Monday, February 28, 2011

@Mayor Emanuel, Emperor Norton, and Twitter as a literary form

On the Atlantic Tech blog, Alexis Madrigal serves up a timely and fascinating look at the creation and development of the finest Twitter feed of the last six months, @MayorEmanuel. I like how Madrigal connects it to the picaresque novel and the long tradition of carnival figures who expose the masquerade of everyday life. He makes a good observation that the form has a chronological and ongoing aspect that differentiates it, as well as the ability to talk back (which brings to mind the episode in Don Quixote when the characters read Part 1 of Don Quixote.) In that sense, there's a similarity to be drawn out to the satirical periodicals and pamphlets of the 1700s (I'm thinking Jonathan Swift and Ben Franklin here).

Image: When it's Dark Enough You Can See the Stars
the official art for Norton, c/o Ryan Bubnis 
I'm paying keen attention to this, as I am just about to launch my own experiment in Twitter storytelling as part of Taking our inspiration from @SamuelPepys, @FeministHulk, and many other experiments in the genre, Reorbit is is a cutting-edge project that merges historical figures and modern technology to create a new set of online plays. For my part, I'm taking the role of Emperor Norton, the first and greatest of San Francisco eccentrics who in 1859 declared himself Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico.

One of the most interesting things about Norton was that he was basically used as a @MayorEmanuel type figure by newspapers, who would issue their own proclamations in his name to comment and mock the events of the day. This gave them a rhetorical position more like the shakespearean fool than stately organ of the news, but when reality is suitably absurd and circulation in need of a kick, journalists are left with no choice (cf. Hunter Thompson).

It should be exciting.

No comments: