It may not be as well-defined as Black Twitter, but there’s now a distinct community of Jewish tweeters with a shared sensibility and set of concerns
A couple of years ago, observers noticed that black people make up a high percentage of Twitter users, and moreover that many use the medium differently than many white people do—connecting in bigger and bigger clusters; entertaining each other with distinctive hashtags (“blacktags”), in what some have suggested is a reboot of the centuries-old insult game, the Dozens. Black Twitter, as the form was quickly named, is admired by both black and white commentators because of the way it exploits Twitter’s defining characteristics. It features connectivity and discursiveness—the ability to “retweet” others and to tweet at (“@”) other users—as well as regulated bluntness: Tweets, after all, may be no longer than 140 characters. For these reasons, it turns out that the best way to maintain a feed that puts you in conversation with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of friends and strangers is to make sure you condense your argument, wit, and insight into sharp one-liners.
You would expect a people known since ancient times as the go-betweens par excellence and renowned for their facility with language and humor to use Twitter with similar brio and specificity, and, duly, a large number of Jewish writers and media types clearly enjoy the medium. While “Jewish Twitter” may not exist in the same well-defined way that “Black Twitter” does, there is clearly a distinct community of Jewish tweeters with a certain sensibility and set of concerns, if wildly varying politics—from John Podhoretz’s second-generation Upper West Side neoconservatism to novelist Ayelet Waldman’s liberal Berkeleyite feminism. “Its demands are what make it fun,” said Waldman. “You have to shrink things down to their essences. Sometimes I just can’t, but it’s always fun to try.” Even the difficulty of mastering the new technology can prompt creativity. Sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, the model of the angry Jewish tweeter (“Everybody complains that I fuck up their timeline? What timeline? On your phone? Turn off the timeline. Just appreciate the pearls of wisdom”), has taken to calling tinyurl—a popular service for shortening links, thereby making it easier to fall under 140 characters—“tinyhurl.”
“They’re totally instantaneous and I don’t put a lot of work or thought into them,” said Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary. Podhoretz persuasively argued that, despite Twitter’s reliance on decade-young technology, it has a much longer pedigree. “Sixty or 70 years ago, people would write these cracks and send them in to Walter Winchell or Leonard Lyons at the New York Post, one-line jokes,” he explained. “Woody Allen did it as a teenager. That’s sort of what Twitter is for me. I joined it, and I’m involved in it as a conscious matter to build an audience, to get people to read things in Commentary. But over time it’s a hobby,” he added. “If I had to think a lot about it, I wouldn’t do it, because it would eat up too much time.” Comedian Andy Borowitz’s popular feed grew out of the Borowitz Report, a Website he started in 2001 that every day published a work of political satire limited to 250 words—a much longer tweet. The anonymous user who goes by the handle @pourmecoffee originated his brand of droll humor as a commenter on other blogs. (I asked Marc Ambinder, who wrote the closest thing to a profile of the man behind @pourmecoffee, if he is Jewish; Ambinder said he didn’t know. I’d bet 18 bucks he is.)
There are certain things Twitter is not good for. Though many tweeters narrate their days without much adornment, and some have even achieved popularity in this way, the reality-show impulse is better served by, well, reality shows—and isn’t really very Jewish. However, this method can work—in Buzz Bissinger’s feed, for instance—when the particulars of one’s day are blown up or extrapolated from in order to cast light on the tweeter’s character. “Twitter like drugs for me,” Bissinger tweeted recently. “One Tweet and then I need 75 more hits. Plus I get jealous at drycleaners if somebody has more shirts than me.” The feed of peak-era Philip Roth might have looked something like this.
Though Twitter’s openness and immediacy make it irresistible to those looking for a fight, it really isn’t very good for polemics, either. “You can use it for comedy, for insult comedy, or just for insult: That probably has its place for many people who don’t otherwise have an ability to express their frustration in print,” said Podhoretz. “But for those of us who have outlets, it seems a little pointless.”
What it most certainly is good for is making friends … or acquaintances … or at least Twitter acquaintances. (In fact, Podhoretz and I have followed each other ever since getting into a brief Twitter-spat several months ago.) “When would I ever have become friends with someone whose political opinions are so fundamentally in opposition to my own?” Waldman marveled of the conservative think-tanker (and prolific tweeter) Joshua Treviño. “And, even more oddly, of John Podhoretz,” she added, “who used to love pitching me shit; he probably still does.”
And Twitter is really good for being funny—more specifically, for easing you into a mindset in which you are funny. The way your Jewish uncle is casually, effortlessly funny. “It’s literally a procrastination tool,” Podhoretz remarked of Twitter hashtags, which he is especially adept at making hay out of. There is an entire subgenre of Jewish hashtag variants (Jewtags?); last year, for example, I repurposed #lessinterestingbooks for The Scroll, listing #lessinterestingJewishbooks like Tevye the Actuary, the Triteuch, and The Diary of Anne Roiphe. “All a hashtag game is is puns: Play on a title, play on words,” Podhoretz explained. “Once you get into a frame like that, 20 things occur to you, because you get into a kind of groove, and the meaning of the pun reveals itself fully in some fashion.”
Follow the eight (or 16, if you include their suggested cousins) of my favorite Jewish tweeters, each representative of a distinctive type, and you might see what makes Jewish Twitter Jewish. Or, alternatively, go on Twitter on the one day of the year when Jews really are different from everyone else: Christmas.
Or try it out yourself. (My own feed is @marcatracy.) Not that Waldman’s recommending it: When I asked her if she thought Twitter was good for her, she replied, “Probably not. When you mouth off in an asinine fashion to your husband or your friends, there are only a few people who witness your idiocy. When you do it to 7,000 people? Oy.”
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