In this era of never-ending gridlock, it may seem like Republicans and Democrats can find no common ground. But there’s at least one thing we can still agree on: It’s fun to anonymously poke fun at each other on the Internet.
The first account, @GOPTeens, does a good job of skewering the hollow way politicians try to appeal to young people. Its tweets — which are adorned with a logo of the Republican Party elephant wearing aviator shades — are littered with extraneous hashtags and buzzwords.
“#Teens: Send in a #selfie with your #BirthCertificate to prove how #easy it was to find!” a typical tweet reads. Another makes a purposefully lame pop culture reference: “#Teens: Let’s not #forget who the ORIGINAL #GuardianOfTheGalaxy was” — followed by a Time magazine cover featuring Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program.
The creator of GOP Teens is Daniel Kibblesmith, 30. He is an associate editor at Clickhole — a spinoff site from The Onion that parodies viral content websites like Upworthy and BuzzFeed — and has co-written a humor book, How to Win at Everything. Kibblesmith says he first purchased the GOPTeens.com domain name in October 2012, but it lay dormant until recently, when he decided to bring the GOPTeens voice to life.
“It’s this really specific voice of failed youth outreach falling on its face,” Kibblesmith told National Journal. “I picture the person behind the account being one or more Karl Rove types who are just trying anything that they can think of — slang or pop culture references, anything that they can think of — to try to get kids interested in the Republican Party.”
Most of GOP Teens’ tweets are clearly satire, but others approach the Uncanny Valley of parody Twitter accounts: satire so realistic that it becomes almost indistinguishable from the object it’s satirizing. There’s actually a law for this type of parody — it’s called Poe’s Law.
One example of Poe’s Law in effect: Two weeks ago, Generation Opportunity — the Koch-backed group responsible for the Creepy Uncle Sam ads — hosted a “Creepy Carenival” outside the U.S. Capitol in an effort to convince young people of the Affordable Care Act’s ills.
A tweet from Generation Opportunity’s account promoted the event’s magician, “Milllennial Mike.” Another tweet, accompanied by a photo of two clowns, reads, “We’re officially underway! It’s getting”¦..Creepy #CreepyCare”.
A week later, GOP Teens tweeted, “#Teens: Is #Obamacare really an #ObamaSCARE?”
The dryness of the account has led some people to think GOP Teens is a genuine account (even I wasn’t sure if it was a parody at first). On July 7, Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback sent this now-deleted tweet: “Thanks for following me @GOPteens; You are the future.” And former CNN host Piers Morgan bemoaned one of GOP Teens’ tweets, which jokingly asked teens what their favorite gun was. Morgan retweeted the message and added, “The future….UGH.”
But Kibblesmith says he isn’t trying to intentionally mislead anyone.
“Some of my readers don’t realize it’s a parody,” he said. “Unforced errors are hilarious, but I’m not setting out to dupe anybody.”
Through his parody, Kibblesmith has achieved something few other political Twitter accounts can boast — he’s gained real, live teenage fans. He even started making T-shirts plastered with the GOP Teens logo and different slogans. By Kibblesmith’s account, he’s sold more than 500 of the T-shirts, many to young people, who proudly tweet photos of themselves wearing their shirts to Kibblesmith.
Of course, this sort of tone-deaf outreach is not limited to Republicans.
“I think it is absolutely a bipartisan thing,” Kibblesmith said. “I think all politicians — maybe with the exception of Barack Obama — sound pretty insincere when they try to get down and rap with the kids. But I gotta admit, it’s a lot easier with Republicans.”
Like failed youth outreach, satire can be bipartisan, too. Jordan Bloom, an opinion editor for the conservative website The Daily Caller, created SalonDotCom — an account that parodies the left-leaning website Salon — with his roommate, Robert Mariani. Much like how GOP Teens skewers how transparently uncool the Republican Party can be, SalonDotCom deftly parodies the sort of cultural hand-wringing that progressive media can fall victim to.
“I used a 10 year-old profile picture for online dating — and I came face-to-face with age discrimination,” reads one tweet. “Is ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ a song about white privilege?” reads another.
Bloom said he was pleased with how easily he could trick users into believing it was real. (For reference to an actual Salon story — ahem.)
“That was the great thing — we were fooling people on both sides of the spectrum,” Bloom told National Journal. “You would have the liberals that would be asking for links, and then the conservatives that would get outraged.”
But under Twitter’s terms of service, parody accounts must explicitly out themselves as parody accounts — something Bloom didn’t want to do. After someone reported the account — Bloom says it was “almost certainly” a Salon employee — Twitter eventually shut down the account, leading many conservative users to call on Twitter to #FreeSalonDotCom. They got their account back 10 days later.
“This was my first experience of having the full weight of the right-wing noise machine on your side,” Bloom said. “That was pretty cool to see.”
Satirical tweets aren’t exactly the new Candide, but they do represent a new opportunity for political satire, albeit in 140-character bites. After all, this is how we consume culture now — one discrete chunk of information at a time — so it’s natural for satire to follow suit.
“The conversation about culture is being truncated by people who only want to look at a piece of art or music or a person based on the identity politics that that person holds,” Bloom said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be a hero or something, but I think there’s some useful bubble-bursting that ought to go down.”