Ward Room finally has a copy of The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @Mayor Emanuel -- Rudy the UPS Guy delivered it Monday afternoon -- so we can now address the question, “Should you buy a book whose contents are 90 percent available on the Internet?”
The answer is: if you live in Chicago and followed the campaign, probably not. If you’re not from Chicago, and are fascinated with Rahm Emanuel and/or the literary possibilities of Twitter, maybe so.
Most of the 238-pages is a reprint of the @MayorEmanuel Twitter feed, with occasional annotations by author Dan Sinker, to explain his pop culture references, or provide context on the news he was Tweeting about. For example, after the Tweet “Where the f--- am I? What the f--- happened last night? And why the f--- and I wearing nothing but Payton’s retired jersey?” Sinker writes, “That’d be Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton, the legendary Chicago Bear.” If you need those footnotes, then maybe you need the book. To be fair, though, a lot of @MayorEmanuel’s followers weren’t even born when the ’85 Bears won the Super Bowl.
Sinker’s news commentaries -- he goes into great detail about the residency challenge, and reveals he was “disgusted” by Emanuel tenant Rob Halpin’s mayoral candidacy -- aren’t necessary for anyone who followed the campaign. They also raise the question of whether Tweets lose their power when translated from the immediacy of the Internet to the permanence of the page. @MayorEmanuel didn’t need annotating during the campaign. The feed’s appeal was its hilarious commentary on events we’d all read about on the Web that day.
What’s most valuable in this book is Sinker’s story of writing the feed. Sinker lives in Evanston, or some such suburb that tries to pretend it’s not a suburb so hip people will feel OK living there, and composed most of his Tweets while riding the train back and forth from his job at Columbia College. As he came to realize, this was prime time. All his readers were on their phones during the morning and evening commute, too. As the story of Emanuel’s campaign grew, so did @MayorEmanuel’s readership: it gained 8,000 followers in one day during the residency challenge.
Sinker also writes that he became paranoid as the news media speculated on the man behind @MayorEmanuel: “My train rides -- still the main place stories were written -- became fraught with the feeling of being watched.” The Tribune speculated that the Tweeter was a 40ish journalist, but Tribune reporters weren’t Web-savvy enough to find the culprit. It took a 25-year-old schoolteacher.
Sinker compares @MayorEmanuel to other modern political satire, such as Saturday Night Live, Doonesbury and Hunter S. Thompson’s Rolling Stone column. The difference: those all depended on multi-million dollar infrastructures for distribution. Now, “the tools are cheap (most of them are free), and the act of distributing your work is as simple as a click.”
It’s free to Tweet, but you have to Tweet for free, too. You, too, can be the next @MayorEmanuel. And if you’re good enough, your reward will be a book deal with Scribner, a multi-million dollar publisher. That’s as good a commentary on the relationship between new media and old media as this book itself.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!