The purpose of this final project was to examine the live-tweets of four seemingly very different individuals, across a variety of occupations and rhetorical styles. As an English major, I am most comfortable writing traditional papers, but this class has challenged my writing abilities by introducing me to a technology-based writing platform. As such, my final project is an academic paper that has been converted into a blog post format, complete with gifs and screenshots of tweets.
This final project is the summation of a semester of considering the role of Twitter in our current political world, the way political opinions that may have once been expressed through lengthy articles or never even articulated at all are now conveyed through tweets. As demonstrated by my exploration and synthesis pieces, as well as Brie’s projects over the course of the semester, media and social media have developed into an intrinsic aspect of political commentary. What were once considered silly memes or immature/trollish comments are now examined as legitimate commentary on candidates’ positions. Social media has become a channel through which anyone can voice a short, punchy version of their opinion on politics and policymaking, no matter their follower number, level of education, or amount of political experience. The blog as a whole was most helpful to me as background understanding of the role of media and humor in political rhetoric, as I researched in my synthesis paper.
During the first presidential debate, when race relations, the controversial Stop and Frisk policy, and the topical issue of the shootings of black men and women by police officers was raised to the candidates, four live-tweeters expressed the following:
The reactions of myself, Bill Maher, Sarah Chinn, and Tomi Lahren to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s answers on police brutality, stop and frisk, and racial issues are a microcosm of our live-tweet streams throughout the presidential debate on September 26th. Though we all watched and analyzed the same debate, based on our tweets alone one might surmise that we were all watching differing, or even completely opposite, events.
As a college student live-tweeting with her Rhetorics course as the primary audience, my tweets often assessed the candidates’ rhetorical strategies and the ways in which their answers were worded. Many of my tweets were also emotional and reactionary, typed in all capital letters and featuring the slang phrases “yasss”, “I’m weak”, and “it’s lit”. As a professional pundit known for his biting humor, Bill Maher’s tweets often pointed out what he perceived as the flaws in Trump’s arguments or the flaws in Clinton and debate moderator Lester Holt not pointing out Trump’s inaccuracies more forcefully. Many of his tweets contained coarse language that my tweets, which were viewed by my classmates and professor, lacked. Sarah Chinn, Chair of the English department at Hunter College, was arguably the most surprising tweeter in consideration of her background and identity. As an academic figure, I predicted her tweets would include more analysis of policy and nuanced criticisms of the candidates’ answers. However, she often took a liberal, anti-Trump stance and wrote in a relaxed, informal tone.
On the opposite end of the political and ideological spectrum from Maher, Chinn, and I was Tomi Lahren, a conservative television and social media commentator, who was avidly pro-Trump and anti-Clinton in her tweets. Interestingly, I experienced great difficulty in reading through Lahren’s tweets and attempting to recall which moments of the debates she was referring to. With such tweets as “How about we start filling cells with you, Hillary?” and “Oh Hillary don’t you even go there with the woman card. Don’t even crack that can of worms”, she often targeted and tore into Clinton’s answers, as the other three Twitters were wont to do with Trump’s. Because she focused on Clinton’s flaws with the same intensity with which I focused on Trump’s, at times I did not remember what parts of the debate she was commenting on, as there was not a single moment over the course of the debates during which I thought We need to put Hillary in a prison cell.
What was common across all four live-tweets was the abundant use of “snark” to emphasize criticism or derision of either candidate. As stated in “Louis C.K.’s ‘Weird Ethic’: Kairos and Rhetoric in the Network”, snark is a hybrid word meaning a snide remark, often used on social media to convey a humorous or biting point. When Trump repeated that “we need law and order” more than once, I tweeted that I too enjoy the show Law and Order: Special Victims Unit; Chinn postulated that “Trump is enraged by having to listen to a woman this long without interrupting her”; Maher informed viewers that “to keep up with Trump’s bullshit they had to outsource fact-checking to China. Sad.”, touching upon Trump’s history of outsourcing labor to other countries to benefit his business, his apparent obsession with China, and his penchant for ending tweets with the condescending summation “Sad.”; Lahren reminded her fans that “’H’ is always silent in Benghazi”, a play on the silent ‘h’ in the word ‘Benghazi’ and what she perceives as Hillary Clinton’s incompetence or negligence in protecting diplomats and CIA officials in Benghazi, Libya, during an attack on a US compound in 2012.
While some may argue that snark does not have a legitimate place in political analysis and does not contribute to rhetorical criticism, even on such an informal platform as Twitter, the article postulates differently by suggesting,
“We can hardly blame the rhetor that turns to snark.”
The piece states that those who use snark as a rhetorical strategy do so because they feel exposed and vulnerable; snarky comments are a defense mechanism when one’s politics come under attack.
It is an adage with which many of us are familiar. Your mother assures you that the playground bully is only picking on you, teasing you, because inside they feel poorly about themselves. It is a sentiment attributed to Trump himself, who many suspect spent the presidential campaign making crass comments about women such as Megyn Kelly and calling his opponents such mocking names as “Crooked Hillary” and “Lyin’ Ted” because he is deeply insecure.
So, What? Who Cares? (Why It Matters)
But, you may be thinking, this isn’t a schoolyard and tweets are not mean notes scrawled by middle schoolers. How does this relate to politics and rhetoric?
Well, these live-tweeters and the candidates they criticized or praised are archetypes of our current political world. There are pundits and commentators, both young and old, liberal and conservative, using Twitter as a platform with which to engage their followers and propel the same rhetoric they use on their nighttime television shows.
There are constituents, students and teachers who may not be professionally engaged in politics, but follow it actively and consistently. Those who have found a professional or creative outlet online can tweet their criticism as quickly as a candidate makes their claim.
Then there are the candidates themselves, the men and women who promise to protect their base, pander to their audience, and denounce their opponents, but at the same time vow they will work for the good of the country as a whole. Though politicians and candidates (other than Donald Trump) may not always or even frequently be the ones directly using their Twitter accounts, their social media presences help to shape their public image, and thus the public’s opinion of them.
Snarky comments and tweets demonstrate just how fearful and desperate pundits and constituents alike have become over the course of this election cycle. As previously mentioned, people often turn to snark as an armor when they feel their political stances are being attacked, when they feel vulnerable.
Every tweet disparaging or denouncing Trump revealed the terror, Oh my God, this inexperienced narcissist might actually become president. My rights and wellbeing as a woman/person of color/Muslim/immigrant/LGBTQ+ person/etc. could be in real and serious danger.
Every comment on “Crooked Hillary” revealed the apprehension Oh no, someone I don’t trust, with her shrill voice and her decades of scandals, could be the next president of the country I love so much!
The left and the right seem to have been bitterly divided on every major political, social, and economic issue that has been raised over the course of this election cycle, as demonstrated by these tweets. However, a common factor across political identities is the way in which social media snark has been used to demonstrate the concerns people of many professions and educational backgrounds experienced throughout this election at the prospect of their candidate not making it to the Oval Office. Snark, even with its snide or sarcastic nature, expressed throughout the 2016 election the profound dread many felt at the potential for their beliefs and politics to be ignored or jeopardized.