I have good news and bad news. The good news is that, for the first time in practically forever, neither of Canadian poet Rupi Kaur’s book-length collections of warmed-over inspirational quotes masquerading as verse occupy the No. 1 spot of Amazon’s “Best Sellers in Poetry” category. The bad news is that Kaur’s dominant position has been upended by something much worse. Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun, published October 16, builds upon Kaur’s reimagining of the bestseller as a vapid but highly stylized Instagram accessory, but replaces Kaur’s self-serious navel-gazing with 224 pages of inspirational “Live Laugh Love” pablum that Miranda already posted to Twitter for free.
Before we continue, it’s essential that we understand who Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun are. Miranda, the fabulously wealthy composer of the 2015 hip-hop musical Hamilton, is a relic of the pre-Trump era. Hamilton diverted the attention of establishment Democrats at the worst possible time, and it embodied so many of their fatal flaws — a patina of wokeness over a fundamentally conservative message, the conspicuous consumption of $1,200 Broadway tickets by people pushing austerity policies, and the fact that the supposed phenomenon of “Hamiltonmania” was geographically confined to the wealthier parts of New York and D.C. How could Trump have won? Everyone I know went to see Hamilton! our liberal friends exclaimed on November 9, 2016. Sure, an entertainer like Miranda bears no responsibility for what happens in the realm of politics, but watching him dole out mental-health advice in this current moment feels a bit like being imprisoned during the Reign of Terror and having the former court jester at Versailles swing by to cheer you up.
look. life is bad. evryones sad. we're all gona die. but i alredy bought this inflatable boumcy castle so r u gona take ur shoes off or wat— jonny sun (@jonnysun) November 8, 2013
Sun, to whom Miranda refers as “polymath Jonathan Sun” in the book’s introductory poem, is a Yale graduate, a Ph.D candidate at MIT, and a Twitter personality who misspells things on purpose (his nom de plume being “jomny sun,” styled in lowercase on purpose). On social media and in his first book, last year’s everyone's a aliebn when ur a aliebn too, he performs a soft-hearted dimwit character that purports to be an “aliebn” trying to understand Earth but more closely resembles Lennie from Of Mice and Men. Despite Sun’s formulaic, patronizing, and irritating tweets, he has nearly 600,000 followers.
But what stands out most about him to anyone with more than five brain cells is Sun's ability to market himself, both to celebrities like Miranda and to Twitter-fascinated journalists. He has received an astonishing amount of media attention, most of it fawning over the idea that an unfunny Twitter account could become a book, as if Shit My Dad Says never happened. NPR profiled him back in 2015, long before he signed a book deal with HarperCollins, and again this year. A 2017 New York Times Magazine feature called him a “whimsical wordsmith.” In May, he was a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and in September he was hired as a writer for Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, a show that I sort of enjoyed one time when I was sick but will now never return to.
💧: please remember to take a sip of water— here's your reminder (@tinycarebot) November 3, 2018
Sun’s most-relevant work in the context of Gmorning, Gnight! is his secondary Twitter account “tiny care bot,” which automatically dispenses to its followers cutesy recommendations like “remember to eat something please” at regular intervals. This schtick, which for some reason has been covered by TIME and NBC News, is part of an online culture that encourages a broadly defined and often performative ethic of “self-care.” Much like the term “wellness” can mean everything from getting enough sleep to inserting magical rocks into one’s vagina at the behest of Gwyneth Paltrow, self-care advice occasionally veers into the paradoxical. Tiny care bot behaves like a computerized live-in caretaker, reminding one to eat, drink, sleep, and even breathe. While the account may genuinely help in extreme cases, it also necessitates the outsourcing of our most basic life skills — the ones we learn as toddlers — away from the self. This voluntary return to the utter dependence of infancy primarily benefits the giver of these instructions, which in many cases is an app with a monthly fee.
Gnight from your comfiest article of clothing—— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) November 3, 2018
you think I keep you warm,
but all the warmth comes from you.
All I do is hold you.
That's all I'm here to do.
You grow. You change. I'll hold you.
On to the book, which Amazon describes as “a book of affirmations to inspire readers at the beginning and end of each day.” The book’s text, written by Miranda, is unabashedly ripped from his Twitter and reads a whole lot like Goodnight Moon when it doesn’t feature his forays into dated “Weird Twitter” style situation comedy. It alternates between “good morning” advice, like “Gmorning, friendos! Make good choices! Listen to your inside voices!” and “good night” advice, like “Take a breath. Then another. Repeat. Shake off the day. Sweet dreams.” As if being talked to like a literal infant by a multi-millionaire playwright with connections to every branch of the American elite isn’t nauseating enough, Sun provides minimally relevant line-drawings of scenes like: a toaster with flowers growing out of it; a pair of hands holding a bunch of stars and galaxies, but in the shape of a cell phone; a teapot filled with flower petals; a cup of coffee, but the coffee is in the shape of that Japanese painting of waves that is now so clichéd it is literally an emoji; and an iPhone charger, but it is plugged into a person’s head instead of an iPhone. At least Goodnight Moon was colorful.
It’s difficult for me not to identify a heaping dose of cynical smarminess in media that infantilizes the reader to this extent, particularly when it adopts the same cloying tone that Zoloft commercials and millennial-targeted ads have been using for years. Increasing openness about mental-health struggles in media and entertainment has had the unfortunate side effect of creating an opening for marketers to superficially “raise awareness” about depression on branded fast food Twitter accounts while maintaining plausible deniability that their sole intent isn’t to manipulate and exploit. Miranda and Sun’s foray into self-help stretches this plausible deniability to its absolute limit; when a book’s lesser-known co-author’s biography includes the phrase “currently a doctoral candidate at MIT, an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and a creative researcher at the Harvard metaLAB,” and they are trying to sell you eight-word tweets and shaky line drawings of children tying their shoes, how can you not feel pandered to?