Jose Canseco and the Twitter Cult of Terrible

Even before the sexual assault accusations, the ballplayer's feed was a catalog of bizarre ramblings. And somehow, we couldn't look away.

cansecoslider.jpgBack when he was embarrassing the rest of the American League, Jose Canseco always came off like a pro wrestling villain—vain, brash, utterly cartoonish and possibly managed by Paul Bearer. There was the time he dated Madonna (and later wrote she was obsessed with him); the time he had his own 1-900 number; and the time he rammed his wife’s car. Twice.

Somewhere along the way—after his retirement after the 2001 baseball season, through his 2005 appearance on The Surreal Life and memoir Juiced—Canseco built up a new identity as a sometime independent league retread, and a full-time Twitter celebrity with more than 500,000 followers.

Canseco’s bizarre stream-of-conscious ramblings were the stuff of pure, uncut internet gold. He talked about time travel, about how ancient gravity was different (it’s how the dinosaurs got so big) and about how Captain America was the first steroid-fueled superhero. It was transfixing, like watching an ostrich try to fight its own reflection.

Then on May 22 he tweeted that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was at his door because he was a suspect in a sexual assault. And then he sent out the alleged victim’s name, contact info and a photo. In hindsight, there’s probably not a lot about the incident that’s surprising. We all had an inkling in the late ‘80s that Canseco was self-delusional at best, and kind of a prick at worst. (Speaking of self-delusion, Canseco’s manager once intimated to Vegas Seven—before this whole mess started—that he’d want to be compensated for giving any media interviews.)

So what was the draw in the first place? Yes, the internet loves the patently absurd. Otherwise cat-bearding, Nyan cat, LOLcats and other (potentially non-cat-related) memetic delights wouldn’t be a thing. But on social media in particular, there’s an insatiable desire for the utterly out-there.

As marketers work furiously to worm into your daily life with a “we’re just a couple of bros chilling out on Facebook” attitude, there’s something oddly reassuring about the batshit insanity of feeds like Canseco’s. It’s what drives people to something like @Horse_ebooks, the spambot with 176,000-plus followers where every tweet reads like nightmare logorrhea from some prisoner trapped in another dimension. It’s the same thing that drives people to watch so-bad-it’s-good movies or dress like they got publicly assaulted by a Goodwill from the ‘70s.

The subtext there is, “This is terrible, we know this is terrible, but the only way we can trust anything anymore is if it’s so beyond-a-doubt bad that we’re positive we’re not being marketed to.” It’s the authenticity of the awful.

Except if anything, the Canseco feed reminds us that even in the safety of something being the worst, we still can’t entirely trust our judgment anymore. Canseco was always in it for attention, and consciously or not (there’s been speculation over whether or not he used ghostwriters) he hit on a successful formula to grab it. It’s still the same old marketing bullshit, but on a more subtle level, and for different currency.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. By May 23, Canseco tweeted, “Because of these false allegations by [redacted] i have already lost lots of financial opportunities,” just in case you didn’t feel gross enough about the whole thing. We knew, on some level, what he was after, but we went with it anyway.

It’s way, way worse now than the days of 1-900-Jose. At least there’s some kind of dignity in a transaction that’s transparent.

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