Literary Parody Accounts
Last summer I posted a Facebook status about Walt Whitman and social media which evolved into a lengthy discussion on how deceased authors would utilize social media today; I eventually uploaded the Facebook exchange to Tumblr and, to my surprise, the post got some attention. The post resurges every month or so and people continue to add their own social media author headcanons, much to my delight.
After the post’s last resurgence, I started thinking about literary parody accounts, why they’re so popular and what they may represent. These types of accounts appear frequently on Twitter and Tumblr, and even pop up on YouTube, like the popular Lizzie Bennet Diaries series. These accounts serve not only as a source of comedy, but also as a creative outlet and educational tool. Placing a fictional or historical person in a new medium and translating their perceived personalities or thoughts about a variety of events allows for the figure to be reinvented, and illuminates modern perceptions of said figure. While there are numerous types of literary accounts, from the purely historical to the wondrously ridiculous, they tend to either keep the author or character in their original time period or they bring them to the 21st century and remark on current events.
Creating a parody account for an author can be tricky: how closely do you stick to the historical facts? Do you discuss their lives or do you just comment on current events? Are any parts of their lives off limits? In addition, the people who follow these accounts are likely doing so because they are fans of the author and will likely have something to say about how you run the account.
There are countless Shakespeare accounts on Twitter, most of which are quote based, but a few parody accounts have amassed a substantial following. @PopShakespeare features Shakespeare rephrasing pop-culture references into early modern English: “Four go out to thee, Glen Coco. Thou doth succeed, Glen Coco!” The account has over 100,000 followers, an impressive feat for a parody account. Rather than taking Shakespearean quotes and modernizing them, @PopShakespeare imagines 21st century culture in the early modern age, creating a sort of cultural hybrid.
@Shakespeare more overtly parodies the Bard, discussing Shakespeare’s habits, historical acquaintances, and characters as well as current events. The most entertaining tweets seem to focus on the Bard’s feelings towards his fellow writers: “Today is the anniversary of Kit Marlowe's death. I mourned his loss. But I was glad I didn't go drinking with him.” Tweets like this require a certain level of knowledge from followers for them to fully understand the joke: you need to first know who Kit Marlowe was, then what his relationship to Shakespeare was like, and finally that he died in a bar fight. In addition to fellow writers, the account parodies Shakespeare’s historical legacy and the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding him: “Nay, Oxford did not write my poems nor my plays. But he did come by and insert a large number of commas.” A conspiracy theory Shakespeare joke involving the Oxford comma? Comedic gold, people.
Chaucer Doth Tweet (@LeVostreGC) is perhaps one of the most recognizable parody accounts on social media. The account has nearly 39,000 followers and is tied to a blog and book, Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Medieval Studies and New Media. This account does deal with academia on a fairly frequent basis but reimagines Chaucer and those in his time reacting to modern events: “My Lord Kynge Richard II doth call my cell, raginge wyth great ire and wroth: "Geoff, Disneyland ys considering raysinge ticket pryces." Can you picture Richard II and Geoffrey Chaucer cavorting around Disneyland? I wonder what their favorite rides are?
Fictional parody accounts tend to have more freedom for interpretation and are generally closely tied to fandoms. For example, the Bucky Barnes parody account @Official_Bucky, has over 27,000 followers and frequently discusses the members of the Avengers in modern domestic situations. Unsurprisingly, the Winter Soldier’s eye makeup is also a frequent topic of discussion: “if your eyeliner isn't sharp enough to kill a man and bring down an entire intelligence organization you're doing it wrong.”
@Actual_Smaug is a take on what Smaug, the melodramatic dragon from Middle Earth, would tweet about if he had access to social media. The account has nearly 24,000 followers and frequently snipes about thieves and dwarves and interacts often with other Middle Earth parody accounts. What makes the Smaug account so entertaining is that it often references memes from sites like Tumblr, creating a millennial Smaug for the digital age. For instance, in January of 2014, the account tweeted, “in the mountain the lonely mountain the dragon sleep toniiiight” and followed up with “jk im wide awake fuckers”: hilarious and totally in character.
It’s clear that literary parody accounts are entertaining; they make you feel clever for getting the joke and help you imagine your favorite author or character in a situation they’d otherwise never be in. However, these parodies are more than just entertainment, they’re an emerging educational tool. When students create social media accounts as a character from a play or novel or as an author they’re studying, they are forced to be creative and really think about how this person or character would react to social media and its intricacies. Would they like instagram? What filter would they use? Are they more of a blogger or a Facebook user that constantly updates their status? Would they over share on social media? Be political? Who would they follow? What's their stance on selfies? Depending on the figure and time period, it can be tough for students to understand their motivations, so by resituating these figures into a modern setting on a new medium that is generally familiar to students helps them connect to these figures and understand them on a deeper, more personal level.
While these accounts are generally amusing, they also show us which authors or characters from the past are still resonating enough with modern readers to warrant someone creating an entire social media account based off of them. Like beloved stories that get moved from the oral tradition to print to digital and back, so too do beloved characters. Social media has become a vital part of how the 21st century communicates, particularly with younger generations, so it is fitting that social media has adapted authorial figures and fictional characters into bloggers and tweeters. The responses to these accounts are perhaps even more important than how they are run or what they create. Followers tweet or reply to posts with additions of their own, expanding the digital identity of these figures. Literary parody accounts can present the author figure as a character, giving followers insight into their personalities, and they can also present the fictional character as author, allowing them to write and create their own tweets, blogs, and writings on other platforms. While the identities of historical and fictional characters are always in flux depending on the time period and the reader, the digital age has intensified this idea, allowing for digital identities to be created and altered collaboratively. These accounts engage with the past and the fictional, transmitting them onto a new medium and give them a new, refashioned life on a digital platform.
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