Tyler Gregory Okonma, better known by his stage name, “Tyler, The Creator”, is a popular rap artist and music producer, most famous for his involvement in and leadership of the notorious rap collective “Odd Future”. Tyler and his merry band of fellow rappers and skateboarders are well-known for their outlandish behavior and envelope-pushing performances. Odd Future, as a group of rappers and musicians, seem to incorporate shock value into their live shows, music videos, and most of their public appearances, and, to no one’s surprise, this behavior spills over into social media as well.
Tyler’s twitter feed is rife with upper-case tirades, multi-tweet callouts, and, most of all, completely nonsensical tweets aimed at no one and nothing. It’s somewhat amusing to browse his history of tweets when you’re bored, but I quickly begin to feel as though it’s too much of an act. Whereas some celebs try to guard their tongue when the whole world is watching, Tyler, The Creator goes in the complete opposite direction- taking caution and throwing it to the wind. Erving Goffman, commenting on the nature of “performance” in presentation(particularly applicable to Tyler’s Twitter presence), writes in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,
“When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess…At one extreme, we find that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality…At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be take in at all by his own routine. This possibility is understandable, since no one is in quite as good an observational position to see through the act as the person who puts it on.” (pg. 10)
If one thinks of Twitter as Tyler’s stage, we might not find that his performance is demanding to be taken seriously, as Goffman suggests(I do believe that Tyler has moments of serious and meaningful contribution to the Twitterverse, but I’ll talk about that more later). The two extremes posed by Goffman are starkly contrasted by the sentiment of the actor (in this case, Tyler). What I take from his input into the digital world is that Tyler knows how his tweets and online behavior are received. He’s aware that social media is a performance—just like the concerts he does every week—and what he says and does within the bounds of 140 characters shapes his public image. He creates this zany and wacky public image through Twitter because it generates buzz. Some find Tyler’s tweets pointless and immature, but some of his followers take on the “Odd Future” persona for themselves and fight back against Tyler’s haters in the same way he might- through vulgarity and no consideration for social norms. This goes to show that his image and performance have an impact, garnering him supporters under the guise that @fucktyler is the same persona as Tyler Gregory Okonma.
Goffman goes on in his book to outline the concept of front-stage and back-stage performance (the separation of performances between public and private settings) and how they come into play in person-to-person communication. With Twitter’s physically-separated-yet-constantly-connected ideology, celebrities are often found to break down the barrier between the “frontstage” and “backstage”, giving followers a tweet-by-tweet rundown of their daily happenings, and providing a commentary for these happenings. Tyler in particular seems to tweet like this, sensationalizing very minute details of his day in order to make him seem wacky and offbeat (see below), though to me it seems like the musings of a teenage girl drunk on perceived attention from Facebook.
Despite this random behavior Tyler exhibits, he does not want anyone to be confused about his intentions when it comes to his artistry- he’s all business in his rapping. Shown here, Tyler sheds his facetious Twitter shroud and lashes out publicly at fellow artist will.i.am, who Tyler argues is a sell out, making “BUTT SHIT TO MAKE BREAD”.
Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd, in their piece, “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter”, say that Twitter allows the celebrities of the world to “create a sense of closeness and familiarity between themselves and their followers.” The tirade that Tyler went on about his music and his perception of the industry was a break from his usual goofball-style, aimed at doing exactly what Marwick and Boyd suggest, bringing his fans closer, making them feel like they know him personally. Such a poignant commentary on the state of the music industry, from an artist that is known for not taking anything seriously, allows Tyler’s followers to feel as though they are right there with Tyler, on his couch in L.A., him opening up about his true feelings.
Marwick and Boyd go on to say- “This type of strategic revealing found on confessional talk-show appearances, tell-all biographies and magazine interviews has been criticized as ‘second-order intimacy’ or ‘the illusion of intimacy'”- so what are we to believe? The celebrities we see every day on Twitter likely have teams of people to manage these leaks of “strategically managed self-disclosure”, so what can we really take from the blurbs of text that Lindsey Lohan, Drake, and Tyler The Creator are creating for us to consume? What sort of performance are we made to see? Front stage? Back stage? If every interaction is a performance, as Goffman said, then we have to take every tweet with a grain of salt.