Want to gain over 115,000 Twitter followers? Steal people’s tweets

ImageTwitter is a powerful tool for the up and coming stand-up or comedy writer. Comics like Rob Delaney and Megan Amram have seen their stock soar since joining the social networking site, its 140-character posts the perfect platform for quickfire humour. Delaney, with over 840,000 followers on Twitter, told The Guardian that the site was “a wonderful joke delivery mechanism”: “I use Twitter as a tool to get involved with people, to sell tickets to gigs where I can stand in a room and smell the audience – and I love that!” Amram, with over 350,000 followers, has become a writer for TV show Parks & Recreation and signed a book deal since joining Twitter.

But the open nature of Twitter, in which millions of users’ past tweets are on view, is also ripe for exploitation by those seeking similar levels of adoration and success but lacking the talent to work for it. This week, Sammy Rhodes (@prodigalsam), an aspiring stand-up comic whose Twitter jokes have gained him over 117,000 followers since joining the site in 2009, was exposed as a long-time plagiarist. Someone (it’s not clear who, but I first saw it via comedian Brian Gaar’s own Twitter feed) had noticed clear similarities between Rhodes tweets and those written by other users of the service, and compiled several examples in a Tumblr blog called Borrowing Sam.

Immediately attacked by dozens of Twitter users, including several well-known comedians and writers, Rhodes offered no apology but instead reposted an old blog entry of his delivering a disingenuous defence of his actions, saying many of his posts were “pretty clearly inspired by” the tweets of users he admires (Delaney and Amram are among those names; he seems to have repurposed at least one of Delaney’s jokes) and claiming he has never knowingly stolen a tweet – but the evidence on the Tumblr seems damning in the extreme. And after proclaiming his innocence, Rhodes has continued to publish tweets that show startling similarity to others’ tweets, his new-found place in the spotlight ensuring that each is swiftly exposed by other users.

ImageWhy has this caused such a stir? One reason: the first rule in the comedy community is that you don’t steal other comedians’ material, and Rhodes – a non-professional comic with apparent aspirations of moving up in the field – has done just that on a grand scale. Many comedians rely on their material – even that on Twitter – to make a living; taking that and passing it off as your own work may not be illegal but it’s certainly ill-mannered and intellectually dishonest.

Another: Rhodes’ lack of contrition after being caught out and his mealy-mouthed “inspiration” excuse, which holds little water given how easy Twitter makes it to share other people’s tweets with your own followers. Find a post funny? Simply hit the retweet button. Waiting a few days, weeks or months then passing the joke you so admire off as your own work seems a strange way of showing your appreciation to its originator.

The crux is this: Rhodes has been using others’ ideas to build and enhance his own Twitter “brand”; he has done so very successfully judging by his follower count, not to mention the fact that the Huffington Post (which knows a thing or two about repurposing other people’s work LOL) dedicated an entire article to him, praising his “intellectual giftedness” along the way.

Twitter’s open essence, which enabled Rhodes’ thefts of others’ material, also helped to expose him, by leaving his repurposed posts in full view of anybody who cared to look. With his huge number of followers, it was only a matter of time before people cottoned on to what he was doing. You can’t imagine Rhodes, a psychology graduate, believing he could get away with it forever. He had to have known that one day the game would be up, but perhaps the positive attention has was – and still is – receiving from thousands of strangers on a website was simply too intoxicating. There’s a narcissist in us all and nothing indulges it quite like social media.

His exposure as a plagiarist may ensure a future blacklisted by the comedy community and scupper any chance of spinning his Twitter popularity into a career writing jokes, but it hasn’t done much to diminish his follower count. Indeed, many of his followers have taken to Twitter to leap to his defence. Many more will probably never know he has been outed as a joke thief. They will continue to retweet and favourite his posts. And perhaps, for Sammy Rhodes, each little burst of pleasure he gets from their positive attention is enough to have made his thefts worthwhile.

UPDATE: Since writing this blog post I’ve been blocked by @prodigalsam on Twitter. Ha.

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Forgotten records: Ryan Adams – Demolition

Ryan Adams’ discography consists of several highs (Heartbreaker, Cold Roses), a few lows (29, Cardinology) and lots of middlings, and 2002’s Demolition comfortably falls into the latter category. Adams’ third LP as a solo artist, it followed 2000’s Heartbreaker and 2001’s Gold to mixed but generally favourable reviews.

Demolition has a reputation as a Frankenstein’s monster of a record, having reportedly been stitched together out of material due to be released as three different albums: The Suicide Handbook, The Pinkheart Sessions and 48 Hours (all still unreleased, although TSH has been doing the rounds on the Internet for years). Unsurprisingly, it feels fairly disjointed to listen to, with its thirteen tracks consisting of several quiet ballads, a handful of upbeat alt-country numbers and three straight-up rockers.

Adams himself summed it up neatly in 2009 when he wrote on a web forum: “I don’t much care for this record. The rock songs are plodding and the quiet songs belonged to better records […] To make Gold as a compromise then to have to watch those records get broken up for Demolition was heartbreaking.”

I didn’t think much of Demolition when I first heard it – it’s not as immediately grabby as Gold or as quickly indicative of a rare talent as Heartbreaker – but like all Adams’ albums it contains several twinkling points of light which brighten over further listens, indicators of his talent for pop hooks, brainworm melodies and heartwrenching lyrics.

It’s the slow numbers here that lodge themselves most in the brain: “Desire”, “Cry On Demand” and “She Wants To Play Hearts” are all affecting tales of lost love and heartbreak (before bagging a pop princess, Ryan clearly went through some serious business with women) while “Dear Chicago” is just one of his finest, saddest songs, written (of course!) about a painful breakup. Over nothing more than a pair of intertwined acoustic guitars, Adams sings:

And life’s gotten simple since
And it fluctuates so much
Happy and sad and back again
But not crying now too much

I think about you all the time
It’s strange and hard to deal
I think about you lying there
And those blankets lie so still

Nothing breathes here in the cold
Nothing moves or even smiles
I’ve been thinking some of suicide
But there’s bars out here for miles

Sorry ‘bout the every kiss
Every kiss you wasted bad
I think the thing you said was true
I’m gonna die alone and sad

Well, yeah. Few songwriters can do gloomy self-pity as brilliantly as Ryan Adams.

But Demolition isn’t all bravura bedwetting. As if to remind us that it’s possible to get over anything, “Hallelujah” is a near-triumphant (albeit somewhat bitter) look at past relationships (or perhaps it’s about Adams’ turbulent time as frontman of Whiskeytown?) while the jaunty finger-picking-and-pedal-steel number “Cheer Up, Chin Up” is one of his most upbeat songs full stop. Then there’s “Tennessee Sucks”, which reeks of booze and sweaty Nashville nights (“‘Cause Tennessee sucks in the summer / What do you got that can put us under?”). Not exactly life-affirming, but far from depressing.

As Adams said, the rockers on the album come across as plodding in comparison to those on other LPs, but aside from that Demolition is a solid collection of songs – and it’s really more a collection of songs than an actual album. Despite that, I think it’s almost as strong as Gold, which starts to drag after the first few songs, and probably on a par with Love Is Hell. I’ll turn my attention that particular mope-rock depress-fest at some point in the not too distant future.

Listen to Demolition on Spotify

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Book review: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.

Cormac McCarthy’s astonishing 1985 novel is an exploration of the nature of violence and war deftly painted over the canvas of America’s most enduring myth: the Old West.

McCarthy subverts the accepted, cosy original myth as well as our own modern interpretations of it. No bold, white-hatted pioneers conquering new lands in the name of Manifest Destiny here. And little sign of the nature-loving proto eco warriors we’ve now come to accept as the historical Native Americans. The dusty, red-stained West is almost literally hell on earth, with white men, Mexicans and Indians committing unspeakably horrible acts upon each other: scalping, infanticide, mass murder, rape. No good guys, no bad guys, just winners and losers.

Following the exploits of a group of mercenary scalp hunters contracted by the Mexican government to kill Apaches, the novel is hugely, shockingly violent, but it’s all there for a reason. When determining whether (real life) violence is justified we tend to think of what it achieves and how that fits into our own moral compass, but the point that is hammered into you time and time again while reading Blood Meridian is that these notions of right and wrong are a complete irrelevance for those involved in “the game”. The loser is utterly annihilated, removed from existence just like the items committed to Judge Holden’s notebook. What does moral law mean next to that? What can it? History is written by the winners. The losers may as well have never existed.

McCarthy’s examination of violence is what makes this an exceptional novel, but it’s extraordinary in many other ways too. It’s impeccably researched and feels authentic – vital as we need to believe that these horrible events are taking place in our own, our actual mid-nineteenth century and not some other, mythical version of it.

The writing is breathtaking at times, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with McCarthy’s near-Biblical prose. I flicked through the book and picked this passage at random:

On the day that followed they crossed a lake of gypsum so fine the ponies left no track upon it. The riders wore masks of boneblack smeared about their eyes and some had blacked the eyes of their horses. The sun reflected off the pan burned the undersides of their faces and shadow of horse and rider alike were painted upon the fine white powder in purest indigo. Far out on the desert to the north dustspouts rose wobbling and augered the earth and some said they’d heard of pilgrims borne aloft like dervishes in those mindless coils to be dropped broken and bleeding upon the desert again and there perhaps to watch the thing that had destroyed them lurch onward like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang. Out of that whirlwind no voice spoke and the pilgrim lying in his broken bones may cry out and in his anguish he may rage, but rage at what? And if the dried and blackened shell of him is found among the sands by travelers to come yet who can discover the engine of his ruin?

Amazing, heavy, portentous stuff – and again we see McCarthy touching on Blood Meridian’s chief theme. The pilgrim has been destroyed by a dustspout, a force of nature. Reason, morality, blame – they’re not factors. You can’t be outraged at a force of nature. What’s the point?

For the writer, violent conflict between human beings is much the same: a force of nature that can’t ever be quelled, that exists far above our notions of right and wrong.

It is, and it always will be. That way and not some other way.

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So I decided to start a blog. Having flirted with Tumblr and losing interest after a few weeks, I’m going for the full fat option and hoping I can keep it regular (no digestive system joke intended).

Starting this is more about keeping me writing – and specifically writing about something other than stuff made by Apple, Microsoft and Sony – as it is about a desire to “share” my musings with the world. That might change if I start enjoying it.

I’m also not ruling out talking about the day job things, about technology and social media and all the rest, but not unless it’s something that I think non-tech types will find interesting.

So that’s it. Let the musings commence.

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