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Of All the Things to Write About…

August 8, 2013
The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...

If these were my hands, there would have been two extended middle fingers.  I always had a tough time with typewriters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When actors/actresses or singers write stuff that’s outside their professional expertise, you never know what’s going to happen.  Most celebrities simply write (or hire somebody else to write) memoirs.  Others write children’s books (which has always struck me as bizarre).  And when Tom Hanks had a chance to write an opinion piece for The New York Times, Tom Hanks chose to write about… typewriters. 

It has to be tough for a celebrity to write an opinion piece for the New York Times.  If Hanks had written about Benghazi, or health care, or the NSA (which he jokes about once), then he probably would have alienated a bunch of people who disagree with him.  Maybe Hanks was wise to write about the clacking of typewriters.  Even if I disagree with him about typewriters (I despise them), I can’t get morally outraged at his opinion of typewriters, and I won’t boycott his movies over it. 

The way Tom Hanks reminisces about the typewriter makes me wonder if he ever had to use one.  He’s a little older than me, so it’s possible.  There’s a difference between using a typewriter for the heck of it (as he describes) and having to use one.  I’m guessing (with no proof to back this up) that if Hanks had ever had to use a typewriter, then he wouldn’t be so fond of them. 

Because of the horrors (yes, that’s an exaggeration) of using a typewriter, typing a final copy was my least favorite part of the writing process, but that changed in 1986 when I received (as a gift) my first word processor.  Printing a final copy suddenly became the easiest part of the writing process, and I never used a typewriter again.  I don’t miss them, and I don’t feel any nostalgia for the clacking. 

The typewriter op-ed in The New York Times is well-written (if Tom Hanks actually wrote it).  But I don’t hear Tom Hanks’ voice when I read it (and I know what Tom Hanks sounds like).  When Alec Baldwin writes an angry tweet, I can hear Alec Baldwin’s voice.  When I read the transcripts of President Obama’s speeches, I can hear our president’s voice.  The words usually match what we expect.  But the Tom Hanks piece doesn’t sound like the Tom Hanks I used to know (as in “was familiar with”). 

I remember when Tom Hanks was a comedian.  Now it seems like he wants to be an elder statesman, and sometimes he can sound kind of pompous.  Yes, his op-ed had a few humorous lines, but I didn’t hear Tom Hanks’ voice in my head.  I heard the slow, dull drone of an NPR newsreader as I read his piece.  It hurts my feelings that Tom Hanks writes like an NPR newsreader. 

Typewriters don’t sound like NPR newsreaders.  Typewriters sound like pundits on Fox News arguing about (insert political topic of your choice).   I bet if Tom Hanks realized that typewriters sound like Fox News pundits, then he’d abandon his typewriter collection.  I really don’t want to crush Tom Hanks’ passion.  I’m just trying to make points about writing style and typewriters. 

Sometimes people can get carried away with their nostalgia.  Where others see the past as a simpler time, I think of television with only three channels and cars with no air conditioning.  While Tom Hanks gets nostalgic over typewriters, I get nightmares over them (major exaggeration).  But I have to congratulate Tom Hanks.  He wrote an op-ed that probably didn’t offend anybody, and that might be a rarity for The New York Times.

From → Pop culture

14 Comments
  1. That’s interesting about his “voice”.

  2. It’s nice to see the insanity of celebrity worship put so eloquently. No offense to Tom Hanks, who is one of my favorite movie actors, but that’s as far as it goes. You touch on a much big issue though, which is the alarming rate of change in the Western world – incredibly complex. As such, and given the reality of an increasing interdependence among institutions, the term expert also seems to be diluted in such a cultural environment.

    The truth is that most people don’t really want to do a ton of reading on complex and exasperating issues, so you get movie stars writing about obsolete things.

    By the way, at least when there was only three channels, there was never a problem finding something decent to watch for 3 or 4 hours throughout any given week:

    http://bit.ly/19dgGKu

  3. I did my first writing on my mother’s IBM Selectric, and I can still hear that anticipatory hum as it sat there and waited for me to come up with something to say.

  4. If I concentrate really hard, I can hear Tom Hanks’ voice – but it’s really hard to concentrate with all the typewriter clacking.

  5. Scotch Jameson permalink

    I love typewriters and their expensive and very hard to find ink that lasts about ten pages and doesn’t really white out and somehow people like David McCullough can churn out book after book about people like John Adams and who knows maybe someday Tom Hanks whose best movie btw is Joe vs. the Volcano, no matter how much he loves WWII reenactments. But remember he made the skinny guy leave the type writer in Saving Private Writer. So even Tom Hanks’ fictional self knows they’re no good for combat.
    http://greatlives.wordpress.com/

  6. He’s the guy in the Pure Michigan ads, right.

  7. You’ve brought me back to the summer that I spent typing catalog cards for new books at the library (remember catalog cards?). And farther back to the night when my brother promised to come back and scrub mom’s floors forever if she would just type his term paper. (She did and he didn’t…)

  8. Memories. Misty watercolor memories. Mostly misty with tears. I hate typewriters.

  9. I learned on the old mechanical typewriters. Consequently, I’m a key-thumper–it’s difficult for me to write with the soft touch of electronic keyboards. I don’t, however, miss making corrections, setting margins, moving the carriage, with the old typewriters. I would like a firmness adjustment on keyboards. …Maybe, that’s just my ham fisted clumsiness.

  10. I’ve always longed to use a typewriter rather than a computer. For one, I hate the internet, and see it as an unnecessary distraction when writing(just starting out in the blogging community, striving to become a novelist). The biggest disadvantage of a type writer is not being able to save. I feel that the book writing community has yet to take advantage of the computer. For instance, saving chapter by chapter allows you to make endless improvements. If I was to write a book by typewriter, I would most likely edit and perfect page-by-page. Problem is, ideas grow, they blossom. I can only imagine the headaches this would cause when you begin to see a way to make the first chapter better, when you’ve already got ever word and comma lined up exactly where you want it. Good article.

  11. I’m sure that somewhere in the corners of the Internet is a group of virulent typewriter haters that are now organizing boycotts of all his movies. If I know the Internet, that is.

  12. When I was younger (late elementary school) I decided to save up my money for something big. I didn’t know what I would buy at the time, but I knew I wanted more than just candy and small toys. My mom and I went out to an antique shop downtown and I found an old but very beautiful typewriter. I loved it so much and desperately wanted to take it home with me that day. It must’ve been fate that the typewriter was priced at the exact amount that I had saved up! It sits in my room to this day, and I fondly remember typing away at the little black keys.

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