Behind The Scenes With @dogsdoingthings

The guys behind the popular Twitter account talk Dog Vietnam, theorize about Twitter grammar, and reminisce about erotic encounters on the USS Enterprise.

@dogsdoingthings can be read many ways— as broad cultural criticism, as a series of existential writing prompts, or just as a log of dogs doing some weird things. Turns out, the just-shy-of 25,000-followers account is all of those things and more. Or less. Depends on how you look at it.

Patrick and Clayton, the creators of @dogsdoingthings, were kind enough to let me ask them a few questions via email. They responded in the form of a dialogue with one another, and therefore I’ve inserted the original questions into the dialogue where it appears Pat and Clayton began riffing on them.

And so we journey into the heart of dog darkness.

What do you you guys do, and how do you know each other? Why do you write this account together? You know— who are you?

[PC]: Oh, we met in college at the beginning of the last decade. They were wild times. The dot com bubble had just burst, George Bush was swept into office on a tide of Brooks Brothers apparel, and The Dave Matthews Band was at the height of its popularity. The air was full of things that really defined our generation. Then nine-eleven happened and everything changed.

[CL]: All that, plus we lived next door to one another in the dorms. Hard not to become pals when you’re tossed in together during the roaring heyday of the Early Aughties.

[PC]: Soon after that we both started graduate school (English). We have really similar ways of looking at things, which is why we can write DDT together. I’m an adjunct English professor now, which is like being a regular English professor, except without the decent pay and health benefits. But, you know, employing people like me is how they keep tuition at American colleges really low.

Anyway, I’m looking for work. *holds a crisp résumé up to the camera*

[CL]: And I’m an editor on an academic business journal at a university in the city.

How was @dogsdoingthings conceived?

[CL]: @dogsdoingthings was conceived of one spring night as a verbal word game that made us laugh. After we’d stopped laughing, the deeper, sinister truths of what we’d be doing gradually became apparent. The idiom bounced around on a couple of Twitter accounts before finally settling into @dogsdoingthings.

[PC]: And also kind of an image thing? As I recall, it started with Vietnam—like as in the concept of Vietnam. Every image you have of Vietnam, the whole mediated experience, including bored GIs, the Zippo poised to set a village ablaze, Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, Walter Cronkite opining piously at the camera: all now populated by dogs. Dog Vietnam. I think that kicked it off. Things certainly did not delay in turning sinister.

@dogsdoingthings quotes from music, literature and films, or parodies dramatic tropes. What works make the cut, and why?

Why plural “dogs” doing things? How does the reading of a mass of dogs committing a single action affect the audience’s reading of your tweets?

[PC]: Well, no. At some point pretty early on, the game evolved. It got to be about “things” “dogs” “do” rather than “dogs” “doing” “things.” (The plural “dogs” has always kept these statements sort of virtual, suspended between description and proposition.) But a kernel of Dog Vietnam remained. Generally speaking, and to be perfectly pretentious about it, what remained was the play with received, mediated images and language, including slogans, lyrics, academic jargon, characters—culture high and low. We just kind of mine the stuff that floats around in our brains and pry it out, hold it up, scramble it, and imagine some weird way of inhabiting or speaking it. Our favstar page is full of this: references to Jay-Z, Sesame Street, Half Baked, Maybelline (??). It’s like a dialogue at the borders of consciousness.

It’s not a program or method, though. It’s just what comes out.

[CL]: Although that all said, I do suspect a large chunk of our audience still envisions “dogs” as a literal noun, rather than as a moveable subject position. I have no clue, really. Just a suspicion. I think Pat might think differently.

[PC]: I agree with everything and nothing.

@dogsdoingthings has over seven thousand tweets. How do you keep up that level of production, and how has the account evolved since you began it?

Why do some concepts get multiple tweets, or sort of mini-arcs? Are there any tweets that become developed further, and do these tweets have anything in common?

[CL]: We don’t have a method, but I do think there are stylistic flourishes that have come and gone, tracing that history bears out some of the evolution of the feed overall. I’d suggest four rough periods:

(1) A nascent moment of several months, where we were really working out the kinks of the idiom. This was fun, but I’m not sure it was really that interesting.

(2) A brief period of very specific narrative seriality, in which individual tweets were structured into a larger, clearly sequenced story. (An erotic encounter with Jean-Luc Picard on the Holodeck, for instance, detailed across 30+ tweets.) Pat was the first one to play with this, I believe. We’ve almost totally abandoned the explicitly narrative version of this kind of seriality, but it was incredibly fruitful, and echoes of it are still present in the work we do today.

(3) A longer sustained period of maybe a year and change, in which the feed is populated pretty heavily with referential moving parts. This is, I think, what Pat is describing when he talks about the remainder of Dog Vietnam. We hit a pretty serious stride with this kind of material.

(4) A recent period of several months that’s still being worked out. We’re less quote-y, less referential. I’ve been writing with more of an ear toward sound, and I’m a lot more interested in a recurring “you” as an in/direct object.

Anyway, this is all to say that there’s nothing programmatic at work, but there are some concerns that reappear and are sustained for periods, and some of that ends up informing the overall method of composition. Pat could certainly tell an alternate history, I’d imagine, which has always been interesting to me—that we’re independent operators in a joint-project who partake of so much of the same work yet also have distinct approaches to it.

[PC]: I’ll co-sign the history Clayton traced, adding that there have been a whole slew of stylistic off-shoots and dead ends along the way. Some ways of arranging this material has had long term potential, and some hasn’t, just as some material can be mined frequently and some can’t. For a long time we used third-person plural possessive pronouns (“Dogs writing in their Hello Kitty diary…”), but now we just don’t. It’s weird how you can invent different ways to do the same fucking thing over and over.

[CL]: Good call on the grammar issue. “Their” has become a real four-letter word.

What kind of response has @dogsdoingthings gathered? To what do you attribute your fairly large amount of followers?

Do you think Twitter can be used to make art?

[PC]: Whatever the method, though, it’s never prescriptive. Everything is improvised. One of the things this has brought home to me is that whether you’re punching 140 characters into an internet box or putting pen to Moleskine or whatever, you’re just sticking words somewhere, and they can be whatever the fuck you want. It’s a trite observation, I guess, but Twitter is a game just like poetry is a game just like sculpture is a game, etc. It’s just that some games are dressed up more seriously than others. As to whether there can be “art” on Twitter, I mean, of course—if you can find someone to put the right frame around it and sell it for money. Which, LOL.

I don’t know, Clayton. Is it Art?

[CL]: Oh, yeah, definitely, or definitely not, depending on who you ask. I think @dogsdoingthings as a cultural object is generally coded as non-art, but that’s just not really accurate. A ton of writing that’s distributed on the web is qualified as “Internet writing,” and we get lumped into that category. My guess is that that’s just some cultural anxiety about the emergence of art on the Internet. I don’t really know. But fuck it, it’s art, it’s writing, we’re writing, we’re artists.

I do think this project would be more comprehensible if it were monetized. I mean that literally; I can’t tell you how many conversations I have about @dogsdoingthings that ends with a vacant stare once somebody finds out we’re doing this for free. You know, as opposed to all of those writers and artists out there who are compensated fairly for their work and who don’t have to make their livings in freelance editing and graphic design. That’s just the Internet art anxiety thing, again, I think. People understand physical art objects, people understand work-for-pay on the Internet, but people don’t understand art on the Internet.

I will say, our press in The New York Times does on occasion help explain @dogsdoingthings. People might not understand @dogsdoingthings, but they sure as hell understand The New York Times.

[PC]: Sure, I suppose @dogsdoingthings is art in the broadest sense. I’m happy to call myself a “writer” and leave the “art” label to the judgment of others.

[CL]: Others?

[PC]: In particular, the mutated roach people inhabiting the irradiated husk of the Earth hundreds of generations past the coming global thermonuclear war. I like to think those poor souls constitute our true audience, and that @dogsdoingthings will one day explain their past, present and future. As for why anyone reads @dogsdoingthings now, though, I only have guesses. For yuks, nerdery, and goofiness, probably.

What is a thing dogs wouldn’t do? When do dogs stop doing things?

[CL]: Maybe we should move into yucks, next. You know, really gross-out stuff.

[PC]: Dogs don’t really do that, though, do they?

[CL]: No, not really, but that’s probably a matter of taste, rather than of form. Dogs don’t retweet, dogs don’t @, and dogs don’t do dog things, but that’s about it in terms of things dogs don’t do.

[PC]: Well, if it comes to that… We have put up thousands of tweets now without wandering into extended abject grossness, which, to be fair, plenty of people do successfully. For me personally, it’s just not stuff I find productive. There’s enough gas for me in Things Which Have Been Thought and Said, existential angst, the manifold delusions that make up daily life, that kind of thing. It keeps going because there is always more.

[CL]: There is always more until there is nothing, and then we will have reached the end. Have we reached the end?

[PC]: The end of this conversation or the end of @dogsdoingthings?

[CL]: Both. Either.

[PC]: Yes.

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