Last week, Newsweek ran a piece by Alicia Coffman titled "Hopelessly Devoted." Coffman wrote: "I understand those tween girls who are swooning over the new Jonas Brothers movie. I'm a formerly obsessive teen-idol fan myself. And I started young: I was in third grade when I wrote my first fan letter. It was to Zachary (Zack) Morris, the blond main character of the '90s sitcom Saved by the Bell." Coffman wrote to Devon Sawa six times, Jonathan Taylor Thomas 11 times, Justin Timberlake of 'N Sync 12 times, Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys nine times, Joey Lawrence nine times and sent Leo DiCaprio more than 14 love letters. Coffman's article encouraged others to write in about their fan experiences, and Newsweek published those as well. The stars range from Bobby Sherman to Elijah Wood to Joey from New Kids On The Block and Paul Simon. But the "fans," the letter-writers, have one thing in common: They're all female.
When I was wee, I wrote to Ricky Schroder, and being a huge Moonlighting fan, Bruce Willis. I wrote "Bruno" a song, even. The Ricker's people sent me a black and white photocopy of an autographed eight by ten glossy; Bruce's film company sent me a "we do not accept unsolicited materials" letter, which I saved for years. Much, much later, as a fully-former adult, I ended up working at a teen magazine and reading hundreds of fan letters. Bestickered, beglittered, earnest missives for Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron. Why do girls love putting their feelings in writing? Diaries, fanfic blogs, fan letters - there's never any shortage of gushing, emotive prose directed at inspirational, unreachable stars. And the stars very rarely return the favor. Coffman, who never heard from any of her beloved celebs, writes:
…Getting a response may not be as important as writing in the first place. At least it wasn't for me. I think that if any of my crushes had sent some kind of perfunctory pre-printed note, I might have stopped dreaming up new ways to get their attention. And maybe I wouldn't have written those long chatty letters about my day, or spent all that time revising them in my journal. Looking back, I can see that composing those letters was a big part of my decision to become a writer. Sometimes I even think I should write them to thank them for ignoring me.
When worshipping our idols, do we not even really expect an answer? Is the very act of writing enough? (Related: do boys write fan letters? And if so, do any of their idols - including skateboarders, ball players, singers and actors -ever receive the epic amounts of fan mail generated by their female counterparts?)
Hopelessly Devoted, And They Called It 'Puppy Love' ... [Newsweek]