Monday, September 8, 2014

“The Brains behind the Bulk”: A Review of Smashed: The Life and Tweets of Drunk Hulk

by Christian A. Dumais (2014, ISBN: 978-1500538354; available at Amazon.com)

I have known the man behind the Drunk Hulk Twitter phenomenon, Christian Dumais, since 2003, when the art and literary website he co-ran, Legion Studios, first began the monthly publication of the strange rants and politico-religious poke-prods of my own alter-ego, Planner Forthright.
I reviewed a collection of euphictional anthology, Cover Stories, that he co-edited, and have followed his journey to Poland and into marriage and parenthood and into stand-up humor and his continuing productivity as a writer (ironically, through another social media mechanism, Facebook).
I have to admit—although I knew of the Drunk Hulk Twitter account, and followed it—I am Luddite at heart who won’t use a Smart Phone and rarely uses Twitter, doesn’t see its purpose, and follows and is followed in the mid-100s.
Nevertheless, the Drunk Hulk phenomenon of the last 5 years (191,000 followers as of this writing) has been fascinating to me—and is now made even more so by the release of the collected Tweets and a rich variety of accompanying essays that both contextual and offer insight into both the writer and the writing.
First, the writer, whom the opening essay focuses on. Dumais begins with a well-crafted exploration of the sincerity/insincerity divide when it comes to answering (and asking) “How are you?,” spurred in part by his move from America to Poland. This is a discussion I had some months ago with some friends. When we ask each other “How are you?,” the last thing anyone seems to want is an honest answer. Give it a try. See what happens.
What has this to do with a Hulk in his cups? It’s about Identity. It’s about Story—yours, and mine, and everyone else’s. And—given all the reading and research I’ve been doing lately for my own book about the fundamental need for all people to know how to tell their Story, including the work of Brené Brown—Authenticity. 
How do our alter-ego writing channels work? Are we always, on some level (like in our dreams) all of our characters, all of the time? Is the alter-ego, the manifestation of the Secret Personalities our authorship allows out, as in the case of Drunk Hulk, just an extreme example?
What is it about social media modes that have allowed so many of us to express our characters in these often revolutionary ways?
What do these cyber-avenues of complex self-expression say about our society, and our relationship with Story? If Dumais (or I) were to say the same things as ourselves, without Drunk Hulk or Planner, would the interest—the impact—be the same?
Moving into the writing process, and the genesis of Drunk Hulk, Dumais writes, “I spent most of my life writing, hoping for readers to give my work a chance, and the moment I started writing in ALL CAPS in broken English, they started paying attention” (p. 23).
No one really knows why a Drunk Hulk hits big (or a Twilight, or a Harry Potter), and that’s probably for the best. But I do think it starts with where we are as a Society. In many ways, Conflict is the new Communication. But, after reading the opening essays of Smashed, I think that, in the twenty-first century, Sarcasm is also an aspect of Communication. And further, as Dumais observes, “Sarcasm, like humor, is communication’s self-defense mode” (9).
Nothing has been the same in the Post-9/11 malaise and the decision to go to war in 2003. My 15-year-old daughter has no memories of a world without war, and the morning of the attacks on NYC and Washington, DC, unable to get in contact with two uncles who often had business in the Towers and my wife, working in north Jersey and watching, smelling the smoke as she drove across the bridge to get to our home, are burned indelibly in my mind. Planner Forthright was created around the same time as all of this, and in response to it.
It was within this never-to-be-the-same-again world that Dumais hints at the origins of Drunk Hulk, sitting in a pub in March of 2003, listening to the president make his proclamations of Patriotism, War, and Vengeance.
Dumais goes on to talk about the increasing popularity of Drunk Hulk in the ensuing years and how living in Poland stymied talks with editors, producers, TV people in the States. But it was in Poland that Drunk Hulk was born, where he (through his author’s continual changes) developed and grew.
As I read this text , I began to ask: Why do we write? Why does the Muse strike as it does, when it does?
Dumais tells a story about a cab driver doing him a favor by driving him in a blizzard from Philly to Jersey and back and telling HIS story… a profound story of life and love. As I immerse myself in the importance of story, it’s a reminder that, so more important than being a Writer (with all its thorny problems) is simply telling OUR STORY. Telling it well is a bonus.
Five years on, Drunk Hulk has drawn the attention of Time Magazine, among other stalwart news corporations, and Dumais has done three TEDx talks as a result of it.
It is at this point that Dumais gives a primer on using Twitter successfully (I took notes, for the future) and lets the reader know that the book is set up as Tweets by year (a Director’s Cut, actually; he has removed some he deemed “terrible or repetitive”).
The Tweets themselves are a mix of politics, psychology, pop culture, and often-times profound spiritual insights. If the Buddha was a drinker, some of the tenets of Buddhism might have sounded like some of these.
I’ve pulled a selection from 2010 for readers unfamiliar with Drunk Hulk:
PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS DRESS LIKE BUFF SMURF FROM AVATAR! ISRAEL TO RETALIATE WITH TWILIGHT THEME!

DRUNK HULK KNOW DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOST AND SARAH PALIN SPEECH! LOST MAKE SENSE!

PROTEST IN KYRGYZSTAN HAS WORLD ON EDGE AS PEOPLES SEARCH FOR IT ON GOOGLE MAP!

IT GREAT THAT TEA PARTY SAME FOR ADULT AS IT IS FOR CHILDS! IT REQUIRE LOT IMAGINATION TO MAINTAIN ILLUSION!


AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION WANT RID ASPERGER SYNDROME! THIS MEAN PEOPLES GO BACK TO BE JUST WEIRD AGAIN!

DRUNK HULK HAVE NO THING TO DO TODAY! DRUNK HULK FEEL LIKE CHARACTER IN MURAKAMI BOOK!

LISTEN GRANDPA! IF DRUNK HULK WANT HEAR SAME STORY OVER AND OVER! DRUNK HULK READ DEAN KOONTZ BOOK!

As Dumais states in the introductory chapters, this collection serves as a snapshot of the past several years in world events. At times, it is even prescient (or synchronicitous, as today in the news there is an article about the accusations against the writer of True Detective as plagiarizing from several sources):
DRUNK HULK AGAINST PLAGIARISM! THERE NEVER REASON TO COPY SOMEONE ELSE WORK AS YOUR OWN! CUT AND PASTE IF YOU AGREE!

After the sections by year, there are specialty sections, called “Resolutions!” and “Pick Up Lines.” There is also a fascinating section of retweets about Gaddafi’s death first being found out through Drunk Hulk. It is instructive to read the abundant amount of tweets wondering what is wrong with the world (and the tweeter) that they got the news from such a source. [Twitter as News Source and Gateway is becoming increasingly important and prevalent in academic study. While writing this review, I was also editing a series of articles for the journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment examining the use of Twitter during the 2010 BP oil spill.]
In a final essay, Dumais announces that, after a nearly 5-year run, he has decided to end the Twitter feed for Drunk Hulk, so he doesn’t become too dependant  on it as a writer and speaker. With attention from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and Russell Brand, plus the cover quote from NPR, Drunk Hulk has certainly gotten attention and made an impact, and has served his creator well.
Perhaps this End of 2013 tweet says it best about the impact of the Drunk Hulk tweets, and others like it:
TWITTER WORTH $40 BILLION! HEY TWITTER! YOU WELCOME!