Everyone's complaining about all the junk email they're getting these days, and while I'm as opposed to spam as anyone (I mean, how many urgent business proposals are there in Nigeria anyway? And when did I go from the Young Hot Teens list to the Herbal Viagra list?), I have to say I'm becoming more concerned about what I get in the US mail. The correspondence I receive from readers via email every day is immediate and thought provoking — even when they're trashing something I've published or written, they're usually literate. But the snail mail letters are getting downright loopy.
I received one late last summer, postmarked from upstate New York, which consisted of a drawing of a chipmunk in a pink dress. You read that right, a chipmunk. Handwritten notes interspersed through the page made references to the benefits of Beech Nutt coffee and the line: “Sometimes you need a great banjo outfit like a Mario Cuomo suit!” It was apparently written by a woman, but I don't know why she sent it to me or what it means. Perhaps she had seen costume sketches in the magazine and was offering her input. Maybe she was making a comment about me and my wardrobe. Whatever the case, I couldn't decide whether to be amused or scared. I felt rather sorry for the woman, but I also checked the envelope to make sure there wasn't any white substance sitting at the bottom.
Not long after that, I received another letter, postmarked from Houston, Texas. Inside was the September cover of ED, featuring the Dixie Chicks with the face of its lead singer, Natalie Maines, crossed out and an unsigned handwritten note that read:
“I have allways [sic] felt that the lead singer is a tramp and people didn't pay to hear her political views they paid to be entertained. If she is so brave then she should put on a helmet and gun and go to Iraq. Cowards want to be paid to gripe in a safe place. Because of this I tore off the cover and threw your magazine in the trash! I did not see any of your advertisers!”
And here I thought he just didn't like her haircut.
I have no idea if our man in Texas was a regular reader, a competitor trying to stir up trouble, or just some flake who happened to pick up the magazine in his doctor's waiting room. He's certainly entitled to his opinion on the Dixie Chicks; no doubt some of you may agree with him.
But let's get one thing clear, folks: we're not really interested in the performers we put on our covers. We don't even care if they have any talent, much less their political views. Our job is to cover the design surrounding a production. The design of the Dixie Chicks' recent tour, by LeRoy Bennett, was groundbreaking in its use of video projection. I'm not about to punish a designer because the talent chooses to express themselves on a controversial topic. We're here to be a forum for design ideas, and in the case of the Dixie Chicks tour, that's exactly what we provided.
Where will it all end? There were some people disappointed in Bernadette Peters' performance in Gypsy, saying she couldn't hold a candle to Tyne Daly, much less Ethel Merman. Will I get hate mail from people offended that we put her on the July cover? And that November cover with Cirque du Soleil — theyr'e French, ain't they? Why is ED putting America haters on the cover? Pass the freedom fries!
I hope you see where this is headed. You got a problem with the talent? I could care less. You got a problem with the design? Then we'll talk.
Still, I look forward to reading any and all future hate mail and freaky drawings of chipmunks. It beats the hell out of yet another email on an important business offer from that dude in Nigeria.