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October 14, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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A Supposedly Fun Twitter Account I’ll Never Follow Again

He’s a notorious homophobe, sexist and all-round hater, but it’s not all bad—he’s also on Twitter! So should you delve into Brian Tamaki’s online alter ego, @BishopTamaki? After following him for a month, I can resoundingly say: no. Don’t. Never again.
 

It happened in much the same way as everything on the internet: I was bored, and it seemed like a funny thing to do. Don’t worry, I kept my clothes on. After scrolling through a couple of pages, I even put on a jersey. I mean, it’s Brian Tamaki.

But seriously, if you haven’t yet experienced @BishopTamaki, give it a look. His Twitter style is fascinating, and possibly unique in the history of the internet: his capitalisation is all over the place, “words” are “quoted” “at” random, and the two-dot ellipsis is frequently used instead of a space. More often than not, they read like the best kind of Twitter surrealist humour; a better, less performance-arty @Horse_ebooks. It’s fantastic.

The tweets themselves follow a vaguely religious/self-help theme, but can vary drastically in tone, from the laughable, “The First 3 words of the number one all time Best Seller ‘The Bible’ says it all..‘In The Beginning God…’” to the baffling: “Half Human..Half God..hmmm just another way of lookin at.” His ‘advice’ is often questionable; I can only presume that when he tweeted, “2 Biggest keys to increasing “Cash-Flow”..1) Solve Problems..2) Remove Pain,” Wall Street was immediately alerted, and the global financial crisis was solved.

The inspirational tweets are truly that: “How is it to know that Superman is inside you..only to spend your life living as Clark Kent.. #dontforgetwhoyouare,” he tweeted in September. A week later, he unleashed a series, beginning with the innocent, “You never know until you try..don’t be scared to try new things..just a thought..an idea..an inspiration can change your world Today.”, before moving on to the more bombastic, “Keys to “Comebacks”..Believe you are Valuable..Never say Die..Anything can Happen..Cannot be Defeated..No Blush..Hate Losing..Be There..!”, and finally, in a move so sincere I can only believe it came from a religious leader, “Im investing all my Leadership and Entrepreneurial Skills into Destiny Schools ‘Business Studies’ class equipping our Students 4 Succeess.”

His adherence to prosperity theology—which teaches that faith in God leads to material riches, and that this comes about through ‘donations’ to the church—could be found in tweets like, “‘I Wanna be a Millionaire…’ So the song goes..#D.M.C.” In other theological matters, he provided us with a direct translation from the Bible when he wrote that “Apostle Paul thru Revelation says ‘Gaining ‘Spiritual Knowledge is equated to classing Man-Knowledge’ as ‘DUNG’”.

At other times, he is more irreverent. Presumably in a belated attempt to ride the wave of Charlie Sheen’s success, last week, Tamaki tweeted, “Grinning..cause im Winning..” By contrast, his mid–America’s Cup, “Tell me winning isnt everything..Go Team NZ.” is shockingly relevant. A beautiful sentiment is expressed in, “On Our way to a Better Day..The Past is Passed..You are now coming into Your MOST FRUITFUL TIME YET..Hard Out.” And finally, in words I want engraved on my tombstone, the eternal anthem: “Sparkle comes from Within.”

I’m not sure if it needs to be said, but I’m not a Brian Tamaki fan. Virulent homophobia, sexism, and a prosperity theology which requires its congregation—often made up from economically disadvantaged groups—to stump up ten per cent of their income on church-related projects in a way that seems vaguely culty and exploitative; these are things that I’m kind of not into.

So I was disturbed to find, a few days after venturing into the online world of @BishopTamaki, that he wasn’t so bad after all. This was more than getting into his Twitter feed, in an abstracted, ironic sense; I was liking Brian Tamaki. It was a truly weird exercise in cognitive dissonance; the internet equivalent of being simultaneously mortally offended and deeply relieved when someone doesn’t sit next to you on the bus. Except with more two-dot ellipses and erratic capitalisation.

Which I’m not okay with. As much as I find Tamaki’s tweets funny, I followed him to laugh at him, not with him. Any inkling that he might be in on the joke ruins it. Even if he’s not, the glimpses of humanity I made out from between strange abbreviations show a man who wishes his granddaughter a happy birthday, and that makes me at least slightly sympathetic towards him. Even if I still didn’t think he was a good person, I was starting to think that he might be an entertaining one, and, as an occasionally terrible person who tends to prefer entertaining to being good, I started liking him for that.

It’s problematic, this. Because for a religious leader—especially one in Tamaki’s position—it’s far more important to be good than entertaining. Any personality game is dangerous and distracting; it draws attention away from questions about his theology and religious teachings and towards deciphering whatever he’s trying to say about his granddaughter’s dog on Twitter. But it’s one that he’s playing to his advantage, and he’s not alone. The ironic deification of people like Judith Collins, where many of us think that she’s horrible but also love her for being so online, serves to deflect genuine ideological disdain and turn it into a form of personality politics where only the most Buzzfeed-worthy win. The danger in making Brian Tamaki a comedic figure is that the focus then falls on the ‘fun!’ ‘zany!’ Brian Tamaki character, rather than the man who marched on Parliament to oppose civil unions and is heading a church which is quickly descending into a for-profit cult.

That’s not to say that we should (as sometimes happens online) jump to instant vilification on the basis of a comment, or an action, or even an ideological stance. People can hold views you fundamentally disagree with, and still be perfectly nice. We can handle contradictions, even if they are between, “this person hates gay people,” and, “I’m starting to feel vaguely sympathetic towards this person”—this is a wonderful part of what makes us human.

But. Nuance is only valuable when it comes with clarity. If I was able to hold both sides of my impressions of Tamaki together, then maybe I’d be okay. But my impressions of him have always been only vaguely negative—Destiny Church as an ominous figure signifying the worst of Christian fundamentalism in New Zealand with Tamaki at its head. Whereas on Twitter—as there always is on Twitter—there was this sense that I was encountering the real person, and real people are inherently more sympathetic than a bullet-pointed list of their religious and political beliefs. When we met on Twitter, it wasn’t a fair fight by a long shot. The sympathetic side won out, and while I was still wary, I genuinely did start to like Brian Tamaki.

In the end, I had to unfollow him. I was too worried that someone would see that I was following him and think that it wasn’t ironic, or, worse, that someone would see that I was following him and know that it was only half-ironic, that I was starting to genuinely enjoy reading what he had to say, and was wondering if he’s such a bad person. That I’m still wondering.

Even if @BishopTamaki is the new @Horse_ebooks, I’m staying away.

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