Can I Avoid Being a Sycophant on Twitter?

One of my Twitter lists is called “Tolerable Famous People.” It’s a short list.

Yes, that sounds like you give when presenting at the Oscars. But the impression you probably get from this is partially true; celebrities these days tend to be less tolerable to me than they were in the past. I have standards for this list, and not a lot of people have met them. A few that have don’t even tweet that often. Maybe that’s one reason I find them tolerable as celebrities. Chew upon that irony for a bit.

It’s also a short list because some celebrities with whom I have no problem have lousy Twitter accounts, to be honest. Nothing but canned comments about products the whole world knows they’ve been paid to endorse. Or all they do is retweet. Posting links and retweets is a great way to find information, but if all a celebrities does is retweet other peoples stuff, (or worse, retweets other people’s stuff about them) it’s not interesting to me. Their name and image on the account does not make up for this.

But another reason for the shortness of the list is actually related to why the list exists in the first place; I’ve not yet come to terms with following famous people on Twitter.

That’s right. I don’t follow even the few people that are on this not-so-coveted Twitter list of mine. Partly because I don’t want my main feed to be too cluttered. But the bigger part is it feels like I’m somehow desperate, pathetic, or sycophantic. I want to avoid that appearance, even with celebrities I respect. Especially with them.

A few years ago, I was able to attended a Broadway performance of Spamalot, the Monty Python musical. It had only been open for two weeks, so it was the original cast. Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Hank Azaria. Pretty wild to be that close to them.

But some in my party wanted to wait outside the backstage door to get their autographs after the show. There was nothing prohibiting this, and the rope that was in place there indicated that it happened after each show. Some in my party couldn’t believe I wouldn’t go.

One reason I didn’t was that I didn’t want to stand out in a chilly night for all that time, only to possibly never get an autograph or even see the aforementioned celebrities. And partly because I felt they’d done all we should expect from them…they performed a show. As an actor myself, I know that can be exhausting. The main reason, however, was probably that I didn’t want to appear enamored or needy to the very people whose show I just enjoyed.

No insult to autograph hunters or my friends from that group. I just happen to think it helps dehumanize as oppose to humanize famous individuals, and I like to see them as human as I can. So I was content to stand across the street. I did see the cast members come out and greet people. (My friends reported later that they were all friendly and accommodating.) I could have gotten their autographs, or their pictures. I did not choose to do so, and I don’t really regret it these years later for all of the reasons I described. If ever I would have a chance to interact with such famous people, I would prefer it to be in the confines of a more civil, organized, and equal setting.

I know what you will say next. The whole point of Twitter is for people to follow you. That’s why they do it. Stay with me a while; I will be faithful.

At least behind the theatre on Broadway, Tim Curry was literally standing there. Think what you will about autographs, a real person was there signing them. Though I don’t share it, I understand the appeal. The guy was right there to talk to, albeit it for just a few moments.

But on Twitter, they aren’t “right there.” To follow a celebrity on Twitter, one literally announces to the world, “I’m following them!” and I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s one thing to check in on them, to see what they might be doing any given day, of see their impressions of a current event. It’s another to be standing at the ready for the moment Sir Patrick Stewart mentions his breakfast. (Yes, Patrick Stewart is one of the Tolerable Famous People actually on the list at the moment.) So I list them. It feels less fan-clubbish.

But even then, it’s a short list because I’m still reluctant to engage in celebrity culture for its own sake. I think someone will be interesting, based on an interview they gave or a book they’ve written, and I see if they’re on Twitter. If they are, here is where is gets neurotic; my cursor hovers over Add to List for a stupefying amount of time. I ask myself, “Will my life truly be enhanced and deepened in a significant demonstrable way if I follow this alpine skier from the Olympics?” (Sorry, not follow. List.) Yes, I really ponder it.

Now here’s the possibly goofy part; more often than not I actually talk myself out of it! Never mind I like the way the skier spoke on television, and respected their worldview. Forget that the high-ranking member of the U.K. government I heard on the radio offered thoughtful comments on public service. It couldn’t matter in the least that the guitar player for Top Band seems to be a hilarious dude. I don’t ski, live in the UK or listen to Top Band. To add them to my list and review their tweets would be mere celebrity culture, I start to think. So I don’t.

Sound silly? Probably is. But consider an account I stumbled onto the other day on Twitter. I’ve altered the handle slightly, though this too may be one. Probably is. We’ll call it,  “JUSTINPLEASEFOLLOWME.”

The entire purpose of the Twitter account was to  get Justin to follow them. So much so that is the name they used for the account. No identity as a human being, other then some tweets about homework, weather, cheer practice, and some shout-outs to personal friends sprinkled into the feed. Almost the entire account was thousands upon thousands of pictures, posts, links and other tweets from or about Justin, and the (as yet not attained) goal of having Justin follow them back.

That’s a sycophant.

An extreme example, I know. My Twitter obviously does not revolve around any one celebrity, or even celebrity itself. If it did, I might have more than 420 followers after all of these years. But I just can’t seem to shake this feeling that I am contributing to celebrity worship in some small way when I follow someone famous on social media.

This also means that even when I do list someone famous on Twitter, I cut my nose off despite my face in a way. Even when a famous person’s tweets end up being just as advertised and continue to entertain, provoke thought or impress me, I don’t reply often. One big aspect of Twitter is of course engagement, and a few people just under the A-List have, on occasion, responded to my tweets. But almost every time I think I might just offer a quick thought to Eugene Robinson, (yes, he’s really on the list as well), I can’t get JUSTINPLEASEFOLLOWME out of my head. And if on the off-chance a famous person let’s their eyes rest on my tweet for a moment (among thousands) I want them to be entertained, educated or impressed by me. I don’t want them thinking about JUSTINPLEAEFOLLOWME.

So, I may be missing out in not following or listing famous people on Twitter whom I respect, or more often engaging those I do list. There may be a way to admire the work of a person that has become famous, or to enjoy who they are, without appearing either to them, or the rest of the world as pathetic. In fact, I probably reside well on the proper side of that line already. I just can’t ever be sure.




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