What better way to respond to a faux-personal email than with a faux-love letter?
From that email until election day, Hansen-Fliedner replied to each email addressed to him from the campaign *as if* it was an "appropriated anonymous love letter," he told me. He compiled these responses and sent them to the White House, as well as spinning out a self-published book of his project. You can download the entire thing at dylanforamerica.tumblr.com.
The letters themselves run the gamut from absurd to embarrassingly inspirational to almost creepy. Like you'd expect, some of the juxtapositions work better than others, but the project feels significant to me. What better way to respond to the faux-personal idiom of the Obama campaign's emails than with the faux-personal idiom of the generic love letter? Fire, meet fire.
I reached Hansen-Fliedner on Gchat while his roommate was live retyping Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans. He told me that he wanted the letters "to accumulate a certain level of banality -- like two robots talking to each other." And in a sense, that's sort of what was happening. On one side, Obama for America had 20 writers who were pushing their text through an elaborate testing machine, a cyborg system. And on the other, you had "Dylan for America," who had a different response program he was running, regardless of what they sent him. At times, the two algorithms came to an impasse. Hansen-Fliedner didn't donate to or volunteer for the campaign, but he continued to receive the "Go, team!" messages about his participation. "What I found most interesting is that they keep reminding me I haven't donated anything and I haven't done a shift to volunteer," he said, "but they also keep saying the progress they are making is all because of me and reminding me that I can own a piece of the campaign." And that is perhaps like a particular kind of jilted lover, reminding you how well the relationship is going without you.
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Alexis C. Madrigal is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.