On the cable news networks, debate over the federal budget stalemate has followed a familiar pattern, with Democrats and Republicans squaring off against each other. Impatience with this rhetoric — and politicians — boiled over on Twitter this weekend, when new media pundit Jeff Jarvis launched the catchphrase, #fuckyouwashington.
After the news on Friday that budget talks collapsed again, Jarvis, a professor of journalism at City University of New York with high-profile stints at Entertainment Weekly and People magazines under his belt, took to Twitter. On Saturday, he began venting his frustration from his account, @JeffJarvis.
First: “Hey, Washington assholes, it's our country, our economy, our money. Stop fucking with it.” Then, “People, it’s time to get fucking pissed off.” Later, “Can we start a Twitter chant: FUCK YOU, WASHINGTON! Pass it on.”
And with that, a phenomenon was born.
He tweeted so much that Twitter imposed its rate limit, which may have led to a separate account for FuckYouWashington.
Jarvis continued to tweet the same message, soon asking his followers to help transform it into a digital phenomenon, writing, “Seriously, folks, if we can’t use this tool to recapture the public sphere and debate, what is it good for?”
When followers suggested he was drunk, he demurred: “Wish I were.” (He later admitted in a blog post he had been drinking wine.)
When others tried to add to the phrase, he said it spoiled the concise message. When even more people accused him of “coarsening discourse,” he responded “No, you’re trying to control my discourse.”
Shortly, comparisons to Peter Finch’s iconic monologue from “Network” — in which he says “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore — began cropping up.
Jeff Howe, contributing editor at Wired, tweeted: “Holy shit, @JeffJarvis has gone all Howard Beale on us. I love it. And I feel it. Give us our future back, fuckers. #FUCKYOUWASHINGTON.”
By the end of a weekend, a face known in the media industry but not outside it moved past Peter Finch and Howard Beale. He had his own Internet meme.
What started in anger left him pleasantly surprised.
“The tweets that keep streaming in — hundreds an hour still — restore my faith not in government but in society, in us.”