Twitter demands a new style of reading--at least for me as I somewhat belatedly try to learn how to follow the stuttered cascade of references and slap-and-forth responses; it's even harder to follow because I'm still a little starstruck: not only do I get a dribble of insight into my favourite star's minds as they jot down their thoughts, but they actually talk to each other across twitter, so it's like I'm sitting next to Bruce Willis at a restaurant and watching him lean over to the next table to say "Thanks for the concern, my Mom's better now" to Thom Yorke.
As I begin to accustom myself to the churning text of Twitter, I come across a problem far from unique to twitter: what do you do when you're not sure something is a joke? Of course, you get some clearly great comic material on twitter - the flood of one-liners from Colbert, the occasional splash-in-the-face from Steve Martin or Jimmy Carr. But what about those lines that are not . . . quite . . . right.
Bret Easton Ellis asks if Susan Boyle really understands her version of Lou Reed's Perfect Day but then says he guesses it doesn't matter because it's the best cover version of the song he's ever heard. But her version is not better than this; it's not better than this; and face it, it's not better than this, which might actually be shite. Boyle's version sounds like something cut from a mid-1980s Andrew Lloyd Weber play. But here's the rub: if ever there were a song that really doesn't need to be "understood", it's Perfect Day. It's not like Boyle has invested time and energy into Legendary Heart but not cottoned onto the fact that at least one of the lines comes from Shakespeare; she hasn't taken on Halloween Parade, without quite realizing that it is not really an elegy for trick-or-treating or apple-bobbing (unless by trick-or-treating and apple-bobbing one means something we can presume is not what Simon Cowell ever wants to discover is something Susan Boyle is fond of); it's not like Boyle has a version of I Wanna be Black or has tried to cover Metal Machine Music. It's Perfect Day. Everybody understands Perfect Day. So is Ellis saying Susan Boyle has such a cud-chewing, bovine intellect she doesn't understand Perfect Day? Or is he saying that she has done something so subtly astounding and yet so revolutionary to Perfect Day she couldn't possibly understand what she has done? Or is the tweet just a chance to say a really snotty thing to say about Susan Boyle (which is about as hard as throwing darts out of a window and hoping they'll hit the ground)? Or maybe it was a way of saying that she's so uncool she doesn't even realize when she accidentally does something cool, and he wants to admire the latter accidental coolness? I don't know.
You might say: it's just a tweet. You can't take these things seriously. Sure, some people are taking twitter too seriously (Sarah Palin has learned that journalists will report her tweets, so her half-formed thoughts can be immediately channeled into the national discourse) but they're usually the fools for it. So, get over it; give the man a break; tweets aren't lines in a novel, they aren't performed on stage, they're a bit like e-mail messages where you have to hit Send before you can even begin to consider finishing the thought. So, forget about it. Go to bed.
Fine. I can do that.
But . . . but then what do we do when we can't just shrug something off the way we can with the Boyle-Ellis-Reed tweet-incident; what do we do when the marginal ceases to be marginal and, the more you look at it, the marginal strikes you as quite possibly central?
In other words, what are we supposed to do with Kanye West? Now, I'm no fan of Kanye West. Fans are wimpy little bitches who buy records and want signatures; no, I'm a student of Kanye West. I'm at the back of his classroom, scared to raise my hand but watching wide-eyed as he drops mad science from the blackboard up front.
When it comes to Twitter, he's operating on some metatextualist level, constantly re-thinking his own voice, obliquely but insistently critiquing twitter at its essence; all of this is fair enough. But there is also a steady stream of jawdroppingly almost-one-liners, and suddenly the marginal becomes central: is Kanye West parodying the entire world or is he the most damningly earnest product of that world? Not knowing whether or not something is a joke can be of no importance whatsoever, but it can also be a dizzying misunderstanding of, or inability to understand, the world.