Friday, February 17, 2012

The Birds 2: Lethal Tweet

The Black Bird, The Dark Slope - Los Campesinos! (mp3)
Your Ass Ain't Laughing Now - American Steel (mp3)

Every true film lover has to go through a Hitchcock Phase, a stretch of years where Alfred Hitchcock’s movies are not only viewed but savored, like expensive wines or the finest cuts of Kobe beef.

“The Birds” is one of those where the outdated special effects and the sheer audacity of the concept can make it a tough pill for younger viewers to swallow, but many critics believe it remains one of Hitchcock’s finest works.

At the heart of this Rorschach Test of a film is the conceit that our an entire avian population chooses to attack humanity, seemingly out of nowhere. The film offers little in the way of explaining it. The birds simply attack an entire coastal town en masse.

Because we’re used to a single bird perched on a fence, or at the feeder, or groups of birds perched far away from us on power lines or across rooftops, it’s difficult for us to perceive them as dangerous, predatory, bloodlusty. We’ve been too conditioned to see them as harmless, save for the occasional poop bomb dropping from above on our car windshields or shoulders.

Nobody's afraid of a single plain ol' bird. But once you see the sheer numbers, the unrelenting wave of wings, it gets scary.

Enter Twitter.

At my school, since the beginning of the school year, our students have slowly been flocking to Twitter. The interest seemed to come from nowhere. At first the numbers were small and the conversations off the adult radar. But as their comfort level grew, as their willingness to push buttons and boundaries evolved, it drew in more students.

At the same time our Twitter students were multiplying, the “#_____Problems” meme blew up. All students attending an institution, be it a college or a high school, were creating school-specific hashtags for their classmates. The independent school godfather of this concept is known as @PrepSchoolProbs, with 8,500-plus loyal followers.

Because of my own familiarity with the Twitter environment -- over 200 followers, yo! -- I discovered this trend at our school in its infancy and informed the proper administrative authorities. It seemed mostly harmless, teenagers attempting to be funny or snarky or rebellious with 140-character statements. We left it alone with the understanding that I would provide the Deciders regular updates.

Then Christmas. Then January. Now February. Our school’s "Problem" account has almost 500 followers, and the "#_____Problems" hashtag has grown from sprouting one or two Tweets each week to generating a handful each day. (Cold comfort: The rival school's Problems account has almost 700. Their problems are worse than our problems! Yay!)

The birds have grown in number. The power line is beginning to sag with their weight.

And then, this week, our administration suspended a student for his Tweet. The first such social media suspension at our school, as best I recall. The Tweet was grossly inappropriate and blessed out a specific teacher who had confiscated his phone earlier in the day. This suspension has riled the student collective. The school is attacking their freedoms and rights, or so they Tweet.

Worse, students are beginning to deny that accounts in their names, with their likenesses as avatars, are them. And because all the activity is on their smart phones, our school has no easy way to prove things, to link a kid with a Twitter account beyond a reasonable litigious doubt.

And the birds are angry. Angry -- possibly-semi-anonymous, possibly-not -- Birds.

They’re all hanging out on the jungle gym. Waiting for the school bell to ring. Waiting for us to walk outside the walls of institutional protection.

They haven’t attacked yet. In fact, most of the adults on our campus aren’t even aware there’s anything potentially sinister or dangerous going on.

But I know. I see the birds gathering. I sense a line being drawn, an Us Versus Them line. They don’t realize we’re on their side, that we’re trying to protect them from themselves. They think Twitter is some private locker room or some late-night dorm room kibbitz when it's actually downtown graffiti and public urination.

And while we adults have no need to fear one or two birds, what happens if we face an onslaught of hundreds? Are schools about to see their own versions of the Arab Spring?

Tweet tweet, tweedily deet.


troutking said...

I don't want to think about Twitter so I'm just going to focus on your opening. Analyzing Hitchcock movies in my first college film study class was truly one of the most memorable and invigorating learning experiences I've ever had. It was like learning to speak---well, maybe understand---a new language in a week. I think it was Vertigo that had the scene walking through the redwood forest and all the trees appear to be moving thus totally discombobulating the viewer. Try walking through a forest like that in real life and focusing on just one tree as the others appear to move around it. It works. Hitchcock is a genius. I'm going to continue to ignore Twitter and underestimate its impact. It worked well for Custer...

cinderkeys said...


If the student had said the grossly inappropriate things in the school hallway and a teacher overheard, he would have been punished.

If the student said it to friends after school, while hanging out at a fast food joint, and a teacher overheard, would the student have been punished?

And where does a Twitter post fall in this continuum?

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