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.”
Name: Ayelet Waldman
Day job: Novelist
Claim to fame: A prominent writer in her own, er, right, she is also married to Michael Chabon.
How Jewish? (1-10) 7.5. “Am going to Israel and just found out will be doing media. Must lose 10 lbs immediately. Old boyfriend. Ugh. Ideas?”
Beit Shemesh – Jewish Taliban.
—Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) Dec. 27, 2011
I’ve been thinking lately about civility. How, for example, twitter has given me the opportunity both to rant at people, & get to know them.
—Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) Dec. 29, 2011
Christmas Tweet: “Every Jew in the bay area is in line for Saul’s deli.”
If you like her, you should also follow: @saraivry
Sick of being sad, I’ve decided to spend a few minutes in Roiphe Rage. I know, I know. Easy target. But give me a break. My dog is dying.
—Ayelet Waldman (@ayeletw) Nov. 15, 2011
I had dinner with Rigoberto Menchu once. Introduced by my revolutionary boyfriend. Who turned out to be married. Ah Youth.
Name: Andy Borowitz
Day job: Comedian of a political bent
Claim to fame: Did you know he created The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?
How Jewish? 5. OK, 6, for his last name and willingness to use his likeness in his avatar.
Specialty: Meta-jokes about Twitter
If there is sufficient social media outrage about this tweet, I will untweet it. #Komen
There is a fine line between social media and wasting your fucking life.
—Andy Borowitz (@BorowitzReport) Jan. 13, 2012
Twitter is great at helping you get sick of things faster.
Putin Warns Russians: ‘I Am Following You All on Twitter’
Christmas Tweet: “Christmas: when Jews feel like the Jonas Bros at a Justin Bieber concert.”
If you like him, you should also follow: @pourmecoffee
Say what you will about Rick Perry, if he were the captain of that Italian cruise ship he’d still be at the wheel.
If the inventor of Facebook is worth $28 billion, the inventor of masturbation is worth the universe.
Mitt Romney is a karaoke version of a human being.
—Andy Borowitz (@BorowitzReport) Feb. 9, 2012
Name: Julie Klausner
Day job: Comedian/writer
Claim to fame: Intelligent, incisive pop-culture digestion, with a side of being a New York lady.
How Jewish? 8. “I want somebody to go to Russ & Daughters and buy me all of the things.”
Specialty: Melding of pop culture and personal life
Sometimes I think Sweeney Todd is the only 20th century masterpiece, and other times I wonder how I ever got a heterosexual man to love me.
Danny Craig & Mike Fassbender seriously need to cool off. I get it bros: you’re around tonight, you’re in my neighborhood. I got your texts!
Christmas Tweet: “Now I’m at a Chinese restaurant in Westchester and it’s fucking carnage here. I haven’t seen this many noodle-rabid Jews in my life.”
If you like her, you should also follow: @ditzkoff
*puts “Fuck Tim Gunn” on to-do list*
I’ve reached the point in my insomnia where I’m just watching random Holocaust docs on Netflix streaming.
—Julie Klausner (@julieklausner) Jan. 15, 2012
More like Cedric the ENTERTAINING! Please RT.
THE NEW YORKER
Name: John Podhoretz
Day job: Editor of Commentary
Claim to fame: Neoconservative scion, former comedy writer, five-time Jeopardy! champion.
How Jewish? 9.5 “Oy.”
Christmas Tweet: “Christmas morning 6:15 breakfast with wife and kids at Canter’s Deli in LA. Like an Edward Hopper painting redrawn by David Lynch.”
If you like him, you should also follow: @joshmalina
One reason I like Mitt Romney is he thinks I’m a Gentile.
—John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) Jan. 27, 2012
Name: Buzz Bissinger
Day job: Journalist, primarily about sports
Claim to fame: Author of Friday Night Lights, vocal journalistic Luddite, manic depressive.
How Jewish? 2. “What’s wrong with David Simon? Hypersensitive dongasaurus who made one good show. Hate thinskinned people. Man up, Simon. Be like me.”
Gladwell: theory that hard-work overcomes talent: wrong. That ridiculous hockey crap about youth players: wrong. And drop the fucking afro.
Gladwell’s hair looks like a helmet anyway. What does he have to be scared about? Concussion might knock sense into him.
Making fun of Gladwell’s hair crude low blow, particularly since mine recedes to back of my ass.
Serious New Year’s Resolution no. 1: Rant without being a vindictive jealous asshole. Hard to stop. Lots of self-image pain in there.
—buzzbissinger (@buzzbissinger) Dec. 30, 2011
Also, coiner of profanities: “dongasaurus,” “rearasaurus,” and his beloved “douchejuice.”
Christmas Tweet: “Maybe I shld get wife no. 3 box of cashews. Spend Xmas together in emergency room…”
If you like him, you should also follow: @mobius1ski
Have to go to my shrink now. That’s always fun. Only hope afterwards is that steering will go and I crash into Starbucks.
—buzzbissinger (@buzzbissinger) Nov. 1, 2011
So should I push for a show on ESPN? No idea if interested. Speak with great passion. But when I try to smile looks like I am taking a dump.
Dinner with wife no. 3 last night. Told me if I pulled shit like yday she would tie dongasaurus in knot. Quite small these days praise Jesus
Name: Tavi Gevinson
Day job: High school sophomore, editor of Rookie
Claim to fame: She has gone from fashion icon to zeitgeist-y, razor-sharp editor all in a couple years’ time. And she’s 15.
How Jewish? 6. “Happy new year to my fellow tribe members”
Specialty: Striking the exact right balance between the level of self-awareness Twitter requires and genuine earnestness. Not incidentally, this is also what makes her credible as a precocious yet real teenager.
It’s a shame you can’t see on twitter that everything i say is immediately followed with either a cringe or mumbling about hating myself
read the first 2 and the last 2 pages of my summer reading book, BAM DONE READY FOR SOPHOMORE YEAR STARTING TOMORROW
—tavi gevinson (@tavitulle) Aug. 23, 2011
can’t decide if my favorite christmas song is “All I Want For Christmas Is You” or “All I Want For Christmas Is You (Extra Festive)”
—tavi gevinson (@tavitulle) Dec. 22, 2011
If you like her, you should also follow: @manrepeller
my mom just described tonight as “menstruation shabbat”
THE PORN STAR
Name: James Deen
Day job: Porn star
Claim to fame: Jewish porn star. Not like Ron Jeremy is a porn star who happens to be Jewish; it is much more important to Deen’s identity.
How Jewish? 4
Specialty: Laughing about his job
Insert jesus joke here… or is it santa’s b-day? honestly don’t, I’m a jew.To me it it’s just Wednesday…. wait… what day is it?
—James Deen (@JamesDeen) Dec. 25, 2011
If you like him, you should also follow: @joannaangel
I makeout on the first date
THE FAKE JEWS
Name: Peter Kaplan
I don’t understand … The Peter Kaplan Twitter feeds are the work of Peter Stevenson and Jim Windolf, two former staffers of the New York Observer, where the real Peter Kaplan—the real real Peter Kaplan—was the longtime editor. They are the exception that proves the rule: Gentiles who have taken on the identity of a Kaplan, a Jewish priest, to join Jewish Twitter.
Day job: Editorial director of Fairchild Fashion Group
Claim to fame: Man about town, social gadfly, denizen of Westchester County, flâneur, lover of various comely lasses in Queens and elsewhere, aging editorial mastermind, lost soul, battler of raccoons.
How Jewish? 7.5. “I’m with the Jews.” (Wise)
Specialty: Staying hip.
So what are you ass-hats occupying today? #ows (Real)
I WAS HOPING SOMEONE WOULD RECOMMEND SOMETHING TO ME. I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE A TV SHOW, MAYBE A MOVIE. LISTEN NOW AND LISTEN GOOD. FUCK YOU. (Cranky)
At shul, explaining to 5 year old nephew Schmooley and pals that it’s not that Santa hates Jewish kids, it’s just that he’s a very busy man.
—wise_kaplan (@wise_kaplan) Dec. 24, 2011
ASSHOLE NEIGHBOR INVITING ME TO “AN EVENING OF WASSAIL AND CHRISTMAS CAROLS AROUND THE PIANO.” GOING TO TAKE A CRAP ON HIS LAWN INSTEAD. (Cranky)
If you like him, you should also follow: @kaplan_sttropez
Daniel! I have no idea what this means. RT @DanielBaldwin: It’s Sunday, the day of Sun and rest for most. Make it SON DAY for a change! (Real)
I don’t trust WASP guys who look like Jews.
—wise_kaplan (@wise_kaplan) Jan. 6, 2012
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.