On Saturday, John Roderick, lead singer of the band The Long Winters, thought that he had posted a delightful thread about his daughter learning to use a can opener. Five days later he is very sorry.
Twitter is essentially the disembodied voices of its users’ collective id. It’s a site designed for ephemeral thoughts, or weird jokes, or pictures of salad. Unfortunately, Twitter is used as a tool for conversation, something it is definitely not designed for. One might go so far as to say that Twitter is a particularly bad venue for conversation of any kind, given how tone is impossible to read on the internet, how these conversations happen asynchronously, and how easily you can whip a mob into a frenzy online. Enter Roderick, now dubbed Bean Dad, and his wild and wacky New Year’s weekend.
Roderick’s thread about teaching his daughter to use a can opener seemed innocuous to some. The now deleted thread—Roderick deleted his account on Sunday—started with a hungry daughter and ended with baked beans. But Twitter users as a whole turned on Roderick because of the details. The ordeal took six hours, and Roderick’s tone was smug, and in particular people picked up on the fact that Roderick’s daughter asked him for food because she was hungry, and he said that he told her that she wouldn’t eat anything until she learned to use a can opener. Instead of apologizing when people asked him about these details, Roderick lashed out. That’s when people started going through his tweets and found a lot of old tweets that read as antisemitic and racist, and a few where Roderick used the threat of rape as an invective. Things got so heated that the podcast My Brother My Brother And Me said that they would no longer use one of Roderick’s songs as their theme.
The routine is now so familiar that by the time I saw Roderick’s old tweets I wasn’t even surprised. The hell of 2020 continues on into 2021 unabated; every day I log onto the bird site, do my little tasks, and learn about a new kind of guy to hate. One new step in this song and dance is Roderick’s surprisingly sincere apology. In it, he takes responsibility for how his story triggered the collective id of twitter, explained the reasoning behind his old tweets but did not excuse them, and said that he will take time away from the public as he continues to learn from this experience. “In this case, it was precisely my privilege of not living in an abusive family, of not being a member of a community that routinely experiences real trauma, that caused me to so grossly misjudge the impact of the language I chose,” he wrote. It’s a far cry from the “sorry if you were offended” of days past.
The Bean Dad ordeal made me doubtful that Twitter can ever be a place for conversation. I still doubt that, but maybe in 2021, we can learn how to apologize, and to forgive.