My news stream contained far too many open letters and fake State of the State speeches today, which made me stop and think: why do open letters bug me? And really, what is an open letter?
-Person A has an opinion about person B’s actions
-BUT instead of telling person B, person A writes down what s/he would say to person B if s/he were writing to person B, and publishes it for other people to read.
-In spite of the fact that person A could just as easily write to person B
Ooh, this bugs the heck out of me! But why? Why is it more irritating than it would be if person A simply wrote down their opinions? It’s not the letter format; someone who reprints a letter they actually sent to the person they’re criticizing doesn’t arouse my scorn.
I think it’s because the open letter is fiction and it’s crappy fiction, all about the author instead of the characters. It gives me the same feeling I get when I read a bad, bad Mary Sue; I see through the story to the author, and am embarrassed for him or her. (“Does she really want Professor Snape to do that to her?”)
Someone who’s writing fan fiction can be forgiven a little Mary Sue-ing. After all, if you’re imagining yourself on the Enterprise you are already in fantasy-land, and imagining you can also beat Mr. Spock in hand-to-hand combat isn’t breaking any rule except that of internal credibility. But the open-letter writer pretends to be involved in the real world, commenting on the real world, when in fact he or she is writing fan fiction. And not even fan fiction about some novel or TV show; nope, it’s fan fiction about themselves and the clever, unanswerable things they would say to Scott Walker or President Obama if he came within buttonholing distance, and how he would have no reply to their unassailable arguments.
The polite reader will turn away and pretend she didn’t see this.