Frank Warren, creator of PostSecret, spoke at Knox yesterday. His presentation began by viewing the All-American Rejects’ “Dirty Little Secret” music video, which uses secrets written on postcards sent to Warren as visuals. It became clear, however, that Warren did not sell these secrets out. Commodification is one phenomenon he stands firmly and passionately against.
When the band offered him a sum to display postcard secrets submitted to him in their music video, Warren, who has “not accepted one dollar of paid advertising” in PostSecret’s five years of existence, refused
Instead, he suggested that they double their offer and donate it to aid a cause which he passionately supports: Hopeline, or 1-800-SUICIDE. The All American Rejects agreed, and the secrets kept on spreading.
Despite the viral spread of PostSecret – and Warren assured us that he is “in the know” about Knox PostSecret – not all important secrets are being shared. One of America’s secrets, Warren said, is that we still have censorship.
Stores like Walmart, K-Mart, Costco and Target censor music, books and movies, often in an indirect way. Warren called this practice “dangerous,” because sometimes people do not even realize it is happening. He was proud to say that no PostSecret products have been sold at Walmart, which he targeted as a heavy censor.
His own publisher censored several secrets from PostSecret books, mostly due to copyright issues. He showed the audience some of the secrets that had been kept out of PostSecret books for this reason. One of these was submitted by someone searching for one person whom they can share all of their secrets with.
Warren said that the theme of this secret is the second most common among the postcards he receives. The most common secret is “I pee in the shower” (which Warren admitted to as well).
Emotional release is a benefit of sharing secrets that Warren emphasized. He likes to imagine that everyone has a collection of secrets stored away in a metaphorical box. What we do with them is our choice: we can bury the secrets “like a coffin,” or we can share them with others and view them instead as “gifts.”
He described one postcard he displayed as especially riveting. The picture on the postcard was of a door with several holes in it and the text on top of it read: “The holes are from when my mom knocked on my door so she could continue beating me.” After posting this secret online, Warren received more postcards depicting holes punched into doors. He reflected that when shared, secrets like these inspire others and build community.
“It makes you feel like your secret’s not so big a deal,” said Warren.
Although Warren receives other postcards about violence and crimes, a far larger group of secrets speak of self-harm.
“This is not reflected back to us in the media,” Warren said. “Attack the stigma of suicide” and share hope. As a man who found a loving family at the age of 30 and a job he enjoyed at 40, Warren asserted that “there is always hope, it just doesn’t come on the time schedule we’d like it to.”
Finally, Warren emphasized the importance of community. He cited online communities like Blogger, Facebook and Twitter as instrumental to the success of PostSecret. These tools are available to everyone with the Internet, and he encourages everyone to use them, asking, “What’s your crazy idea?” and asserting in a note written inside PostSecret Confessions on Life, Death and God, which he gave as a gift to an audience member, “The world needs to hear your voice.”