How the Harvard Professor with Great Hair Blew Up Twitter

How the Harvard Professor with Great Hair Blew Up Twitter

December 6, 2019 in Latest, Politics
1 Comment

If you didn’t know who Noah Feldman was before Wednesday’s impeachment hearings, you do now. The Harvard law professor and author of The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President was one of four witnesses chosen to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee regarding the constitutional definition of impeachment and how it applies to President Trump’s actions. While he shared the stage with other impressive legal scholars such as Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan and the veteran impeachment witness Jonathan Turley (he also testified before the House Judiciary Committee during the inquiry into Bill Clinton in 1998), the Twitter spotlight fell almost entirely on Feldman. 

Aside from his easily quotable and sound-bite-able statements, Feldman started trending pretty early on in his testimony for what many described as an uncanny resemblance to English actor Benedict Cumberbatch (who also began trending on Twitter). 

It wasn’t long before Twitter users began calling on NBC’s Saturday Night Live to cast Cumberbatch as Feldman in the next episode’s opening skit.

But not everyone agreed about Feldman’s celebrity doppelganger. Rival threads began comparing the law school professor to former Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart, from the Harry Potter series

What may have stood out most of all for those watching Feldman explain his reasoning behind why the founding fathers would have found Trump’s recent actions impeachable offenses is his hair. Feldman’s golden swooping puff garnered a lot of attention, mostly (but not entirely) positive.

A few even found his entire aura…attractive.

Twitter also offered Feldman feedback on the testimony itself—some negative and some positive, some thoughtful and some partisan. Many appreciated his definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as wrongdoings committed by someone holding the office of the president.

Critics cited Feldman’s previous statements concerning impeachment to delegitimize his current support for the House’s inquiry.

A handful of tweets, however, crossed over into the realm of anti-Semitism. Raised in a Modern Orthodox Jewish community in Boston, Feldman remains a prominent Jewish intellectual (he even contributed to Moment’s Five Books Project). Some found his articulate performance inspiring, saying he reaffirmed their Jewish pride, while others tried to use Feldman’s religion to sully his reputation and invalidate his testimony. Unfounded tweets began circulating on Wednesday morning claiming that Feldman is the nephew of convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein.

And many critics cited his Jewish identity (as well as that of Karlan and Representative Adam Schiff) in tweets condemning their authority and legitimacy in the hearings, displaying an underlying level of anti-Semitism.

Feldman’s recent Twitter fame arose because House Democrats chose him to testify about whether the Constitution supports the impeachment of President Trump. But whether these other conversations, about his celebrity look-a-like and Jewish roots, eclipsed the impeachment conversation probably depends on which Twitter world one inhabits—the one that shows up for the news or the one that shows up solely for the memes.

But does any of this matter? Maybe Feldman’s hair and celebrity-like looks turned him into a thirst trap, bringing the impeachment hearings to the attention of Twitter users who otherwise would have dismissed them as boring political discourse. Like most social media impact, the full effect of Feldman’s 15 minutes of online fame is nearly impossible to measure, but it would be difficult to argue that the perception of Feldman’s testimony was not at least partly shaped by his Twitter blow-up. 

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