I recently drove past my old middle school, stopping to gaze at the faded brick, the worn asphalt and the large grassy playground field, which doubled as an Ultimate Fighting octagon.
The playground was where all disputes were settled. Some quarrels occurred spontaneously; a hurled insult, a return verbal jab and suddenly two bodies were grappling on the turf, surrounded by a crowd of seventh-and eighth-graders shrieking, “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!”
Other battles involved lengthy hype and buildup. A first period disagreement lead to a threat of, “meet me on the playground at three”. Such challenges spread through the school like wildfire, ensuring a much larger audience when the main event rolled around. I often regret that I wasn’t savvy enough to sell tickets for those bouts. I could have made enough to pay for an entire year’s worth of school lunches.
The fights themselves rarely lasted more than two or three minutes and always ended in identical fashion: the loser face up on the ground with a knee pressed against his chest and the knee’s owner screaming, “Had enough? HAD ENOUGH?”
And with that the two participants went their separate ways. They would frequently be seen eating together in the cafeteria the following day, as if the brawl had never taken place. How simple.
Of course that was before the days of Twitter, where hashtags and @ signs have replaced fists and knees.
Hardly a day goes by when I’m not reading about a “Twitter feud” between celebrities who really should have better things to do with their time and their cellphones. Politicians Twitter feud with students, rap stars feud with country stars and Keith Olbermann feuds with everybody. The most recent feud involved Almost Vice Presidential Daughter Bristol Palin, who tweeted her opposition to gay marriage and immediately found herself taunted at the virtual playground by the likes of Jersey Shore star JWoww.
If those two settled their dispute on a playground, I would be first in line for a ticket. Better yet, I would install bleachers.
Why are Twitter feuds so popular? Unlike playground brawls, they don’t appear to have winners. The sparring continues until one of three things occur:
Another celebrity enters the fray, prompting one of the original contestants to shift his or her rage.
The opponent runs out of verbal jabs that can be delivered in 140 characters or less.
A participant gets a cellphone bill and realises that Twitter feuds can be expensive. (After this year’s Grammy awards, rap star Chris Brown was feuding simultaneously with singers Miranda Lambert and Michelle Branch, along with Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet. He soon may be feuding with his accountant.)
The Biography Channel’s website recently asked viewers which celebrity they would most like to Twitter feud with. Mel Gibson came out on top with Glenn Beck, Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen jockeying for second place. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also garnered votes, yet I can’t figure out what he has done to prompt such rage other than he’s rich, successful, good looking and married to a supermodel.
Wait, now I’m ticked off. But chances are I will never meet Prince Tom and therefore can’t challenge him to put up his well-manicured hands and fight.
Which is precisely why Twitter feuds exist. Twitter remains a quick, easy way to let somebody feel your wrath. True, I can’t slug Brady at the playground but I can taunt him via the Patriots’ Twitter site. (Brady himself doesn’t appear to have a Twitter page.)
“@Patriots No wonder #Brady looks so good. 18 mil a year buys a lot of hair gel”
I feel much better now. In fact, I feel so good that perhaps it’s time for me to settle some old scores. True, my feuds will not be followed by millions or pasted into the bodies of national news stories. Some of my opponents may be dead or, like Brady, without Twitter accounts. But if my old high school drama teacher is alive and near a Smart Phone right now, I have a message: You can run but you cannot hide from my tweets.
“Should have cast me in #TheKingandI. #otherguycantsing”
While I’m at it, it’s time to get in the face of the opponent who prevented me from qualifying for the Illinois state tennis tournament in 1979.
“Wouldn’t you feel better admitting that the ball was CLEARLY in? #liarliarpantsonfire”
Finally, here’s one for the David Letterman talent scout who rejected me for a spot on the show 12 years ago:
“@Late_Show Pretty please, can I have another chance? #muchfunniernow”
OK, that’s not very vicious. But if it doesn’t work, I have a message for David Letterman and his entire staff:
Meet me on the playground at three.
Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author
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