Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Twitter it's not about who you know, but who blocks you...

It's getting harder and harder to remember all the notable people who have blocked me (@puxxled) on Twitter. Most are understandable, people I've disagreed with stridently, but hopefully with intelligence and some humor. Others are people whose work and ideas I enjoy, and wish to engage and share ideas with for the fun of it. The frustrating thing is, one doesn't usually get an explanation when someone decides to block you with one blip of the block button; getting rid of you like a gnat on an elbow. In most cases, the exact issue that triggered it isn't clear. Often you don't find out till weeks later. I'm kind of sensitive to being blocked, it can bum me out for days. Okay, oversensitive.

But in a way, it's kind of intriguing wondering why they did. I decided the best way to keep track of this rarefied group was to corral them all into a blog post, so here goes.

You always remember your first. Mine was Joe Scarborough, a former Florida Republican Congressman (he beat out Democrat Vinnie Whibbs in 1994 (who all remembers Vinnie Whibbs nowadays? Pensacolans, that's who!) who hosts a conservative talk show on MSNBC called "Morning Joe". I've never actually watched his show (you see, I've never wanted to purchase cable TV, ) but he was in the political mix of people I followed on Twitter. I didn't tweet him often, but apparently, as I learned later, it doesn't take much to get him to block you. (There's a veritable club of folks blocked by Joe on Twitter.) I have no idea what I might have tweeted to tick him off, but it was no doubt some principled progressive snarky thing, threatening only in the sophistication of its wit (People soon learn that I'm my own biggest Twitter fan).

Getting blocked doesn't mean you can't read their tweets, though it makes it slightly less convenient to do so. It means they don't have to see the tweets you direct to them specifically.

I'm not sure who the second person was to block me. It might have been author Jennifer Weiner. I never heard of her until she wrote an article criticizing the favoritism fellow novelist Jonathan Franzen seemed to be getting for his book Freedom at the expense of female writers of equal stature (Franzen actually agreed with her, to some degree). I don't remember exactly what I tweeted, but I defended Franzen against something Weiner had written about him. I didn't have any further interaction and only found out she had blocked me when I decided to compile a Twitter list of the Time's 140 Top Tweeters, as a service to other people on Twitter who might be interested. I couldn't add her to my list, because she had blocked me. (And she only made the Time's list because doesn't have a Twitter account, ha, ha.)

Standup comedian Paul F. Tompkins was another person I liked on Twitter. He and Chris Hardwick (@nerdist), on the latter's podcast*, turned me on to the BBC 4 radio series In Our Time, for which I will always be grateful. I began listening to Tompkins' podcast (the Pod F. Tompkast) from its inception, and gave him feedback and gleefully promoted it on Twitter.

But I also overdid it with the twitter response, I realize. In fact, I asked him repeatedly how one goes about accessing In Our Time until I got an exasperated response in which he hinted at the file-sharing site option, while berating me for not knowing how to use the Internet. Ultimately that was helpful, and I continue to enjoy the treasure trove of Melvyn Bragg's erudite series.

One time on Tompkins' podcast he played a clip from a standup performance in which he told the story of a fan who had emailed his dissatisfaction with one of his live shows. It is a very funny story, beautifully drawn-out, that ends with a rather intense tirade against the fan that, while brilliant, made me uneasy. After thinking about it for a few days, I realize I identified with the fan, and wondered out loud (on Twitter, that is,) if I would find much enjoyment listening to his podcast the next time. Well, there it was. He blocked me from his main account and his podcast account (@Pod_F_Tompkast). Well, at least in this case I know exactly why, and the exact offending tweet.

Right now I feel a little practical schadenfreude that Tompkins didn't make Time's 140 list (as well he might have) because, otherwise, my Twitter list would be short two instead of one.

My biggest blow came when I discovered that John Cusack had blocked me. I'm a genuine fan of his movies, but also appreciated his playful free-spirited twitter presence. He would go on long late night riffs, sometimes they didn't make a lot of sense, and were replete with misspellings. Occasionally I would respond, naturally inclined to match his tone of expression...silly, spontaneous, nothing I can recall now a couple of years later. I have no idea why he blocked me. Maybe because he just found my tweets obnoxious. Or he misunderstood me entirely.

Cindy McCain was an interesting case. I admired her for contributing to the campaign against violence directed at the gay and lesbian community and opposing California's Proposition 8, but then was astounded when she came out in support of her husband Senator John McCain's vehement opposition to the repeal of DADT.

She seemed to handle the views I expressed to her on that issue, and subsequently responded with interest about a controversial Arizona issue she hadn't heard about (I forget which one, now, there have been so many). I think what got me blocked was that I made an admittedly tactless comment about an unflattering photo she was using on her Twitter profile that showed her with the NO H8 duct tape over her mouth. My tweet was worded badly, bluntly, probably reflecting my anger about the DADT hypocrisy, and prompted a brief little flurry of backlash from her supporters on Twitter (i.e., 4 or 5, which is a lot for me). Anyway, I regret that tweet, and at this moment I would like to apologize to Cindy McCain for it. It was terribly rude.

I don't remember saying anything over the top with Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary to GWB. Clearly our politics are on opposite ends of the spectrum. But she made a lot of simplistic comments parroting GOP talking points, and I'm sure I made some snide replies. She also posted some cute pictures of her dog, and I made what I thought was a positive comment. Who knows. Maybe she simply objected to the liberal political content of many of my tweets. Anyway, I'd rather someone tell me what they think than simply block me.

Most recently I discovered that illustrator Dyna Moe blocked me. I first discovered her from watching Mad Men. She did beautiful illustrations of characters and scenes from the series. A special feature on one of the DVD collections was an interview with her that revealed her wry sense of humor and keen perception. I then discovered that her tweets are also full of humor and an artful, sometimes sardonic way of seeing the world, particularly the things that happened to her, the people she encountered, day to day.

At one point, though, she made it clear that my enthusiasm for her tweets bugged her, and in no uncertain terms she told me to back off. I thought I had done so. Once in a while I would recommend her, along with others, as a fun person to follow. Occasionally I would retweet something funny or interesting she had tweeted, whether it be a comment or one of her illustrations. But it wasn't that often, really, these past few months. That's why I was surprised to discover just yesterday that she had blocked me. Maybe she just was tired of seeing the tweets I directed to her. Simple as that. It's not her fault, there's no reason she should pay me any heed, but it makes me sad.

I have a feeling I have forgotten someone, and of course there must be a few notables whose blocking I have yet to discover. There's no announcement to that effect unless one goes looking. Likewise, the chances of becoming unblocked are practically nil, because, as far as I know, there's no way for people to see who they've blocked, even if they happened to decide they wanted to reconsider.

Friends have tweeted John Cusack on my behalf, to know avail. That's the one that really pains me, but at this point it's become kind of a running joke. He's made some great movies, that's for sure. That should be good enough.

It's funny that I feel compelled to blog about the notable people who have blocked me, but there are many, many more who have taken the time to respond, and as aggravatingly isolating and time-wasting a place as Twitter can be, it's pretty cool that we average unnotable folks have a convenient means to make contact with the people who touch our lives in the news, the arts, the media, even history.

Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC)
Jennifer Weiner (@jenniferweiner)
John Cusack (@JohnCusack)
Paul F. Tompkins (@pftompkins)
Cindy McCain (@cindymccain)
Dana Perino (@DanaPerino)
Dyna Moe (@DynaMoe)
Alec Baldwin (@abfalecbaldwin)
William Shanter (@williamshatner)
Zach Braff (@zachbraff)
Adam Baldwin (@AdamBaldwin)
Judith Owen (@judithowen)
Michael Beschloss (@BeschlossDC)
Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

*The Nerdist Podcast offers wonderful informal, intimate, and often ribald conversations with comedians and actors, and other folks as well, but I remember the comedians and actors best. I highly recommend giving it a listen, but only if you find people interesting and the occasional dick joke well within the realm of perfectly acceptable humor. Chris Hardwick is one of the most affable and funny hosts you'll find anywhere these days.

UPDATE: February 12, 2012

Well, I think I have figured out why John Cusack unfollowed me on Twitter way back when. The answer is in this recent tweet of his:
always- rember shocko doesnt spell check and blocks the spell obsessed becouse he can...RT : silent "v" in goodnight?" 8 Feb
I believe Shocko was John Cusack's original Twitter handle. I am almost certain that I once tweeted at his expense in response to what I thought was an amusing typo. I see now that he is very sensitive about this. I can amuse myself with the notion that he'd probably have a million followers by now if he didn't block all the spelling nazis. It's enough for closure on this petty matter.

Meanwhile, this weekend, John Cusack's nephews, Dylan and Miles Burke (@BurkeDylan and @MilesCBurke), began tweeting in earnest. With less exuberance at this point in time, their mother Joan Cusack then bowed to social and/or family pressure to join Twitter (@realjoancusack) as per this tweet of her son Dylan.