04 March 2011

The @MayorEmanuel Debate

     At this point, I'm sure most people, at least in Chicago, know about the "spoof" Rahm Emanuel Twitter account, @MayorEmanuel. With a couple thousand tweets, and over 42k followers, the account was a commentary on the very important mayoral race in Chicago. It was profane, funny to many, and entirely fictional. Just this Monday, its proprietor, journalism professor Dan Sinker, unveiled himself and it got a lot of people pissed off, notably Jim DeRogatis and Steve Rhodes, respected Chicago journalists.

     DeRogatis wrote a post on his blog after hearing the news that Sinker was behind the account. At one point he writes,
"Really, Dan? This one-note joke was your way to demonstrate the power of journalism's new tools and comment on an issue as vitally important as the race for the next mayor of Chicago? Go ahead, stick with the story that it all was just a little joke that grew and grew. In the end, you might as well have endorsed the guy."
     DeRogatis goes on to accuse Sinker of using the @MayorEmanuel account as an act of journalism (I'm assuming due to Sinker's journalism background). His Platonic thinking is pretty annoying here: he's taking a rather unpredictable phenomenon (the success of the account), looking at it retroactively, and applying a narrative that supposedly explains its fruition and status. To say Sinker was attempting to reinvent or even modify journalism with a spoof account is dramatic and naive at the same time. The @MayorEmanuel account's popularity is consequential of so many unpredictable factors, only part of which Sinker had control of. So I think it's foolish of DeRogatis to critically assess it, at least to the extent which he holds Sinker accountable.

     If anything, it seems like displaced anger on DeRo's part for those who let the account dictate how they felt about the real Rahm. It's the Obama effect: allowing non-issue rhetoric to influence you as a voter. Hell, it's how young voters get mobilized (as long as the rhetoric is "cool"). What's cooler than a Twitter account? That's the real shame here, the fact that some people voted based on a spoof account (which is, obviously, why Rahm's people never had it taken down or the name changed).

     Which does open up a new point that DeRo would have had better success tackling: Sinker undoubtedly knew the power he had with this account, but has failed to use that power in a positive, unselfish way (up to this point). That I would agree with DeRo about. But we shouldn't accuse Sinker of trying to reinvent journalism.

     After DeRo's post, Steve Rhodes, of Beachwood Reporter, wrote his own post, in complete agreement. It's his post, however, that seems more appropriately targeted. He writes:
"Sinker merely burnished the myth of a foul-mouthed pragmatist with little patience for pageantry who just wanted to 'get things done' instead of doing what truly effective political satire does: reveal the truths behind the propaganda and manufactured media narratives."
Bravo, Rhodes, you've hit the nail on the head. Sinker garnered a huge audience at least marginally engaged in politics, so why not take that opportunity to do something lasting and meaningful? There has to be a way to creatively and effectively do that. And if the "satire" itself was intended to motivate, I think it failed. It didn't really cause introspection.

     That's not to say, however, that the writing wasn't good. I just think a lot of it was lost in the account's followers. And here's an interesting point: I never followed @MayorEmanuel, thus I was only really exposed to the retweets of people I already followed. It was those retweets that made me determine I did not want to follow him because I thought they were rather pointless and over the top. It wasn't until I looked at his full Twitter stream (after the election) that I realized he was writing some pretty good stuff,  but it was mostly the pointless stuff getting retweeted. I'm not sure if that's looking too far into it, but it seemed that's mostly what the general public was taking from the account: a bunch of F-bombs.

     While it's a little misguided to accuse Sinker of actively attempting to engage in journalism with the account, I think it's valid for Rhodes and DeRo to be pissed, as journalists. I think it's pretty obvious the account was an endorsement of Rahm, as it didn't get to anything truly important. Which, in and of itself, isn't bad, unless, perhaps, you call yourself a journalist. As they've said, he just reinforced Rahm's cool factor at a point where we could have used a more transparent mayoral race. I mean, how many do we suspect actually knew Rahm's platform? Or anyone's for that matter?

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