Journalism / Letters

Real people, real letters

I’m fascinated by the ways in which “real people”—which, funnily enough, is how both reporters and academics refer to non-reporters and non-academics—have semi-spontaneously used epistolary genres to respond to the ongoing economic crisis. There are, of course, the letters to the editor and op-eds that have been the way for “real people” to talk back to the media for centuries. But we could also see the Occupy movement’s use of Tumblr, which consisted largely of photos of people holding up open letters, as a new iteration of the letter as a political tool. Rather than simply posting text, the contributors and editors have decided that there is something powerful in transmitting an image of the author’s handwriting and, in most cases, face and hands. And in another remediation, these websites have spawned a published book, The Trouble is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street. The site the book draws from, Occupy the Boardroom, both allows people to send direct messages to bankers and politicians, and publishes those letters in an open forum. As we continue to struggle with the effects of the global financial crisis, it seems that the familiar genre of the letter provides an opening for people to express their frustration in both old and new media.

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