Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

From Oprah to Martha Stewart, these celebs charm with their sheer weirdness

Topics: Oprah Winfrey, Chuck Grassley, sarah jessica parker, tom hanks, Diane Keaton, marcia gay harden, Twitter, Editor's Picks,

Why confused, earnest celebrities rule TwitterOprah Winfrey (Credit: Everett Collection, turtleteeth via Shutterstock/Salon)

There’s something a bit boring about stars who are good at Twitter. Contemporary celebrities, those at the heart of the culture, can count on fans following them and so don’t need to provide any real added value in the form of their tweets. Indeed, the very fact of their fame disincentivizes them from doing anything too interesting with the form (revealing their daily routines, cracking jokes), because the best-case scenario for a weird tweet from a superstar is a net neutral effect on their brand, and the worst is alienating their fans, as widely followed star Ashton Kutcher learned when he defended Joe Paterno or as Rihanna, a rare exception, keeps learning as she picks fights with lesser stars. Kutcher ended up turning over control of his Twitter to his management; the whole thing feels characteristically anodyne. No wonder so many huge stars like George Clooney and Julia Roberts eschew Twitter entirely, and widely followed celebrities like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift mainly use the site to promote their projects.

But celebrities ever-so-slightly out of the zeitgeist have nothing to lose — and don’t seem to grasp, often, the fundamentals of Twitter. These stars, it seems obvious, were told Twitter was important for audience engagement but never actually bothered to figure out how to use the thing to present their assiduously groomed “best selves”; they also came from generations before the hyper-polished, new-media-savvy 20-somethings atop the most-followed list.

There’s Sarah Jessica Parker, eagerly tweeting photos of a big deli salad and random coins on the ground; Cher, casting shade at pop-world rival Madonna; or Jeff Daniels, flooding followers’ feeds with live recaps of baseball games. Even Martha Stewart’s completely distasteful photos of the food she’s eating seem charmingly divorced from image-consciousness — she doesn’t care what you think of her homemade Russian dressing!

And, too, none of these stars really cares about how much they reveal — and are thrilled to engage with their fans simply for the fun of it, rather than tweeting to get you to spend money on their new album or movie. This is how Twitter ought to be; a weird, frank, open place where stars actually will tweet back at you.



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    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Martha Stewart (@MarthaStewart)

    The lifestyle guru somehow doesn’t extend her notorious perfectionism to the capitalization and punctuation of her tweets -- chronicling her busy life of daytime radio recording and nighttime dinner parties in jagged, compelling prose. (A characteristic example: “Angry ocean angry sky brisk cold winds. October in east Hampton. Brrrrrr.”) And sometimes, logic fails her, as when she kept tweeting about her broken iPad, waiting for “an apple rep” to come to her house to pick it up. But her confusion and entitlement were only natural -- after all, as she told her followers, her iPad had been a gift from Steve Jobs. No amount of post-jailhouse interviews could have given us so frank a picture.
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/s_bukley

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Sarah Jessica Parker (@SJP)

    The “Sex and the City” star got on Twitter recently -- and her first tweet just promoted a series she’d produced for AOL. Things got kooky quickly, though, as Parker asked her followers to help her find New Yorker war reporter Dexter Filkins, shared a photo of a penny she saw on the ground, and talked about her love for recent novel “The Goldfinch.” A fuller picture of Parker’s personality -- literary, bubbly, frantically charming -- has come through in a matter of weeks than in her previous decades as a famous actress.
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/Featureflash

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah)

    OK, there was that whole thing when Oprah got in trouble for tweeting at her followers with Nielsen boxes to tune to the Oprah Winfrey Network, getting her dinged by Nielsen for trying to manipulate ratings. But that was just symptomatic of a freewheeling account where the formerly private TV-talk icon tweets at her followers about “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN, her chai latte habit, and making dog treats from scratch.
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/Everett Collection

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Cher (@cher)

    The Oscar-winner often seems to be screaming at her followers with her all-caps tweets, but it’s worth the slight headache merely for the spectacle of a star so untrammeled by public opinion. Few other celebrities would feel so little compunction about calling Sarah Palin a “DUMB C WORD,” asking of a rival’s album “Wtf is mdna,” or saying of Kiefer Sutherland, “There was a time when we all hung out, HE WAS SO MUCH FUN.” Out of the limelight until her recent album release, Cher seems to thoroughly enjoy chatting with her legion of fans -- and seems largely unconcerned with haters.
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/Debby Wong

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Matthew Perry (@MatthewPerry)

    The one-time “Friends” star, in recovery from addiction, recently responded to a follower who advised taking sleeping pills on an airplane, “Ummmm, have you not been paying attention?” His path diverged from that of hyper-image-conscious costar Jennifer Aniston along the way, and Perry seems not to care about alienating fans who don’t want to read live hockey recaps, who don’t get his odd, dry humor (“I want to wish Daniel Day Lewis luck today. I think he did an okay job as Lincoln, but I would have brought more layers to it”).
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/s_bukley

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Marcia Gay Harden (@Beloving2)

    The weirdness of the feed of this Oscar-winning actress (now on ABC’s sitcom “Trophy Wife”) only begins with her inscrutable user name. Then there’s the biography (“National Parks, Roadtrips, Ted Talks = The Parthenon, KIDS!!, Love with GRACE, meditation, read! Beach! acting truth, joy - no time for resistance. Lavender”). If you don’t watch “Trophy Wife,” her tweets sent during the show’s airing become a sort of performance art -- “You're a Rye-ot @MalinAkerman #trophywife.”
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/s_bukley

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Diane Keaton (@Diane_Keaton)

    She’s lately spent more of her time posting pictures of classic cinema actresses with commentary, but Diane Keaton’s Twitter feed was the go-to place for sepia-toned close-up pictures of horses with captions like “Thinking About You…,” “I Know Better,” and “Don’t Need No Hateration!”
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/s_bukley

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Jeff Daniels (@Jeff_Daniels)

    The recent Emmy-winner seems solely interested in the filming of the “Dumb and Dumber” sequel (whatever), golf and an optimistic-bordering-on-quixotic faith in the Detroit Tigers. He appears entirely unapologetic about tweeting many times per game or sounding like a cartoon dad rather than a Hollywood actor. (“#DetroitLions at 1. #DetroitTigers at 8. Prepare couch.”)
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/Helga Esteb

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Tom Hanks (@TomHanks)

    Until this year, when he made his Broadway debut and appeared in two Oscar hopefuls on-screen, Tom Hanks was in something of a dormant period in the culture. But for the true fans, he never went away; he signs his periodic tweets “Hanx” and enthusiastically photographs spatulas on the ground and notes that “Twitter HQ is one bodacious hang.” He seems to earnestly love being Tom Hanks -- but to not take the whole thing too seriously.
    Photo credit: Shutterstock/s_bukley

    Why confused, earnest celebrities rule Twitter

    Chuck Grassley (@ChuckGrassley)

    He’s not, per se, a star -- but the Iowa Republican senator proves, each day, just what the possibilities and pitfalls of Twitter are. From telling a stem-winder about hitting a deer with his car (“Assume deer dead”) to his famous rants against the History Channel’s lack of history-centric programming, Grassley exposes himself as an irascible crank without spell-check enabled -- and shows us just how much poorer the world would be if we left tweeting to those who know how to tweet.
    Photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

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Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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