Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So CaptivatingSWill Leitch, senior writer at Sports On Earth and founder of Deadspin, is doing his yearly fill-in for Drew Magary on today's Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo. (Here is 2011's version, and here's 2012's.) Leitch has written four books. Find more of his business at his Twitter feed.

My first email address, other than the one the University of Illinois assigned to me that I didn't know how to use, was "filmcritic@hotmail.com." I signed up for it in 1996 because I knew I'd be graduating soon and all my friends would scatter in all sorts of different directions. The long-distance phone calls would be too expensive, so we'd stay in touch through email. I didn't own a computer, but there were Web cafes everywhere. It sounds absurd now, but Web cafes really were fantastic. You hopped online, communicated with everyone you knew (I'm on email! This is coming to you from CALIFORNIA!), typed names of your exes into Lycos for a while, and got out of there right before your counter clicked over to an hour (and another five bucks). Then you left, retreating back into life.

I had that email account for four years before I stopped using it in 2000 in favor of Yahoo, a hip mail provider that would retain its cachet for the next 14 years. (williamfleitch@yahoo.com, anytime.) Once I stopped using it, Hotmail deleted the inactive account, so I hadn't seen any of my emails from the late '90s until a couple of weeks ago, when an old friend I hadn't seen in a few years sent me a few of them. The emails were as embarrassing to look at as you'd expect—at one point I went into exhaustive, pretentious detail comparing the series finales of Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, and The Larry Sanders Show, and if any of the women I had things for at the time saw any of these emails, they'd probably have me arrested on the spot—but what was most striking was how long they were. Each of these emails were about 800-1,200 words in length, and the responses I received from my friend were roughly the same. We emailed each other, and everyone, as if we were sending missives from the front, as if we didn't know when we'd have time to write again, as if we had to fit everything in. There was nothing ironic or arch or snarky or smarmy about the emails: They were, in the most basic sense, letters. That's how we thought of them. This Internet business was mostly just a way to send letters faster. If it turned out that you weren't able to get to a Web cafe for a week or so, that was OK: The letter would keep you updated on everything you had missed. We missed a bunch back then. No one seemed to mind.

Six days ago, a woman named Justine Sacco, a public relations person for a media company, sent an idiotic, offensive tweet.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So CaptivatingS

This is the type of joke someone makes when he or she doesn't know how to be funny but has found, say, Seth MacFarlane funny and therefore just tries to do what he does. (MacFarlane is at least sly enough to cover all his jokes in a protective layer of faux-self-mockery.) It was moronic, particularly for someone who, by profession, should know precisely not to say things like this in a public forum. It's the type of thing that gets you fired and mocked.

But what went on with Sacco grew far beyond personnel moves and public scorn. Sacco became, on the Friday before Christmas Week, a day when lots of people were at work but no one was actually working, the story that everyone was watching. The reason Sacco was so fascinating, the reason her story resonated so much, was not simply because she had sent an offensive tweet, or because she worked in public relations. It was because she did so right before boarding a 14-hour flight from England to South Africa during which she would have no wireless access. Ordinarily when people say something abhorrent on Twitter, they see the immediate response and then delete it, either apologizing or saying they were hacked, and we all move on. But Sacco sent the tweet, and then vanished into the dark, empty netherworld we used to call Real Life.

This made her story irresistible. We were all pretending to be offended by her AIDS joke—because what could set back the movement to eradicate AIDS more than some entitled PR person being an ass on Twitter? Fight hard, America!—but what we were really offended by was how stupidly Sacco had used Twitter. She had said something and then ... gone away. This was Sacco's true crime. Stepping offline, removing herself from the grid, was the most helpless thing a person could possibly do; it was fun to make fun of Sacco because we knew what was going on, and she didn't, and therefore WHAT AN IDIOT. Did she deserve to be fired for her tweet? Probably, if just because public relations is her job and this is a rather convincing sign she's bad at it. But since when did any of us care about PR people's jobs? Our lives aren't changed one way or another if Justine Sacco loses her job. What we loved was a pile-on. We loved being in on a joke that the subject wasn't.

Thus, while Sacco talked to her family on a 14-hour flight—though probably not—we came up with memes and hashtags, and big corporations tried to profit off her, and Google maybe tracked her (or maybe not), and some guy tried to interview her when her plane landed, and it was all one big laugh. We didn't care about the offensive tweet: We just liked making fun of someone for not knowing what was going on. For being offline for 14 hours ... so long! (Of course, I'm sure that Sacco, like the rest of us when we get off a plane with no wi-fi, frantically turned on her phone the second she could. She needed the fix as bad as the rest of the planet.) That was why the story went so huge. And we churned through, and now we'll move on to something else.

The disconnect between who we are online and off has always been a central tension of the online age. The person I am in my daily life—the guy who goes to the grocery store, and jogs, and stays up too late drinking and watching old movies, and changes diapers, and checks in on his sister, and has a hat collection, and folds his laundry—has nothing to do with my online life, even if I'm the same person in both. We are always heightened online; we compulsively try to make our lives, to consider our lives, more interesting than they actually are. This has mostly been balanced by the fact that we don't actually live most of our lives online; that place is the avatar, the blurred but brightened version of the regular person walking around. But in an age of Twitter, and especially mobile, that person is slowly fading. The person we are online is who we are. I am not particularly skilled at Twitter—I'm neither confessional nor professional enough—but I check it roughly six or seven times a day, sometimes to post links to things I've written, mostly just to have some vague sense of what's happening in the world. And you know what? I never have any idea what's going on. So many people seem to be on Twitter for life—on all the time, no matter what—that penetrating their conversations can be impossible if you're not fully invested. I'm constantly trying to catch up. I never will.

There was a time when people were suspicious of having cellphones, not because they weren't useful, not because they didn't like them, but because sometimes, they just wanted to be left alone. You heard this a lot back when having a cellphone was a decision rather than an obvious requirement of competent living. "Sometimes I'd like to just be left alone, you know? I don't want to have phone calls following me around." Those days are obviously gone now. And that encroachment of that world into the real world is becoming complete. If you are not always dialed in, at all points, you might as well not be dialed in at all.

During the World Series, I was sitting in the right-field stands at Fenway Park with various other writers, all with their laptops open. They were all staring at Twitter. In the sixth inning of Game 2, David Ortiz hit a home run off Michael Wacha over the Green Monster. Almost at once, having been alerted to Ortiz's homer, they lifted their heads up from their laptops and glanced toward the left field wall to see what had happened. But they'd already missed it. And I, sans laptop, missed what everyone was saying about it. It's becoming clearer and clearer: You can't pay equal attention to both. You can't stay on top of everything. You have to choose.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Five Throwgasms

Eagles at Cowboys: Whew: It always takes a lot out of me to get that first little Head-Up-Own-Ass How We Internet Today rant out of the way. All right, back to normal now. Hi, everybody! It's my third year filling in for Drew on the Jamboroo, and I've learned that my TOTAL LACK OF CAPITALIZED EMPHASIS is doomed to disappoint the most devoted Drew Fans (called Drewwwgs, I think), a group of which I consider myself a member. I also always skip the Poop Story, the Greggggggggg section, and the Nazi Shark/Nazi Bill Simmons/Emmitt Smith picks section. I'm too grossed out by poop and couldn't possibly impersonate Drew on the other two. (Though I'd be remiss if I ignored this bit of Greggggggg goodness.) So I apologize in advance. Thanks for letting me hang out regardless.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Anyway, we're probably not going to end up seeing Jon Kitna in this game, but it's worth remembering from an old-timer that Jon Kitna is sort of fantastic. My favorite thing he did: In 2007, after Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen was arrested for driving naked in a Wendy's drive-through, Kitna dressed up as the coach for Halloween, as a naked man, with Kitna's wife dressed up as Wendy. Not enough starting quarterbacks are willing to hold up the most humiliating moment of a coach's life to public mockery. (Cullen's now the defensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns, so it's good to know he landed on his bare feet.)

49ers at Cardinals: The last time The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals won 11 games in a regular season was 1975, the year I was born. (Back then, before the safety-conscious era we live in today, football players wore spikes on their gloves, used heavy weaponry on draw plays, and were regularly being run over by trucks.) This year, they might well finally do it ... and miss the playoffs. I'd say this is indicative of being a Buzzsaw fan, but it's not: Indicative of being a Buzzsaw fan would be going 5-11 with a two-game winning streak that makes their draft pick the seventh overall rather than the first. Even if the Buzzsaw doesn't make the playoffs, winning 11 games is one of the best things that's ever happened to this franchise, and I'm going to be happy rather than angry about it. That said: All Buzzsaw fans are TEAM SCHIANO this week.

Packers at Bears: Green Bay is one of those teams I wrote off a few weeks ago without realizing the Lions were going to implode. As is tradition whenever I write about the Packers, let's take a look at the top three non-Packers stories currently on the website of the Green Bay Press-Gazette:

Crossroads church welcomes 300 for Christmas dinner
Lincoln County Humane Society rescues 50 puppies from condemned Gleason home
Fire causes almost $100,000 in damage to Oconto building Christmas Day

That the NFL is still in Green Bay is honestly one of my favorite things about that league. I need to hurry up and become the first one of my friends to recommend one of those stories on Facebook.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Four Throwgasms

Chiefs at Chargers: Drew's been real quiet about the Duck Dynasty business, but I don't have to be. The three craziest takeaways, as someone who has probably read every word Drew has written (both above and below the comment line on this website) for about seven years:

1. Sarah Palin is commenting on something that Drew Magary wrote. (Even though she hasn't read it.)
2. ESPN's Mark Schlabach—whom I like—writes all of the Duck Dynasty books! How did I not know this? This should be more of a thing, shouldn't it?
3. There really hasn't been any blowback for Drew, as far as I can tell, which is a relief. The story was well-constructed, fair, and a lot warmer to the Robertsons than has been the popular assumption, but I don't think that had anything to do with it: After all, most people are like Sarah Palin and didn't read the actual story. Though I suppose it's possible that Drew's house was surrounded by crossbows this Christmas. I haven't talked to him.

Ravens at Bengals:
Can I take this moment to point you to Sports On Earth? It's good, I think! I love that now it's basically this combination of great newspaper writers and great Classical writers. And then I'm basically the middlebrow version of both, which ... well, I don't actually know what that makes me. But we're having fun! We are doing good things, I promise. Come play.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Broncos at Raiders: I still can't believe Sports Illustrated picked Peyton Manning as their Sportsperson of the Year. I mean, SI, who cares, I know, but still: This was an endlessly entertaining sports year, and I'm not even sure I'd have had Manning in my top 10. On my podcast this week, The New Yorker's Ben McGrath recommended Richie Incognito, and I think that would have been a great pick for the photo shoot alone. Oh, and if Miami makes the playoffs, by the way? Coach Philbin did a terrific job overcoming the distraction of him putting a maniac in a position of authority on his team. Great job, Coach!

Bills at Patriots: Speaking of The Year In Sports, this remains my favorite sports moment of 2013.

Panthers at Falcons: You know what has been the biggest surprise about living in Georgia? (Where I moved in June, in case you didn't get my change-of-address form.) They love the Braves a lot more than I ever realized. Good lord, nothing outside college football—which everyone's so intense about, it almost feels like a disservice to call it a "sport"—gets people more fired up around here than the Braves, particularly that infield fly play against the Cardinals two years ago. (Which, I remind you, was the correct call.) I was watching a Cardinals-Braves game with a friend of mine before a DBT show in August, and after we cheered a Cardinals run, some guy followed us all the way down the street for two blocks, demanding we explain ourselves. Of course that might just be a Cardinals thing. I do sometimes forget that this is the year Cardinals Fan became a pejorative. (It's gonna get worse when they win 100 games this year too.)

Jets at Dolphins: In honor of this game, here is a memo I found that I sent to Mark Newman, then-head of The Sporting News Online, back in September 1998, on possible design changes to SportingNews.com. AHEAD OF MY TIME, I tell you.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So CaptivatingS

"Shout-out." Man, do I ever not miss working in an office.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Jaguars at Colts: I received a Christmas card from Drew this year, and it has the picture of his family that all cards are supposed to have. And HOLY CRAP does Drew's oldest kid look exactly like him. It's terrifying. I thought there could be only one. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER.

Rams at Seahawks. This really does bear repeating:

I was stunned. Your team is awesome! Be more happier!

Buccaneers at Saints: It's really depressing realizing your team's playoff hopes rely on cheering for Greg Schiano and Tampa Bay to win in New Orleans. I mean, who wants to cheer for that? It's almost worth not making the playoffs, honestly. Thought: Have there been two more innately unlikable coaches in the NFL over the last 10 years than Greg Schiano and Todd Haley? (Belichick doesn't count. He's grandfathered in.) Those two guys are excellent reminders that the NFL has douchey middle-manager bosses just like every other industry. We just give coaches whistles. Also: I'm so glad I don't work in a field with whistles.

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Washington Football Team at Giants: Dave McKenna has been the foremost chronicler of Daniel Snyder dipshittery for nearly a decade now, but I don't really care about Washington's football team, so I mostly just read his stuff with bemusement and thank heavens he's not my team's owner. (And I have a Bidwill as my owner!) But it's worth remembering just how much he screwed up Six Flags, which is what pissed me off: I basically lived at Six Flags every summer growing up. And Snyder ruined it, as wonderfully described by McKenna a few years ago in Slate. My favorite part was when he started selling mattresses at Six Flags for $1,200 a piece. Smart move. Logical fit.

Texans at Titans: Brief baseball interlude: We're just a few days away now from this site announcing its Hall of Fame vote, one they're going to have again next year. I can't wait. It is unfathomable to me that anyone would be upset with Deadspin when guys like Murray Chass is voting. He announced on his blog—and he's exactly the sort of person who would consider a blog post an "announcement"—that he won't be voting for Craig Biggio because of steroid rumors. Craig Biggio! This guy covered baseball professionally. For, like, a really long time!

Lions at Vikings: Man, once again, I'm reminded why Drew doesn't do everyone one of these games. Let's see ... here is a slideshow of celebrities hugging cows.

Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

"Apocryphon," The Sword. I'm such a sucker for The Sword, which I've actually made my 2-year-old start listening to. The good news is that he seems to like stoner metal. The bad news is that he goes around air guitaring, like his father, rather regularly. I committed him to a life of dorkdom before I even knew what I was doing.

Suicide Pick Of The Week

Last week's picks of San Diego, San Francisco, and Denver went 3-0, making Drew 37-11 on the year. Once again, we pick three teams for suicide pool and one thing that makes you want to commit suicide. This week's picks are Seattle, New England, Denver, and People Who Say "Meh." We live in a world of infinite possibilities. Every second is a surprise. Organisms have evolved for millions of years to bring us the possibility of this exact moment. The human form is a miracle. It is unfathomable that this life exists, and that we all get to share it. Meh, he says, shrugging his shoulders. I'm just "meh" on the whole thing.

Gregg Easterbrook Is A Haughty Dipshit

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Again, I won't get into the Gregggg stuff, but this really does need to be read.

Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we'll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year's end or sooner. And now, your potential 2013 chopping block:

  • Gary Kubiak—FIRED!
  • Mike Shanahan
  • Leslie Frazier
  • Jim Schwartz
  • Mike Munchak
  • Greg Schiano
  • Mike Smith
  • Rex Ryan
  • Mike Tomlin
  • Tom Coughlin

It really wasn't that long ago that Jim Schwartz was supposed to be the big Billy Beane savior of the Lions, wasn't it? At this point, he's one or two steps away from "We Want The Wind!"

Gametime Snack Of The Week

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

Bagel Bites! I lived exclusively on Bagel Bites, Bud Light and fish sticks from roughly 1998-2001. Even though the nutrition provided by these food groups would regularly have me being covered in bruises simply by walking outside, I make no apologies.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

Why That Dumb AIDS Tweet Was So Captivating

I still haven't gotten over that Shakeable Beer That Comes In A Carton that Drew wrote about last week. "It is shaken vigorously before drinking it because of its thick layer of sediment collected on the bottom of the carton." This is basically like drinking the precipitate from high school biology class.

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Texans Fans

Because my movie recommendations always go over so well here, we'll just stick with the tried and true: You can never, ever go wrong with Frank Drebin.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

"I can't wear a pink shirt to work. Everybody wears white shirts. I'm not popular enough to be different."

Thanks for letting me come play for a week. Drew will back and better next week. Enjoy the games, everyone.


You can follow Will Leitch on Twitter at @williamfleitch.