In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman meets his unceremonious end unsure about the meaning of his life as an agent of soulless American capitalism. Our friends at McSweeney’s explore what might happen if Loman faced a tragically empty existence in the social media vortex.
Linda, Happy, Biff, pull some seats up to the old dashboard. I want the four of us to take a good look at these words for a minute, written by a once-great man:
“All you need in life is a smile and a shoeshine.”
Know who tweeted that? I did. Just this morning, in fact. Know how many retweets I got on it from my followers, what’s left of the no good sons-of-bitches, anyway? Zip. Zero. Not even a favourite for the New England man.
I’m vital in New England. A mention must be paid to such a person!
If I had it to do over again, with more than 140 characters, I’d have changed it to, “All you need to get a retweet is a smile, a shoeshine, and a schlocky, pun-driven joke surfing atop the goddamn trending wave, because nobody even stands face-to-face in order to give a damn about style in this world anymore!” Guys, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I’ve realised that the glory days are gone. They’ve eaten my fruit and thrown away my tweets. Yessir, old Willy Loman’s taking a break.
Hell, I may as well just delete the goddamn account.
Now, now, Happy, just calm down, pal. I know you’re a big shot with your account out on the West Coast — lotta’ followers out on the West Coast — but don’t think your old man won’t block ya’. And it ain’t true what they say, Biff, because sometimes it can be too late to rebuild a following. See, it’s not about money, or power, or telling a good story with this Twitter business — and Twitter business is definitely business — it’s about being well liked. It’s about being a man of few words. It’s about getting those favourites, those mentions, those retweets. You never understood, Biff, because you just don’t have what it takes, ya’ lazy bum. You don’t have the puns in you, not like your Old Man and the Tweets, who Earnedhis Trendingway.
You can steal that one if you like, Biff. In fact, I’m sure you probably will.
Just listen for a minute. You don’t understand this. I once met a tweeter, username of @DaveSingleman. He was 34 years old. And what he’d do, he’d wake up, grab his phone, put on his Birkenstock sandals, sit in his living room — I’ll never forget this — charge that phone and tweet all day. By lunchtime he’d have 500 retweets. We’re talkin’ multiple 50+s. He’d even take the phone on the road, location-activated. Tweets popping up geotagged from 31 different states!
What could be better, than to be vaguely known and loved and retweeted by so many different weakly tied people? When he Twittercided — and by the way, he Twittercided the death of a Twitterstar — when he Twittercided, hundreds of thousands of people mentioned and retweeted. Favstar bot was there — congratulations all around from Favstar bot. Things were sad on a lotta’ hashtags for hours after that.
I realised then that tweeting is the greatest endeavour a procrastinator could want. See, in those days, there was personality in it. There was respect, comradeship, reciprocity. Hashtags that had never been tagged before. Today, it’s all cutthroat, clichéd and dry, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear — no personality. You see what I mean?
They don’t retweet me anymore!
Linda, I know you’re on to me about sneaking down to the basement and deleting those embarrassing jokes that fell flat without even a single favourite. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t bear to watch them hanging there like that. Guess it’s been leading up to this all along.
Biff, if you and Happy follow up on that joint account plan, remember, lighten things up with a few funny stories when you sign in, crack a few jokes. Use the puns, Biff, turn your life around. That son-of-a bitch maths teacher ruined your life when he failed you, didn’t he, Biff? I tried to tell you to go to summer school! But you’ll be fine, now, you’ll go far; you don’t even have to count to 140 for this. It does it for you.
Tell ya’, I think I’m losing my mind. Think I’m lost. I’ve got to get some retweets. Got to get some retweets, right away. Nothing’s favorited. I don’t have a thing on the Favstar leaderboard. Guess I’ll just go out for a drive.
I swear, some days, it feels like I’m just talking to myself with this thing. [McSweeney’s]
Jason Harrington is a writer based in Chicago.