Twitter

Twitter Hates Punk Rock

For the past four months, I have been locked out of my personal Twitter account. This punishment was for the crime of answering a friend’s question about music with the name of one of my favorite bands. This is not an exaggeration.

Back in December, a friend spent some time talking up John Mayer’s stint with the most recent touring version of the Grateful Dead and was marveling at his musicianship. In the midst of this euphoric posting, he gave the prompt “Actually name a band John Mayer couldn’t improve I DEFY you”. Without considering the merits of Mayer’s guitar-playing skills, I took the question seriously and gave a one word answer. This was the band.

Now, I know many people have different opinions about John Mayer, the majority of them dependent on when they first encountered his music or last paid attention to his career. Personally, I remember him from his debut album, which was filled with chords you normally only hear in jazz band (a plus from this guy who played guitar in jazz band!) that supported decent soft pop-rock songs (a plus for my sister who actually bought the album and played it a lot more than I preferred). In other words, I never was a big fan of Mayer, but it never was an opinion that was set in stone. Over the years I’ve read interviews from musicians I respect who praise Mayer’s skills, so my assessment these days whenever I see his name is more along the lines of “good for him, but not sure I’ll check out the new album.”

In other words, my answer was not given because of any animus towards the man; quite the contrary. It was a serious and thoughtful response to the prompt, and I would argue the definitive correct answer. Suicide was a landmark punk band from the 1970s, and their music could not be farther from John Mayer’s normal work. Suicide was an aggressively confrontational group, who gave no thought to alienating their audience at their live performances. Suicide’s music was harsh, minimalist, and repetitive; in other words, not a match for John Mayer’s ostentatious and pyrotechnic noodling. The point was to reduce music to its most primitive level, relying on artificial sound from early synthesizers and drum machines. The addition of a guitar to this would in and of itself defeat the point of the band. And to further distinguish themselves from other good answers like Kraftwerk, Suicide was always a duo, with Alan Vega and Martin Rev being the sole members of their decades-long run. In this case, three’s definitely a crowd.

So, what’s the controversy? For a few hours, there was none. In fact, my friend responded to my answer in good fun, with “You know he’d bring them to a whole nother level” [sic]. Nobody seemed bothered by it, but later that night I open up Twitter on my phone, and I can’t load up my Timeline. Apparently at some point that evening, either somebody reported the tweet (unlikely) or it was auto-flagged by Twitter itself.

And that’s when I began my battle with Twitter’s totally non-responsive bureaucracy.

In the big block of text preventing me from accessing my account, there’s a link to an appeals form. I fill it out, expecting it to be a quick fix. Surely a brief explanation with a handy link to Suicide’s Wikipedia page will fix the matter!

Nope.

I kept receiving generic “we’ve received your request and will process it as soon as we can” responses, and kept filling out responses with lengthier and lengthier explanations. At first, I was understanding–it’s not like everyone is familiar with the work of old punk bands, especially if the people handling content moderation are either not from this country or are younger than say 30. But after multiple attempts, it seemed nobody at Twitter wanted to believe that a band whose debut was twice ranked one of the 500 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone actually existed.

A couple of days into the process, I was fed up. I understand the band is somewhat obscure, but how obscure are they really when they figure into the plot of an independent Greek film? (Quick note: the actor in that scene is the writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favorite”, “The Lobster”, “Dogtooth”)). How unknown is the band when they’re mentioned in the reviews of albums by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Flaming Lips, when they’re name-checked by LCD Soundsystem (skip to 3:06), sampled by artists like M.I.A., and when they’re covered by The Boss?

[Fun fact: Bruce Springsteen was next door recording his own stuff when Suicide was in the studio recording their second album. He loved the band, and noted their influence on his classic album Nebraska]

One might be tempted to characterize Twitter’s response as Orwellian or Kafkaesque, but those terms don’t really fit–though this classic Kafka doodle characterizes my reaction. Apparently most authors never really considered the possibility of a completely unaccountable power, one that is immune to any complaint whatsoever because they can simply ignore them forever without consequence.

Amid the generic responses, there was a single actual reply. Apparently my case was reviewed and it was determined…I violated the rules “against promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm.” Apparently not only are the people of Twitter culturally illiterate, but they’re just plain old illiterate! By simply reading the prompt and response, there is no way to interpret my tweet as a “threat”, at least if you want to follow the basic rules of grammar. It would take ridiculous leaps of logic to conclude that my response could be viewed as a threat, and that’s only if you decided to read it without knowing how English worked in any way whatsoever.

Now, this incident in and of itself is deeply silly, but it points to a more serious problem with how Twitter functions in general. Despite the ample evidence shown to the contrary, and because they chose to ignore all context to the discussion, had Twitter decided that the mere MENTION of “suicide” was a suspension-worthy offense? It’s the precedent of this incident that truly matters.

Would it now be forbidden to discuss the Eugenides novel/Sofia Coppola film/Air soundtrack to “The Virgin Suicides” in any capacity? That’s tough, because two of those three are favorites of mine as well (I will get around to reading the novel at some point, I promise). Could I also not discuss Pom Pom Squad’s song “Lux”, which is a reference to the story? Hell, would I be able to mention the fact that the album references an incident that also inspired the landmark experimental documentary “Landscape Suicide”? It sure seems like all these mentions would invite a suspension. It’s too bad, because the album rules (and will figure prominently in our Best of 2021 rundown).

Let’s keep this going. Will we now be forbidden to discuss the song about all that guy really wanted was a Pepsi?

Or how about the song about how much the singer loves his dog?

How about mentioning the name of the theme to the most popular TV show of all-time? I’m guessing that’s out of bounds now too.

I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but it’s all on the table because according to Twitter, context does not matter at all! It doesn’t even rise to the level of “nuance” in this case, and that is a serious problem.

The cherry on top of this shit sundae is that the week before my suspension, Twitter was full of jokes about ACTUAL SUICIDE PODS. That’s right, news came from Switzerland about a new assisted-suicide machine, and it prompted tons of jokes on my timeline. I did not join in, but I also didn’t report anybody, because that would be ridiculous. Some of the jokes were even good.

What might be the most remarkable aspect of Twitter’s punishment of my account is the fact that it is a secret. None of my followers would know about my suspension unless I’ve personally told them, because Twitter has not posted any warning on my page. All of my friends look at my profile, and they just see a guy who suddenly stopped posting (well, let’s face it, retweeting) back in late December. This led to multiple friends tweeting out “What’s up with @[me]?” I was able to see glimpses of this, because I was still able to view a line or two from my phone notifications. Could I see any more of the tweet, or perhaps yet respond? No. Even better, I received a few direct messages from friends checking up on me, because by all appearances I had fallen off the face of the Earth. I was only able to know about these DMs because I still got an email notification. Again, could I respond? Of fucking course not. I had to instruct a friend to relay the fact that yes, I still am alive, to those folks who reached out to me.

[As a proof of life to my followers: I told you Lil’ Penny was good, we’ll miss you 3J but you’re going to enjoy my original home, and hopefully Thrillard comes back this fall fully healthy and ready to kick ass]

There really is a wonderful irony to the fact that Twitter’s heavy-handed response was supposedly justified by their concern for the health of its users, but their shitty behavior in fact prompted deep concern from many of its users about my health.

Is there a way to escape this bureaucratic nightmare? There seems to be one. Though Twitter keeps giving me the option of filing appeals that they never intend on viewing, they also say if I choose to drop my appeal (which still is being decided after four months???), I can be reinstated. They’re not even asking me to delete the tweet–they already did that for me [if you go to the tweet in question, they note that it violated their standards]. They simply want me to confess in this ridiculous Soviet show trial of a process, and frankly, I’m better than that. Twitter is too ridiculous for me to abandon basic principles, like that punk rock rules or that the name of a band from 50 years ago is too controversial to mention. Again, a name that is so dangerous that mere exposure should provoke terror in those who see the word, and yet one of the members is still alive and the other died in his sleep at the age of 78. Yup, that dangerous.

So at the moment I’m going to keep holding out and hope that somebody, literally anybody, at Twitter comes to their senses. Because seriously, fuck these assholes for making me agree with the Worst People on the Planet in believing that they are incapable of monitoring themselves to any degree whatsoever. And goddammit, somebody should have to answer for that crime.

A Recap of the Time a Music Publication Mocked Me With My Own Writing

Insecurity can spur people to commit reckless deeds, including going above and beyond to lash out at perceived threats.  I can understand the desire to protect one’s reputation and integrity, but I will never comprehend the extent to which it motivates some to create mountains out of molehills.  As you may expect, the stupidity began where you would expect it most these days: Twitter.

Two weeks ago, a few folks I know in Twitter ended up getting into an argument with an online music publication, and upon witnessing their treatment by this supposedly professional organization I inevitably waded into the muck to defend their honor.  Their unforgivable sin was to share a link of a particularly bad review and to comment on its alleged quality; the publication saw their interaction, and proceeded to insult them for their opinions.  What made this a particularly bizarre interaction was that neither party had included the publication’s Twitter handle in their discussion, yet the company decided to interject anyway and express their displeasure.

It is one thing to defend your honor, but it is another to go out of your way to impugn someone else for providing their opinion.  The publication then doubled down on their rude behavior by browsing through the profiles and timelines of these folks to use as fodder for insults.  I was appalled at this trollish behavior, and specifically called out the company for engaging in such petty tactics.  I want to stress that it was not the author of the review that was officially engaging in this behavior at this point, but the person who ran the Twitter account for the entire publication, a person who felt that it was a good idea to drag the name of the entire company through the mood to harass others.  At a certain point, this person then directed some insults in my direction, and condescendingly attempted to explain how internet searches and Twitter works, as they apparently took offense to my acknowledgment of their shady behavior.  Their final reaction was the coup de grâce, as they proceeded to look up this site (which is linked in my personal Twitter bio, for the record), and then spit back to me the first line of the review that was at the top of the page.

Let us review: Company engages in shady behavior, gets called out on it, proceeds to mock person for calling out said behavior, then engages in the very same behavior in order to taunt the critic.  Excellent work all around.

So, what sparked this entire nonsense that took up several people’s afternoons?  A terrible album review.  Rest assured, it was an absolutely awful piece of writing, and as a service, we will provide some constructive criticism.

* * * * *

– Roughly half of the review centers around “cum” and its use in the very first line of the album, and the term is mentioned in all four paragraphs of the review, as if its presence is emblematic of the whole.  Despite the paragraphs dissecting its particular usage, the case is never made why the reader should care that Father John Misty mentions it or how its use represents the album.  In other words, the author assumes the argument has been made merely by bringing it up, but does not make any relevant connections himself.

– Xiu Xiu should never be used as a positive example.  If you are unfamiliar with Xiu Xiu, they are the embodiment of every negative connotation that one has when he/she hears the term “performance art”; creating worthwhile music is definitely not their goal.  Back when I worked in radio, I played one of their songs for our new music show, which deviates from the usual playlists and allows us to temporarily indulge in numerous offbeat tastes, and it was the one time I had a listener call in and say terrible things about what we were playing.  And that guy was totally right.

– If we are to indulge in the comparison of the use of “cum” by each act and look at the reviewer’s argument on its face, it is unclear what kind of distinction is being made.  In both cases it is an attempt to juxtapose the sacred and the profane, and in both songs it is used literally to convey a particular image.  It seems to be merely the author’s opinion that Xiu Xiu did a better job of this, which is fine, but there is no objective distinction in the two cases.

– The reviewer attempts to mock Father John Misty by claiming that the use of the term “Rorschach” was a pretentious attempt to display intellectual superiority says more about his impression of basic psychological concepts than FJM’s.  The reviewer gets this completely backwards, since it is much more likely that “Rorschach” was used not to impress the listener, but as a descriptor that is universally known.  Who is unfamiliar with Rorschach ink blots?

– It is hilarious that the reviewer attempts to call out FJM for his “PSYC101” analysis, when the fact that so much of this review is devoted to “cum” indicates that the author has some sort of obsessive fixation.  Or do they not cover Freud in PSYC101?

– The use of “Bro?” as a complete thought says way more about the review and the reviewer than anything else he has written.

– Hidden in the third paragraph is a legit criticism about irony and the nature of the “Father John Misty” character.  Many can find the different levels exhausting, as it can seem to be an attempt by the artist to always be able to escape criticism.  Tillman walks a fine line, and the fact that some say he crosses it is fine.  Personally, I think he comes close several times, but I am ultimately swayed by the record’s charms.

– The reviewer spends half of the final paragraph completely botching the analysis of a particular song because he spent no time doing any actual research on the record and neglected to include a key lyric in his assessment.  I Love You, Honeybear is a concept album of sorts loosely based on Tillman’s recent marriage, so the fact that he is undercutting himself in the lyrics to “The Ideal Husband” carries more weight than for which the reviewer gives credit.  The author does acknowledge the fact that Tillman is purposefully undercutting himself, but he is clumsy in his criticism by calling out “a dumb lyric about ‘putting a baby in the oven'”, since in the song itself Tillman sings, “said something dumb like ‘I’m tired of running.  Let’s put a baby in the oven.'”  I can see the point the author is trying to make, but when you call out a lyric for being dumb when the singer himself says it is dumb, it makes you look like an idiot.

– As you may expect, seeing “a hodgepodge of Suburbs (2010)-era Arcade Fire strumming” makes me want to scream.  FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ARCADE FIRE DID NOT INVENT GUITAR STRUMMING!  IF THEY HAD A DISTINCTIVE SOUND, THE WAY THAT THEY STRUM THEIR FUCKING GUITARS WOULD NOT BE A PART OF IT!

– “Did you know Joe Strummer got his name when he heard an Arcade Fire song?  He actually came to the future, heard one of their songs, asked ‘what is this?’ and when told it was ‘strumming’, he went back in his time machine and recorded The Clash’s debut album.”  I imagine this is the exact belief of this idiot.

– To sum up, the entire review consists of an analysis of a single line whose significance is never established, and the one reference to the actual music involves a band to which there is no actual resemblance and involves a comparison that sheds no light whatsoever.  It is not as if it is impossible to compare Father John Misty’s music to anyone, but it may involve looking back further than 2010.

* * * * *

I hope that the professional music publication which created this entire mess is now satisfied that it now has constructive criticism as to why its review was completely awful.  I also hope that someone somewhere within that company learned that it is probably unwise to act like a complete dick on Twitter.  But I am also a rational person, and I doubt that either of those hopes will come to pass.