TWITTER has long been maligned as the death of the written word. The Tower of London during Henry VIII’s reign, but for the English language. Off with its hedge and such.
Still, whatever the dirge of society Twitter may be, people keeping on Tweeting– evidenced by a surging stock and second-quarter revenue that’s up 124%. Intransigently every day someone rails against the little blue bird and the fact that there is no edit key. “Come on,” they type, “even Facebook has an edit button.” However the company’s reluctance to assimilate to the edit sends an interesting cultural message to those who believe that Twitter is a waste of time. If diarrhea had thumbs was the pedants’ original consensus.
To some truth. On the one wing there will forever be a slush pile of Tweets to dig through– people with fingers who don’t care whether their 140 characters are ripe with grammar mistakes or misspellings. But for those who do care, Twitter requires very special attention to be paid, restraint of thumbs if it were, because once that Tweet button is hit, there’s no turning back. (Yes, yes, you can always delete and start again.)
It’s rather formal in this sense, each letter carrying a currency of its own that forces us to think and edit before we Tweet. And the truth is, the beauty of Twitter exists in this idea, for with Twitter– hold with us– writers and Tweeters alike must condense their loft to a little, killing those abominable darlings one precious letter at at time.
A practice that Blake Lively and her new site Preserve have missed.
Last week the actress-turned-guru’s much-disparaged, curated lifestyle site Preserve hit the Internet. The reactions were mixed: promotion of “artisanal” good, sure; overwrought prose and Edgar Allen Poe gone wrong presentation, bad. Very bad. Also, artisanal market crate that costs a hundred dollars, but less than 4 bucks in materials to make– come on — bad. But it’s rubbed with tung oil, you purr in between sips of your flax-infused raw something or other. Come, on, come on, come on. If it’s for sale at Walmart, your ass is getting hosed.
The below are the introductory sentences in the Preserve “About Us” section.
“America is full of tales waiting to be told. There are beautiful stories hiding in small towns and big cities, on suburban streets and rural roads. Great wisdom lives in the well-worked hands of aging craftspeople and in the eager words of young artisans. Our very history is whispered into the materials they use to make exquisite goods according to timeless standards of quality and care. That is the tradition we aim to preserve.”
The rest of the site is plump with similar chew-this-cud copy, leading critics to the conclusion that while Preserve claims to be an experiment in sentimentality, it misses the mark on sentimental entirely. There is an article that actually begins: “We saw him one day.”
The main problem with Preserve is, simply, it perpetuates. It perpetuates the idea that, “everyone has a story,” which Ira Glass, who true, recently proposed that Shakespeare “sucks,” has taught us that not all stories deserve to be told. It perpetuates the myth of Americana that the upper-class is desperately clinging to, and it perpetuates the line in the sand between them (rich people who can buy 100-dollar piece of whatever crate) and us (not-so-rich people who would never think to purchase a ten-dollar 3.5 oz bag of salt).
The site is moreover very confused in tone. Lively makes odd jokes about enchiladas in her Editor’s Letter in an attempt to be down-to-earth and remind her readers that yes, she did eat that. The writers, who do have some knock-out sentences peppered throughout the site, lose the reader when, presumably under Lively’s direction they were encouraged to rely too heavily on a Thesaurus. “With the bow-tie story,” she says in a Vogue June fluff-up-her-skirt piece, “I think by shifting into the first person, he would be able to make it a lot more personal . . . that authentic, sort of flawed voice that we’ve been trying to accomplish.” Flawed that voice is. Preserve thinks that every sentence needs a standing ovation. When sometimes a sentence should only provide clarity, not forced introspection. Sometimes the reader wants a little more Sedaris and a little less Knausgaard.
Then there are the odd patronizing admissions slipped in like the following: “We are aware that a lot of what we are selling is outlandish in a world where people are starving and have nowhere to sleep.”
If what Lively wants to create is, in effect, a clarion call against Twitter and all that it represents (think: short-attention spans, the trudge from homemade and home ec. to technology, the consumption of international instead of the local, the macro, but not the micro), she should have taken a note from Twitter’s approach to language. Sure, 140 characters might not ever amass to be the next great American novel– although, despite what Ira believes, Shakespeare would have killed it on Twitter, #swagger, #yesShakespeareinventedthat. When Twitter is done correctly, it is succinct and powerful in all the ways that Preserve wants to be, but ultimately fails. At least for now.
We struggle with impermanence. Preserve is spot-on in this assertion and its goal, however an idealization, to carve out space for permanence, is honest.
But the gravity of a moment.
Drama. But lest we forget Lively’s day job.
Twitter is great at this. It also is excellent at forcing those who care– the people that Lively wants to attract– to pay attention to the tiny details. If Twitter chooses to stick to their guns and refuse to add an edit button, this death march of language may be worth preserving after all. What Blake Lively should do, is delete and start again.