The Personal Stakes of Social Media: Showrunners [Off] Twitter V

October 16, 2013
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LindelofTwitterIn considering Showrunners on Twitter over the past three years, my focus has been primarily on Twitter feeds as a space for professional identity and fan engagement. However, it is also important to acknowledge how Twitter feeds function as a liminal space in which creative industries workers not only define themselves as workers but also exercise their creativity. We can consider showrunners like Dan Harmon or Kurt Sutter not simply as showrunners who use Twitter as a form of engagement, but also individuals who use Twitter as an outlet for personal opinions and personal expression.

The deletion of Damon Lindelof’s Twitter account is similar to yet distinct from Sutter’s—ultimately temporary—hiatus from Twitter back in 2011. Both left Twitter after feeling their presence was becoming a drain on them both personally and professionally, but the difference is where that drain was coming from. While Sutter was largely dealing with the media reporting on his tweets as provocations and amplifying their inherent antagonism (often without proper context), Lindelof faced consistent and intensive criticism on Twitter for his role in divisive projects like Lost and Prometheus.

Rightfully, media reports on Lindelof’s departure foreground his engagement with his critics; Lindelof himself wrote a highly personal piece in The Hollywood Reporter about his experience responding to a new wave of criticism regarding Lost’s ending in the wake of Breaking Bad’s more linear—and some argued more satisfying—conclusion. In the piece, he frames himself as an addict, suggesting “alcoholics are smart enough to not walk into a bar. My bar is Twitter.” He used the piece to strike a deal with the “haters”: he will stop discussing the end of Lost, and they will stop badgering him about it. He acknowledges “there’s no way everyone is going to read, let alone agree with this deal,” while nonetheless promising to hold up his end of the bargain.

Sutter’s Twitter experience revealed how showrunners face a distinct level of scrutiny when sharing opinions on social media, but Sutter has rarely faced intense, highly public criticism from viewers of Sons of Anarchy or other series he has worked on like The Shield. Lindelof’s Twitter account, by comparison, became a lightning rod for spurned Lost fans or jilted Prometheus viewers who saw the service as a relatively anonymous—or at least consequence-free—space in which to air their frustrations directly to the creator. What he said on social media was on some level beside the point; what drove him off Twitter—at least based on the evidence available—was not a response to what he said, but rather a response to his Twitter feed existing as a rallying point for his critics.

Considered in terms of professional identity, Lindelof’s departure from Twitter removes a space where he could frame his professional identity and engage with fans, which may have been useful when expanding to his first post-Lost television project The Leftovers on HBO next year. In an age where a Twitter presence is expected, and where the value of Twitter has been capitalized on by showrunners like Scandal’s Shonda Rhimes, Lindelof’s choice is contrary to dominant industry logics.

However, I want to rearticulate showrunner Twitter accounts away from their professional use and toward their personal utility. Showrunners are often on Twitter for professional reasons, but these are more often than not combined with a personal interest in social media as a form of creative expression. Although all tweets function as a form of labor, which remains tied to and thus contributes to a professional identity, much of that labor is also understood as pleasure. When a showrunner chooses to remove themselves from Twitter, they are removing themselves from not only professional opportunity but also a space for self-expression.

d1772786e588dafb97c19b1f3b298e36Damon Lindelof was an active Twitter user in contexts beyond tweeting about his labor. In one of his most infamous runs in February of this year, he became obsessed with a studded yellow baseball hat worn by Justin Bieber. In a day-long riff, Lindelof told joke after joke, enraging fans in the middle of the “Lindelof-Bieber” venn diagram and drawing major media coverage; he even changed his Twitter profile photo to an image of him wearing the hat in question. Lindelof also sarcastically retweeted the official Twitter account for cat food brand Fancy Feast, obsessed with the idea someone was being paid to tweet about cat food, and livetweeted Syfy’s Sharknado.

Lindelof’s Twitter identity was that of the benevolent troll, a cultural commentator as much as a professional television writer; commenting on popular culture and issues pertaining to social media, Lindelof’s tweets were neither about nor tied to his labor directly, and instead offered a different form of expression than that offered through his day-to-day employment. Shawn Ryan, who like Lindelof is currently a showrunner without a show on the air, uses his Twitter account to engage with his sports fandom, even organizing a fantasy football league for followers with prizes from his shows. These uses of social media marry the professional with the personal, offering a space for not only the performance or management of distinctly professional identities but also the negotiation of those identities within a more casual, personalized space.

It remains possible that Lindelof—like Sutter—will return to social media, perhaps around the time when The Leftovers debuts on HBO and the channel pressures him to leverage his following to help launch the series. However, Lindelof’s case offers a distinct blending of the professional and personal, where his Twitter account became both a space of personal expression valuable to Lindelof and as a space in which audience frustration with his professional output could latch itself onto a specific person. In leaving Twitter, Lindelof sacrifices the—messy, perhaps unhealthy—personal value of Twitter in order to remove the personal from the criticism swirling outside of his control online, a sacrifice more meaningful to his identity as a showrunner than the inability to remind people Lost is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Netflix.


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5 Responses to “ The Personal Stakes of Social Media: Showrunners [Off] Twitter V ”

  1. Greeney28 on October 16, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    This makes me sad, but I would probably tell a disgruntled Lostie to get over it already.

    I’ve been pondering your post, for, oh, a whole half hour, and it has provoked a few questions.

    I am happy to see you consider the personal stakes for Lindelof, as a guy who happens to write TV and as a guy who may like engaging with people on Twitter as you and I do. As theorists of pop culture, when we contemplate the star personas of the famous, I worry we sometimes lose track of them as actual people (this was a particular critique of the ways scholars and others engaged in fashion tweeting during last year’s Oscars).

    But then I thought about the fact that Lindelof created an account in his own name. Inevitably, any actions undertaken necessarily add to his star image. Twitter is also a decidedly public medium, which renders his engagement a text like any other, worth of analysis.

    His THR post was so raw, though. Years after ‘Lost’ ended, he remains wounded. Like professors haunted by one nasty student evaluation amidst tens of glowing ones, he seems unable to compartmentalize.

    Lindelof also seems like he’s not a prick. Forgive me, but I doubt anyone would describe Kurt Sutter as a nice guy. If getting off Twitter prevents Lindelof from having to develop as thick a skin as Sutter, then maybe that’s for the good. Or maybe he needs to listen to Bangerz over and over again–to become inspired by Miley as she sings over and over about how she gets to do whatever the f she wants.

    Whatever happens, I hope Lindelof makes an account under a fake name so he can have fun live tweeting Scandal with the rest of us normal folks.

    PS The Bieber hat riff was among my favorite things on Twitter ever.

  2. Byrd on October 16, 2013 at 5:09 PM

    “what drove him off Twitter was not a response to what he said, but rather a response to his Twitter feed existing as a rallying point for his critics.”

    You don’t know this, you can only speculate.

    “Lindelof’s departure from Twitter removes a space where he could frame his professional identity and engage with fans, which may have been useful when expanding to his first post-Lost television project The Leftovers on HBO next year.”

    I think the move is a good one for an artist. There needs to be some buffer between artist and audience, and twitter is a bad temptation to forgo that buffer. Lindelof’s strategy to maintain said buffer was to refuse to answer any questions about the LOST finale, or any of the ambiguous story threads of his projects, which certainly created a buffer, but one of irritation and hatred growing from the more, shall we say, simple-minded pop culture slingers.

    “It remains possible that Lindelof—like Sutter—will return to social media, perhaps around the time when The Leftovers debuts on HBO”

    I am a huge fan of Lindelof’s work, and I’m hoping this is NOT the case. In fact, I think and hope this was a calculated move on Lindelof’s part to desaturate his celebrity writer persona which came about from the end of LOST, his new twitter, and his overexposure via granting interviews to anyone and everyone. I really like the guy, but I’m hoping we hear less from him personally for a long while, and let his work speak for itself.

    • Myles McNutt on October 16, 2013 at 7:12 PM

      “You don’t know this, you can only speculate.”

      Absolutely—there’s a degree of speculation operating in all of this. However, I’d say that Hollywood Reporter piece laid bare a lot of specific frustrations with social media that one has to believe contributed to this decision.

      I can’t lay claim to knowing what directly inspired his choice to leave, but I feel more confident in arguing that this overall situation was a big part of this choice.

      And I think you raise an important point about work speaking for itself, but at the same time I think there’s a lot of expectation from channels and networks that figures like Lindelof will maximize their professional pull. So I’ll be very interested to know how he chooses to navigate that professional space when the time comes.

  3. Byrd on October 17, 2013 at 5:51 AM

    There’s also the point of his seemingly growing friendship with a lot of professional tv critics on twitter. I’d like the think the guy is moralistic enough to know that that might be a conflict of interest when debuting a new tv show.

  4. Byrd on October 17, 2013 at 6:00 AM

    By the way, I enjoyed your essay. It’s a fascinating topic, as twitter is made to throw everyone into the world of celebrity (it’s all based on followers). On a side not, I’m sure the attention is making the (more pathological) haters even angrier, as Lindelof seems to have become an unintended martyr. I’m not sure how I feel about the martyr part, but anything that screws with those jerks’ warped personal ideological narrative makes me feel warm inside.