Monday, June 08, 2009

Weingarten The Twitter Shitter

The blog title is in credit to Demetrious-X who made me aware of this classic Penny Arcade.

Gene Weingarten thinks I’m stalking him. He ‘tweeted’ this on Twitter on Saturday:
Some po guy named yellojkt writes incessantly online about how all my writing is stupid, worthless drivel. He is now following me here.
He knew that I was following him since Twitter sends an e-mail any time some one ‘follows’ you. Clearly he recognized my nom de internet and was bemused enough to take a break from his day trying to find a rhyme for ‘poetry’ (I would suggest ‘toiletry' but that doesn't have the exact three syllable feminine rhyme a perfectionist like him would insist upon) and notify the world that his number one critic was now following his every tweet about the color of his bowel movements.

And yes, that is his real avatar. My Facebook friends think he created it himself, but I doubt he is that good a photographer. His poop fetish seems to be pretty deep seated, as it were. After all, his Washington Post online weekly discussion is called Chatological Humor. I really had no idea how large his unresolved Freudian potty training issues were, but it’s beginning to worry me.

But first a little backstory. About two weeks ago, I reacted perhaps a little too strongly to his weekly column where he told some mildly amusing tales about his dying dad’s descent into senility and then capped it off with a shout-out to his daughter graduating from vet school. I thought it was maudlin and sappy and well below his writing skills. I do have to take back comparing it to Mitch Albom. That was a little unfair. It's much closer to Chicken Soup For The Soul caliber.

I also called it a little pre-prepared, which he copped to in his chat. I just didn’t like it since it was such a departure from his usual take-no-prisoners approach. Judging from the reaction of my fellow Boodlers, who found it heart-warming and touching, I was in the clear minority here. Que sara, sara. To each their own.

Later in the week, I noticed a surge in hits on my blog from an obscure WaPo url. It seems the Style Invitational Empress on her discussion group had linked to my post and had this to say:
What I don't get is how the person is obviously acquainted with Gene's entire oeuvre ... yet claims to hate everything he writes. Why does he/she persist in reading his stuff?
The Empress (who is widely rumored to be Pat “the Perfect” Myers, a very fine copy-editor until WaPo decided (unwisely in my mind) they no longer needed that role) succeeded Weingarten, aka The Czar, at the Style Invitational so there is some professional and personal merit in her being miffed at my perceived attack, which I still insist can be seen as whatever the opposite of a left-handed compliment is. How she found out about my blogpost I have no idea, but hey, a link is a link.

One of the Losers, as Style Invitational devotees call themselves (Honestly, they do. In the words of Dave Barry, I’m not making this up), had an even harsher assessment:
I think the proper pronoun for that creature is neither "he", nor "she", but rather "it". Perhaps "it" is a masochist. In any case, anyone who posts bile like that is in desperate need of a large dose of lithium.
I good naturedly replied:
Thanks for the medical advice. Gene is a very talented writer who frustrates me when he is being infantile, patronizing or condescending, which is much of the time. I started reading Weingarten back when both he and Joel Achenbach had columns in the Sunday Magazine. In my opinion, WaPoMag dropped the wrong humorist. But then Joel has his solid reportorial skills to fall back on and I don't know what Weingarten could do for a living if he couldn't crank call people for column ideas or write sub-Ogden Nash poetry.
{blatant link-whoring snipped}
All in good fun. Gene needs some critics to keep him humble.
Which seemed to tick off a different Loser, who had this to say to me:
Please post several of your double dactyls with perfect meter and humor and let us judge who can and who cannot write poetry.
Well, I never claimed to be equal to the Great Pulitzer Prize Winning Master of Obscure Invented Humorous Poetry Forms. Heck, one of Weingarten’s double dactyls is so good that it’s in the Wikipedia article on them. Besides, my two favorite poets are Allen Ginsburg and Richard Brautigan. I doubt either of them could master the double dactyl either, which must make Gene better than either of them because he can rhyme and shit.

But this Loser didn’t stop there. He replied to his own rebuke and added this:
And you obviously have not read any of his the one that won the Pulitizer (sic).
Au contraire! Not only have I read it, I blogged about it before the Pulitzer Prize Committee recognized its awesomeness (to abuse just one of Weingarten’s grammatical peeves). I suggested that if Joshua Bell wanted to increase his busking tips, he could take a few pointers in showmanship from The Naked Cowboy. I’m sure I am missing the point of this Pulitzer Prize winning article. Perhaps deliberately so.

That post is dated April 7, 2007. Which brings up the issue of the word “incessantly”. Between then and the post two weeks ago, I blogged about Weingarten in detail one other time, about a year ago. Now I admit that subtitling the post “Why Gene Weingarten Is An Asshat” could be considered inflammatory, but Weingarten was speaking ex cathedra about comics and was very, very wrong.

In the four years of this blog, Weingarten is mentioned even parenthetically in only ten posts out of over 750. A few of these used ideas of his (like this one or this one, both of which have far more to do with Sally Forth, my one true obsession, than Weingarten) as inspiration. And I wrote an especially sappy one modeled after his column celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. So I hardly think I am the deranged stalker he and his minions are making me out to be.

So why did I ‘follow’ him? It may seem odd for me to confess now, but I like a great deal of his writing. His story about the daily lives of the Eskimos is masterful. Last week he wrote a hilarious column deconstructing and mocking Twitter. To do so, he joined the social networking site and deliberately tweeted the most banal non-sequitur drivel he could come up with that fit within 140 characters. They were awful, and I don’t mean that in the awesome sense. These were really bad. It’s a real hidden talent of his. I particularly like the ones where he writes a poem but the last line gets cut off because it exceeds 140 characters. Frickin' genius. I laughed really hard at the article, but it didn’t move me to follow him on Twitter.

In his chat that week, he lamented about how few followers he had before the article hit front lawns all over DC and how he vainly tried to pull some stunts to get more. I was still not motivated to follow him. Then over the weekend jambro, who is a long time reader of this blog, added me to her Twitter feed and out of courtesy I returned the favor. The top tweet of hers was:
@geneweingarten I'm done w you on Twitter. You come across like such an asshole. I want to keep enjoying your chats, which I love. So...bye.
That seemed pretty harsh, so I had to go and add him to my feed just so I could follow the train wreck that upset her so much. Which brings up an interesting point. The Washington Post Magazine has a press lead time of three weeks, so it had been over a month since Weingarten submitted his column about Twitter, but he was still inanely tweeting away and now had over 400 followers and is begging for celebrity ones.
(Note the chrono-synclastic infundibulum that puts Gene's post about me upstream of the
post that drew me to follow him. Typical Twitter FAIL on the server synchronization.)

Like a reporter that tries heroin just to see what it's like, he had taken a hit of Twitter and now can't stop. Sure, he's mocking the form in a very aggressively meta-way, but he is still tweeting up a storm nonetheless. At some point you become part of the phenomenon you think you are satirizing. Just sayin'.

Defenders of Gene (and they are legion) like to point out that his persona online and in print is clearly a schtick. Dave Barry (a protégé of Weingarten’s) can’t possibly be as obsessed with boogers and Good Names For a Rock Band in real life as his print avatar is. Gene’s fans say that nobody could really be as big a self-centered bloviating prick as that in real life. And I concur. Weingarten has a lovely wife, two successful grown children, and something I will never, ever have, a Pulitzer Prize. He can’t possibly be the jerk he plays on the internet.

But I have to take jambro’s side here. If it walks like an asshole, quacks like an asshole, and tweets like an asshole, it might be an asshole. In Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut warns "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

I think that is advice Weingarten might want to heed the next time he is looking in the toilet bowl and is inspired to twitter about it.

Update (6/10/09):
This was about the only Weingarten comment in his chat despite me submitting several pointed questions (from my pointy head):
Yoma, Ma: Nothing more needs to be said about Twitter.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, this is perfect. And the guy is perfect.
No new tweets from Gene since Sunday. Let's hope he's given up.


DemetriosX said...

Sounds to me like the "sensitive genius" has got his panties in a wad because a groundling has dared to criticize his precious work. He really needs to get over himself, as apparently do some of his followers/sock puppets.

On top of that, he's really tweeting pooping? That isn't even original! Penny Arcade did twitter shitters how long ago? Long enough for it to have become a meme anyway. Your last 2 posts on this guy have demonstrated him reworking other people's material and passing it off on his own. I wonder just how original the work that went into his Pulitzer was.

yellojkt said...

Weingarten is pretty net-unsavvy so I'm certain he THINKS he's being original. It took exactly one Google Search to find the Penny Arcade from April 23, 2008. I'm changing the title in its owner.

Anonymous said...

See, I need to pick a higher-profile fight than my usual snipes at the Puzzle Palace. I like his work too, but you raise some very good points.

Jenn said...

Jambro here...let me be clear, I actually really love Gene. I have been reading his chat for years and years and it is often the highlight of my week. I don't actually think he's an asshole, but his disdain for Twitter is just so obnoxious. For me, Twitter is fun and entertaining. I follow a few friends, I follow a few celebrities, and I follow some other folks I think are funny. When Gene changed his profile pic to a pile of shit, and then mocked yellojkt for following him, I was done. I know being superior is just part of Gene’s schtick, but the condescension was a little too much for me. I want to continue liking the person he presents himself as in his chats and to do so I have to stop paying attention to him on Twitter. Saying he was being an asshole was a little harsh, but that seems to be what he’s going for on Twitter, so maybe he took it as a compliment.

yellojkt said...

Thanks for your clarification.

Obviously Gene is trying to subvert the Twitter paradigm as much as possible and he is being increasingly obnoxious. The turd pile icon is way over the top and while not a strict violation of the terms of service is pushing the limits of generally acceptable social network behavior.

I don't know if or when his superiors at WaPo will decide that that sort of attitude doesn't reflect well on the corporate image. Which is why I have saved screen captures of the posts involved.

Ed & Jeanne said...

I'm happy to say I have no idea who Weingarten is and I do not care. You can even tell him that.

labradog said...

You call Gene Weingarten an asshat, yet on May 31, you admitted, without a hint of shame, that you subscribe to "Ziggy"? And you misspelled "Pibgorn", to boot?

Kinda like Summer's Eve calling Norforms a douchenozzle.

yellojkt said...

Finally. A pro-Weingarten troll. I was worried I wasn't making any impact.

And I prefer my spelling of Pigborn.

Anonymous said...

A hot flash for you, you bow tie daddy of a hipster: A "troll" is not merely someone who disagrees with you. A few more years on the intertubes and you'll have the jargon down pat.

1. Don't worry, no impact.
2. Yeah, there is no defense for liking "Ziggy".
3. Atheists will also "speak" to their departed dad; they just don't think he's listening from a castle in the clouds.

I find some of your stuff amusing, but when you try too hard for outrageousness, you end up spent from trying too hard, and outrageousness is foiled.

yellojkt said...


1. I have a very expansive definition of 'troll' that includes anyone that is not a normal commenter and comes by for a random comment on a specific topic, particularly if it is contrarian or critical. Not that I have anything against people that disagree with me. It keeps things lively.

2. I never said I liked Ziggy. I said I read Ziggy daily. Very different things. Not that Ziggy isn't without his occasional pantsless charm. I also have a very expansive definition of 'mildly amusing.'

3. I guess the only harm in talking to dead people is if they start talking back.

Feel free to come back some other time.

t2154 said...

Yanno, if GW's assitude is all an act, that makes it even more annoying than if it's only who he really is.