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How a COVID-Fueled Tik Tok Tirade Sent the Internet Into Hysterics
What Makes Great Writing #013 - Featuring Jen Hamilton
Sometimes, great writing is slowly penned amid morning stillness — a cup of coffee steaming as the writer reaches higher planes.
Other times, great writing is feverishly dashed out in a sweaty swarm of crazed emotion — cold medicine fueling insane analogies as the writer barely remains conscious.
This is an example of the latter.
On June 26th, TikTok creator Jen Hamilton felt aired her grievances about a particularly clingy iteration of COVID.
Except she did so in an email.
To people she had never met.
Just like the fictional Frank Gallagher, Jen twists barely coherent sentence structure with surprising pop cultural references. The result was, accidentally, a hysterical monologue that a whole room full of SNL writers would be hard pressed to match.
Writing this now - 7 days into COVID myself - the rant takes on a personal resonance.
Let's break this down together.
Writer: Jen Hamilton
Passive Voice: a sentence structure where the subject of a sentence receives the action of the verb rather than performing the action.
Alliteration: repetition of the same consonant sounds
Personification: treating a non-human thing as if it were human
Parallel structure: identical sentence structure repeated in sequence
Syllepsis: when a word is applied to two other words in different senses
“I’m sorry for not getting back to you sooner as I have been visited by The Angel of Death.”
What sticks out in this first sentence is the use of passive voice after the adverb (“I have been visited by…”)
Modern writing frowns on passive voice. Many of your former English teachers and all of your current virtual writing assistants warn you to avoid this type of structure at all costs. After all, who wants to write passively, when you could write actively. Like a man with rippling biceps who has no time for nuance or adjectives.
Teachers and AI ban passive voice simply because it is the easiest way to give advice to writers of all skill levels. For those skilled enough to wield passive voice correctly, a new world of rich writing can be opened.
This opening sentence would not be nearly as funny if the latter half of the sentence were written in active voice.
"I'm sorry for not getting back to you sooner as The Angel of Death has visited me."
When Jen sets herself as the main subject but uses passive voice to do so gives exactly the feeling one receives when afflicted by COVID. Flipping the two nouns is a small choice, but one that makes COVID an attacker.
Finally, “The Angel of Death” is a personification of the disease itself.
“I am responding to this email from the safety and security of my bedroom quarters which has served as the backdrop to my own amateur sequel to the movie Contagion...”
Question: Why use 2 words when 1 will do?
Answer: Because you are hooking people with alliteration.
Just like the phrase "safe and sound," Jen's bedroom is "safe and secure" because to be either doesn't feel like quite enough.
Here we start to see Jen’s mental fatigue bubbling to the surface in the form of outdated words. When was the last time you referred to your sleeping place as “quarters?”
The unusual word choice catapults us into the bizarre second half of this sentence.
“...except instead of Gwyneth Paltrow, my character will be played by Guy Fieri, except more whining and less lung capacity, but the same amount of food intake and chances of being America’s next top model.”
Whenever you execute a line with parallel structure, it helps for the words to share topical elements.
Consider one of the most well known isocolons of all time:
Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
The poetry would have been doomed to oblivion if the line were:
Roses are red.
Ice cubes are blue.
Flowers and colors make the line last.
In this COVID-riddled case, the words "more" and "less" are both comparative adjectives. This alone is enough to carry the line. (In fact, a popular Christian song by Zach Williams uses this exact structure — “A little more like Jesus, a little less like me.”)
You could also argue that "whining" and "lung capacity" are both forms of talking. I’d say that’s a stretch, but it’s not a stretch to point out the alliteration in “less lung capacity” keeps us gliding along.
The second parallel structure continues in an attempt to compare Jen to Guy Fieri ("same amount"). There is a sneaky syllepsis spinning though the examples.
Despite using the same noun ("same amount"), Jen speaks of both a concrete item (food) and an abstract item (chances). For this reason, the line is unintelligible, then incredible.
“It is true, COVID has locked me in its sights and prevented me from attending the AWHONN convention which has gone off without a hitch by the way even in my absence which when you think about it is kind of rude."
More personification here.
COVID cannot "lock a person in its sights," even when it isn’t masquerading as the angel of death.
"I expected at least a moment of silence followed by a photo montage set to Alanis Morissette’s In The Arms of an Angel."
As the comments section was quick to point out, Alanis does not sing In The Arms of an Angel. If Jen make the mistake on purpose, we'd call it an “ennalage.” We'll chalk the mistake up to classic COVID brain fog, this time.
Either way, it’s an effective mistake.
"Also kind of rude is how I’ve worked through this entire pandemic without so much as a rogue booger and mere days before the highlight of my year — WHABAM — I’ve turned into the mucinex mascot."
Since every word tells a story, a single word choice can transform a whole sentence.
Deploy the adjective "stray" in front of booger here, and you might still chuckle. “Rogue” reaches a new level of hilarity. While "stray" gives the impression of wandering aimlessly, "rogue" puts us in the mind of a cloudy speck, armed to the teeth with daggers, hurling itself up our new friend's nose.
Once more, we have a bouncy alliteration with rogue booger.
The onomatopoeia in the middle of a work email works because of it is deliberately out of place. even if she hadn't combined it with a second use of alliteration at the end of the sentence: "Mucinex Mascot."
Great writing often reflects what everyone else is thinking. If that’s the benchmark for quality, Jen passes with flying colors.
You’d be hard pressed to describe existing with COVID any better than she has.
Much love as always,
-Todd B from Tennessee