The Rise and Fall of @Sutterink: Showrunners [Off] Twitter III

August 14, 2011
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With Sons of Anarchy showrunner Kurt Sutter’s announcement on Saturday that he would be “pulling the plug” on his now deleted Twitter feed, it is the end of an era (albeit a short one).

When I looked at Sutter’s twitter feed in the first installment of this series last fall, I posited that there might come a time when Sutter’s brash online persona would overshadow his own show, and it seems that we have reached that point. However, while it was perhaps inevitable that Sutter’s lack of a filter would result in his Twitter account becoming a liability, I can’t shake this feeling that the rise and fall of “@sutterink” has more to do with public perceptions of Twitter than with his actual commentary.

In recent months, online media outlets have taken a sudden interest in Sutter’s Twitter feed, with sites ranging from The Hollywood Reporter to TMZ taking series of tweets and presenting them as news. It started in July when Sutter went on an extended rant regarding the Emmy nominations (where his show, including his wife Katey Sagal, was ignored), and it continued last week, when Sutter shared his opinion on the recent controversy surrounding AMC and The Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont. TMZ shared the former story with the headline “’Anarchy’ Creator PISSED Over Emmy Snub,” while pitched the latter tweets as “‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Kurt Sutter Goes Off on Frank Darabont’s Firing,” and both stories were picked up by multiple outlets.

What’s interesting is that Sutter’s rants have not really become more prominent in the past year. As I noted in my initial post, Sutter has ranted about the Emmys before, just in the form of a blog post instead of a series of tweets. Sutter has even recently added outlets for his rants, including a YouTube series entitled “WTF Sutter” that features the same kind of profanity-laden honesty his fans have come to expect. However, Sutter’s blog has not been subject to the same media scrutiny, and these outlets have also ignored his YouTube videos.

In what Sutter has pitched as his final tweet, he suggests that Twitter is simply the wrong outlet for someone without a filter. He writes that “ultimately, me having an instantaneous outlet for my darker impulses is not a good thing. i’m a guy who needs filters. lots of them.” In his latest WTF Sutter video, where he foreshadowed his departure from Twitter, he expands on this logic before answering some fan questions:

Sutter’s departure from Twitter says less about Sutter and more about the ways in which Twitter is perceived by media outlets and by the public at large. Over the course of the past year, we’ve seen the media start to notice Twitter, and they’re starting to find ways to use it: the service has become a resource for cable news outlets (which Jon Stewart has criticized on The Daily Show), and I’d argue that the increased attention to Sutter’s tweets is a product of the media’s search for the best way to leverage this form of social media.

However, I’d also argue that the way Sutter’s tweets were presented is a reflection of a public understanding of Twitter as a soapbox. Sutter’s lament in his YouTube video is that he is no longer able to have a “conversation,” which might refer to the fact that the reports about his tweets rarely include any discussion of the context in which they appeared: TMZ wasn’t talking about the people on Twitter who were encouraging Sutter’s comments about the Emmys (including critics and other showrunners), and The Hollywood Reporter wasn’t interested in the fact that Sutter retweeted a number of critical responses to his AMC-related comments in the days following his initial statements.

I would not necessarily say that this has resulted in Sutter’s comments being taken “out of context,” because even he argues that he has not necessarily been misrepresented by these reports. What I would say is that Sutter’s comments have been filtered through a perception of Twitter as a place for rants and provocations, a place where a Twitter feed is a direct glimpse into the Id (as reflected by coverage of the Anthony Weiner scandal). The story isn’t the actual nature of Sutter’s comments or what they say about the Academy system and the situation at AMC: rather, the story is that someone famous has said something controversial in an outlet that has become known for its controversy, and that has now become publicized based on this perception.

As someone who has written about Sutter’s tweets in the past, I am not suggesting that his tweets should be beyond reproach: he is responsible for what he says within this online space, and I think holding him accountable for that is perfectly reasonable. However, these news reports aren’t interested in holding him accountable; they’re interested in exploiting his comments as gossip, turning them into news without exploring the context of the conversation or even considering their veracity.

Kurt Sutter hasn’t changed since his Twitter feed first appeared, or since my first Antenna piece about it was published. What has changed is the amount of attention paid to Twitter outside of Twitter – Sutter has four times as many followers now than he did then, but that doesn’t take into account (as Sean Duncan noted in the comments on the initial piece) the people who are made aware through outside sources reporting these tweets. And now that this includes major media outlets interested in tapping into the zeitgeist, public figures like television showrunners must reconcile their comments with a mass media that is still trying to figure out what Twitter is, what it’s used for, and how they can best exploit it.

And when you’re Kurt Sutter, that’s a situation in which pulling the plug might be the only viable option if you don’t want your Twitter feed to become a story in and of itself. While it’s possible that Sutter is simply posturing, and that this is a bluff designed to reframe the media narrative (and draw the sympathy of his followers who are pleading him to reconsider), it nonetheless reflects on the changing state of Twitter as discourse.

Addendum – September 7th, 2011

Today, after the ratings for the fourth season premiere of Sons of Anarchy showed a 20% increase, Sutter officially returned to Twitter – this was after an initial pledge to return at 250,000 followers and a subsequent pledge to return at 66,666 were both suggested and then altered.

On his blog, Sutter discussed his logic behind his early return before it happened, suggesting that “I’m…looking for a graceful re-entry into Twitter that doesn’t make me look like a complete f**king douchebag for pulling the plug, then a month later, coming back.  Truth is, I miss the fan interaction and since my Facebook hacking, unplugging from Twitter has been counter-intuitive to keeping an SOA presence in social media.”

While his return does reflect the performance elements of Sutter’s Twitter feed which led to the media attention and the earlier departure, and could be considered hypocritical by some, his justification focuses on the importance of social media in terms of communicating with fans and promoting the series to potential viewers within these social media spaces.


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7 Responses to “ The Rise and Fall of @Sutterink: Showrunners [Off] Twitter III ”

  1. Donnie on August 14, 2011 at 10:09 AM

    I think this is a good thing. Kurt Sutter has one of the most unpleasant online personas I’ve come across, and his crybaby ranting has made me not want to watch Sons of Anarchy (though season 3 helped with that as well). A friend who’s never seen the show also told me he had no desire to watch it due to Sutter’s headline grabbing outbursts.

    Of course, I’m not saying it’s reasonable to write off a show because you can’t stand the showrunner’s personality, but people will do it anyway. If Sutter wants the media to focus on his show and not him, deleting his Twitter is a good move.

  2. Tausif Khan on August 14, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    His last tweet seems more like a response to a comment on his twitter behavior. Specifically here: “i’m a guy who needs filters. lots of them. it seems that my opinions turn into headlines and my black humor turns into tabloid fodder. clearly my 140 characters are causing more harm than good.” To me it seems like he was given a broadly conceived set of criticisms of his twitter personality which he is responding to here.

    (If I am incorrect that he is referring to specific criticisms than I feel that he is being more self aware by showing people that he is fully aware of his personality, which he has always demonstrated previously. In that case I wonder if Steven Hyden’s piece “Self-awareness: pop culture’s “get out of jail” card”:,60227/ absolves him of some of the iconoclastically offensive behavior he has demonstrated through his @sutterink persona.)

    For me (if this last tweet is a response to a specific set of broadly conceived criticisms of his twitter persona) this disconnection from twitter is less a Kurt Sutter idea and more of a FX (John Landgraf as far as he is the face of FX) decision.

    • Donnie on August 14, 2011 at 2:10 PM

      Yes, in the YouTube video embedded in the article he also shows some self-awareness about his online douchebaggery. I’m not sure if that absolves him, but at least he’s aware. However, he doesn’t seem to be aware of the major issues his show experienced in season 3, or why it wasn’t worthy of those Emmy nominations he ranted about. I guess that’s another issue entirely.

      • Jamie on August 15, 2011 at 8:27 PM

        Just curious, but what was wrong with Season 3?

  3. Jamie on August 15, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    I for one am going to miss Kurt’s twitter. Never before have I followed someone so unfiltered and I LOVED it. Kurt’s a real dude and I appreciate it.

  4. Donna Winston on August 20, 2011 at 10:19 PM

    I miss Kurt Sutter’s Twitter discussions. It is very true that he has no filter, but that’s what made him so real and entertaining. It was great to read his truth because he was willing to take the consequences, which ultimately made him quit Twitter. I loved that Damon Lindelof tweeted KS and gave him big kudos for telling it like it was and said he wished he could do the same. I bet you there are many Hollywood folks that would love to be as real as KS, but are afraid. What’s funny is that a lot of his rants were tongue and cheek and if you didn’t follow him, you didn’t get his personality so people thought he was an brash asshole.

    Even though he had his blog Sutter Ink before Twitter, it’s just another great continuing outlet for him to convey his own human struggles and share his art. I for one adore the guy cause he lets it all hang out. I think he is a great writer and am just amazed at how detailed he is and how those very small details have weaved themselves through different seasons. I can’t wait for Season 4!

  5. […] a few days after Kurt Sutter’s decision to leave Twitter and his decision to, well, repost an entire article I had written on the subject on his personal […]