At the moment I’m working on a paper that considers the practice of “faking” on Twitter as a practice of vernacular parody. My interest come from a few different directions. Partly I’m an enthusiastic fan of this practice, and I get a laugh out of faking. Partly it’s because I would like to move past the usual, boosting/busting “hype cycle” narratives about Twitter to consider what people are actually doing with the platform. Partly it fits in with my broader interest in the changing shape and scope of our public conversations.
Faking draws on a lot of long-established practices. The way in which people have tended to play with identity online has been of interest to Internet researchers for a long time, and that can contribute to our understanding of faking. But I’m also interested in it as a practice and a discipline of writing, which perhaps involves a special kind of craft because of the discipline imposed by Twitter’s character limit. Also, I’m interested with how it draws on long-established traditions in parody, and perhaps also how it intersects with the current prevalence of parody as a way of understanding and approaching capital-P Politics. Clearly, also, what’s of interest is that this practice is accessible to people who perhaps aren’t professional writers, who don’t have/need access to big media channels, and who are building an audience on a social networking platform. Jean Burgess’s discussions of vernacular creativity will be useful.
Because of my own interests and location, I’m especially concerned with people who are faking Australian politicians and other Australian Political actors like journalists and columnists. I’ve been doing email interviews, and I’ve already finished a couple. I’ll be using them for the paper, but I’ll also post these interviews over coming weeks.
The first, this week, is with “Fake Penny Wong”. For those overseas, Penny Wong is the Minister for Climate Change and Water in the current Australian Labor Party government. She’s in charge of implementing Australia’s ETS, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I sent “Penny” pretty well the same questions as my other subjects, and I think the questions give as good an idea as anything of the direction I’m pursuing in this research.
This person responsible for this fake has asked to be identified simply as “Fake Penny Wong”. The interview follows. Comments very 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 Penny for a couple of reasons. Firstly, after the 2007 election quite a bit was made of her election as one of the new guard and she seemed a different sort of politician. Then, when the wooden approach of her delivery and refusal to budge off her prepared lines for the day set in, I thought she’d make a good subject.
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: As per above, Penny would have to be one of the less dynamic political speakers. She always looks quite grave and serious and her vocal tone matches that. My tweets are juxtaposed against that, to show that behind the grave persona there’s a diehard ALP head kicker who holds grudges.
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: It’s a bit of both. Where there’s a high profile new appearance I’ll try to put an angle to it. The remainder tends to be creations based on an imagined reality of the real Penny Wong’s political life. I do always stay in character – there’s not a single tweet that alludes to anything but the thoughts of ‘Penny Wong’.
Q: Do you have a writing process? Is there a particular craft that goes into your parody tweets, or are they reasonably spontaneous?
A: There is quite a bit of thought that goes into most tweets. It’s not uncommon for me to have 2 or 3 drafts before tweeting the final version. Some of the more fun times are had when a show like the ABC’s Q and A is on and ‘Penny’ live tweets proceeedings. There’s less time to craft the tweets so it can be more hit and miss, but it does get some good conversation going as well.
Q: Do you publish elsewhere, either in or out of character?
A: Yes, out of character. Penny is a Twitter-only entity.
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: For me Twitter directly determined the creation of Penny, for a couple of reasons. The most obvious one is Fake Stephen Conroy, whose work I had been enjoying. It was him that gave me the prod to have a go myself, and the 140 character discipline appealed from both a creative a time-constraint viewpoint. The interactivity is also certainly a key component – the feedback feeds my ego enough to keep me tweeting
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: No – I’ve never met the real Penny Wong, nor had any approaches from her staff. I’ve also not had Twitter contact me about the account although that’s an ongoing concern.
Q: Has your parody practice ever had any effects – negative or positive – on your life beyond Twitter?
A: Thankfully no negatives at this stage. I’ve always taken great care about what I write and that I only write it in my own time, not anyone elses. In the positive, I’ve had some good feedback on Penny and it’s been an enjoyable thing to do.
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: I tend to check out each follower and most seem to be politically engaged. I do get the odd person that believes they are talking to the real Penny Wong, but it’s rare. There’s also a cohort of green groups and environmental activists that either think it’s the real Penny or they have a good sense of humour..
Q: Do you feel that what you’re doing has political significance? Is targeting this person in line with your broader politica; outlook? Are you having an effect in terms of your own political beliefs/commitments? Or is it done mainly for laughs?
A: I doubt it’s having a significant political impact beyond what any small scale parody would be. The ability to interact via Twitter with real politicians does create an interesting dynamic in one way. I’ve actually tried starting conversations with the real politicians with Twitter accounts e.g. Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull and Mike Rann – not surprisingly none have ever replied. Kate Lundy has been the only directly critical politician via Twitter.
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: I hope to maintain my efforts in the future.. It’s not that time consuming and doesn’t take away from other things unless you count passive TV viewing.
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: I think social media provides a good space for parody, and Twitter in particular because of the discipline it imposes. There’s some really good Fake personas on Twitter. Stephen Conroy was the ground-breaker though for me his effectiveness if diminished by his outing. Some of the other fake politicians have done great work but some have stopped tweeting which is a shame.