The media frenzy over the unmasking of Columbia College professor (and Reader alumnus) Dan Sinker as the man behind the hilarious, irreverent, and groundbreaking @mayoremanuel Twitter saga has not only dominated the headlines for the last 24 hours, it’s generated questions of what Sinker’s nom de plume means for journalism.
How does this anonymous, fictional, over-the-top creation equate to the “troublesome business of digging, probing, exposing, and reporting” DeRogatis says @mayoremanuel lacks?
It doesn’t, nor should the lark be compared to journalism or Sinker’s past work (as my colleague Mike Miner said, “It’s like arguing that Superman, after saving the world, flew home and took a leak, and therefore the leak is what his heroics have come to.”). Sinker’s not the only former scribe who has moved on to other projects, as DeRogatis and other former Sun-Times staffers writing for Vocalo well know. And just because Sinker is now exploring the potential of the online world for storytelling purposes (including his cool “Cell Stories” project) doesn’t mean @mayoremanuel can’t be praised for what it is: Brilliant political satire that is largely absent from Chicago.
Sinker’s use of @mayoremanuel doesn’t disqualify it from being a vital part of public discourse.
DeRogatis says the months-long gag, which captivated not only political observers in this city but thousands of people from beyond Chicago’s borders, is more reality train wreck than satire.
But for anyone who follows the rat race that is politics in Chicago, it was satire to die for. Inserting folks like David Axelrod, Penny Pritzker, and others who live behind the scenes was pure genius—and one reason why there was speculation @mayoremanuel was orchestrated by someone intimately involved in the political scene.
It encapsulated the drudgery of a campaign, lampooning the real Emanuel’s propensity for profanity. It played off Mayor Daley’s persona as an iron-fisted kingmaker. Did it raise the real Rahm’s profile? Maybe, but he didn’t need much help in that matter—so DeRogatis’s conspiracy theory fails to pass the smell test.
One of the last passages was particularly moving: Mayor Daley kidnaps the fake Rahm and takes him atop City Hall, where he lectures the mayor-to-be that “there’s not just one Chicago …it’s infinite.”
There are multiple Chicagos. There’s one Mayor Daley represents: the glittering global city that is Millennium Park, landscaped boulevards, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Then there’s the one we don’t like to see: the Chicago with a dismal graduation rate, hundreds of murders, and class and racial disparities, obvious in not just anecdotes, but in vacant homes and census data.
@mayoremanuel was never overly political, but Sinker’s jabs at the establishment shine a light on the things that make Chicago not America’s cool new hotspot, as Newsweek declared this week, but a city with a lot of work to do. All this, even as the story declares a love affair with Chicago (“I’ve learned this is Chicago and that CHICAGO DOESN’T FUCKING QUIT, NOT FUCKING EVER”).
Journalism? No. Entertainment? Definitely. Satire and social commentary? Without a bleeping doubt.