Twitter is a space with lots of big important happenings these days, with an increasing influence on politics and the visibility of revolution. Yet the less obviously political uses of Twitter can be just as interesting and, perhaps, just as powerful. Much of what happens on Twitter is more mundane, and the aggregate of day to day messages can be overwhelming. Sometimes it feels like everyone on the web is shouting to be heard and in the resulting noise there’s little room for individual voices. The folks who get heard most on Twitter (who have, if you’ll forgive me, the most “klout”) are usually celebrities with cults of personality to listen avidly and boost their signal. But some have managed to find cult followings using just Twitter alone—take, for instance, the account that regrettably led to the “$#*!* My Dad Says” television program and another that led to the publication of a book of Twitterature. In the landscape of such phenomena, one culture makes themselves heard in all caps: the Twitter Hulks.
In such a crowded arena, it’s hard to tell who had the idea first—and really, does it matter? It’s a perfect melding: the simple, emotional language of the post-nuclear beast meets the medium of the 140 character message. Perhaps not the natural medium for deep thought, but Twitter is perfect for the witty smash. All hulks take the same basic shape: an image of the large green hero as their icon. A name that, of course, includes Hulk—usually with a modifier announcing the Hulk’s chosen domain of interest. (There’s also the occasional generic, like Real_Hulk, but in such a crowded field there’s more potential audience for the niche smashers.) Aggregator Hulk, whose descriptor declares “HULK AM ALL HULKS” is a good introduction to the practice if you’re looking to add some Twitter-smashing to your feed.
Hulks aren’t alone in the Twitterverse. There are a number of fictional characters on Twitter, including several superheroes—God_Damn_Batman, for instance, who offers general satire. Other characters get in the game from a number of worlds, including Harry Potter’s nemesis Lord Voldemort (and this is just one…he’s out there many times over.) These satires exist comfortably alongside more political endeavors, such as the BPGlobalPR account that became a sensation during the oil spill. In another sense, of course, Twitter is filled with fictional characters from fake celebrities to people who’ve simply chosen to be fake.
Here’s just a few Hulks active today, with their variant images of the transformed Bruce Banner that usually still manage to express the individuality of the Hulk:
Even their user names and descriptions are, of course, in all caps; which means that messages from Hulks normally stand out in a field of more polite conversation. Mark Sample wrote about the question of communicating in all-caps (generally considered a poor practice if just by readability standards) and noted that Twitter hulks “get a pass.” The freedom is built into the expectations of these accounts—hulks are big, and they smash. They don’t have to worry about lowering their voice or their tempers to suit their audiences.
Some Hulks have taken the time out to explain the practice in the media. In an interview, Drunk Hulk explained the practice: “DRUNK HULK DRINK! AND EXPRESS SELF 140 CHARACTER AT TIME! IT LIKE LIFE OF RENEGADE HAIKU MASTER!” The image this evokes is more in tune with Hulk-tweet-smash as a meditative practice than a drunken rant, although for true Zen mastery in Hulk form look no further than the wisdom of Buddhist Hulk whose account description reads: “HULK LOVE SMASH. AND MINDFULNESS.”
In an interview with Ms. Magazine, Feminist Hulk put things even more philosophically: “IN BEGINNING, HULK SMASH FOR LOVE OF SMASH. LATER, HULK REALIZE CRAVING FOR SMASH CAUSED BY HEGEMONIC FORCES WHICH DISCONNECTED HULK FROM SELF. HULK QUESTION SYSTEMS OF PRIVILEGE. SOON HULK SMASH WITH GREATER PURPOSE. CULTURAL MINDFULNESS GIVE HULK SUPERPOWERS OF ANTI-PATRIARCHAL SMASH!” Sound ambitious for a Twitter Hulk? Check out Feminist Hulk‘s stats — now that’s a powerful smash!
Even recent arrivals to the sphere, like HulkGameCrit note the correlation of smashing and change:
The philosophy of the Twitter-smash is a hot topic right now as some debate the very nature of the Twitter Hulk practice within their community. The many academia-related hulks who’ve risen over the last few months have emerged from different perspectives on what is being referred to in the media as the crisis of higher education. But among hulks there is discord:
Exchanges like this one highlight some of the reality behind the Hulks: while an angry green form might seem like an odd choice for commentary it’s an appropriate metaphor for a voiceless adjunct looking to smash an institution or a feminist looking to smash privilege. Real rage and true injustices can be conveyed in 140 characters, as other battles have taught us, and the anonymity of an acquired pop icon can be a wise choice. There’s a freedom that comes with the Hulk persona. A Hulk account can become an outlet for thoughts that would be inappropriate on a “professional” account.
At the same time the crowd threatens to overwhelm those voices as one becomes a Hulk in a mob of green. Adjunct Hulk‘s words–“HULK SMASH ALL TWITTER HULKS WHO NOT HAVE GENUINE REASON TO SMASH THE WORLD!!!”–express a concern of the struggles that move some to “Twitter-SMASH” being trivialized. At the same time, the words resonate with the entire practice: at this cultural moment, there are plenty with a frustrated desire to smash the world into something better. As for the crowding problem, well, an accessible trend like this one lends itself to imitators. That can be part of its virtue. A Hulk can be a gateway to finding a voice and certainly has a low barrier to creation: a Hulk picture, 140 characters, and a caps-lock key are pretty easy to come by. On the other hand, Dork Tower creator John Kovalic made a parody guide to generating your own rant-worthy name that mocked the latecomers to the fictional Twitter scene. The “Hulk” suffix? It’s on the top of his list.