By Susan Kemp
There are things you can get angry about publicly.
Even everyday things like getting the wrong meal at the drive-thru, spilling wine on your favorite pants or “Mad Men” not coming back for a whole year. Sure, they’re first world problems, but your friends will forgive your enraged tweets.
Then there are things you can’t get mad about publicly: like when your new show, claiming to represent the nitty gritty of post-college life in Brooklyn, debuts and the press reams you for having a solely white cast in a traditionally multicultural area of New York.
But unfortunately for “Girls” writer Lesley Arfin, she learned that lesson a little too late. She responded to the the media frenzy after the show’s debut on April 15 with a quip of her own: “What really bothered me most about Precious was that there was no representation of ME.”
Uh, not the tweet of the year, Ms. Arfin. Now a debate about racial exclusion has shifted to whether or not one of the show’s lead writers is racist. It’s probably not the PR frenzy the executives over at HBO had in mind when they decided to stream the first episode online for free.
Arfin’s tweet has since been deleted, but I think we’ve figured out how well that works at this point.
I wrote an article last year on how to be professional on social media. Clearly, Arfin’s response is not a shining example. But I think there’s something I really missed in that previous article. Anyone in the public eye, including students in the pre-professional stages, needs to be aware of a certain word: branding.
I don’t know Arfin. And although I liked the first episode of the show, I don’t suspect I’ll continue following her on social media. But unfortunately for her, some people will — and the brand she’s made for herself is “that bitchy writer from that one HBO show that wants to be ‘Sex in the City’.”
It’s true in the same way that Kanye West will always be the jerk who interrupted a 19-year-old, starry-eyed country singer accepting her first VMA.
The point isn’t whether Arfin is a bad person or not. I think the point is what this says about the damage a single lapse of judgment can have on an artist’s brand? And I think if you’re serious about representing yourself on social media, it takes more than straying from temperamental tweets.
Think about your Twitter and how it’s different than your Facebook or Tumblr. What’s the persona that you want the public world to see? Are your frustrations a part of it?
In the political world, both Glenn Beck and Bill Maher have followings that like to see them react. In pop culture, Perez Hilton has a similar quality. But they’ve all gotten backlash. And they expect the backlash. It’s part of their brand.
But if it’s not part of who you want to be, then think about what your intention is. And this isn’t to say that your Twitter has to only be about gallery openings, publications and links to new work. Our social media director at District says the craziest, yet wittiest things on his Twitter all the time. And you know what? When you meet him, that’s exactly who he is. It’s his brand.
The point isn’t to be overly cautious with what you say, but that it should never happen because you already know your voice, your brand. It’ll inform most of the messages you are writing on Twitter before you even write them. Don’t obsess about it. Just think about it.
Maybe we’re lucky that we go to an art school where voice and personal aesthetic are already a part of the vocabulary. It’ll only serve us as we go out into the professional world. Because while viewers may forgive the shenanigans of Arfin’s 20-something’s on TV, I think viewers expect a little more from the woman behind the “Girls”.Contact Susan Kemp.
Double Take is a weekly column re-evaluating issues that affect college-aged students.