Work of Art: I just had to send this to you

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By Art Trujillo

Imagine receiving a letter so eye-catching that it makes you want to send a copy to 100 friends. But wait! With postage costing $44, not to mention the price of paper, envelopes and ink, well that starts to run into money.

The only time I succumbed to such expenditures was in 1972, when an acquaintance whom I met at a workshop in Charlottesville, Va., sent me a letter with the notation “This one really works!” with the urging that I send copies of the letter to 25 friends.

Postage was about 18 cents at the time, but my teaching pittance was also less, so I felt it more. The 10 dollars it cost to forward the letters didn’t yield me that $10,000 this “really works!” scheme virtually promised. It did, however, force me to consider a third mortgage.

What if technology hadn’t made it so easy today to send off a zillion copies? On the one hand, the ease in e-mailing things tends to cheapen the product: it’s like receiving a photo-copied thank-you note, or, as we recently experienced, attending a wedding reception and finding the words of gracias already on the tables, wrapped in a plastic ribbon.

Apparently mass-producing messages has many adherents. Take the worker for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office, on leave, her identity protected, after having e-mailed a document clearly hurtful to two African-American members of the legislature.

Amid protestations that racism and bigotry won’t be tolerated in her office, Secretary Dianna Duran continues to shield the offender’s identity. But why? The objects of the racist joke, Reps. Jane Powdrell-Culbert and Sheryl Williams Stapleton, are easily identified in the media. But for mercy’s sake, let’s not divulge the name of the sender of the missive. And besides, “an investigation is ongoing.”

The ability to send out mass mailings has many facets. First, it’s economical; next, it provides a cybernetic camaraderie, allowing us to join others in sending out many messages, however vacuous; and it provides a sense of immunity by allowing the sender to claim, “Me? Oh no. I don’t hate those people, I’m just forwarding the e-mails; I usually don’t even read them.”

Two friends dear to me don’t hesitate to tell me I need to “get a life, Art,” because I’m “w-a-y too sensitive,” by taking personally what was conceived in fun by someone well-intentioned.

Let me explain:

I got an e-mail from an ex-girlfriend, of Polish and Bohemian background, whose parents spoke Polish to their own parents, but only English to Carol.

Carol’s grandparents came from the old country, making her a third-generation American. Like many  Facebook and e-mail contacts, she does a lot of forwarding. It’s been 40 years since I left the midwest for God’s Country, but I still recognize some names on her e-mail list, people I once associated with.

Carol sends occasional innocuous “canned” e-mails of dogs, her passion. And that’s why I was surprised to receive one headed “I just had to send this to you.”

Carol’s e-mail, “Advice from Larry,” contains a forwarding list of friends and features a red-neck comedian of the Jeff Foxworthy variety (though it was not Foxworthy or even worthy of Fox News).

Larry cited the trouble with levees in New Orleans, alligators in Florida and Mexican immigrants along the border. The “solution” the comedian proposed would have involved slaughter of human beings, drownings and other things which Carol thought “hilarious.”

If people weren’t being killed at the border; if they weren’t fleeing from drug cartels; if they weren’t dying of thirst trying to walk the Sonoran desert; if people weren’t being charged a fortune for transport by “mules,” and sometimes even abandoned in windowless trucks in the desert sun; if the Mexican economy paid living wages; if there were no Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who declared a sudden emergency to a situation that’s existed forever, and accused President Obama of doing nothing to solve the immigration problem ...     

If these things weren’t realities, we might all enjoy a laugh over the solution proposed by Larry.

Well, sensitive little me, I replied to Carol, copying in her correspondents. I reminded her/them that not too long ago her own grandparents set foot on Ellis Island and that such a “joke” obviously implies a kind of elitism that dictates: “We were already here, in the first place; the newcomers should go back where they came from.”

I wonder whether my dotage has made me hyper-sensitive to mean-spirited aspersions against people. True, we could change “Mexican” to “Polish” or “Italian” or any other word — if other ethnic groups were in the news. We could urge that alligators be transferred to devour invaders from the north, but then, nobody’s proposing building a wall along our northern border.

And fortunately, people like recent congressional candidate Tom Mullins, who alluded to sealing the Mexican border by lacing it with land mines, lost his election bid.

When it involves politics, we hear amazing wimp-outs. A local man, who circulated vitriol-laced e-mails regarding then-candidate Obama, tried to cover his posterior by arguing, “Oh, no, I don’t have anything against the man; I merely forwarded the e-mails.” Yeah, right!

Technology makes it too easy to receive and disseminate messages, hateful or not. I have no doubt that some people even fail to read the contents of what they handle, thereby absolving themselves of responsibility.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people owned up to whatever bears their name, regardless of where it originated?

Well, ‘tis pity it doesn’t cost 44 cents to forward an e-mail. The economy of e-mail makes it easy to reach hundreds of people with a punch of the “send” key, but by the same token, the mass-mailings of such communications are cheapened by that same action. And some even go unread.

For that, we ought to be thankful.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to artbt@rezio.net or atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com.