Friday, April 09, 2010
The Year Of Living Olbermann
(A Cautionary Tale for the Genuine Article)
It began innocently enough, as most great adventures do. Alone and drunk and sitting in front of a television, I stared as the man, the myth, the legend that is Keith Olbermann declared, “Twitter”, the day’s “Worst Person In The World.” I was gob struck, a term I was technically not allowed to use as I had opted for MIT instead of Cornell, but damn convention, this was basic cable, and it was serious. The host of the news program I had enjoyed during the entirety of the 2008 Presidential election campaign, the man who had combined humor and intelligence in the coverage of our quadrennial ‘Sturm und Drang’ had just dumped all over the latest social networking phenomena because someone had sent him an email that referenced a tweet that was apparently addressed to a fake Twitter zzzzzzzzzzzz. I don’t remember the facts. I was well into the Slivovitz at this point and only capable of one thought: This can’t be the “real” Keith Olbermann. The real Olbermann has a sense of humor and this guy on the TV was using the same bat he swung against stupidity and hypocrisy and cruelty to swat at a silly little bird. But if the fellow on TV wasn’t the real Olbermann, that left a void! So picking up my computer, I did the only thing any right-thinking American would do. I created another fake Olbermann account, named it in honor of both Puff Daddy and Spartacus, and declared for all the world to see:
And, with a hastily crafted profile photo sporting the requisite ‘evil twin’ magic marker beard, I simply began typing things into the twitterverse, addressing no one and talking about nothing. No followers necessary, I just started tweeting. Random things. Silly things. Obviously insane things. For example, when the genuine KO appeared the next night on “Real Time with Bill Maher” I tweeted the ‘inside scoop’:
“bill maher smells like sweet pickle chips, the kind you put on your burger. i kind of liked it... there, i said it! i am olbermann”
And soon, like bits of cosmic flotsam and jetsam, Twitter followers, living, breathing human beings, began attaching themselves to me (or the me that was the fake Olbermann). In the beginning most appeared to be in on the joke and seemed to appreciate tweets like:
“and now, as promised, a special comment: To lower your stress, get a kitty. Lucky Numbers 6,49,5,11,2,3 i AM olbermann”.
Now to be honest, after the kerfuffle over the first 'fake' Olbermann (the one that resulted in the Countdown WPITW rant), there were those who doubted my authenticity. A few folks even asked me to “prove” that I really was Keith, which I did by taking a photo of a computer screen displaying an MSNBC KO publicity shot, clearly reflected in a hand mirror, and claiming this was a photograph of ‘me’ right after shaving that morning. The arrow cursor visible in my hair may have detracted from the air of legitimacy I was hoping to convey.
You see, in one of my many other identities (see the banner at the top of the blog) I’m a comedian and writer and posting as @iAMolbermann became an exercise to see how long I could maintain a funny Twitter stream from an alternate universe where a Bizarro World Olbermann dwelt. A tweet stream of Keith Olbermann's "id", if you will. At one point, early on, I even wrote to the producers of Countdown confessing my shenanigans and observing that I was finding it exhausting having to be Keith Olbermann for just a few minutes a day, and wondering how the real KO kept it up 24/7.
But as Nietzsche might have said (in 140 characters or less), “If you tweet long enough into the abyss, the abyss will begin to tweet back at you”, and eventually the hate tweets arrived. Angry people looking for a place to vent their frustration or confusion or just looking for a bogeyman they could lash out against. And the strange thing was how much it hurt. Personally. I knew I wasn’t Olbermann and that they weren’t directing their vitriol against me, but I had taken on the role of ‘in loco celebrity” and was, therefore, fair game.
And so the first lesson I learned in my year of living Olbermann was that people are willing to say things on the Internet that I don’t think their upbringing or religion or just good manners would permit them to say face to face. I wish this weren’t the case, but we all know its true. And it may speak more to our need, as human beings, of having our thoughts and feelings ‘witnessed’ by others, than it does to our capacity for anonymous cruelty. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to know. Remember, I’m the one who didn’t go to Cornell. But I do know that being a public figure, even an obviously fake public figure, comes at a cost, and as the real person behind the false identity, I can assure you the brickbats leave marks.
The second lesson I learned in my year of living Olbermann is that for every jerk with a nasty comment, there are hundreds of kind and compassionate folks who will offer their genuine love and support when life presents its toughest challenges. As regular viewers of Countdown know, Keith sadly lost both his mother and father during the past year, and as a jokester, I found myself unprepared to deal with issues of real loss and grief in the midst of my comic facade.
On the one hand I was writing a parody/comedy tweet stream that had no basis in reality, posting tweets like:
“OlberFunQuiz: chicken breed or name i've been called? Dorking, Clownface, Buttercup, Jersey Giant?”
“Went to see Avatar at the IMAX. Did you know they charge extra for 3D? I paid, but watched the film with one eye closed, in protest.”
And on the other hand, a real person, someone who I admired, had lost one (and then the other) of his parents.
Now it turns out that I had lost both of my parents during the past few years, as well, and again found that the real life events of my doppelganger had a direct impact on me through my faux Twitter identity. Many of @iAMolbermann’s followers, apparently unaware that they were not writing to the original Olbermann, sent lovely notes of condolence and consolation and I took care to respond to each of them, noting that I was a comedian and not the real KO, though still a fan, and suggesting that they send their well wishes directly to Keith at MSNBC. And so, as hurt as I was by the misdirected bile sent my way in the name of fair and balanced discourse, I was equally heartened by outpouring of unsolicited prayer and support and kindness directed towards my namesake as comfort against the universal experience of grief and loss we all, at one time or another, share.
And it was this second lesson that lead directly to the third and final epiphany I had during my year of living Olbermann:
Reading may be Fundamental, but "Reading" and "Reading Comprehension" are Not the Same Thing!
During my year of living Olbermann I managed to go from a handful of followers to somewhere close to 11,000. And a strange phenomenon I noticed along the way was that even though I repeatedly tweeted both subtly (and not so subtly) that I was NOT the real Keith Olbermann (a fact easily confirmed by simply reading the tweets authored by @iAMolbermann), the number of followers who believed I was Olbermann continued to rise. In fact, at one point I noticed that every time I tweeted I lost followers and so, after tweeting this precise revelation, I simply shut up and watched the count go even higher.
And so it went, parallel universes in perfect harmony, until April 8, 2010 (the night I originally wrote this piece). While packing my bag in anticipation of traveling to the home opener between the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves (yes, I happen to love baseball, too), I turned on the TV to catch the end of the 5pm Countdown broadcast and noticed Keith talking to John Hodgman about his intention to ‘finally’ enter the Twitterverse with an official account @keitholbermann. And, after a brief OMG/WTF moment, I quickly logged in as @iAMolbermann and tweeted:
“HOLY CRAP!!! the jig is up!!!”
and waited for my number of followers to drop. Except that they didn’t. Finishing up this article a bit over 2 hours after the “OG” Olbermann posted his first tweets, I discovered that I had even more followers than I did before, many of whom were, yes, ‘welcoming’ me to Twitter. (sigh)
As Walt Kelly wrote in Pogo,
“We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.”
Us, and a significant lapse in our reading comprehension.
And so, Mr. Olbermann, along with the thousands of others who will undoubtedly subscribe to the 140 characters of ‘Keithiness’ that will make up @keitholbermann, I too welcome you to the show (the other, weirder, more egalitarian show where everyone has made the roster and seems to be taking batting practice in all directions, simultaneously.) I hereby turn the @iAMolberman nation over to you, in good health and good spirits, no worse for the wear and tear and fake magic marker beard.
As Tooter Turtle might have said, “Please Mr. Wizard! I don’t want to be Keith Olbermann any more!” And as kindly Wizard the Lizard would hopefully have intoned, “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome; time for zis one to come home.”
Good Night and Good Luck being Keith Olbermann, Keith Olbermann. Its a task best left to those chivalrous of spirit, pure of heart, and clean shaven (Cornell degree optional.)
And in closing, I’ll ask that -you- answer the lovely Ann Molison @amolison of Colorado who tweets:
“So - which Olbermann do we read! This one with a hairy face! Or the clean cut - new one who finally logged in today! :)”
Keith, we both know its probably better that she hear it from you.
Article and Photo Mosaic of @iAMolbermann Followers
©2010 Robin Diane Goldstein
Posted by Robin Diane Goldstein at 8:35 AM