Friday, April 24, 2009

Perils and Pleasures of Autograph-Hunting

From CNN (7 March): "Saudi men arrested for seeking female writer's autograph":(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's religious police detained two male novelists for questioning last week after they attempted to get the autograph of a female writer at a book fair in Riyadh, according to local media reports.

Both novelists, who were held for questioning but not charged with a crime, are demanding an apology from the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The commission, feared by many Saudis, is made up of several thousand religious policemen charged with, among other things, enforcement of dress codes, mandatory observance of prayer times and segregation of the sexes. (read the rest)

In general, it is the reticence of the author that "the autograph hunters" must fear, though, here as in other affairs, many things can go awry. In P. G. Wodehouse's story of the same name, the unfortunate student seeking to bribe his housemaster with a celebrity signature ends up in trouble with both parties and forced to copy out classical literature as punishment (though a sort of reduced sentence signals a modest accidental victory). In the case of Saudi Arabia, the situation would presumably be more dire, but the seekers appear confident that no real consequences will ensue:

One of the writers, Khal, told Al-Watan that he doesn't believe the new leadership endorses actions like those of the commission members who detained him.

"It seems that the relationship between the committee and the intellectuals is based on animosity and hostility and perhaps that is shown from the fashion in which they treated us," he said.

One hopes--although in a society in which there can be a serious debate as to whether an influential cleric actually issued a fatwa calling for the death of Mickey Mouse (the fact may be [feebly] disputed; the fact that one has to debate that fact is not), one could well understand the caution of the collector.

Admittedly, my favorite tale of at least implicit or de facto autograph-hunting involves an audacious request that, although less objectively dangerous and less successful than either of the above, surely surpasses them in the quest for a place in the annals of something or other.

In 1940, a young Fidel Castro wrote to the President of the United States:

My good friend Roosvelt:I don't know very English, but I know as much as write to you.

I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President for a new (periódo)

I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much, but I do not think that I am writting to the President of the United States.

If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american in the letter because never have I not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them. . .

[after giving Roosevelt his mailing address, he also helpfully offers to point the President to some big iron mines that could be useful for ship construction]

(And of course, Cuba still awaits that influx of aid from Washington.)

Top that one, I dare you.

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