An author who claims Billings as home has a cult-like following in the tens of thousands online for his absurd takes on current events.
While you may not have heard of the Tingler phenomenon, this guy is more than just online. YPR's Brie Ripley set out to unmask the author and figure out what the point is of the tangled web he weaves.
When you ask Chuck Tingle, if that's really his name, why he insists on remaining anonymous, he says its to protect this privacy as a doctor—a kind of absurd, satirical play on doctor-patient confidentiality.
The prolific, award-winning, niche erotica author who self-publishes on Amazon claims he received his PhD from DeVry University in Holistic Massage, but the institution does not offer such a degree. He also claims that he lives in Billings, Montana.
“Billings is a, you know, its a city of more than 100,000 but it feels a lot smaller at times," said Billings Gazette reporter Michael Kordenbrock.
"So you kind of get to wondering… Do I know Chuck Tingle? Do I know someone who knows Chuck Tingle?”
Kordenbrock first learned about Tingle from a coworker about a year ago. Tingle calls every newspaper, from The Washington Post to the New York Times, “The Billings Newspaper.” Huffington Post is “The Billings Newspaper.” Columbia Journalism Review is "The Billings Newspaper."
Which plays into why this reporter for the Billings newspaper is fascinated.
“He makes things out in a sort of ridiculous way that people can laugh at that is very non-threatening I would say. The maliciousness isn’t really there which is kind of rare for any internet humorist these days. It seems like sort of the go-to is expletives-expletives-personal attacks-tear people down. Meanwhile, Chuck Tingle is thinking about the space-time continuum in relation to contemporary American politics," said Kordenbrock.
Kordenbrock would love to write about the Tingle phenomenon, but Lee Enterprises, owner of The Billings Gazette, has an anonymous source policy that requires any source to be truly identifiable. And because Tingle isn’t interested in revealing who he is to anyone, the Billings Newspaper hasn’t reported on the so-called “local” author.
But the Missoula Independent has. Reporter Derek Brouwer wrote about Tingle back in February, prior to Lee’s decision to purchase the Independent. He’s been paying some attention to Tingle’s online presence ever since.
“A couple of days ago on Twitter, he responded to one of Trumps tweets and said, ‘Everything you’ve ever said is wrong and you are made of ooze.' Which I think is a kind of typical example of how he deals with Trump," said Brouwer.
everything you have ever said is wrong and you are made of ooze https://t.co/6FZdHQbA2l
— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) April 23, 2017
Brouwer describes Tingle as a sort of foil, in the literary sense, to President Trump. They’re both extremely active on Twitter and unashamed of voicing their opinions. While Trump reaches right, Tingle reaches far to the left, steeping his progressive opinions deep in absurdity.
Vox web culture writer, Aja Romano, covered Tingle for a national audience. She says that the author’s support for the Billings library, even though he may not be from Billings, is crucial to really understanding him. Tingle took to Twitter last year to elicit financial support via donations for the library. She explained his persona as a platform to argue for progressive values.
“In terms of queer rights, in terms of expanded education and just promoting reading in general and promoting literacy. Which is a strange point to get to when you start from dinosaur erotica. But I think that’s part of what makes him A-important to people and B-have such a strong cult following," said Romano.
When YPR contacted The Billings Library Foundation’s Development Director, Leslie Mordrow, she neither confirmed nor denied the donation made by the author. Although, she did acknowledge awareness of who he is.
— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) July 13, 2016
“He has managed to only deepen the mystery about who he is and complicate his character as he’s become more recognized," said Brouwer. "And that is an impressive feat to pull off for somebody who started in some pretty obscure corners of the Internet."
If Tingle’s point is to remain an enigma, then the question of whether or not he lives in Billings despite supporting Billings-based organizations may not really matter.
Perhaps what matters most is the message that he aims to spread far and wide through the tangled webs we weave across the Internet.
“When you have your choices think, ‘Which choice proves the most dang love?’ Because that is what’s real on all timelines," said Tingle.
"And when you start with that, you start doing that and you start to see friends and your buds and they come over they say, ‘Wow that really meant a lot to me and I will do this to prove love with you’, and it goes in a big dang circle. And it’s so nice. And even if it doesn’t go in a dang circle do it anyways because it is so important. So I would say best thing to say on the dang radio is, well, I will say that you should call your friends and your family as a way to prove love. And maybe tell them that you love them and that you care about them and that you are thinking of them. I think if everyone on the radio did that, that would be a nice way.”
That's the motif woven throughout Tingle's erotica and communications online—the quest to prove love. While this reporter was unable to prove the identity of this author, or his location, perhaps we should focus our attention on what he's trying to prove instead.
An extended interview with Chuck Tingle is available below: