A Hook of Finest Silver: The Magnificent Life of @NotTildaSwinton

by: Kevin Sparrow 

There’s this thing I do where I write for the internet. And in order to share my writing, I rely on social media–technological word of mouth–to disseminate my work. A major forum I use is Twitter, the popular haiku-succinct website. I currently have 1,800-plus tweets and 178 followers, with which I’m content, but I’m far from the most Twitter-famous person. Lady Gaga recently passed a milestone of 25 million followers, currently the supreme leader of the Twitterverse. Justin Bieber and Katy Perry follow right behind her. It is fair to note that these are people whose fame in other arenas had led to an increase in Twitter followers and not the other way around. Recently, the opposite phenomenon of Twitter-fame emerged with the creation of @NotTildaSwinton, which launched on May 21 with the immortal words, “The eclipse has given me much power. My skin glows. Tonight I feast on large game.”

The Tilda Swinton Twitter stream was formally acknowledged a hoax after only 5 days and 200 posts of existence, but managed to amass nearly 37,000 followers in that timeframe. It was a strangely fitting event for the mercurial persona of the actual Swinton, which added to the intrigue of the guessing game of the tweets’ origins that fed some of their popularity. The page’s mix of aphorisms and esoteric indulgences or meditations on nature join well to an image of Swinton–who, even with a rich and sustained career, is often on the periphery of public consciousness–that is partially informed by the film roles she inhabits and her own unusualness.

Swinton started her career as a muse to queer director Derek Jarman and is often cited for her androgyny (her recent feature on the cover of Candy magazine trades on that perception) and remaining for the most part out of the public eye. Filling in the unobserved portions of Swinton’s life in wonderfully bizarre but specific fashion via a short-term project–and a bat named Theremiah–is a fascinating prospect in concept, but how exactly did it reach the peak of popularity it currently enjoys?

My introduction to Twitter Swinton was through funny-lady Julie Klausner, who wrote directly to the @NotTildaSwinton handle, “Tilda! Big fan. Do you have any Memorial Day recipes you can share with us?” to which the absurd reply was “One part friends, one part family. Lie parallel to each other in a field. Go in sequence and say your names, with pride.” On Tilda’s third day of existence, a call to arms was made: “Tildren, can we grow to 20,000 within an hour? Look to the rabbits for lessons of proliferation. Visualize ears and tails on yourselves.” The Tildren listened and met the challenge by sharing, discussing and spreading “Tilda’s” news to their friends and other sites. In addition to riffing off the Swinton image, reaching out to other popular members in the scope of Twitter, especially comedians like Klausner and Patton Oswalt, and providing a sense of community virtually overnight, @NotTildaSwinton was able to capitalize on its strange and unique nature.

Though it is fundamentally peculiar and the content of the Twitter stream may appear trivial, there is a lesson here in organizing and driving interest to one’s work. Social media is described as such for a reason: the point is to be social and those media require interaction with others; it’s not a one-way street. Intelligently engaging people in a selective discourse within a confined timeline and specific direction proved successful in the Tilda Twitter’s case, and I for one am looking forward to hopping on the next weird merry-go-round that swings by. Until then, per Swinton’s directive, I will keep my ribcage on a hook of finest silver.

Kevin Sparrow is a Chicago writer who is interested in Queerness is both a favorite subject and pastime. His education in movies-writing has proved that he is adept at powering up computers and elementary keyboard use. Sparrow’s short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in that order in Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly and LIES/ISLE, as well as on the website Be Yr Own Queero.

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