Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Evolution of Fan Mail, From Traditional Correspondence to Social Media...

In elementary school, they used to have us practice correspondence. Sometimes it was through special workbooks designed to offer a variety of assignments, from writing a familiar thank you letter to a relative who sent a birthday present, to a cover letter for a resume in later grades. Sometimes it was through pen pals that our class would be assigned from other schools in other states. Sometimes it would be to our future selves or our friends' future selves. Apparently. I don't really remember this particular assignment, though a childhood friend pointed it out to me on Facebook a few months back. I guess the teachers were afraid of correspondence becoming a lost art. I can't imagine what those teachers think now, as we all talk in clipped codes of 140 Twitter characters and texting emoticons.

Anyway, I got to thinking about this because I had my own unique way of practicing my correspondence: by writing fan letters to the cute boys in the backs of my Tiger Beat and Big Bopper Magazines. Every week or month (I honestly can't remember anymore) that the new issues would come out, I would flip to the last page where there were a select amount of fan addresses printed. These were often PO Boxes and management or agency offices, and who was featured in the back was clearly based on who were the "it" kids of the moment. Just about every week I would find someone I would want to write to, and as the weeks went on and the addresses repeated, I often wrote to the same person more than once. But I always started the letters the same way.

You could say I had a formula. Maybe it was instilled in me from those basic letter writing lessons from public school workbooks, maybe it only recurred because the first letter written that way proved effective. I'd start out by introducing myself, of course, always noting that I was one of whoever I was writing to's biggest fans. Not *the* biggest fan, mind you, I wasn't that presumptuous. I wanted whoever I was writing to to know I was not delusional. 

I would always include my age, hoping that when I wrote to the likes of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, for example, he would realize I was in the proper age range for him to date me. And then I'd lead into some specifics about the recent work he (it was usually a he, let's face it) had done that I particularly loved. Or I'd point out something I recently read (in the cover of whatever magazine shared their address) that I enjoyed, as well. I had to prove I was a fan, after all, and I had to prove I knew a little bit about film and TV.  

In closing, I would note that I understood how busy he was but would love an autographed photo if there was time to send me one back. I can't remember if I actually pointed out that my return address was in the upper corner of the letter, like any good business letter would feature, but it was always there. And I'd sign it with "Love," and my name, and usually a sticker.

More times than not, I wouldn't get a letter back from the actors to whom I wrote, but I would receive a glossy 8x10, hand-signed with a "To Danielle" before their canned inspirational catchphrase and signature. I wrote to JTT so many times, I started receiving multiple photos with different "messages" written on them to me. But the best was hands down California Dreams star Aaron Jackson who actually did become a pen pal of sorts, returning my handwritten letters with handwritten postcards that referenced things I had written in my last note to him (My personal favorite? "No tattoo for you; you're too young!").

Back then, I wouldn't wake up every morning wondering if today would be the day I'd receive a letter or photo back. I wouldn't run to the mailbox after school to see if anything special was waiting for me. But when I did find an over-sized envelope with my name on it, I would always get an extra big smile on my face, and I'd take the envelope back to my room to rip it open and read/study/stare at it. It was always a special kind of rush to get a response from someone I admired or simply saw as on a different level than I.  

I get that today there is a level of equivalency in the excitement a fan feels when getting a reTweet or reply from their favorite celebrity on Twitter. After all, in the end, it all amounts to the same thing: acknowledgment. But a part of me does see what my teachers were worried about. I feel like there is a little something lost from communicating through social media. You're limited with space and therefore what you can say, and more often than not you're one of thousands just getting lost in the ether. It's really easy to scroll past a bunch of Tweets, even when they're directed at you. I'm guilty of doing that, and I'm not even famous. But when you have a physical pile of mail sitting on your floor? I don't know, I would be more inclined to tackle it just to have a clean space again. It's tangible, and I miss it.

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