Twitter is bad. This is both a truth and a truism, a fact so well-established that it has become trite—the kind of banality that gets spat out thousands of times an hour on Twitter.com. Don’t take my word for it. Tap a couple of key words into a Twitter search field and watch the results fill the screen: a scrolling catalogue of anti-Twitter invective, tweet after tweet proclaiming the platform a cesspool, a garbage fire, a “hellsite.” Twitter, it’s said, is corroding public discourse, spreading lies and hate, hastening our descent into illiberalism. The place is infested by bots, trolls, and other 21st-century golems, including, of course, the shambling ogre named Donald Trump. Sure, Twitter has merits: It is a useful internet aggregator, it’s a tickertape for breaking news and information, it’s a publishing platform for individuals and communities marginalized by gatekeepers, it’s a place for people to hang out and joke around and, who knows, maybe make a couple of IRL friends. But these virtues cannot compensate for the pollution Twitter has unleashed on lives, minds, and the body politic.
That’s one theory of the case, at least. There is another. The argument is not exactly that Twitter is good. It’s that Twitter is a place for goodhearted people to disseminate goodness: good tidings, good cheer, good advice, good vibes, good will.
Or, as Lin-Manuel Miranda might put it, Gtidings, Gcheer, Gadvice, Gvibes, Gwill. Miranda is the author of a new book, Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me and You, an anthology of the tweets that the composer-playwright-actor-Hamilton-creator zaps out each weekday morning and evening under the handle @lin_manuel. Miranda has been at it for a few years now, building up a backlog substantial enough to fill his book’s 200 printed pages and several subsequent Gmorning, Gnight! volumes, should the market demand them. The tweets follow a simple format. Miranda posts a message to start the day; 12 or so hours later, he sends Twitter followers off to bed with a variation on the morning’s theme. Tonally speaking, these “little pep talks” are not at all little. They’re big, very big, in a brassy Broadway musical theater kind of way. Miranda’s tweets are ferociously upbeat: affirmations and exhortations that barrel down on the reader with the full fathom force of an Ethel Merman ballad.
Make good choices!
Listen to your
Make good choices!
Live your life
and raise your voices!
“Good morning, you magnificent slice of perfection. Yeah, you.”
“Good night, you generous helping of flawlessness. I’M LOOKING AT YOU.”
You’re stunning and the world is
lucky to have you.
We are LUCKY TO HAVE YOU.
Do your best.
You’re stunning and the world is
lucky to have you.
We are LUCKY TO HAVE YOU.
Get some rest.
The book begins with a disclaimer. In the introduction, written in rhymed verse, Miranda asserts that his tweets are first and foremost self-motivation, life lessons conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda for Lin-Manuel Miranda: “If I write ‘relax,’ then I’m nervous/Or if I write, ‘cheer up,’ then I’m blue/I’m writing what I wish somebody would say/Then switching the pronoun to you.”
Miranda sounds defensive, which is understandable. He must realize that to appoint oneself to the role of oracle—to foist instruction and inspiration on strangers, even in the bite-size form of a tweet—is presumptuous. Miranda also knows that some will be suspicious of a book whose contents are available free of charge to anyone with an internet connection. In the introduction, Miranda makes the case for the move from pixels to print, an argument that boils down to Books=Good. (“It’s nice to have things to hold onto. … You can read this whenever you want to.”) Fair enough: When seeking enlightenment, many of us prefer to set aside our iPhones, sinking into an armchair with a gilt-edged volume of Boethius, or a paperback of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. But bibliophiles may be underwhelmed by the physical object that Miranda and Random House have produced. The main “booky” bonus offered here are illustrations by the artist Jonny Sun, executed in a serviceable high twee style that I associate with Etsy greeting cards. At a list price of $22, it’s a questionable bargain.
Nevertheless, Gmorning, Gnight! is a bestseller. What do buyers get for their money? Flattery: “You’re indescribable. We writers spend our lives trying to do you justice. And you’re always more than we can capture.” Life coaching: “Call that friend you’ve been meaning to call despite the time that’s piled up.” New Agey benedictions: “I wish you clarity today.” Art therapy: “Write a bit, just for yourself. Give that maelstrom in your head a place to land.” Squishy spirituality: “Keep busy while you wait for the miracle.” And, always, gratitude: “Tired but grateful. Sick, but grateful. It’s GREY out, but I’m grateful. So much easier to start with grateful.”
I can’t say that I’m grateful for Gmorning, Gnight!, but I am amazed by it. In 2018, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an oddity: a brilliant artist who is also a purveyor of dreck. It has become fashionable in certain circles to dismiss Hamilton as middlebrow. It is not. It’s as beautiful and profound as any artwork in recent memory. Hamilton wrestles with some of the meatiest aspects of human experience: destiny and death, memory and memorialization, politics and war, love, sex, ambition, nationhood, race. It is clever and surprising and formally inventive and moving and fun. It reveals Miranda as a deep person with a master’s command of both musical language and the English language, capable of distilling complicated ideas and emotions into indelible tunes and words. It is as close to Sondheim, perhaps as close to Shakespeare, as we are likely to get in this century.
Yet the mind that gave the world “Wait For It” and “History Has Its Eyes on You” is also responsible for this insight, posted to Twitter in October 2017 and immortalized on page 34 of Gmorning, Gnight!:
The moment that connects you to your true passion might be on the other side of breakfast.
Or just a baby step there.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) October 16, 2017
Why would a MacArthur- and Pulitzer-certified culture hero devote his free time to slinging bromides on the internet?
For one thing, it’s good business. The self-help industry is a pillar of American culture; so are preening celebrities. These days, the former has become a province of the latter, a way for famous people to extend their cultural footprints, broaden their brands, feed their ravenous egos. Why be a mere star, when you can also be a guru? Thus Gwyneth Paltrow, who has graduated from the movies to the “lifestyle and wellness” racket as the CEO and spirit-guide behind Goop; thus Reese Witherspoon, who has moved into the void left by Oprah Winfrey, “curating” a hugely popular book club that emphasizes reading as self-actualization. Miranda is an unusually savvy operator, a New York theater rat who navigates the byways of 21st-century stardom with greater deftness than nearly any A-list movie actor or pop singer. As a career move, Gmorning, Gnight! is shrewd indeed.
But it is a mistake to dismiss Miranda’s book as crass careerism. When Miranda taps out a tweet, he is, I think, listening to his inside voices. He’s a true believer—in you, in me, in positive thinking, in the talismanic power of the Caps Lock key and the phrase “Let’s go!” Who I am I to say his faith is misplaced? Miranda’s mantras have obviously served him well, in work and in life. He is, by all appearances, a happy man, and a mensch. He certainly plays a happy mensch, online and onstage and onscreen. His public persona is that of the irrepressible good guy, the bighearted political progressive, the loving husband, the devoted dad, the lovable nerdy-but-cool dude with a dubious haircut and déclassé goatee who can swap freestyle bars with Black Thought and belt out songs from Rent and Les Miz alongside James Cordon and Audra McDonald.
Above all, Miranda is a softie. He tears up during interviews with Oprah; he tears up watching Zac Efron perform in The Greatest Showman. Like many people who make their living in the musical theater, schmaltz gushes through his bloodstream. In fact, the greatness of Hamilton is inseparable from its sentimentality. The show has an inspirational and aspirational flavor, a vision of personal destiny that smacks more of the early 21st century than the late 18th. (Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton is a bootstrapper who “got a lot farther … by being a self-starter.”) A clear line connects Miranda’s most stirring art to his most insipid tweets. “I’m not throwing away my shot!” is a refrain for the ages; “Gmorning! The miracle of you, the thrill of you, becoming who you’ll be!” is pure kitsch. But the message is more or less the same.
Personally, I’m not much of a “becoming who you’ll be” kind of guy. (Bemoaning who I am is more my thing.) Yet I can’t bring myself to hate on Lin-Manuel Miranda, no matter how insufferable his homilies. Once I acclimated to the humid temperature of Gmorning, Gnight!, I began to see some merit in it. The content of Miranda’s pep talks is inane, but there is pleasure to be found in their form, in the delight Miranda takes in chucking words together. Miranda’s tweets are a throwback to a more benign era of Twitter, before the trolls swept in, when for many users the platform served as a forum for pithy literary play. Miranda punches up self-help boilerplate with earthy turns of phrase (“Kick inertia in the grundle”) and witty imagery (“Good night, you Matryoshka dolls, stack ’em up and pack ’em in. You contain multitudes”). He sprinkles in Spanglish and hip-hop slang. He winks at Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”: “You’re the bees knees! The lamb’s gams! The calves’ calves! Bethenny Frankel’s ankles!” Occasionally, he seems to mock his own airy optimism: “Good morning. Dubious. But doing this.” He busts old school—really old school—rhymes, delivering quatrains and couplets with scansion worthy of an Elizabethan:
Awaken ancient forms, and play within them,
Sift gold amidst the wreckage of your slumber;
Renew your passions, maybe Pinterest pin them,
Tell that one toxic friend, “Yo, lose my number.”
The day is clear, a new year is aborning;
And so are you, perpet’ually. Gmorning.
Encountered individually, Miranda’s tweets are stupefying. They goggle your eyes and glaze your mind with their banality. Assembled in bulk, read through one after the other, they take on a slightly different shape. The whole thing begins to feel like a gonzo art project: You can’t help but respect the manic energy and commitment that Miranda brings to so gauche an endeavor. (Dubious—but doing this.) Gmorning, Gnight! is a bad book; it’s also a mesmerizing experience. You might even call it a Gread.
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