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I Don’t Like Roger Ebert

I love Twitter. I use it all the time. When I say use, hear it the way an addict would say it. I use Twitter. I’m pretty good at it too. Not in the sense of having lots of followers, or being really popular, or anyone knowing who I am. Rather in the sense of knowing how to get certain things out of it that I want. Usually that’s traffic to a blog post. I admit that. But the most satisfying thing of all is a retweet. If you’re really good, or really famous, it’s easy to get a lot of retweets. If you aren’t either of those, it’s still easy. Be bad.

I do this sometimes. Late at night, typically. Angrily for the most part. Drunkenly on occasion. Twitter is real life and in real time, after all. Isn’t that what we all love and hate about it?

Knowing all this, I hatched a plan that’s been going swimmingly all week. You see, Roger Ebert is on Twitter too. And he can be exceedingly … unkind. He compared Arizona’s immigration law to the Holocaust. Twice. He routinely mocks “TeePees,” his adorably dismissive shorthand for tea party protesters. And most recently, in an exceedingly ill-advised and poorly-received tweet, he suggested that “Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.”

Let us not today go into the ins and outs of the students sent home after refusing to cover their American flags on Cinco de Mayo. Suffice it to say that from my perspective this was an unconscionable outrage, and therefore Ebert’s escalation of the rhetoric to the level of hammer and sickle doubly so. It was an insight into him. Twitter, as we addicts believe, is real life. And in real time. And so … the plan.

It was amazingly easy to do. First, I warned Media Matters what was about to happen. Second, I began attacking Ebert with increasingly awful tweets mocking his cancer. Third, I waited.

When the hits started rolling in, I infuriatingly taunted the naysayers with non-sequiturs and your momma jokes. That’s when they started getting real. Saying awful things. Well you see, it’s ok with me. I had earned it.

And therein lay my plan. I’d wait a few days, gather the most insulting tweets, and publish. The fact that they felt free to “go there” with me proves they implicitly accept my premise. For they were using my logic, you see. Ebert had “earned” it, so I was free to open fire. Now I had earned it, so they were free to open fire. Media Matters was a no-brainer. I’d invited them in advance. But imagine my delight when bomb-throwing gossip site Gawker linked to my twitter feed. I fairly twisted my mustache and rubbed my palms greedily. Everything was proceeding as I had foreseen it; better, even.

This morning, I started in on the final phase: gathering the evidence. I started with Ebert. I spent hours poring over months of his twitter feed. I found he had a distinctive “dirty old man” streak. Screenshot. I saw how fond he was of mocking Creationism, intelligent design, Noah’s Ark, and Christianity in general. Screenshot. I found countless dismissive tweets about the ignorance of TeePees. The countless veiled accusations of racism. The endless tweeting and retweeting of anything critical of Sarah Palin. Screenshot, screenshot, screenshot. I found a totally right-on movie review of the movie Kick-Ass that mirrored my own thoughts perfectly. Screens … wait. What?

It is here. I’ve read Ebert before of course. He’s as good as his reputation. But this was more than a movie review. The objection was on a moral ground that I share. It was my objection to the movie too. Hmm.

Back to the Twitter I go. A little more uneasy, now. Ahhh, another TeePee reference. My righteousness has been restored. A-digging I continue. Screenshot. Screenshot. Appreciative chuckle. Dammit!

I started seeing quotable quotes. Witticisms I appreciated. Depth.

Ebert tends to appreciate the same sorts of lyrical turns of phrase on Twitter that I appreciate. I saw when he was being savaged about his position on whether video games can be art, he let the savagery wash over him. He even got a few quick quips out of it. I kept thinking “I should like this guy.” And then, TeePees, Michael Moore, and Markos. I couldn’t like him, even though I actually started wanting to. But his tweeting is so hot and cold. It’s like there are two of him. The one that everybody appreciates, and then the rabid lefty tweeter. I couldn’t figure it out.

And then I figured it out. That’s exactly how I am. Half of my tweets are normal, off-topic, funny (if I do say so) or conversational. And half must set afire the blood of any left-wing tweeter. I’m just like Ebert, minus the fame, fortune, education, writing talent, and painful disease. It’s like he was … human.

And that’s when it suddenly dawned on me. Twitter isn’t real life. It’s 140 characters. It’s a window, not a door, and certainly not the whole house. We all know this, of course. But we act in a manner that indicates we do not.

People like me, or anonymous Twitterer @shoq, and many others who do what we consider to be battle on Twitter “know” we are right. We know we are right because those we oppose are so very wrong. It’s all quite easy. You’re a TeePee. Yeah well you’re a moonbat! Tit for tat. Jab for jab. Round and round we go. The race to the most cutting insult never ceases. Do a search on twitter, some time, for “sub-human,” and/or “filth.” Try “despicable”. I bet it comes up a lot more than “beautiful.” Try “scum.” I bet it comes up more than “person.” Try “hate.” I think you get the picture.

You know what? It’s a polarized country we live in. Often rabidly so. I play that game. Most of you reading this, you play it too. We play for ratings, for clicks, for retweets. We play to satisfy bloodlust, vengeance, self-righteous fury. We play because we have contempt. And contempt is the one thing you will see on display more often than any other emotion in political tweeting. Because that’s not a person, it’s a TeePee. Not a man, a target.

Roger Ebert cannot be measured by his Twitter feed. Not even by his collective writings. Because he is human, and what’s more a human in pain. As am I. As are we all.

I can’t say that I like Roger Ebert very much. But I like people. I can’t say I care much for how he chooses to treat tea partiers, or the substance of his political views, or his position regarding Cinco de Mayo. But I can say he is a man. He lives his life, he loves others, he appreciates beauty. He is a man. A human. Just like Bob the tea partier, just like Arizona politicians, just like the Mexican students at that high school in California. I can’t say I like him, but I can say I shouldn’t hate him. And I shouldn’t have flippantly picked what I thought would hurt him the most, just because I thought I had a point to make on Twitter. Cheaply. Callously.

Twitter, as we should say, isn’t real life. It isn’t even real time. I forgot about humanity. And for that, I am suddenly very sorry.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m going to be nice all the time. Vodka cometh. But I’ve too long relished the race to the bottom. To be frank, I’ve reveled in the sarcasm and nastiness, and, yes, even the negative feedback. This morning I was wallowing in self-righteous glee at what I had wrought. But I was wrong. And it took reading Roger Ebert’s twitter feed for about five hours to make me realize that. To make me chastened. To humble my pride.

So though I think I still don’t like Roger Ebert very much, I do believe that I owe him one. So thank you. And I sincerely apologize.

When Caleb Howe isn’t raising hell on Twitter you can find his well-crafted and lyrical rants on Redstate.com

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