This was not a good week on social media for writer E.L. James of Fifty Shades of Grey and would-be US Presidential candidate Governor Bobby Jindal. Both took to Twitter to answer fans’ questions. But both are controversial figures, and the majority of tweets were delightful take-downs that burned so good.
First up: E.L. James. The author is loathed by vocal segments of The Internet; James haters are legion. You can hate her for her painfully bad writing, which wouldn’t fly in a freshman comp class. You can hate her for the fact that Fifty Shades began as fanfiction of Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight. Or you can hate James for inaccurately depicting BDSM and for framing the abusive relationship between the two protagonists as the height of romance. Take your pick! Twitter users on #AskELJames certainly did.
What do you dislike more, Independent strong woman or the English language? #AskELJames
— Trevor Donovan (@TrevDon) June 29, 2015
Are you going to answer any of these questions, or do you need Stephenie Meyer to do a Twitter chat first? #AskELJames
— Beth Thorne (@bethorne) June 29, 2015
#AskELJames if E.L.James asks for these tweets to stop, does that mean she really wants them to continue?
— Johnny Quid. (@Steelnicks) June 30, 2015
#AskELJames Do all these negative tweets sent to you seem abusive to you? I think it's romantic enough to be turned into a novel!
— Stephan Krosecz (@Krosecz) June 29, 2015
— Lee-Michael Conway (@LeeMConway) June 29, 2015
#AskELJames you do realize that if Grey wasn't a billionaire, the 50 Shades trilogy would be one hell of a Law & Order episode?
— Belial Bell (@AlwaysAnimated) June 29, 2015
#AskELJames after the success of "Grey," have you considered re-telling the story from the perspective of someone who can write
— Andrew Vestal (@avestal) June 29, 2015
— lauren (@lburgundy) June 29, 2015
If I stalk a girl and GPS her car, does that mean it's true love? #AskELJames
— Trevor Donovan (@TrevDon) June 29, 2015
#AskELJames what do you hate more? a) good literature b) consent c) women d) healthy relationships e) all of the above
— captain emmarica (@PRESERUMPINING) June 29, 2015
i see people complaining about the #AskELJames tweets being "rude" or "hating", but all i see are truth bombs and a sea of truth pudding.
— Rebekah Weatherspoon (@rebekahwsm) June 29, 2015
You should check out the hashtag, which has provided days of endless entertainment and is still going long after James’ PR team cherry-picked some softball questions to answer.
Some James fans were upset about the ridicule sent in the author’s direction. I think she’s more than a fair target — the majority of Tweets criticised James’ writing style and characterizations, which are valid subjects for a writer who has earned upwards of $US90 million from her work. Debates over the way Fifty Shades portrays the relationship between clueless, virginal Ana Steele and the brooding, stalker-y billionaire Christian Grey have swirled in online communities for ages, gaining strength again this year when the Fifty Shades film came out. Since James’ latest book Grey retells the story through Christian’s eyes, long-simmering concerns found a new outlet in the Q&A.
You can read more about “50 shades of abuse” here (I’ve also written about the disturbing themes in Twilight, upon which Fifty Shades was originally based). This is an instance where Twitter mobs are raising awareness through irony rather than getting out their pitchforks for no reason.
A similar movement of derision to expose hypocrisy was in action for Bobby Jindal’s Q&A disaster. It appears that Jindal’s PR people missed the James kerfluffle, because on Tuesday they asked Twitter to leave town hall questions for the Governor of Louisiana under the hashtag #AskBobby. Peruse Gawker’s amazing tag for all the Jindal coverage you can shake a Bible at.
Jindal is widely known for his anti-science views and mixing a hardline Christian rhetoric into politics; both have earned him a history of internet scorn. He is fiercely opposed to reproductive rights, marriage equality, and immigration reform, but he believes in demonic possession and exorcisms. Unsurprisingly, #AskBobby did not go as planned.
Did Jesus ride dinosaurs with or without a saddle? #AskBobby
— SternFanChad (@money_boo_boo) June 30, 2015
— Planned Parenthood (@PPact) June 30, 2015
— Americans America (@americans4amer) June 30, 2015
— IGNORANT INTELLECT (@KW33NSOHI9H) June 30, 2015
How does it feel to have done more damage to Louisiana than Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures did? #AskBobby
— HumidCity (@HumidCity) July 1, 2015
— Scott Wooledge (@Clarknt67) July 1, 2015
My neighbor is a kind, hard working, undocumented immigrant contributing to society in a positive way. Where can I report him? #AskBobby
— Chase (@chasebrignac) July 1, 2015
When people rode dinosaurs, did women do it side-saddle? #AskBobby
— Brynn Tannehill (@BrynnTannehill) July 1, 2015
— Scott Wooledge (@Clarknt67) June 30, 2015
How does it feel to sell your soul for political gain and yet not gain anything politically? #AskBobby
— Brandon Bordelon (@BrandonBordelo2) June 30, 2015
When are widely disliked famous people going to learn how Twitter works?!? #AskBobby
— Katie Rogers (@katiearog) June 30, 2015
We hope the answer to that is never. This material is gold, and exactly what Twitter was made for. While it is unlikely that either James or Jindal had to sift through the negative Tweets themselves, many a headline has since been generated about the real questions people wish they would answer.
In these cases, the sub-narrative created by Twitter users became the dominant reported story — with attempts at self-promotion washed away in a wave of truth-telling and 140-character-shots fired.