Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Fun with Satire Personas

My students are at that time of year where they need to be constantly entertained.  They like the satire unit we’re in the midst of (some of them have even said so out loud!), but their attention spans are starting to resemble that of my eight year old this afternoon as the rain poured down outside.  I don’t blame them.

And I’ve tried to rise to the occasion for them:  Our Poetry Bracket Challenge wraps up tomorrow, we’ve examined “This Is America” (amazing conversation–I highly recommend spending some time with this if you haven’t already), and we’ve even built our own memes as a way of practicing our satire skills.  It’s all been fun, but the sunshine keeps beckoning through the window and so I keep having to find more and more entertaining distractions that also happen to have educational value. It’s exhausting.

But, as usual, Twitter proves to be an English teacher’s best buddy!  As with a lot of the best stuff on Twitter, this account just started showing up in my feed because it kept getting retweeted by other people I follow.  It turned out to be an incredible model for satire, writing with voice, and even teaching kids how to develop a persona or character in subtle ways.

Out of context, though, it was a little confusing the first couple of times.  For example:

man journalists

man stress dad

It felt like an odd joke, and while the account’s handle immediately had me thinking satire or parody, it was hard to say whether it was self-aware or just ridiculing women’s magazines or doing something else entirely (the grotesque alt-right term “cuck” even popped into my head for a moment, but it wasn’t being retweeted by the type who’d be entertained by that sort of trash).  

After seeing it a few more times though, it became obvious what the account was doing:

man pronouns

The entire feed takes the cis male perspective and turns it on its head. The account itself plays the straight man, embodying a straightforward, unironic tone while presenting all sorts of perspectives and takes about the male gender as if they were reasonable topics for consideration.  

The joke of course is that each tweet is actually a clever parody of the sort of garbage takes that are often lobbed at women in digital media spaces from “objective” cis male writers and “thinkers” who claim to mean well but are really perpetuating stereotypes or subversively trying to reinforce gender roles while pretending at open-mindedness.  

Notice the tweet below, for example, which asks a question that ostensibly places blame for workplace harassment on “form fitting” trousers that these sexpot male professors are always wearing to work.  There are multiple layers of absurdity here, but beneath it all is an unmistakable criticism of a social media trend. A “harmless” question is posed that really smuggles in an entire argument already functioning inside of it.  Of course on ACTUAL Twitter the question would always have the genders reversed–it isn’t men who have this sort of question about appropriate dress leveled at them, it’s women.

man loose trousers

My students will be wrestling with a few of these posts to try and make sense of the satire mechanisms at work–it’s a really difficult “text” unless you have access to a broad swath of the tweets all at once, and even then, the target (the unenlightened cis male worldview, in a nutshell) requires a lot of contextual knowledge in order to spot.  It’s a good workout for a whole host of English muscles we’ve been trying to flex this unit.

It might also be useful for other areas of study though:  I think the idea of carefully crafting a persona like this over time–one tweet at a time–is an interesting challenge that speaks to character development while emphasizing brevity in writing.  Creating a persona over time, say, one tweet or Facebook post per bell ringer, would be a fantastic way to help them stretch themselves as writers without the frustrating mental block of having to create a full-fledged personality within the time crunch of a single writing deadline.  

If you’re looking for such characterization models, this account is the tip of the iceberg–Twitter is teeming with fictionalized personalities that have been carefully curated by their ghost writers to feel fully fleshed out (except for the actual flesh, I guess).  Have fun–find a Twitter “character” that speaks to your own sense of humor and share it with the kids.  They’ll still spend some of their time looking out the window (even if it’s raining), but they’ll still be grateful for the change of pace.

–Mike

How do you help students wrestle with the subtler aspects of satire?  Characterization?  Let us know on Facebook or on Twitter (of course!) at @ZigThinks .

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