The Cracked Wisdom of Dril

Benjamin Franklin’s admirers have to acknowledge certain embarrassing truths about the man, not least that, were he alive in the twenty-first century, he would almost certainly be big on Twitter. As the dulcet narration of Ken Burns’s two-part documentary “Benjamin Franklin” explains, Franklin’s achievement of “such remarkable success” that would lead him to be “handed down for generations as the embodiment of the American Dream,” began with publishing a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, at the age of twenty-three. Franklin included “crime stories, notices of fires and deaths, a moral advice column, funny tales he concocted that flirted with sexual innuendo, and letters from readers, including some he wrote himself, under tongue-in-cheek pseudonyms like Anthony Afterwit and Alice Addertongue,” creating a reading experience not entirely dissimilar to scrolling through one’s timeline.

He also engaged in a now common social-media practice by using the Gazette to promote other, more commercially viable projects, including, in 1732, the one that would make his name: “Poor Richard’s Almanack.” The yearly volumes, according to Burns’s documentary, were “ostensibly written by the hapless Richard Saunders, who claimed he was writing his almanac simply because his wife threatened to burn his books if he didn’t earn something from them.” It was in this fictional persona that Franklin composed the “Almanack,” the popularity of which brought him considerable wealth. Essentially an information-dense calendar, the Almanack was pitched not to the American book-buying class but the larger, less refined, more practical-minded public beyond, offering a mixture of useful (or at least fascinating) facts, generously seasoned with poems, recipes, and improving proverbs.

Or, as another, highly un-Burnsian telling puts it: “Poor Richard’s Almanack” was “filled to the brim with relatable Quotes, stuuff about the ocean tides, information on vinegar prices, and other good shit of that nature.” These words, and their typos, come from “The Get Rich and Become God Method,” the second book by the comic-absurdist Twitter personality known as Dril. He describes Franklin—calling him, with characteristic garbledness, “Ben Franken”—as “a fellow wise man and publisher of astute witticisms who I have often modeled my brand after.” Indeed, Dril continues, “if famous ‘Ben Franken’ were alive today he would read every page of the Get Rich and Become God Method, and say, ‘Yes, this is what I was ultimately setting out to accomplish all those years ago.’ ”

Dril may be more right than he knows. In April of 1757, according to Jill Lepore in The New Yorker, Franklin “set about stringing together proverbs taken from twenty-five years of his ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack.’ ” Though intended as parody, the resulting essay, “The Way to Wealth,” was “taken for Benjamin Franklin’s—and even America’s—creed.” As each passing generation failed to get the joke, the “frugal, prudent, sober, homey, quaint, sexless, humorless, preachy Benjamin Franklin” took root in the public imagination. However inadvertently, Franklin pioneered the self-help book, which Jess McHugh’s recent study, “Americanon,” frames as a distinctly American genre. “Benjamin Franklin, whose autobiography is in the canon, pulled himself up out of nowhere, and you can, too,” Louis Menand writes in his review of McHugh’s book. “Perceived barriers to success are illusory.”

Menand summarizes the conventional self-help world view, one shared by “The Get Rich and Become God Method,” which, like “The Way to Wealth,” really belongs to the subgenre of self-help parody, though it takes that form to outlandish extremes. “You did not choose to buy this book,” Dril declares in its introduction. “This book chose you to buy it, because it sensed that you were destined to become God. As you absorb the knowledge through each and every page, more and more Positive mind energy will enter your blood stream through your eye sockets, energy that you can convert to dollar bills as much as you want, for free.” That knowledge is subsequently presented in twenty-eight chapters, each of whose subjects corresponds to one letter of the book’s title, from “Trying,” “Healing,” and “Eat up,” to “Harmony,” “Omnipotence,” and, finally, “Death.”

Dril makes for an unlikely self-help guru. Though his character has been traced back to Something Awful, a humor forum popular in the two-thousands, he only took shape on Twitter, and has come to personify that roundly condemned but seemingly irreplaceable platform’s grandstanding, compulsive, solecism-prone, invincibly ignorant id. His haplessness far exceeds that of Franklin’s Richard Saunders, as evidenced by Dril’s frequent references to his own condition of beleaguerment (by employers, by womankind, by gas prices, by “trolls”) and humiliation. “trapped, fully nude, in restaurant bathroom,” he posted in 2017. “boss & his wife will be here in 10mins. trying to see if i can make a tuxedo out of tolet paper.” One of his most widely circulated tweets reveals his monthly budget: two hundred dollars on food, eight hundred dollars on rent, thirty-six hundred dollars on candles—“someone who is good at the economy please help me budget this,” he adds, “my family is dying.”

These words have become more quotable than anything Benjamin Franklin ever wrote, at least on Twitter. There, the immediate recognizability of phrases like “It’s the weekend, baby,” “I’m trying to remove it,” “The celebs are at it again,” and “You do not, under any circumstances, ‘gotta hand it to them,’ ” speaks to the clout that Dril has amassed in nearly fourteen years. He arguably wields even more influence than is reflected by his follower count, which, of this writing, has reached 1.6 million, far surpassing Chipotle at 1.1 million, Outback Steakhouse at 319,300, and Roy Rogers Restaurants at a paltry 8,110. Those are just three of the businesses lovingly tweeted about by Dril himself, who has exhibited a preoccupation with brands both real and fictitious, especially those flourishing at the commercial intersection of budget-priced food and entertainment.

Some years ago, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management publicized the factoid, subsequently much repeated, that “the average American child can recognize 1,000 corporate logos but can’t identify 10 plants or animals native to his or her own region.” Dril, who once tweeted about having “the burger king logo imprinted in my brain like a baby bird to its mother,” is that average American child grown up and then some. The illustrations in Dril’s books depict him as a rotund, balding man in advanced middle age, not unlike Benjamin Franklin, but the look of his character appears to derive from his Twitter avatar, which is an almost unrecognizably low-resolution photograph of Jack Nicholson wearing sunglasses and taking a drag from a cigarette. No image has been more closely associated with him since his first tweet—which contains only the word “no”—on September 15, 2008.

A decade later came Dril’s first book, “Dril Official ‘Mr. Ten Years’ Anniversary Collection,” an illustrated anthology of tweets selected from the thousands that he’d posted in that period, organized according to major themes including the “deep state,” “dumb asses,” “nine eleven,” and Twitter itself. “The Get Rich and Become God Method” deals more expansively with these and other subjects: money, video games, mass media, the police and military, jeans, toilets, diapers, masturbation, and racism, on all of which Dril has long pronounced with the complex ineptitude that is his signature, and without a hint of the self-protective irony one expects on Twitter. His appeal lies in the contrast between this tone of absolute sincerity, which often escalates into high dudgeon, and the nature of his obsessions, which run toward jarring combinations of the stupefyingly mundane and the elaborately scatological.

Some frame Dril as a parody of a certain stripe of pseudonymous male Internet habitué: aggressive, frustrated, incoherently vainglorious, and a bit too old for the sites on which he relentlessly posts. “His character is the anonymous psycho of the comments box,” as the poet Patricia Lockwood put it in a 2013 talk. “He has been banned from every forum. He is all-present and nothing-knowing. He is the corn-syrup addiction of America and he is an expired Applebee’s coupon.” Dril’s tweets, in their tendency to betray a persecution complex, used to draw frequent comparisons to those of the former President Donald Trump, now banned from Twitter. More than a few tweets also contain references associated with red-staters gone around the bend, from idolatry of veterans and the flag to conspiracy-theory material like chemtrails, Benghazi, and Jade Helm 15.

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