via Jesse Taylor, I discovered that Shaquille O’Neal has a Twitter feed. I heartily agree with Jesse’s assessment that it’s “a thing of terrible beauty, like a fresh lilac, standing in the midst of a raging fire” and want to also deconstruct the whole project of Shaquille O’Neal having, you know, a Twitter feed.
There’s been some commentary over the last year or so of the increasing prevalence of celebrities participating in social media – Martha Stewart’s blog is a pretty great exemplar of this – and a lot of the focus has been on their utility as marketing vehicles. And of course that’s right – they allow celebrities to give their most dedicated fans even more content in what is, or what appears to be, an unfiltered and more intimate context. In addition to Martha and Shaq, you can point to Rosie O’Donnell’s often-incomprehensible blog, John Cusack’s direct involvement with several modes of media in promotion of War, Inc., Gilbert Arenas’ blog (check out especially his absurdly long Nov. 15 entry) and many others. This is purely anecdotal on my part, but it seems as if after an initial period where many celebrity blogs were heavily vetted and often rather obviously not written by their purported authors (but by, e.g., executive assistants), many more celebrity blogs really are written by said celebrities. Maybe that’s not true in every case or even most cases but I can say with confidence: Shaq is definitely writing his Twitters.
That’s pretty damn interesting. And per Arenas’ blog, he’s not the first star athlete to dialogue in this way with fans. But Shaq in particular is an interesting case for me. He’s a guy who was for a couple of years one of, if not the, biggest stars on the planet. He’s pretty clearly on the downside of his career, and there are a lot of other NBA stars who (justifiably) get more attention than he does these days. Is a Twitter feed just a way to get some more attention back for a guy so used to it? Maybe, but I’m not so sure – let’s look at some of his Tweets:
Cant sleep, the lakers embarrassed us, im pissed
Is the new james bond movie any good
THOSE R NOT TYPOS, JUST SAVN MONEY, MORE U TYPE MORE U PAY, LOL
I need help subway or schlotsskys for lunch, big game tonite
Stuart scott from espn said greg oden looks 42 , lol dats funny
Those are… exactly the kind of Tweets you would expect any other Twitter user to write: expressing frustration around life events, sharing pictures, soliciting feedback from the community, referencing shared external media, and even meta-commentary on the medium. Shaq’s not just using Twitter, not just getting some attention or marketing himself (seriously, does Shaq ever need to market himself?), he’s entirely authentically participating in the discourse of the medium. And: why wouldn’t he?
This is I think the key point: celebrities, and athletes during their seasons especially, actually live pretty lonely and socially disconnected lives. There are thousands upon thousands of fans following them but a star can’t very well actually engage with one fan in particular, without opening the floodgates. So they have to be aloof, detatched, and close in their social worlds to the team, the production crew, the hotel room. That’s very isolating, but a medium like Twitter is actually perfectly designed to inject sociability into that kind of a life. For a small investment of time and social energy, Shaq can broadcast his frustrations, desires and observations to the large universe of people who care about him and what he has to say, and receive social affirmation in return. Looking at his feed you can see that all the entries are via txt – unsurprising, as the cell phone and texting practice has become ubiquitous in both the NBA and youth culture more generally. And given that he’s got his cell phone with him everywhere, he’s able to transform the isolated social life of a star into a more intimate one. He’s following 114 people, a large but not unmanageable number to keep up with, and so creating a social universe in what could otherwise be an alienating space.
Long story short: Shaq is on Twitter and it makes total sense. That’s pretty great.