An open letter to open lettersDear Open Letters,
Wow! Congratulations on all the work you’ve been getting lately. Seems like I can’t login to Facebook without seeing someone employ you as a narrative device by which they can voice their displeasure at whatever peeve has been deemed zeitgeist-y enough to get commissioned by an editor. It looks like your career is really taking off and—let me just say—I can totally understand why. You’re versatile! You can be applied effortlessly to any topic: Social conservatives. All The Men Who’ve Politely Informed Me I’m Not Wearing A Bra. Surgeons Who Have Implanted Mesh. Anyone Who Cares About Nina Simone. You’re easy to read! Everyone knows how to read letters, unlike David Foster Wallace novels or sheet music. You’re fun! Most letters we read are private (or “closed”), but you are not, granting us all a little frisson of voyeuristic excitement as we read you. Funner still is if the addressee is a loosely-affiliated group of people or an abstract concept which could not possibly have a postal address! What glorious absurdity! What a jape!
You see, Open Letters, you have that quality which is prized most highly in this internet age: a clearly defined format that people can funnel their own ideas into for maximum clickability. Like caps-locked Impact text on a meme, your identifying characteristics are rigidly set: you start with “Dear ______” before launching into an introductory paragraph. Your second paragraph, beginning with “You see”, allows the author to expand on their issue’s defining bone of contention. In the third paragraph—which usually begins with some variation on “But here’s the thing”—they explain why their take on the controversy at hand is the correct one, and why whoever disagrees with them is wrong/a piece of lard. You finish with a knowing, world-weary bit in which the author states that they don’t expect anything to change, but GOSH it’d be nice if it did, but they’re not going to hold their breath; a signature is attached and you’re done.
But here’s the thing about rigidly defined, ubiquitous formats: they’re cute to begin with, and then they get annoying, and then they get much, much worse. Most of us had a modest chuckle the first time we saw a WINTER IS COMING meme. Maybe the first Gangnam Style parody video we saw was tolerable. But try that rubbish on circa November 2012 and it’s Vomit City. Barf everywhere. Spew on the walls and the ceiling. The brutal, uncompromising fact is that the internet is not immune from the same laws of humour that govern Real Life! The more times the same joke is made, with the same rules and the same punchline, the less funny it becomes. And that is as true for narrative devices as it is for cat pictures and activated almond references.
I don’t expect anything to change. In this modern age, in which freelance writers struggle to constantly generate fresh content ideas with great potential to go viral, your allure will live on. Like a radioactive turd, it shines in the darkness, drawing jaded and poorly-paid hacks toward it with the promise that they’ll be able to smear it all over their face and chest and run around the internet shouting “Look! I did an opinion!” and that people will read it, because you’re just so dang novel. It’d be nice if it was otherwise, Open Letters, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
Please enjoy our attached gallery of people penning open letters.
All images via: shutterstock
Join the conversation below