The open letter penned by Sinead O’Connor to Miley Cyrus this week has been making the rounds in my social media feeds. Most, if not all of the posters commend Sinead on her advice giving, her insights, her courage for stating in public what an awful lot of people grouse about among themselves. A few posters stick up for Miley. A few give it a head shake. In any case, it has gotten a lot of attention.
The response from Miley got some attention too. A number of people in my feed were completely outraged that Miley would not give a thoughtful reply but rather would lash out and as some suggested, put forth her inner brat.
I’m not sure what anyone expected from this, really. It all seems to go the way things go- more drama, more action, more late night jokes, more TMZ fodder.
I’m no stranger to the open letter, having written a couple myself here on this small stage I built and have decorated. And yet, I’m under no delusions that my open letter to Rush Limbaugh had any impact on the person of Rush Limbaugh. I’d say that yes, it’d be nice if it got to him somehow along the great wide way of the internets but realistically that’s not likely and I know that and even if it did, so what? How would that make a difference?
So why write one?
It’s simple, really. I had an opinion and a small platform. Of course, I could have written the same post without aiming it at Rush Limbaugh as a person. I could simply have said, “here’s why I don’t like Rush Limbaugh all that much” and it would have generated just as much response from the reader, I wager. But the “open letter” offers something more than opinion just by its very nature. The “open letter” offers some strange form of agency. It is as if we take our opinion and we encase it in a thick blanket of false, “care.” Open letters say, “I really care about you, Rush and so I’m writing this letter for you…” and for my readers and for the hope of a viral landslide and name recognition and then maybe a book deal sometime. Open letters have the illusion of care without any of the messy work of care. I can say whatever I want in an open letter to someone I’ll never meet and the only real repercussions I might face are in the comments section of my blog and I am in charge of those. I can make them go away.
The difference between my writing an open letter to Rush Limbaugh and Sinead writing one to Miley Cyrus is that Sinead most likely could have actually said these things to Miley Cyrus on the phone or in an email or by snail mail or in person. Miley had just cited Sinead as a role model of sorts, or at least she’d cited Sinead’s work as influential at the very least. Though I doubt they shop at the same celebrity grocery stores, there is still some opening there, some ability to reach out, privately and personally. Instead, an open letter hit the internets and we got to be privy to what might have been an important conversation. And because I have an opinion and a blog I’m going to say that while I don’t disagree with what Sinead wrote, I felt very badly about having seen it as Miley Cyrus was seeing it. It was like watching a grown up yell at a kid in a store except for one big distinction Miley Cyrus is not a kid. She’s young but you know, she’s a grown up. She can make her own choices for her life.
I don’t care for Miley’s work much. It’s probably because I’m old(er). It doesn’t matter really. There is an awful lot of popular culture I don’t care for and that only means something as it pertains to my own life. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s crap. I don’t condemn Miley Cyrus for her work and I don’t know if she’s being coerced or is on drugs or is setting women back 100 years in our fight for equality. I know only a few things about her and find myself in no position to tell her what to do or how to do it. If Sinead felt differently, really and truly, I have to wonder why she did not say so to Miley, privately.
If I had a problem with my daughter or my daughter’s friends or anyone in my real life I can’t imagine I’d write an open letter to them. Perhaps Sinead tried. I have no idea. I only know what was published for us all to see and while it appeared to be sincere, at best, it was still shaming, publicly. It does not surprise me to find out that it did not go over well.
In the end, it needs to be said that “open letters” are never really meant for the subject of the letter. They’re for the writer and for the people who may stumble across them to read. I say this with the utmost respect for Sinead O’Connor and all of those who use the “open letter” tool. They’re not meant to inspire the addressee as much as they’re useful for shoring up support for what we hold true. It’s a mistake to think otherwise.