Thursday, February 21, 2008

Open Letters To People or Entities that are Unlikely to Respond

PenI'm not sure if the open letter is a uniquely American phenomenon but, if it isn't, it should be. We are, after all, a people who like to raise our voices up to be heard and to have our opinions noted (whether or not those particular opinions are, in fact, note worthy).

The open letter is a particularly interesting manifestation of this tendency. In many senses, it's a quasi-paradox. Letters are, by their nature, relatively intimate things: I have something to say to you and here it is. And open letter is rather like having a nice, little conversation with someone while holding a megaphone. Of course, the point of an open letter isn't so much a matter of trying to communicate as it is an act of organized passive-aggression: I have something to say to you that you probably don't want to hear so I'm going to say it in front of everyone else, as well, so you had better damned well listen to me!

McSweeney's has taken the concept of the open letter and raised it to an absurdist art form. Open Letters To People or Entities that are Unlikely to Respond is a perfectly self-described collection of open letters. Many of the letters are simply silly, such as An Open Letter to the Radioactive Spider That Never Bit Me, some are cranky such as An Open Letter to My Local Newspaper With Advice for When It Runs Its Next Two-Page Photo Spread on the Beautiful Colors of the Season, and few are downright poignant and heartfelt such as An Open Letter to My Eighth-Grade Long-Term Substitute Science Teacher.

1 comment:

magidin said...

Wouldn't the "Open Letter" just be a particular format of the pamphlet? Would 'J'Accuse' qualify as one in which the author (Zola) had no reason to believe he would be answered personally? Or consider the very public exchanges of Bacon and Wallis on the former's pseudo-mathematical claims, complete with plays to the peanut gallery and yet addressed to specific people. Perhaps the particular format is peculiar to America (like the format differences between Italian, French, and German Operas), though.

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