When Twitter attacks celebrities

Jim Carrey, Aimee Mann and other famous tweeters finally learn what we all know: The Internet's a bitch

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published April 13, 2010 10:14PM (EDT)

We used to think it was only our parents and drunk teenagers who committed Internet failure. But for celebrities, every day on Twitter is like your first day in an AOL chat room -- a minefield of opportunities for massive public screw-up. Hey, movie star/sports legend/supermodel: What's the point of standing at the perfect, hip-slimming angle on the red carpet, orchestrating those public moments of casual family bliss, and reeling off those carefully scripted "Tonight Show" anecdotes if you're just going to blow it all in 140 mouthy, impulsive, poorly spelled characters?

For those of us who prefer our stars unscripted and possibly a little inebriated, of course, Twitter has been a godsend. How else could we keep track of the many, many people Lindsay Lohan despises? But it's got to make for interesting times for celebrities (not to mention their beleaguered P.R. people). Gone are the days when a paparazzo is forced to dig in the trash or hide in the bushes to find a scandal. Now, thanks to Twitter, the scandal comes straight to our smart phones -- and straight from the fingers of the celebs themselves. When so much can go so wrong, it almost makes you wonder why celebrities bother. But Twitter is validation crack. And if there's anything that celebrities need, it's validation.

The most recent victim is pop singer Aimee Mann. The gifted songwriter, who's been compared to Paul McCartney, was probably lounging in her La-Z-Boy in the midst of a particularly disappointing episode of "Law & Order: SVU" when she felt moved to opine, "Christ, there is no reason in the world anyone should ever have cast Ice T in a television show."

I'm sure it felt like a casual aside. Of course, it was a casual aside accessible to everyone in the world with access to Twitter – including Ice T. Did the man responsible for "Squeeze the Trigger" take offense? Let's consider his response: "Hey @aimeemann stop worrying bout my acting bitch, and worry about your WACK ass music. In the mean time.. Eat a hot bowl of Dicks! Ice T ."

I'd say yes. Yes he did.

Though the two swiftly made nice (dear lord, please let a musical collaboration come out of this) their spat was a prime example of what Twitter does best -- turns "inside" thoughts into episodes of "Oh no, you didn't!" theater.

Sure, some stars -- Conan O'Brien, the Dalai Lama -- manage to balance the professional and confessional nicely. But just because Ashton Kutcher has a knack for it doesn't mean everybody who's ever been on the cover of People has similar aplomb. And it's true that some stars start out hopeless but seem to learn as they go along. John Mayer, who recently tweeted that the medium is "like day-trading in a 24 hour ego stock exchange," isn't half the douchebomb he was in his TMI heyday. And Scott Baio won't be making any cracks about Michelle Obama again any time soon. Then there are those remain forever shambling freak shows, but hey, that's their shtick. The day Courtney Love  becomes coherent on- or offline, the end is surely upon us. (Based on her recent tweet to Billy Corgan -- "Billy crikey and i just was reminicisng to the nme how good you were in bed back in the day, i know i know but shit i remember it all!" -- the Twilight of the Gods is likely not at hand.)

But some celebs are causing serious Twitter concern. Kirstie Alley's bid for legitimacy is not being aided by her insistence on tweeting batshitJim Carrey, when even CNN is doing stories about the lunacy of your updates, your updates are loony. Consider his post about Elin Nordegren (only days after his own split with Jenny McCarthy was trumpeted via tweet): "No wife is blind enough to miss that much infidelity. Elin had 2 b a willing participant on the ride 4 whatever reason. kids/lifestyle ;^)" OK, that little funny face at the end? It doesn't really mute the strangeness. In fact, it merely enhances it, like salt on nutty.

The rest of us slobs don't have a team of agents and handlers micromanaging our public image. We just stumble around the planet saying inappropriate things because nobody's stopping us. Celebrities, on the other hand, do. (Hence the rise of the "ghost tweeter.") You'd think, then, that they'd be better at this thing -- but wow, are they not.

No matter how rich or famous a person may be, at some point, anyone can wind up alone late at night, with a box of chardonnay and a few big ideas. No five hours in the stylist's chair. No Spanx. No coaching. And in those moments, anyone can be provocative and banal and ticked off and, well, just plain dumb. As it turns out, celebrities: They really are just like us.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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