Nov 13, 2012
34 notes

Interview with @virgiltexas about Weird Twitter

Virgil Texas ”is a Brooklyn resident and internet user, who’s involved in writing and publishing”. I interviewed him over Google Chat as a part of my very long, very swedish article about Weird Twitter. I’m sorry if the spelling is a bit off in the interview below, I didn’t clean it up much. Anyway, Virgil Texas thinks a lot of Twitter is boring.

- I think broadly Twitter can and maybe ought to be a fun medium. But a lot of people use it in stodgy, boring ways. People are overly serious to the point of oppressiveness, especially when talking about politics and SEO and business marketing and stuff

And Weird Twitter is kinda the opposite?

- Yes, because part of the fun is being ironic or making fun of people or writing something enlightening in a way that isn’t straightforward and literal. It’s not about being “weird,” because that word has connotations that i don’t think accurately describe what I do

Twitter is a very personal, subjective medium by design. You curate your own timeline with tweets and RTs, and you curate your own feed based on whom you want to follow. Everyone has their own interests, intentions, and styles of using Twitter. Some people have a lot of conversations, some never interact, some want to get famous, some want to promote something, etc. In other words, it isn’t a team sport.

With that in mind, people make associations on Twitter, and sometimes there are close networks of people who largely interact with each other, in addition to interacting with others. If you want to consider that “Weird Twitter,” I suppose you can.

But generally, I can only speak from my point of view and describe what I do, and what a few of the people I know do, and why it’s important and valuable and a very interesting and entertaining way to use the medium.

So I run into trouble when I think about people as a group. I don’t wish to speak for everyone exactly, since everyone is doing their own thing.

What’s with your anonymity? I mean, I’m not questioning it and it’s of course totally up to you what you want to tell me - but more generally, why arent you keen on connecting your twitter to yourself?

- The sort of writing I publish as Virgil Texas is fundamentally different, I think, than the sort of writing I publish under my own name. For example, things I write on my website http://virgiltexas.com or the reading I did here cooldate.tumblr.com/post/32453558398/product-review-by-virgiltexas-presented-at-cool 

It’s really pseudoanonymity if anything, it isn’t difficult to find out who i am. But i don’t maintain a separate twitter under my real name

So you could say it’s to make sure Twitter remains your playground, free from boundries?

- Yes, that was the idea at first anyway. In time those two spheres kind of merge, it’s unavoidable to a point. When i first started out, i took part in trolling this guy Greg W. Howard, way back in 2009. Greg is crazy.

Who is he?

- He tweets 500 times a day - http://twitter.com/gregwhoward - and it’s all conservative nonsense and he takes everything incredibly seriously, which made him an attractive person to troll

Let me paus you there. What was your stop before twitter? Are you from Something Awful?

- Probably Facebook or something. No, though i know people from it. My direct inspiration to join twitter was from SA, though I didn’t post there or anything. Like a lot of people, i started taking notice of twitter during the iranian revolution. I read an article about Jon Hendren (@fart) explaining how they managed to goatse over a million people using iranian revolution hashtags. also a guy whose work i follow, who goes by Rubbercat, had a twitter, which made it respectable to me

So, before twitter, trolling meant basically Something Awful to you?

- Sort of, i don’t have a great memory of trolling in the past. Before twitter, I didn’t really troll people much. I probably mainly used facebook in college, when that was a big thing. I didn’t have a strong relationship with SA by any means. I find a lot of it very mediocre, but some of it is very funny

So, you were trolling Greg W. Howard and then what?

- He threatened to sue us for trolling him, and this was before we realized he was just a thin-skinned idiot. Then somebody found on his website a lawsuit he wrote up suing twitter for $1 million because people trolled him

http://www.scribd.com/doc/29564611/Greg-W-Howard-Retirement-Fund

I have no idea whether he actually filed this, but the idea is hilarious. he wrote this one hilarious line “Defendant TWITTER operates a social networking bulletin board site known as and accessed through the world wide web at Twitter.Com”. I wrote a parody of it here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/25598852/Greg-W-Howard-Defamation-Lawlsuit

He also thought the trolls were paid by a liberal conspiracy funded by george soros and obama or something. At some point, using his minor social media influence, he got glenn beck’s news site to run a piece about a paid “twitter-thug” harassing the tea party

Gawker wrote about it, though this was long after i had gotten bored and moved on:

http://gawker.com/5659351/twittergate-how-internet-jerks-pranked-the-tea-party

That’s the greg howard thing in a nutshell. It’s how i first made a name for myself on twitter. Kind of like winning a fight in prison

A lot of the core people i came to follow and interact with started following me during that.

The Greg-business, that sounds like the perfect entry to whatever I call weird twitter. Or is it?

- Maybe. I think from my perspective talking about things that have taken place is easier than stepping back and over-analyzing it. There are a couple other things i wanted to draw your attention to

The Alvin Greene video and a zine I’m creating, which could be a useful end point for your piece. There are many many many other things “weird twitter” has done, like smash mouth eating the eggs, pitbull going to alaska, fake celebrity deaths, trolling scott baio, etc. But those two i’m most explicitly involved in

Alvin Greene was a surprise winner of the Democratic nomination for Senate in South Carolina in 2010. He was a very well-meaning black man but he didnt run a serious campaign or raise money or anything. He was just an unemployed guy who lived with his ailing father, and kind a strange guy. For a while there was this media frenzy about him because he seemed in interviews kind of vacant, laconic.

He wasn’t the sort of guy who seemed like he’d use twitter. Incidentally he was on trial or something for showing pornography to a college student in a computer lab, so i put my skills to work and made a twitter for him. I followed a bunch of journalists and one of them wrote an article about alvin greene’s twitter account, which legitimized it. Amazingly the account is still up

http://twitter.com/greeneforsenate

Sensing potential i convened a chat with some twitter users. One of them, @satellitehigh, who is a rapper and hilarious guy, agreed to do an Alvin Greene rap song. He sent me the cut in a couple days and i was floored, it was effortlessly hilarious, so i made an absurd video with clips from his interviews and strange things, like footage of lebron james slam dunking

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar09czbfE8o

I posted it through the account, which was followed by a lot of journalists, and everyone went nuts. Every political reporter posted about it and virtually of them described it as an official Campaign Video or Campaign Ad. Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC actually ran it in full

http://video.msnbc.msn.com/countdown/38388887

Though by then it was realized that it wasn’t from alvin greene, but he was contacted about it and said he liked it. I actually talked to him on the phone. he said he would make me his communications advisor and wanted the video on MTV. The new york times breathlessly reported it as completely real, the whole thing kind of shocked me. how could journalists have such a dim sense of irony? how could they be so stupid? I mean the whole video is a joke, the credits alone. I think there was some racism there, which left a bad taste in my mouth. These overwhelmingly white journalists who had been relentlessly mocking this guy figured, an unemployed black guy, of course he would release a rap video

So did you react in any way apart from being flabbergasted?

- Well, it was a proud moment in my twitter career

When did you announce that you were behind the video?

- I obviously was from the start. at least i thought it was obvious, it’s on my youtube channel. People around “weird twitter” understood i was behind it. This was somewhat before we all started interacting more with journalists, and everything we did could be kept somewhat quieter. The fear is that now whenever we do something funny or cool it’ll spawn like a bunch of crappy news articles. For example, there was a day when everyone pretended that Donald Trump was donating $5 million to Hurricane Sandy victims, and you’d instantly get news articles explaining the whole thing is a troll, essentially ruining both the joke and purpose - as opposed to having people analyze the absurdity and contradiction for themselves, and in doing so learn to think critically

So you think that kind of media attention cripples the “culture” on twitter?

- Yes, i’ll give you another example. A few nights ago people were doing this hashtag #RomneyDeathRally, and a few quickie news articles sprung up about it and these pieces always don’t fully get the joke or convey it well. Or even know the background of things, because they’re just lazy, rushed articles hoping to run some funny internet thing and get clicks. I’m probably being smug on account of having a more explicit understanding and appreciation of certain things than a journalist laboring under a deadline. that’s fair - but the idea of this sort of thing becoming a recurring trend kind of ruins twitter. One guy who was quoted in that gawker article i linked to. And you should read that whole article.

He said this: “Now it’s not funny anymore that they think we’re working for Rauhauser,” said TheRealSomebody. “Now I’m not getting credit for being the scumbag on the Internet that I am. Rauhauser is.” (in response to conservative media thinking his trolling is funded by democrats or something) That’s really the anxiety. being mischaracterized or having the joke ruined (by journalists with a different agenda) will make everything we do less funny

If conservative media thinks that a trolling bunch of twitterers are an organized democratic internet attack - isnt the joke on them? Do you have to read their articles, and if you do - can’t you just laugh it off? Who should and who should not get the joke, if you understand what i mean?

- I’m trying to draw a parallel between two very different circumstances. Yes, they picked up the troll essentially. They bought it. But in that situation it was more the involvement of this guy Neil. Maybe the parallel isn’t great between those articles, but the broader point i want to make

Yeah but generally, if media dont get the joke, isnt just the joke getting bigger?

- Not if the media stops the joke by not getting it

But isn’t that what trolling is about? Joking with people who dont get it?

- Sort of. Put it another way - with the beandog thing, it was funny to troll greg howard and other paranoid conservatives and it was funny when conservative media thought that. But what if it gets to a point where conservative media says, oh, these are all people paid by george soros and this democratic consultant neil, therefore you can dismiss/ignore them. That’s what i mean ending the joke without getting the joke. On a broader scale, i think there is a fundamental tension between twitter and the media. Some people like @dogboner and @fart are really vociferous about hating buzzfeed and gawker and their ilk, and i completely understand them

Yeah, is this all symptomatic for the weird twitter relationship to media and others who desperately want to get in on the subversive, fun to write about action?

- Yes. It’s not very fun when your work just becomes grist for the buzzfeed or huffington post pageview mill, especially if the person doing the piece is some dull cutesy writer whom you don’t respect on a comic level

- You’re calling it “work” - is that the way you regard it?

Yes, the interaction on twitter makes it a medium for trolling, and that’s a somewhat unique interaction you can have through social media. If you’re involved and understand it, sometimes it’s just the funniest tihng. Understand the background, i mean. “in on the joke”, you could say. But that isn’t the only highlight of course, there’s also a ton of standalone tweets that are insightful, brilliant, funny, and extremely well written in their own ways. there’s a wide variety in style

Where do you personally draw the line between separate funny tweets, and the broader cultural trend that weird twitter is? or maybe we should take a step backwards first. what - according to you - is weird twitter?

- There is a philosophical core, i would argue. A lot of cynicism, malaise, anomie that gives rise to a high level of wit and an appreciation for the absurd. After all, surrealism and dada were direct responses to the miseries of WWI. In practice it amounts to maybe a couple hundred people who exemplify this, and have similar outlooks and responses to life, albeit with wide variety in beliefs in lifestyles

What do you mean would be the WWI of weird twitters?

- The unflinching misery and fundamental absurdity of life in late capitalist societies, but that’s a shot in the dark. also the reality of death and nonbeing coupled with life in societies that seem to deny this reality

So it’s more of an eternal hangover from the party of modern all-the-time cultural stimulation?

- You might say that, sure. If you want a third leg for the stool, it’s cultural products that are barely stimulating, huffington post slideshows, rage comics, memes, all that horseshit. And from that there’s need to make something that’s a direct response to these products and aims to transcend them, that’s why things like trolling appeal to me. People bizarrely have this general belief in the sincerity of others. Look at literallyunbelievable. All these fucking people who think onion articles are real. So by trolling/irony (which, generally, could be considered saying something untrue) you violate this social compact where everything on the internet is truthful and real. That’s what i mean by transcending. Perhaps a better term is transgression. Yes, i mean transgressing.

I mean, look at this for instance, this is just something i happened to see

http://i.imgur.com/oG492.png

it’s a fucking rage comic, why is it a fucking rage comic. why do people fucking communicate like this, what fucking broke society.

So, satirizing the background of everything?

- Yes, it aims at fundamental satire. I personally prefer transgressive, dark comedy, comedy of violence, you know, like brecht or the onion or louis ck.

You kinda sound like the self-loathing jew of social media

- I like that, let me use that on my book jacket. Anyway, it is that willingness to transgress, that darkness, i think  that defines what you call “weird twitter” more than anything. It is borne of intelligence and honesty, and it sets this humor apart from people who are “merely” funny

There’s thousands of comedians on twitter, and they all kind of makes jokes that are boring puns or simple inversions or dull observations. People who i am sure are perfectly funny on their own, of course, elsewhere. But take to twitter to deliver the equivalent of leno monologue jokes or jerry seinfeld-type observational one-liners, this is doing more with the medium, it’s raising the level of writing, for one. The standards of good writing do not stop at the internet’s doorstep, despite 99% of writing you see on the internet. There is a reason why a lot of my favorite twitterers are exceptional writers in their own right. They are intelligent, exceptional writers, and they are as well extremely bored with the way people interact with this medium

Is it elitist?

- Well that’s a difficult term

Let me clarify. There has always been intellectually understimulated youngsters, you know the “The secret history”-kind, who loath their contemporary view of culture, and who’s longing for something else in a nonchalant manner. Is weird twitter that crew of our time?

- It’s such a small group of people, with many hangers-on who do zany things and write about dubstep and ron paul and 69, but who generally aren’t as good. Calling it the crew of our time is a bit strong. I’m sure there are plenty of people with similar views using their creative energies elsewhere

Yeah but you know - the core, the elite, whatever you want. is there a likeness?

- To what?

Well, The secret history. Have you read it? By Donna Tartt.

- No

Okey, never mind then. I think I might be over analyzing.

- Well i’d have to read it, but i think i understand vaguely what you’re saying. I think you can characterize it in this way. I mean you’d have to make that argument yourself, obviously. i wouldn’t mind terribly if you sensationalized us. I like the idea of being big in sweden, though keep in mind that these people also have a high sense of irony and wit. You can be young and depressed and brilliant and creative while not being very funny, of course

Now when I write this, and Buzzfeed has got their thing on its way - are we killing weird twitter?

- You’ll still have the people, and they will maintain their integrity i think no matter what the media does. To a point, sure, because once you’ve been praised and accepted and everyone acts like they love the joke or want to be “in” on it, you’re not being transgressive anymore, that’s a fear. But the media is still very gullible and bad, and they will be trolled again. Like with #SandyLootCrew, though that wasn’t us. I think the proper response to being mischaracterized by the media and confined to a space alongside some dumb recent news parody account ( see rubbercat’s site: http://tech.rubbercat.net/2012/10/the-50-most-epic-viral-debate-meme-parody-twitter-accounts.html) is to double down and keep doing well, to make more creative products

I note how you say “us”, which brings my thoughts to the anonymous dudes I’ve been in touch with. is weird twitter the pretentious humour equivalent to them?

- No, because anonymous is fundamentally different, just in many ways. I think that the “weird twitter” people will do well as they progress as creative producers, brendle just published a book for instance, tricia lockwood is a poet, @arr is a music writer of some note and i’m assembling a zine. A humor zine that will feature work from a lot of these people. The response has been very positive, and i’m excited for it.

It will be similar to a little-known zine called Army Man from the 80s, it was precisely as morose and absurd as “weird twitter” is. The writers of Army Man, incidentally, formed the core writing staff of the Simpsons which, i think, inspired a lot of “weird twitter” people in their own way, as well as Jack Handey, whose “deep thoughts” were first published in Army Man. Not sure if you’re familiar with him.

Unfortunately not

- Well when you wake up take a look http://www.boche.net/deep_thoughts.htm

The level of humor is strikingly similar. And john swartzwelder, who wrote one of my favorite jokes: “I’m not strong enough to end it all, so I guess I’ll just kill myself instead”. So this zine I’m publishing, called Rebel Girl, is kind of a return to that, i’m hoping to some of the original Army Man writers - all have had long and prosperous comedy writing careers - to contribute. It’s very cyclical. Their sort of writing directly influenced our sort of writing.

As always, in the case of culture. I noted that alvin greene woke up again as we’ve chatted. How much of the weird twitter stuff is like that, hibernating and then suddenly popping up again?

- Not much. I only use it occasionally, when i remember to

Well, if you dont feel like adding something, i think thats that

- If i could ask one question - do you personally like “weird twitter”? I mean you’ve obviously chosen this subject to write about

Well, my interest is always based on the theme of people doing stuff together on the internet. And that ranges between like Amanda Todds disgusting harassment crew, 4chan voting Justin Bieber to go to North Korea and this.

- Ah yes

But sure, i see the appeal in weird Twitter, and i like much of the things that reach me, as well as the foggy edges of the concept.

- At the end of the day it’s good writing

Yes, but also because internet underlines much of what people has been doing for all times: creating strange groups that feel confident with one another.

- Yes. Though i’ve always felt that beyond a handful of probably confusing references, “weird twitter” comedy is incredibly accessible, and can be related to. After all, most users i’m fond of are followed by somewhere between 3000-20000 strangers. Part of the object of Rebel Girl is to put this sort of writing (some of it longer than 140 characters) in a permanent form that can be distributed widely

Yeah. But in my view those references are often used to create a persona though, you know, the pokemon tweets for example, they arent about pokemon

- Right

It’s not the phenomenon of pokemon that hosts the humour, its the new context to place it in.

- Yes that’s a good way of describing it. To a point you need to follow along to really appreciate everything. But so much of it stands alone

Of course, yeah.

- There’s only so much context you can put within the boundaries of a single tweet, but by following someone over time you get context. This is a big reason why Rebel Girl will not be overly referential. I told writers to avoid references generally, i want to distill a certain part of the writing that can be appreciated by anyone. 

Take this joke for example. ”lacan once said ‘the very foundation of interhuman discourse is misunderstanding.’ what the hell is that supposed to mean you french fag”. that’s by @brendlewhat. You don’t have to know who lacan is or that he’s a psychoanalytic philosopher to understand it

Exactly.

- The language works on its own

What i like about it is also that its so obviosly nothing you reply “lol” to. It’s not that kind of joke, simply, but it still is. Very Louis C.K

- Sure. A good stand-up comic cultivates an atmosphere where his humor makes sense. If you printed out a louis ck stand-up bit verbatim, it wouldn’t be very funny. But when he’s on stage looking as he does and speaking with certain tones, the comedy clicks, you can argue much the same about “weird twitter” and context

Which reminds me about a last thing. When twitter one day ends, like dies, which im sure it will - where will you and weird twitter go?

- I’d rather not contemplate it. But twitter as a form exists now, and will be supplanted if it ever disappears. And as well, something like the zine can be an organizing point. An “underground” zine isn’t as necessary as it might have been in the 80s when a few people stultified by culture could be truly enlightened by it. But as a cultural option, “weird twitter” and this brand of comedy serves has a valuable and unique place. i think personally that expanding that influence is a good thing

But not the “shit my dad says” way?

- Yes. Most people just imported comedy they were doing elsewhere when they joined twitter, that is why it is not funny and doesn’t work. This is more organic to a point. It has a lot of antecedents, like SA and such, but people individually have different origins and frames of reference - it’s something like a melting pot

Yeah. fun detail: during this whole chat, twilight no 2 has been playing on my TV

- That is awesome

It felt fitting

- I refrain from discussing “weird twitter” in detail, but i’m sure there are good arguments to be made about its social/literary/political/philosophical significance. But that is the work of a critic. I think oscar wilde said the work of the critic is of secondary importance. “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic”. Stepping back and analyzing “weird twitter” isn’t terribly fun or interesting, in part because it’s such a nebulous concept. But cultural products on their own can be analyzed and criticized. So making a zine that functions on its own taking some aspect from “weird twitter,” that’s something i’d like to see discussed.

Yeah i get it, you shouldnt analyze a joke. if you laugh you should never ask why. cause then youll stop laugh

- Right. And it’s a tightrope to walk because you might very well be wrong

"You stop laugh". Yes, I am Niko Bellic.

- Anyway, we’ll see how things go, but i’m confident that the best years are ahead.

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  5. hell-fella reblogged this from jenihead and added:
    whow i never thought twitter stuff would be taken so seriously
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    “@Hitler_Big_Bird_Getting_Mad_At_iOS6_Maps” im friggin DYING right now
  7. rubbrcat reblogged this from kwasbeb and added:
    just highlighting the important parts
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  10. drunkpomeranian reblogged this from kwasbeb and added:
    virgil is awesome and i was honored to have him at my thanksgiving
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Jack, @kwasbeb on twitter and Jack Werner on Facebook, memelover, writer and wannabe radio maker. Subscribe via RSS.