Come say it to my face, china

2013-10-13 10:00

Kate Sidley has wasted too many hours reading facile public spats.

Dear open letter writers,

I write to you in the spirit of love and honesty.

This madness has to stop. Consider the latest round of craziness, set off by Sinéad O’Connor’s open letter to Miley Cyrus, followed by Amanda Palmer’s letter to Sinéad, and then Miley’s tweets, and then Sinéad’s letter, and Sinéad’s other letter, and Sinéad’s addendum to the letter before that, or was it Miley’s?

Either way, I can’t recall the details of who wrote what to whom.

Suffice to say it was a relentless, self-perpetuating blabberfest of nonsense and that, at the time of writing, it had been going on for a week and Sinéad was up to letter four, each less cogent than the last.

I wasted hours of my life on this idiocy. The cumulative cost to humankind is sickening to contemplate.

Not since 1571, when Martin Luther wrote The Ninety-Five Theses and posted them on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, setting into motion the Reformation, has an open letter had such a dramatic effect.

And one can see why – at stake there is nothing less than human dignity and the soul’s place in the afterlife.

Actually, no, my mistake, I’m getting muddled.

The Miley Cyrus letter was about how girls should dress and whether they should be licking wrecking balls on TV.

Let’s skip the details. It all gets so hazy, which is one of the main problems with open letters – they tend to get boring.

But there’s another problem with open letter writing. It’s lazy.

Writing a strongly worded letter gets the blood flowing and the stress hormones rushing about; and before you know it, you come to believe you’ve actually done something constructive in the world.

You haven’t.

Say you happen to believe that South Africa’s education system is in the toilet (a pit latrine with no door, obviously).

What to do, what to do? Should you volunteer to teach? Join an organisation of activists in the education sphere? Paint a striking banner and join a march?

Or maybe write a stern open letter. Yup, that’ll set things right. Better settle down on the sofa and get on with it.

It’s cowardly. As they say in my ‘hood: “Come say it to my face, china?...”

It’s inflammatory. We all know how easy it is to get riled up by our own rhetoric. If Kenny Kunene were out with the president enjoying some sushi, I doubt very much he would use the words “monster” and “tyrant”.

It’s grandiose. I mean, seriously, who do you think you are? And who do you think cares?

The entire world is not sitting on the edge of its seat, desperate to hear your opinion on the outrageous state of croissants in Cape Town.

It used to be that an opinion was something you held, and perhaps shared with one or two friends.

If you think Minnie Dlamini is rude and loud and a bad actress (as one open letter writer did recently), might I suggest you stop watching her?

Don’t bore the rest of us to death with your criticisms. Besides, if we were all to pen open letters willy nilly to every public figure we found annoying, there wouldn’t be enough bandwidth to accommodate them.

(Yes, I realise that this is rich coming from someone who proffers opinions and smartarse remarks for a living.)

It is risky. No matter how well you express yourself, you can never be sure the rest of the world will get your point.

This is particularly true if your point is ironic.

Just as 5% of the population is colour- blind, but don’t generally realise it, a significant percentage of the population is “irony blind”.

It’s a real pity this terrible affliction is not taken more seriously.

On Daily Maverick, Richard Poplak wrote one of the more entertaining open letters of the year, ostensibly on behalf of the foreign media, beseeching the people of SA to “get the f**k out of the way” while they covered Nelson Mandela’s illness.

An alarmingly large number of people failed to pick up that this letter was in fact satirical, and went along huffing and puffing in a state of outrage.

It’s self-promoting. Let’s face it, open letter writers. Most of you are more concerned about your retweets and Facebook shares than about making any real difference through your letters.

If Sinéad O’Connor cares so deeply about Miley Cyrus, she could phone her for a chat; pop around for tea and a heart-to-heart; or just, you know, send her a letter, a personal one. But where’s the promotional value in that?

Open letter writing is a noble tradition that in the past had enormous impact. But the likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Emile Zola and Bill Gates are done a grave disservice when the world is in thrall to pop stars arguing about twerking.

I hope you will take this letter in the spirit in which it is written. Seriously, don’t write back.

Yours sincerely,

Kate Sidley

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