particular, should relish a tool like Twitter. Criticism is a kind of argument, and Twitter is excellent for arguing back and forth in public,” says Adam Hirsch. While Hirsch goes on to say there is not much “criticism” in the literary criticism scene on Twitter, I think his point also shows that Twitter is public, and when you make an argument using it’s framework, the public is going to argue back. So before you tweet any literary criticism, know that you will not be tweeting into a vacuum, and perhaps gird your loins against the haters.