Wednesday, December 7, 2011

NotCoachTito: Dispatches from Parody Limbo

NotCoachTito is the former fake manager of the Boston Red Sox. He currently resides in the Parody Account afterlife, occasionally sending vulgar messages from the Other Side, about Bobby Valentine and John Lackey, to his personal medium Hunter Felt. In his spare time, NotCoachTito enjoys drinking Bigelow Green Tea, listening to Happy Mondays and pinch-running for his best hitters in the ninth inning of tied games.

Chris Brown Beats a Bill Walton to Death

Chris Brown is why America can't have nice things. The renowned domestic abuser and also room-temperature-tapwater R&B artist recently struck his latest blow against actually entertaining pop culture, this time on Twitter.

A few weeks ago, "CHRIS BROWN IS A LEGEND" (yes, of course, in all caps) appeared in Twitter's trending topics. @TheBillWalton—an award-winning account written in the voice of basketball legend/current broadcaster/diehard Deadhead/Bill Simmons lust-object Bill Walton—responded with this joke: "'Chris Brown Is A Legend' is trending on Twitter. With that, we should all celebrate his greatest hits starting with Rihanna. Congrats, Ike!"

Chris Brown responded:
@chrisbrown: i know a lot of you wack ass(OLD) celebrities probably wanna fuck my ex but talking shit on me wont get u far!

@chrisbrown: I dont say shit to anybody and everyone feels its cool to attack me. GROWN ADULTS!!!! that shit happened three years ago!

@chrisbrown @thebillwalton u should act more mature!!! u played ball when there wasnt a three point line! focusing on me might give u a heart attack!!!!

@TheBillWalton replied with, "It seems as if @chrisbrown has challenged me. Name the time and venue, Ike. I will decimate your feeble mind with my superior verbosity. Someone call the Waambulance!"
Now, the punchline to this entire exchange could have been Chris Brown's "and to be REALLY HONEST… yall wonder why nigga spazzes all the time? Lol" response, a moment where America's Most Famous Woman Beater played the victim's role apparently without irony. Chris Brown posed as someone somehow unfairly tortured by people who have the audacity to, um, remind him of the crime he committed. However, the funnier joke is that Chris Brown was too busy being self-righteous to double check whether TheBillWalton was actually the Bill Walton.

TheBillWalton is a Twitter parody account. Or, at least, it was. Its bio described TheBillWalton (a.k.a. The Bill Walton Trip) as "Bill Walton if he knew how to tweet," located in "a parallel universe." If Chris Brown had bothered to read this, simply by clicking on the account profile, he would have realized that this was not the Twitter account of the basketball legend. In fact, TheBillWalton was one of the most well known sports humor accounts, one with 60,000 followers and a National Lampoon Award. (Yes National Lampoon apparently still exists.) Bill Walton’s Wikipedia page currently contains an entire paragraph on "The Bill Walton Trip."

TheBillWalton, partly because of this success, was one of the main parody accounts that inspired me to start @NotCoachTito. Unlike many parody accounts, it was entirely respectful to its real-life counterpart, and even when joking about seemingly off-topic subjects (such as notorious pop singers) it had such a singular voice that it didn't fall into the typical parody account sin of using a cute gimmick as a hook to sell recycled jokes. The writers were smart enough to write as someone who was both witty and eclectic enough to allow them to engage nearly any topic without falling out of character. Their choice to impersonate Bill Walton influenced my decision to write as Red Sox manager Terry Francona, a man whose snarky sense of humor gave me leeway to joke about nearly any topic in a voice not entirely dissimilar to my own.

After several months as NotCoachTito, and despite a rather miniscule follower count, social media writer Maria Burns Ortiz interviewed me for an article about parody accounts, along with the (anonymous) creators of the Bill Walton Trip. In the article, the creators talked about what made them different from some of the less flattering fakes accounts on Twitter: "We have also infused our own creative sensibilities into the character in hopes of crafting something much different, because the truth is, the world already has a great Bill Walton."

Shortly before the Chris Brown flap, Bill Walton himself signed up for Twitter as @BillWalton (minus the definitive article) and even thanked TheBillWalton for convincing him that there was an audience. Both accounts released tweets making it clear which one was real. So, it was a little surprising that, once the above exchange threatened to go viral, TheBillWalton disappeared.

Fans first assumed that Twitter shut down the account on Bill Walton's behalf, but that's not exactly what happened. Although the writers of TheBillWalton believe that Bill Walton's assistant launched the initial complaint that got the account pulled—an understandable move from a PR standpoint, considering blogs repeated the story that the legitimate flesh-born Bill Walton feuded with Chris Brown—Twitter's decision to shut it down had more to do with protecting Chris Brown.

As the administrators of TheBillWalton's Facebook page tell it: "After a long, contentious battle with Twitter's legal department today, they are standing behind @JuneClippers decision to ban The Bill Walton Trip permanently. She stated that TBWT purposely deceived Chris Brown into believing his feed represented the real Bill Walton." Twitter's main worry is that it can't afford to have its major celebrities embarrassed. They are willing to permanently delete a popular account for making a joke so tame it could make a Jay Leno monologue, in order to protect the dignity of one of its most loathsome celebrity users. The message is clear: if you are a parody account and do not treat any celebrity as if they do not suffer from a severe learning disability, you run the risk of being deleted.

Celebrities are the 1% of Twitter. What separates Twitter from social media platforms of the past is that it provides an illusory democracy where you and famous people are seemingly on the same level. A fake utopia where Nick Swisher will RT you on your birthday, and you can tell Eliza Dushku that you named your puppy Tru Calling. If celebrities get scared away from Twitter, and delete their accounts or hand them off to their publicists, that hurts Twitter's drawing power. TheBillWalton upset this balance, and it's quite possible the original feed could be gone for good.

The writers behind TheBillWalton continue, now tweeting as @NotBillWalton, and they are still going after Chris Brown. Their archives may be gone, and they have a long way to go before regaining their former audience, but they are still tweeting, and they are still fighting to resurrect their first account. Bill Walton's wife, a Bill Walton Trip fan, has campaigned on its behalf, and the writers have reached a compromise with Walton's assistant that may allow for its return. As of now, it is entirely Twitter's call whether they will reclaim their original stolen identity.

The creators of the next enjoyable Twitter account to cross this invisible line may not be this resilient. The lesson is pretty fucking simple: Twitter is for the famous and the nearly so, and the rest of us are merely its guests.