This week’s question comes from A.V. Club copy editor Kelsey J. Waite:
Who’s your favorite pop culture figure to follow on social media?
Kelsey J. Waite
When scrolling my feed, I’m always up for what Erykah Badu has to say. She seems to post in waves—tweeting only when she’s PMSing, of course—never overdoing it but always delivering the right dose of Baduizm to the day. Mostly it’s her videos I look forward to, whether it’s Badu alone voguing in an oversize ’fro, or more often, her making beats and clowning around with her kids. The chemistry between them is thick, and Badu has clearly imparted to them a bit of her outsize talent and personality and wicked sense of humor. Getting to witness it never fails to brighten my day.
Mitch Hedberg has been dead for a dozen years. But ever since following @M_Hedberg, the non-sequiturial comedian has been the rare social media presence that hasn’t elicited rage and dread. It’s too bad Hedberg didn’t live to see the 140 character-medium of Twitter, tailor made for him. But seeing this Twitter account appear in my stream (too infrequently, sadly) would always remind me of his weird, surrealistic brilliance, producing tight one-liners like: “If you’re flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit.”
Kumail Nanjiani is one of the very few celebrities whose tweets I genuinely enjoy, without fail. His comedy background helps, I’m sure, but his politics seem to be tuned pretty close to mine, and he does that trick that’s so hard to do on Twitter: takes a current event, puts it into 140 characters, and somehow makes it pithy, funny, and insightful all at once. It’s a real talent, and even the smartest people have a lot of difficulty with the Twitter form. Nanjiani does it perfectly. He also just seems like a cool, normal guy—he’s basically the perfect celebrity. At least from what I see of him on Twitter, anyway.
Kyle MacLachlan is a delight on screen, but he’s even more of a delight on social media. All throughout the run of Twin Peaks: The Return, MacLachlan has faithfully interacted with fans on Twitter and Facebook, live tweeting episodes, wishing people a happy birthday, answering their questions about coffee and wine, laughing at their Dougie Jones jokes, and only shilling for Uggs every few dozen tweets or so. (And he’s posing with Kim Gordon in one of them, so I’ll let it go.) But the best part of MacLachlan’s Twitter presence are the pictures he posts of himself doing goofy things, like the #TBT of when he went as kale for Halloween or him posing in an Italian fashion magazine during Twin Peaks’ initial early ’90s run.
I humbly submit that Twitter is not the best place to follow celebrities on social media, providing a bit too much transparency into the way their minds work. Much better, and more controlled, is Instagram, which is perfect for celebrities, providing us quick glimpses into their perfect existences with just a hint of manufactured intimacy. And while there are many great Instagram celebrities—the gonzo enthusiasm of The Rock, patron saint of the platform Selena Gomez, or pretty much anyone from The Hills—there is no one account that has brought me as much joy as Justin Bieber’s. Carefully focus-grouped promotional pushes exist alongside believably sui generis selfies with captions like “Stupid is as stupid does.” But better still is his ongoing attempt to convince the world that he can play basketball via laughably staged “candid” videos. Everything he posts is perfectly manufactured to fit into his idea of manly, effortless cool, which of course delightfully backfires.
Like many people, I find Twitter exhausting but hard to quit (it’s embarrassing, at times, to even say the word aloud). I mostly use it to see what news is popular and what my friends and other writers are up to. Which is to say, I follow few famous people, and I don’t want them placed within my thoughts through social media. One exception is Parker Posey—or was, since she hasn’t posted in nearly a year. She’d occasionally post straightforward #TBTs from her early indie films (everyone looks better in Polaroids), but her feed is mostly an absurdist parody of social media and memes, with a lot of photos, many self-portraits, overlaid with a glut of text and emoji. Or how about a bunch of cartoon umbrellas on a New Yorker? I appreciate the way she never fully took the platform seriously, coming off like an exuberant nut. I mean, I trust Posey actually likes landscaping, but I still see the layers of irony when she posts a picture of herself in a tree with a pair of shears, exclaiming, “I [HEART] PRUNNNING!!!”
I’ll admit to a healthy dose of irony in my pick, but last year—during the ensuing fallout from Fate Of The Furious’ infamous CandyAssGate controversy—I found myself developing a perverse fascination with Vin Diesel’s Instagramming skills. I’m pre-disposed to like Diesel anyway, given that he tends to project a mixture of earnestness and non-self-awareness I enjoy in public figures. (Also, there’s the whole rabid D&D nerd thing.) But he’s also actively perfected a style of social media I think of as “meathead ASMR”: close-in videos of himself talking into the camera in a growling monotone, discussing literally anything that might pop into his head, from how moving he found the eclipse, to well-wishes to all the kids out there going back to school. There’s a real doofy intimacy to these videos, as Diesel shoves his phone halfway up his nostrils, and just sort of lets his whispery stream-of-consciousness go. Part of the appeal is unintentional humor, sure, but there’s also a real sincerity and sweetness to the guy that belies his action hero persona.
I don’t follow a whole lot of major pop culture people on Twitter. Saying so out loud feels kind of like a contemporary variation on the classic “I don’t own a television”—a kind of snooty dismissal of the sort of fun only the most slack-jawed of the hoi polloi engage in. I swear that’s not true, though that assertion isn’t helped by my choice, Ronnie Del Carmen. Del Carmen currently works for Pixar, where he co-directed Inside Out and co-wrote the story. But he has a long history in animation, including as a storyboard artist for Batman: The Animated Series. Almost all of Del Carmen’s Twitter output is samplings of different production materials from classic Disney films and other animated features, including rough sketches, background paintings, animation tests, and any and all of the incremental stages of making a huge animated movie. It’s always inspiring, super interesting, and thoughtfully curated material, which is more than I can say for my own social media output of half-baked political bloviating, self-promotion, and stupid video game jokes.
I have been, and will always be, in love with the Twitter feed of Satoshi Kojima, a pro wrestler who primarily works for New Japan Pro Wrestling. He’s part of a group of older NJPW stars that’s affectionately known as the “New Japan Dads,” and his Twitter feed is about as adorable as you’d expect from someone with that designation. It’s surprisingly food-centric, but the best part is that Kojima acts like he’s just as embarrassed about his food obsessions as most anyone would be, posting pictures of “forbidden” McDonald’s lunches and, after a string of posts where he talked about how much he loved bread, establishing the Bread Club (a parody of NJPW’s popular Bullet Club faction), of which, let’s face it, we’re all members. It’s such an oddly relatable feed, and when he talks about getting back up after a loss or finding the strength to power through an early workout, it’s a nice, earnest blast of inspiration on a social network that could really use that kind of positive energy.
I first learned about comedian and actress Aparna Nancherla through her Howl podcast, The Blue Woman Group, which mixes humor with musings on depression. It’s always comforting to hear about such matters from another woman of color. So when Nancherla, who’s also appeared on Master Of None and recently provided the voice of Hollyhock on BoJack Horseman, signed on for The A.V. Club’s comedy festival, I promptly bought tickets (that’s right, no comps for me). But that’s not enough Nancherla for me, which is why I clicked that “follow” button to read more of her incisive thoughts on Twitter. Her feed is the perfect blend of commentary and humor, of jokes both timely and timeless. She’s as socially conscious as she is pop culture savvy, so this is kind of a no-brainer.
Like Clayton, I find that Instagram is the better social media for following celebrities. Sure, Twitter is where I go to peruse the thoughts of smart/funny people, but when I just want the bonkers lifestyle porn and detached-from-everyday-reality musings of famous people, Instagram is a well-stocked larder, indeed. And among that surfeit of options, I posit there is no more entertaining feed than that of Bella Thorne. A sentient Skrillex song, Thorne makes unpredictability predictable in the best possible way. More a fan of videos than stills, she overshares like a manic club kid who just stepped out of a Michael Alig party from 1994. With her constant stream of hilariously over-the-top seductive poses and surreal outfits, it’s rare that I log on to find less than 20 or so 10-second clips of Thorne bouncing around in strange attire, often set to thundering music, but just as often intercut with musings ranging from the “say what?” to the almost awe-inspiringly banal. It’s the very definition of a celebrity living in a bubble of carefree narcissism, and it’s great. Yes, she’s opened up about struggles with dyslexia and depression in interviews, but her social media is a top-to-bottom treat of absurdity.
I like Ludacris as much as anyone with two ears and a heart, but probably not enough to follow him on Instagram out of sheer fandom, or just to see his many, many screencaps about Fast & Furious box office returns. No, I follow Ludacris solely because he is—as presaged by his Austin Powers fetishism and the dropping of lyrical references to WarGames—arguably the most loveably nerdy, corny tough-guy rapper in the game. He’s on some kind of world tour right now, so his feed is currently filled with glamour shots in exotic locales, which isn’t all that distinctive. But if you scroll back some, you start to get a sense of the real Luda: The guy who loves to post viral videos and memes that seem explicitly targeted to teenage girls with the hashtag #NowThatsLudicrous. The guy who never misses a chance to post a photo of chicken and waffles from his Chicken + Beer restaurant in the Atlanta airport. The guy who posts the kind of inspirational quotes you’d normally see chiseled into a wood sign at Pottery Barn. The guy who is, for some reason, really obsessed with the phases of the moon. That’s the Ludacris I love to pretend-hear from. Motherfucker, I do know you like that.
I used to enjoy posting my little 140 character comments on Twitter—then after the election it became a flaming hellscape of our unhinged leader rattling off various megalomaniac threats, punctuated by a number of grammatical errors. Occasionally I get so mad I respond (“It’s YOU’RE”), but since I haven’t been blocked yet, I doubt my feeble protests are having any impact. And like many people, I often think of the perfect (non-grammar-related) comeback, but it’s way too late, as the most clueless man alive with the shortest-ever attention span has usually moved on to various other issues by then. That’s why I love following Michael Ian Black: I would love him forever as McKinley in the Wet Hot series regardless, but he’s apparently on Twitter even as much as I am, and he’s always ready with the perfect, laser-sharp putdown. Sometimes he’s funny, sometimes not, but he seems to spend the vast majority of his time calling out Trump’s many lies for what they actually are. And I’m not alone in my admiration: He has more than 2 million followers who I suspect like him for the same forthrightness as I do. It’s not much with so many other aspects of the hellscape going on, but some days, Black makes Twitter actually enjoyable to read again.