Of all the hilarious freakouts over Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter, my personal favorite comes from journalism professor and self-styled “NYC insider” Jeff Jarvis (as noticed by The Spectator‘s Bill Zeiser last week). Jarvis tweeted — and I quote — “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”
One imagines Mehdi Hasan and Molly Jong-Fast manically jazz-dancing as the Bruenigs belt out a song from a cabaret stage. And surely nothing calls down the specter of fascist totalitarianism quite like Musk’s pledge to end Big Tech censorship. Because that’s what the Nazis did, right? They kicked down the door to the nightclub, stormed through the horrified crowd, and barked, “ATTENTION PLEASE! YOU ARE NOW FREE TO SAY WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT!”
Jarvis’s tweet should have been a regrettable one-off. But of course it wasn’t. This is Twitter, after all. Thus did several users spend the start of a perfectly lovely Easter weekend debating whether the dark night of fascism was about to descend by means of looser content moderation. And while the analogy is obviously insane, there’s a point to be made about style here too. Because the thing about elite Twitter is that it actually makes Weimar look pretty good by comparison.
Consider: the Weimar Republic, for all its brutalities and instabilities, was a place of remarkable cultural ferment. It was the age of German jazz, of the Dada and Bauhaus arts movements, of Heinrich Mann and Goodbye to Berlin and burlesque dancers and the little cabaret that never quite closed. The order of the day was experimentation, as artists and writers emerged out of the rapidly changing country around them and sought to reflect and document it. Even if you deplore the modernism it ushered in, even if it was always doomed to collapse, there was no denying the imagination, the motion, of it all.
Contrast that to our time when the ethos is less experimentation than “drag him.” In lieu of German Expressionism, what we have now are tweets, gallons upon gallons of tweets, tweets whizzing past our heads and into the void. Americans have also been through a tumultuous time (albeit nothing on the order of Weimar), yet there is no great Donald Trump novel, no corresponding revolution in literary technique. Instead of getting swept up in our national chaos — “dancing on a volcano,” as it was called — what we’ve done is to recline in our chairs, sigh, and feel compelled to inform our followers that Andrew Sullivan is a racist, again.
Some of this can be blamed on Covid, which forced us into quarantine and online if we wanted to have a social life. But it was an issue long before anyone in Wuhan began to come down sick. And it’s on Twitter, more than anywhere else, that this trend has taken hold among our elites. So much so, in fact, that companies as powerful and imaginative as Disney are now bowing to the whims of its mobs.
Experimentation? We won’t even let Gina Carano make a clumsy analogy. We won’t let J.K. Rowling question the gender consensus circa fourteen seconds ago. And that’s just it. Whereas Weimar opened up the German mind, at least for a time, Twitter, in spite of its deceptively accessible format, is closing ours off.
This is why it’s so hilarious that some blue-check now thinks Musk buying Twitter is akin to the Nazis rounding up cabaret dancers. Because the problem with our elites is that they don’t dance. They don’t even look up, really, not when they just got retweeted by that major influencer who has close to 240,000 followers and totally went on Jon Stewart’s new show last night. Every culture has limited resources, and right now far too many of ours are being diverted into the sub-Mapplethorpian art form that is the tweet.
It is Elon Musk, not his critics, who wants to make Twitter more like Weimar — edgier, freer, more accommodating to fringe ideas. Yet in this case, unmuzzling the blue bird is not enough. If we want to unleash our creative energies, if we want to reopen our cabarets, there can be only one solution. Musk must buy Twitter and use one of his rockets to launch it into the sun.