Friday, March 27, 2009

Deceptive Tweets- Ghost writing's next step

Ghost writing seems to have always played a role in the publishing world, or at least it has for a long time now. It's a job employed primarily by celebrities or politicians who don't have the time, interest, or ability to write their own memoirs or autobiographies. Even R.L. Stein, famed children's lit writer of the nineties, employed ghost writers in order to keep each of his book lines on a regular schedule. In short, Ghost writing isn't anything new, you can even find help wanted ads on craigslist calling for ghost writers. However, the New York Times posted an article on their website yesterday discussing celebrity twitter accounts, and the celebrities that don't use them. 

The article gives several examples of celebrities who employ someone to, or simply have some else update their twitter accounts for them. Specifically, they make reference to rapper 50 Cent, and former-trainwreck-currently-singer Britney Spears. The article also discusses athletes such as Lance Armstrong, and Shaquille O'Neal who update their accounts themselves. Of ghost written tweets O'Neal said "If I am going to speak, it will come from me.... It's 140 characters... If you need a ghostwriter for that, I feel sorry for you." His opinion is one I happen to share. 

Ghost writing as a practice is morally problematic no matter what the situation happens to be. In the case of autobiographies, or memoirs, the reader is purchasing a product in the hopes of dispelling the smoke and mirrors of celebrity and getting a true, earnest look at the life and experiences of the billed celebrity writer. Celebrity in this case referring to any high profile figure. It's rather insulting then that a personal form of writing intended to be honest can and is used as a marketing tool. By employing a ghost writer in this fashion, the product's intent is voided and the reader is cheated. Even if the ghost writer is an honest translator of the person's life, it still lacks the personal element that separates these forms of writing from others. While this is a disingenuous, and can even be considered despicable practice, it isn't without some justification and benefit. While no celebrity should sign a book deal knowing they have no intent to write their own book, it's likely that a few find such an arduous task more daunting than they had previously thought once the work begins. While unfortunate, at least in this instance hiring a ghost writer to complete the contract is understandable. The benefit is rather obvious-- it employs an otherwise jobless writer. While they may not get credit for the work, they are at least fed for a few months. 

Ghost writing for Twitter is a sin far more shameful, the only aspect less offensive is that a reader didn't unload twenty-five dollars to read it. Online friend services are intended to be used as a way for someone to connect with others. Like a form of personal writing, celebrities have the ability to regain independence from their image and connect with those who support them by utilizing these online services. When used by a celebrity for their intended purpose, it's a win-win for both the celebrity and fan alike. The celebrity is allowed to humanize themselves, while the fan is allowed a glimpse into their life. It's better for both involved. However, a ghost written twitter has a completely opposite effect. Consider the following, from the above NY Times article, spoken by a former consultant for Britney Spears; 

"'It's O.K. to tweet for a brand,' he said, remarking how common it is for companies to have Twitter accounts, 'but not O.K. for a celebrity. But the truth is, they are a brand. What they are to the public is not always what they are behind the curtain. If the manager knows that better than the star, then they should do it.'"

Ignoring the fact that the final point this man makes would be untruthful at best, and libel at worst- It turns what should be an honest, direct line of communication into something deceptive, greedy, and something entirely more damaging than whatever a celebrity might disclose of their personal life. I'm referring specifically to the celebrity as a brand. A person doesn't have to look further than celebrities such as Rock Hudson-- the epitome of masculinity in mid-century America and a forcibly closeted homosexual for his entire life. Even when Hudson was diagnosed with HIV, it was released to the public as liver cancer. If that isn't enough, consider Rita Hayworth. Her on screen image was one of a sexual temptress, and she lived much of her life in Hollywood glamor, but in truth she wanted nothing more than to be  happily married and with her family. To discuss Marilyn Monroe's troubled life and unfortunate suicide would be overkill. On top of all of that, it is impossible to ignore the sad irony in the fact that this blurb comes from a former brand manager for Britney Spears-- a celebrity who could have used transparency to great advantage when she was being hounded relentlessly by the media. Public sympathy could have been easily won for her if her absurd decisions had been accompanied by some insight into her life or mindset. Supporting 'the brand' does not allow celebrities to live like normal people, and the fact that a celebrity is a person it what separates them from the companies that have twitters. If Pepsi twitters about something, it's clear that the words don't belong to the actual soda, but if Spears or 50 Cent post a tweet, there is a justified expectation that the words are theirs. 

All of this is to say nothing of the absolute ridiculousness of the fact that these celebrities can't manage to write their own pathetically pithy comments on their day to day events. It can't be argued that writing their own comments is destructive to their image. If it were, Aston Kutcher would have been out of the public eye as soon as people had some idea of how much of an arrogant airhead he was. Unlike the autobiography or memoir, writing twitter statuses isn't a difficult task. 

All of this brings me back to my original point: Ghost writing is never a good thing. It removes all the intent behind writing a memoir or autobiography. If the writer is not connecting on a personal level with the reader than the work may as well not exist. The same can be said for faux tweets. The benefit of these formats for celebrities is that they are allowed to show themselves for who they are, and dispel the brand. To support 'the brand' using these mediums is commercialistic and insulting. Writing-- be it a novel, memoir, blog or tweet-- is about honesty and we'd all be a bit better served if someone manged to exorcise the ghosts. 

1 comment:

Kiriska said...

Agreed, most definitely. 140 characters. How hard could it be? I'm sure all the mentioned and accused regularly text message a hundred times that much daily. If their managers are worried about them leaking things to the rumor mills, then better just camp on the Twitter account and let it lay dormant (so we don't get another Dalai Lama fiasco).

With all the business innovation that Twitter facilitates, it's really no surprise that celebrities are having their accounts ghost-written, but of all the new wave social networking and Web 2.0 gadgets that they could enlist help for, Twitter is the least impressive. I can't help but keep going back to the, "HELLO! 140 CHARACTERS. NOT EVEN WORDS. CHARACTERS!"