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The Bones of a Social Media Feud

October 8, 2021

An interesting thing happened to me on Twitter this week.

I found myself at the center of a minor literary feud between two major media and literary figures. It was a tweet I posted that started it all – really had very little to do with me as a person or an author. A measley tweet about Halloween decorations, of all things.

I should point out that I have but a small Twitter following – a smidge over 6000 souls, who are largely interested in writing, weird pictures, Cold War antics, and passionate kisses. I’m hardly a lightning rod for contraversy. And my influence on that platform is something akin to an actor who has a walk-on role in a giant blockbuster film. You know, the guy who comes up to Brad Pitt and says, “Excuse me, sir. You dropped your hat,” and then walks off, never to be seen or heard from again.

I should also stress that when I say “minor literary feud,” I mean just that. A veritable teardrop in a big, ice-cold resevoir. But I digress.

What’s strange is that my tweet was really innocuous. Just a photo I snapped of a big, black Victorian house in San Francisco – one that had been cleverly decorated for a certain children’s holiday that’s coming up at the end of the month. My family was in California for a wedding, and my daughters and I were just strolling the neighborhoods, and getting in the spooky spirit of things, documenting the funky, funny, gorgeous, and ridiculous. Anyway, here’s the tweet, so you can see for yourself:

To my surprise, this run-o-the-mill tweet went viral, attracting thousands of “likes” and “retweets” over a couple of days. Stranger still, two women I admire – feminist author and scholar Christina Hoff Sommers and literary queen Joyce Carol Oates, no less, got into a minor skirmish about this simple little photo and comment about Halloween decor.

To which Christina Sommers replied:

And

I do wish the tweet at the center of all of this had more substance to it than – wow, check out these cool Halloween decorations. I mean, this hardly spawned a Keats vs Byron, Hemingway vs Faulkner, le Carre vs Rushdie kind of fracas. It wasn’t even a good row over professional jealousy like the feuds between Gore Vidal and (insert just about any literary figure who was his contemporary).

But, it is a sign of the times.

An era when we’re just on each other’s nerves and constantly picking each other apart. Especially on social media. At our best, we make connections, even friends on these platforms, and learn in quick-time about history, science, politics, and cultural phenomenons. At our worst, we try to destroy the lives and livelihoods of strangers over misunderstandings, semantics, or wrongthink.

Don’t worry – this is not going to be one of those anti-social media diatribes. As far as I’m concerned, these platforms are here to stay, and we simply have to learn to live with them, the way we adapated to the telephone, automobile, radio, and television. These were once hugely contraversial, too, and many thought they would mark the end of civilization, sending us into a downward spiral from which we would never recover. Even the mirror, when it became a common, household item, was viewed as an evil invention that would ultimately destroy us – drowning us the way Narcissus was drowned, falling into a pond while staring at his own reflection.

But unlike Narcissus, we learned to swim.

It’s true that we’ve probably spent too much time staring at ourselves since first getting a gander at our accurate reflections. But the mirror also helped us see ourselves anew. It allowed us to (pardon the pun) reflect deeply upon beauty and its inverse, and was for a long time regarded as a portal to the supernatural, inspiring art, literature and countless spiritual odysseys.

What does this all have to do with a spat about Halloween decorations? Oh, hell, who knows? Maybe I’m just trying to say that in the end everything is going to be alright.

4 Comments
  1. This story is 2021 life in microcosm. Of all the things you work hard at, the thing you’re noticed for is a throwaway comment about something that brought you fleeting enjoyment.
    I love your comparison with mirrors. I’d never thought what interesting havoc they must have caused. How beguiling they must have been.

  2. I know, right? And until I did a bit of research, It had never occurred to me how transformative the mirror has been.

  3. It seems to me that a lot of people have turned to preaching.

  4. It is a bit of a soap box for certain folks.

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