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140 Characters of Pure Brilliance

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-05-24


If you type the words "twitter" and "apology" together on Google Search, your query will instantly bring back eleven million results. Even accounting for repeat listings and unrelated juxtapositions of the two words, the number reflects and astonishing amount of celebrity remorse, for invariably most of the articles listed concern famous people making retractions for some dumbass comment they made on Twitter.

You know the drill a low-level, not-too-bright celebrity (often an athlete) will catch some breaking news or sporting event or cultural oddity and decide that the world needs to know what that celebrity thinks about it, right now. So he bangs out a 140-character, hastily thought-out, idiotic tweet that instantly gets sent out to his followers, and then, of course, on to the viral world at large. Instantly, the incendiary or offensive nature of the post gets noticed by someone in the cyber world, who pushes it on to a news source, who then reposts the tweet and highlights the most provocative phrasings.

The "reaction" stage then sets in, as familiar spokesmen for the often-offended voice their disapproval. The story usually explodes on-line at this point, and the celebrity's gaffe becomes a mini-firestorm of controversy, with other celebrities lining up to take their shots. Depending on the stupidity of the original tweet, the internet buzz can last anywhere from a day to a week. Things normally start to simmer down a little after the celebrity releases the inevitable apology, which always includes the vague, one-size-fits-all "sorry to anyone who may have been hurt by my words." Of course, the story doesn't end at this point, for a new cycle of "reactions to the apology" have got to play out before l'affaire dumbass reaches its merciful conclusion. A coda usually appears in the form of an internet opinion piece, which casually suggests to celebrities that having a Twitter account might not be the sharpest of ideas.

Like chlamydia or Glee, Twitter is one of those omnipresent social phenomena that I've never really cared to discover first-hand. I know it exists, just like I know the flesh-eating virus exists, but I don't need to know the details. I have never had a desire to get a Twitter account. In general, I try to maintain a healthy distance from social media and hyper connectivity I use Facebook, but I limit myself to a few minutes a day. I don't have a smart phone, and indeed, my ancient, damaged cell phone doesn't ever allow for texting, which I've discovered is a huge benefit. (In my brief texting time, I figured that out of every 50 texts, I probably sent one that was necessary, or of any value.) So, then, as a Luddite, it was hard for me to develop any opinion whatsoever regarding Twitter and its effect on society. I could go my entire life without thinking about Twitter in any meaningful way. But then the Cappie Pondexter story broke and forced me to change my mind.

As you may recall, Cappie Pondexter was the celebrity who tweeted after the Japanese tsunami that God basically hated the Japanese and that the earthquake was His retribution for the evil of the people there. It was the usual, crazy, Pat Robertson-like, God's-got-a-big-stick-and-He's-gonna-whack-the-devil-people-with-it religious mania, coupled with a few racist blasts and use of the word "jap." The tweet immediately kicked up indignation and outrage, and Cappie Pondexter was forced to issue the standard "sorry my words hurt" apology. Unfortunately, though, she didn't use a publicist, and her "twitter apology" made her sound even worse:

"People that knw me would tell u 1st hand I'm a very spiritual person and believe that everything, even disasters happen 4 a reason and that God will shouldn't be questioned but this is a very sensitive subject at a very tragic time and I shouldn't even have given a reason the choice of words I used." In other words, she still believes in what she originally said but was sorry about the timing. Okay, great. Thanks a lot.

I became fascinated by the whole Cappie Pondexter saga, but a question kept persisting at the back of my mind about the story that just wouldn't let go. And the question wasn't "Why does Cappie Pondexter believe in a Boogeyman God?" or "How can Cappie Pondexter espouse such backward, racist thinking in the 21st Century?" No, the elemental question that was troubling me was little less complex: "Who the $!%* is Cappie Pondexter?"

And that, ultimately, stopped me in my tracks. Let the record show that Cappie Pondexter is a WNBA player out of Rutgers University who has had a very successful career as a professional since she was drafted in 2006. She is one of the most visible stars in one of the country's most invisible sports, and she has attained virtually dozens of fans across the nation throughout her career. If all the celebrities in the United States were listed in ordinal rank in terms of modern day relevance, Cappie Pondexter would probably place around 2,158,011. Light years away in popularity from Steven Seagal and the "loner-moustache guy" from the Progressive ads. And yet, here I was, paying attention to her.

It was this realization that forced me to face some hard truths. Just like my DUI made me examine my drinking, paying attention to a WNBA star made me realize that I have a problem with the Internet, with Twitter, with news cycles, with trivial, insignificant noise. Nobody in their right mind needs to click on to a headline from Yahoo or ESPN about some Grade Z celebrity's recent imbecility. The Cappie Pondexter thing made me see that I waste too much time surfing for idiotic news stories, that my knowledge of banal pop-culture currents is way too high. I always believed that the Internet was a tool that I used to gather information, but now it seemed obvious that it was also a dumping ground, a place where I stared slack-jawed at the stupidest reporting available. It's such a dichotomy, in an era when most Americans claim that time, not money, or love, is the commodity that they wished they had more of, that we continue to invent fresh, new ways to waste what we value most.

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