This is the second of my faking interviews for my ongoing project working towards a paper on faking and parody on Twitter.
This one is with Fake Andrew Bolt. (I hasten to add that this was actually conducted before my recent little run-in with the real Andrew Bolt.) Bolt, for those outside Australia, is a right wing columnist for the Melbourne News Ltd tabloid, the Herald Sun.
In Australia, he’s come to prominence by pushing trenchant, ultra-conservative views on social, political and environmental issues in his columns, and on his blog. Favoured topics include human-induced climate change (Bolt says it’s a myth), “radical Islam”, multiculturalism (which he considers a failure), the Labor government (of whom he takes an extremely dim view), and indigenous affairs (he’s argued that the history of Australia’s indigenous Stolen Generations is also a myth).
As I’ve written elsewhere, Bolt’s blog, in particular, is characterised by an extremely combative style, and his commenters are also part of the package for anyone that he trains his sights on. Academics, naturally, are favoured targets.
There’s a lot to say about parodying prominent journos – I’ll just offer a few brief thoughts. Parody accounts for opinion journalists embody a recognition that they are, or have been significant political actors. (Certainly, during the years of the previous Howard government, Mr Bolt appeared to have a degree of influence in Canberra beyond that we’d normally associate with a commentator or analyst.) With Bolt, it’s also a sign of how large he looms in online political discussion.
But the parody here has an edge that’s perhaps a little sharper than last week’s example. This faker is suggesting that ultimately Bolt’s positions are irrational. He also critiques Bolt’s position by showing up how predictable, even formulaic, Bolt’s schtick is. The occasional, imagined vignette of life at the Herald and Weekly Times, or his home life are simply ridicule, and we might ask questions about whether that’s effective or not as political parody. Having said all of that, it’s interesting that the faker in this case considers that his parody has little or no political significance.
Anyway, I’ll analyse it more in the paper, and leave you to draw your own conclusions, for now, from the interview with Andrew Bolt’s creator, who gives his name as John Winston. Once again, comments are welcome.
Q Could you explain why you chose your specific target for parody? What was the attraction to that particular person, or the circumstances that led you to choose them?
A I chose Andrew Bolt because I felt he was ripe for parody, essentially. Anyone who can suggest that the world’s scientific bodies have secretly come together to organise a global warming con to destroy capitalism is asking for it – they’re on Planet Delusion. As is anyone who actually socialises with Terry McCrann.
Q Parody is often said to be about exaggeration for effect. Are there particular aspects of your subject’s demeanour, public speech or personal style that you exaggerate? Is there anything in particular that you play up?
A I just exaggerate his posts themselves. One of Bolt’s tricks is to hint at something and let the commenters do the adding for him so he can’t be accused of saying it himself, for instance, this post in which he hints that people at a global warming rally are nazis. Of course, he won’t come right out and say it. That would be silly. @AndrewBolt says it though.
Q What do you usually bounce off when you’re composing parody tweets? E.g. does the news or the public appearances of your targets form the basis of tweets, or do you simply stay in character?
A Probably the easiest way of writing a tweet is to read Andrew Bolt’s blog, as much as I loathe it, and exaggerate his response to a story. Right now the lead post likens the American Psychological Association to the Soviet Union. See what I have to work with? A self-replenishing comedy goldmine. Free.
Other times I will continue with the Herald Weekly Times narrative I have created, which depicts Andrew Bolt as the Adrian Mole of the office. I might also take a news story and tweet what I imagine to be his view of things. More often than not, when I check his blog I find I am right.
Q Do you have a writing process? Is there a particular craft that goes into your parody tweets, or are they reasonably spontaneous?
A I don’t sit at a blank screen thinking “Shit, what will I tweet today?” Because the formula is pretty self-generating I don’t find ideas difficult to come across.
Q Do you publish elsewhere, either in or out of character?
Q How do you feel about Twitter as a platform for parody? Does the character limit impose a useful discipline? Does the interactive/networked platform make a difference?
A @AndrewBolt began as a challenge. Although I wasn’t sold on Twitter for myself for a while, I did notice that the 140 character limit was perfect for a one-liner. I figured if I delivered one every half hour I should be able to deliver myself a sizeable following reasonably quickly. Any trouble I do have with the character limits can usually be solved with some tight editing.
Interaction is an interesting thing. It’s great to be able to get instant responses to your tweets, but at the same time I’m often hounded by the criminally unfunny desperate for me to re-tweet them and deliver them to a wider audience.
Q Have you had any interactions – negative or positive – with the target of your parody? Has Twitter ever been in contact to try to rein you in in any way?
A One of the first accounts to follow me was the locked account @andrew_bolt. Take that how you will. I’ve received no response from Bolt, nor was I expecting one. Twitter have left me alone as well. It’s surprising, since for a long time there was no indication on my profile that I’m fake. No doubt he knows that calling attention to it is worse than ignoring it.
Q Has your parody practice ever had any effects – negative or positive – on your life beyond Twitter?
A This hasn’t bothered my actual life for a second.
Q What is your sense of your audience? Do you feel that they’re politically engaged; does everybody get it; are you broadly interactive with your audience; or is your audience too large to generalise?
A My audience breaks down into a few groups:
Commies – The broad left who despise Andrew Bolt and enjoy taking the piss out of him.
Journalists – a large number of journalists who despise Andrew Bolt and enjoy taking the piss out of him.
Liberals – A small number of Liberal voters who who despise Andrew Bolt and enjoy taking the piss out of him.
More Liberals – A surprisingly large gorup of Liberals who don’t even know I’m fake, and constantly tweet at me “great call Andrew”, no matter what I say.
Q Do you feel that what you’re doing has political significance? Is targeting this person in line with your broader political outlook? Are you having an effect in terms of your own political beliefs/commitments? Or is it done mainly for laughs?
A Sorry to disappoint you but it’s done for laughs. Political significance is zero.
Q Will you be maintaining your efforts into the future? Is it time-consuming? Does it take away from other things – other writing projects or your work or home life?
A @AndrewBolt will continue far into the future. As above, it doesn’t impede on my real life at all so time constraints aren’t a worry.
Q Speaking in the broad terms, what’s your take on Twitter as a platform for parody AND/OR political debate? Is it emerging as a space where people can “do” politics and humour? Any favourite exponents?
A Twitter isn’t really designed for political debate, which requires depth beyond 140 characters. It’s much a better tool for parody, and a piss-taking tweet can do more damage than a 2000 word blog post anyway.