May 26, 2005


Secrets on homemade postcards. Fascinating, even though most of the secrets are quite ordinary. (Via About Last Night, via Asymmetrical Information.) This one struck me. And this.

UPDATE: The NYT has an article, dated 5/31/05, on Postsecret. Here's the conclusion:
[I]t is the fakeness, the artifice and the performance that make this confessional worth peeking at. The secret sharers here aren't mindless flashers but practiced strippers. They don't want to get rid of their secrets. They love them. They arrange them. They tend them. They turn them into fetishes. And that's the secret of PostSecret. It isn't really a true confessional after all. It is a piece of collaborative art.


postsecret said...

Quite ordinary.?.

I have not read that before.


Mark Daniels said...

Some of these were really interesting. (How do you find these sites, anyway?)

I liked the two you singled out.

How awful it must be for the sender who lives with the person of volcanic anger! I've seen relationships like this over the years. One dominates, while the other loses themselves by constantly trying to please.

I can really identify with the second, although not because I've ever had a fear of hell. In the years of my life when I told myself I was an atheist, I nonetheless prayed to God when I got into scrapes. In the end, it was impossible for me to imagine a creation (i.e., the universe) without a creator. So, long before I became a Christian, I was an agnostic who would say, "There must be something out there."

Ann Althouse said...

Postsecret: At first I thought you were making a grammar point -- that "quite ordinary" was wrong the way "very unique" is wrong.

But, yes, I think many of the things people admitted, such as pretending to be in love with their partner, are not surprising things at all. It is interesting to admit them, especially in this way, though. I find the ordinariness touching, in fact, because you see that people feel shame or fail to take action when they encounter ordinary problems.

Mark Daniels said...

I know "how" you found the postsecret site, of course. You mention the sites that linked you to this one, after all. It just seems that you're always finding little gems like that.

Rinex said...

I'm glad I found postsecret this morning. There's so much power and beauty hidden away in people.

Smilin' Jack said...

What strikes me about this site is that the visuals are just a little too well-composed and 'artsy', the lettering always just a little too neat and legible, the sentiments just a little too ostentatiously thought-provoking.

Does anyone else suspect these 'postcards' are fake?

chuck_b said...

I read through these cards when Andrew Sullivan linked them last week and I also got the strong impression they are fake. The "Everyone thinks I died on 9/11" clinched it for me. Please. That's a secret someone only wishes they had, or a secret they think someone else out there might have.

Then I thought it seemed reasonable to believe people who obsess over and fetishize their banal little "secrets" (or who like to pretend they have interesting secrets) would also seem likely to be arty with them. So who knows.

The cards did seem interesting when I was reading them, and then a few hours later I thought to myself "What was so interesting about that?"

Most boring secret: (tie) "I'm not in love with my partner!" and "I hate myself and want to die!" Zzzzz.

chuck_b said...

PS--In general, what kinds of secrets are more interesting--emotional secrets, or factual ones? "My angry lover scares me!" or "I know where the missing artifact is!" I think the latter.

Emotional secrets are a dime a dozen. We've all got them (sometimes we keep them from ourselves) & imho, they don't make us interesting.

Ann Althouse said...
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Ann Althouse said...

Smilin' Jack: Excellent observation! I do think there is a similarity in the way they are handmade -- something that reminds me of adults doing "children's" drawings. The use of messy montage, for example. I think amateurs doing art try to be especially neat and professional, and their imperfection comes out in a different way.

Leland: I think, as I wrote, that the messages are interesting in part because they are ordinary. It is the presentation, the overall look of the page, that's appealing to me.

Slac said...

Frank said that he can't upload every postcard, because he receives so many, so all the well-composed ones may be rising to the top.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Postsecret is offended that you find the secrets ordinary. It's the artist not understanding his own creation -- although actually he's not the artist, he's the compiler. If they weren't ordinary his site would be merely a house of horrors, far more banal than the ordinariness he objects to. The cumulative predictability, expressed in an original form, is part of what makes them beautiful and moving.

Contra Leland Burrill, I'll take the emotional secrets every time. As Edmund Wilson said about the detective mystery genre, "Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?"

I too got the impression that some of them were faked, especially the 9/11 one, but not most of them. And the faked ones hide genuine secrets that are more pitiable.

Fake and real together, they add up to a cooperative work of art, a cathedral of what Freud called "ordinary human misery." The comments, too, are part of it.

One comment I disagree with on the Postsecret site: that none of these secrets is worse than any other. Some of them reveal acts of deep nastiness, deep corruption of soul. Giving the whole world a hug and understanding that everyone is partly lost should not be equivalent to excusing evil.

Ann Althouse said...

Slac: "Frank said that he can't upload every postcard, because he receives so many, so all the well-composed ones may be rising to the top."

That could be his cover story for why he hasn't posted any given one you know was sent, allowing him to keep secret -- speaking of keeping secrets -- the fact that they're all fake. If they are.

Richard: Yeah. Though doesn't Tolstoy indicate otherwise re happy families/unhappy families?

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Happy and ordinary aren't the same. Tolstoy would dig those postcards. (He told me so.)

About the high artistic quality of the postcards: I have a feeling a lot of them are by art students or art teachers. They have problems too, you know. If I were an artist starting a site like this, I'd send mass emails to everyone I knew in the art world.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard: I meant that the unhappy people should be different and not all alike, in the Tolstoy saying. Ordinariness and unhappiness went together, so, it seems T ought to have: said happy families are all alike, and, come to think about it, so are unhappy families.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

But then he wouldn't have had much of a story.

purple_kangaroo said...

It does seem that the style, look and general feel of many of the postcards is the same.

When I was first reading it, I wondered if many of the people who send in their secrets write them in just plain text on the back of a postcard, and then the person who makes the PostSecret site turns them into works of art.

If this is not the case, I imagine that a lot of people read this site for a long time before sending in their secrets, and become familiar with the style of art most likely to be chosen and posted. They then imitate the style they see on the site, which is a distinct style that would appeal primarily to a particular type of person/artist.

I found them interesting, and felt for some of the people who sent in secrets. But I didn't find the graphics themselves particularly compelling or appealing. Just not my particular style, I guess.

purple_kangaroo said...

Ah, yes. This makes it sound like the author does at least in some cases use the postcards as inspiration for artwork and may rework them rather than posting them all as they come.

In the comments section, there were a few comments that their secret was not posted but one very similar was after they sent it in, which could also suggest that.

PostSecret reserves the right to select, edit and arrange submissions

That would explain why the handwriting and style are so very similar on many of the cards.

postsecret said...

"PostSecret reserves the right to select, edit and arrange submissions

That would explain why the handwriting and style are so very similar on many of the cards."

*** *** ***

Here is my challenge to anyone who reads this. Come to my house, look at the postcards, and if you are not convinced they are authentic (not necessarily true). I will give you $100.00 before you leave.

Germantown, MD

Jennifer said...

I think the majority of them are fake, as well. The one that sticks out in my mind was the "veteran" who pulled over to the side of the road and freaked out when he heard an ambulance. Because it made him feel like he was back in Iraq. You know, because of all the commercial American ambulances careening around Iraq with their distinctly American sirens.

Crisatunity said...

Frank - you are tool for the narcissist community to get the word out. Own it already.