Commentary: When is Spam Spam? * **

© Getty Images

You just can’t win with "progressives" who sometimes seem to want to fight each other because they can’t win very many of the real battles. We have a world to win, and they want to get all lathered up about "junk" mail and "spam?"

Don’t get me wrong; I too resent the mounds of unsolicited e-mail that I have to clean out of my e-mailbox every morning before I can attend to the mail I really need to read. And, like other environmentally concerned folks, I loathe having to sort through my postal mailbox every day when I return home from work, only to have to go straight to the recycling bin in the garage to dump all the catalogs, fliers, savings coupon books and other unwanted business solicitations.

But I have a problem with people who, in all their misguided self-righteousness, go to great lengths to accuse E and other nonprofits of either "violating privacy" or "killing trees" simply because we sent them either an e-mail or postal mailing.

Let me explain: Do you like movies?


So you like pornography then?


No? How can that be? Oh
so not all movies are porn?

That’s right.

So give me a break, folks. Not all movies are porn and not every e-mail we receive that is "unsolicited" is spam, nor is every piece of "unsolicited" postal mail "junk."

I was shocked to get a phone call recently from a person identifying herself as a lawyer for a major environmental group, complaining that someone at a regional office had received an "unsolicited e-mail" from E Magazine. Was I hearing this right? An organization that mails hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of "snail-mail" pieces (including to E readers) each year is complaining about receiving one piece of electronic mail, and accusing a fellow organization in the environmental movement of somehow "violating privacy?"

Wait a minute. First of all, what could be more environmentally friendly than replacing all those folded letters, fliers, postcards, plastic-windowed envelopes, reply envelopes and "lift letters" (those extra little folded pieces pretending to get personal with you) with electronic mail that consumes no trees, produces no cancer-causing dioxins, consumes virtually no energy and adds to no landfills?

And excuuuuuuuse meeeeeeee, but if I’m not mistaken, our e-mail, sent ONCE with a clear "unsubscribe" option, to e-mail addresses posted publicly on environmental websites under "Contact Us" or "About Us," did not make any mention of Vi4gr4, p3n1s enlargement, m.ort(g)age applications or tEen sluTz!

© Ryan McVay/Getty

So, if someone from an ivory tower eco-group, populated by a bunch of six-figured salaried suits that have little to show for the hundreds of millions of direct mails they’ve sent out over the last half century, has their day ruined by a friendly e-mail from a friendly colleague proposing a win-win partnership that might help us both, I say it’s time to get off the computer and get on meds!

Since when is most mail "solicited" anyway? How far do we take this? Suppose I meet you somewhere and then look you up and send you a letter. Am I to be berated for sending you "unsolicited" mail? And what difference does it make to you, anyway, as the recipient of said "spam" or "junk," whether you were the sole recipient of an e-mail or paper envelope or just one of 300,000? You received one and that should be the extent of your concern. Either the message has a noble purpose or it doesn"t.

Someone once pointed out to me that there seemed to be a fine line between a newspaper item about a sexual harassment case and one announcing a betrothal. I think all this "junk" mail and "spam" stuff may also be walking that line.

But the important thing to remember is that postal mail, e-mail and—yes—sometimes that other dirty word, "telemarketing," are really the only tools we have to communicate our messages to the public at large, to policymakers and other "change makers," and to our colleagues in the trenches. Mainstream media cannot be relied upon because advertising is way too costly for us, and there is usually little hope for fair or consistent editorial coverage for the issues we work on. Either we’re not as entertaining as the lifestyles of the rich and famous or we’re too political and/or "advocacy" for media conglomerates answering to corporate sponsors.

(Once I did a radio interview for a fairly large New York City AM radio program and they asked me sarcastically why Greenpeace activists had to pull stunts like parachuting off the George Washington Bridge with a banner that said "Stop Ocean Dumping." I pointed out to their listening audience, much to the interviewer’s chagrin, that if the group had politely called the news bureau for an interview, chances are they would have not gotten their call returned.)

Those repeated mailings from American Express and Citicorp, vying for your gold card business? "Junk mail" indeed! And so are their endless counterparts in cyberspace trying to trick us into taking mortgages we never applied for, or giving our personal bank account information out to sons of sons of deposed Nigerian leaders. And I agree we should loudly protest the vast numbers of commercial messages we are bombarded with every day, whether e-mailed, mailed, broadcast, televised, shown on movie theatre screens, billboarded, skywritten or printed on a small flier and placed in a clamshell along with two-whole-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-and-a-sesame-seed-bun. They are wasting resources and urging us to waste even more, perpetuating the notion that every aspect of our lives can only be fulfilled through some sort of a purchase.

But a few trees or bytes put to use in defense of starving kids, battered wives, victims of drunk drivers, or Mother Earth are not "spam" and they’re not "junk," either. And if people of conscience can’t grasp that then we’re just going to remain our own worst enemies.

* Spam — a meat product made by Hormel, definitely an acquired taste.** Spa"am — a hilarious evil Muppet. Hormel sued (and lost) to try to get the creators to can it.

DOUG MOSS is publisher and executive editor of E.