Wednesday, October 5, 2011

An Open Letter to People Who Write Open Letters

I have an irrational dislike of writings that are titled “An Open Letter to _______”.
I say “irrational” because I usually read them even though no one is making me, and because some of them are well written and make good points, and if they were given a different title and didn’t begin with “Dear President Obama” or “Dear Teabaggers”, or dear whatever person is being criticized in the letter, I might not dislike them. So what is it about the open letter format that irks me so?

To start with, an open letter is pretty much an admission that the person being addressed wouldn’t know the writer if s/he tripped over the writer in the road wearing a name tag. I know that isn’t always true, as sometimes well-known authors have resorted to the open letter technique, but the open letter format is generally an admission that the person being addressed isn’t taking your calls, so the likelihood that s/he is going to read an open letter in the newspaper or in the blogosphere is also remote. That means the person being addressed is not really President Obama or Sarah Palin or Hank Williams Junior, it’s the rest of us poor slobs. So why not admit that up front?

Also, with rare exceptions, an open letter is going to be critical of the person it is nominally addressed to. I can understand the appeal of being able to address criticisms in the second person rather than the third person, but to me it sounds less thoughtful and nuanced and more just plain mean. 

Not only that, but it also sounds like bragging. I not only want the person I am nominally addressing to have my brilliant insights into the problems facing him or her, I want anyone else with access to my open letter to see what brilliant insights I am offering as well. Okay, it’s true that the reason I have a blog is so that I can offer my brilliant insights to people who wouldn’t know me if they tripped over me in the road wearing a name tag, but even I don’t think that I am such a special snowflake that not only does Hillary Clinton need my input on foreign policy, but also that other people need to see what fantastic advice she’s missing out on by not inviting me over for tea. Although if she did I could wear a hat.

So, dear writer of open letters, I know you don’t know me and aren’t reading this and don’t care about my opinion on open letters anyway, but I have some advice for you. Please stop.

Very truly yours, 
Obscure blogger


  1. I feel the same way! Always thought it was only me.

  2. I'm curious - the only time I've posted a (non-sarcastic) open letter online it was (1) really and truly a letter that I put pen to paper and wrote ans sent via snail mail to the person (2) who I had actually met in person (with a name tag). Plus, it was actually both a heartfelt statement of thanks to that person and directly related to one of the major topics I blog about.

    Does that make it less of a pain, in your opinion, or is it still annoying? I'm okay with either answer, just wondering.

  3. @Nenya, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one,too.

    @Literata, I think it depends on how the letter reads. If it truly reads like a thank you written to that person (ex: Dear Congressperson Doe, Thank you so much for your support for X, a cause dear to my heart), that wouldn't bother me. If it reads more like a lesson for other readers (dear Congressperson Roe, Thank you for your support for cause X. As you know, cause X affects millions of people a year due to etc, etc), then I'd find it annoying, but I wouldn't lose sleep over it.