Friday, May 20, 2011

Funny Twitter Accounts Worth Preserving

shit-my-dad-saysTwitter is so strange. I think we can all agree on that.

It’s a bizarre hybrid of text messaging, instant messaging, Facebook status updates, and self/commercial advertising. Its character constraints encourage both tiresome Internet lingo (“c u l8r”, “lets go to 5 guys b4 the movie”, &c) and creative sentence structure (a good vocabulary helps you express complex ideas in 140 characters). Twitter’s infrastructure is so simple it’s wormed its way onto every web-connected device as well as “ordinary” SMS-enabled cell phones.

Perhaps it is deceptively simple – at least when it comes to entertainment. CBS’s recent cancellation of $#*! My Dad Says (discussed on this week’s podcast) is a reminder that Twitter functions best on its own terms.  It may be funny to read aloud Sarah Palin’s serpentine mangling of the English language to your friends, but her tweets would swiftly fall flat if propped up as anything other than one woman’s (or her publicist’s) inane chatter.

Hollywood and the various TV networks are blind to this. Chasing their audiences like deranged teenage exes, they bottle up any intellectual property the public might possibly like even a tiny bit in hopes of catching lightning.

Today, I’d like to speak up for the humorous Twitter accounts that should be left alone by TV.

Old People

@shitmydadsays exploded because it tapped into a truth universally accepted by everyone under 35: parents are ridiculous. Given the situation, you might say they just don’t understand. This particular dad possesses a knack for odd, obscenity-laden aphorisms, and his son Justin Halpern wisely thought to deprive them of context and post them online. Just look at this gem:

"I just don't wanna celebrate a bullshit holiday. I'm plenty romantic. I own a home and have never shit my pants. Two things you can't say." – February 14, 2011

Wrapping a 23-minute television script around whatever caused this quote is tantamount to lecturing one why “To get to the other side” is a fantastic punch line.

@oldmansearch (run by Norman N.) highlights another stereotype for youngsters to laugh at: the tech-ignorant. In the ‘90s, the joke involved parents needing help programming VCRs. The 2000s brought all sorts of email and printer problems that still need solving whenever you visit. Even though people of all ages are flocking to Facebook, Twitter still confounds many – including Norman’s father. Here’s the bio for @oldmansearch: “My dad is 81 years old. I'm teaching him how to use the internet. I told him twitter was how to search things on Google. These tweets are what he’s searching.”

Cruel prank or no, Norman’s dad is tweeting some real winners. “how many omlettes [sic] are there?” and “how do you pronounce juan” rank among my favorites. As someone whose mother regularly visits websites by typing their name into search bars (a behavior that’s led Google to do away with the separate search bar in its Chrome browser), I love reading the bizarre thought processes behind this man’s searches. There’s no succinct description for the strange cocktail of emotions I feel watching him type “night blindness” and “i’m night blind” into Twitter thinking it’s a search engine.

Subverting Celebrity

50-centTwitter probably owes half of its success to early adopters in Silicon Valley. The other half: celebrities. American celebrity culture fuels TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, People Magazine et al. Twitter cuts out the middleman and lets fans follow their favorite stars directly. I don’t care for Ashton Kutcher, but I won’t begrudge him the nearly seven million people who think he’s worth following.

@english50cent is a perfect example of parody piggybacking on the Twitter success of a celebrity. 50 Cent (or “Fitty,” if you like) is a character to begin with. He was once shot nine times at close range and rode that purple heart to instant street cred and a record deal. His debut video portrayed as some sort of monster bred in a lab by Dr. Dre and Eminem for the sole purpose of dropping ill rhymes.

Parodying his slang-filled tweets with “proper” English is a perfect way to subvert his public persona. Here’s an example:

@50cent: Follow my boy @chefhandler he just put me on to some fly sh*t. I'm gonna get paid off this. lol

@English50cent: My son supervises head cooks. I have started a new business venture selling insect feaces. It will make me money. *laughs*

The comedian behind @english50cent released a video of his translation for Fitty’s “In Da Club,” which I enjoyed but ultimately tired of. Again, part of the fun is the spontaneous, witty “translation” of what Fitty wants us to know about his life.

@petermolyneux2 doesn’t parody time sensitivity material. Instead, it mocks pompous forward-thinking game designer Peter Molyneux by pushing innovation to the point of absurdity. Molyneux is the man behind the divisive Fable series as well as the now-cancelled Kinect software Milo. He will think outside the box until it hurts, find a way to fit the new-for-new’s-sake idea into a game, and try to sell you on it.

The faux Molyneux account regularly tweets game ideas that send up current development conventions or push the envelope so far it folds back in on itself and ceases to be an envelope anymore. Tweets like “I'd like to make a game where the tutorial comes up after the credits” come from the Molyneux caricature. Then there’s this, a nice jab at Molyneux’s Kinect fever and at one of gaming’s sacred cows: “just imagine the death of aeris if kinect was able to impose the face of a loved one on her. Would have been so more intense.” Follow @petermolyneux2 if you’d like occasional reminders that yes, sometimes we do take our entertainments too seriously.

Honorable Mentions

I could honestly go on forever with recommendations, but I’ll save you some time and cut to the chase. Here are a few other accounts worth following if you use Twitter for entertainment rather than just for news and meal descriptions.

@abevigoda – Poor Abe. In 1982, he was reported dead by People magazine. Abe was and is very much alive. This Twitter account, of which Abe is surely not the owner, constantly reminds the world that he is in fact alive. Favorites include “Spicy Doritos make my hands burn and I'm alive!” and “My bracket may be dead and yet I'm alive!!” Unfortunately, the account’s been dormant since last November – despite Abe still being alive.

@BPGlobalPR – If you were on Twitter during last year’s horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, chances are you followed this fake PR account for BP. A Twitter account to fight the torrent of bad publicity of the spill seemed like something BP would do, so a fake account that only made things worse was pitch perfect. Reading the satirical tweets was a great outlet for the frustration we all felt watching BP botch the operation time and again. The account’s still going strong a year later, using its depiction of BP as a company more concerned with looking like it cares than actually caring to promote environmental safety. Just check out this Mardi Gras tweet:

“Beads are made of plastic and plastic is made of oil. The way we look at it, the ocean owes us some boobage. #FatTuesday

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@BronxZoosCobra may be my favorite of all the current event-inspired fake accounts. (Calling it a “fake” account is almost silly, right? Snakes can’t tweet…yet.) Everyone was freaking out at the idea of a cobra running amok in the Bronx, so of course that meant someone had to start tweeting its adventures. Since the cobra’s capture, the account’s mostly devolved into harmless animal jokes (though I did love “Some snakes eat their own young. #happymothersday” for its excellent hashtag usage), but it was on fire during the snake’s hiatus with tweets like “"Indiana Jones, why did it have to be Indiana Jones?"”

I realize that a lot of these accounts boil down to “You had to be there” humor. But that’s the point of Twitter, isn’t it? Twitter’s currently receiving new posts at the rate of 1,600 per second. Despite it all being logged in the Library of Congress, the sheer volume makes each set of 140 characters quite ephemeral. By the time you go and follow all of these accounts, ten equally entertaining ones will have sprung up and fifteen more will have fallen into disuse.

Comparatively sluggish media like TV and movies: leave Twitter alone. It’s too quick for you.

Of course, you can follow me on Twitter @MCgetting