Thriftstorm is Captain Video’s secondhand anthropology project. Follow @Thriftstorm on Twitter for the latest news on things people were just going to throw away.
Artifact: Organized Obsessions: 1,001 Offbeat Associations, Fan Clubs and Microsocieties You Can Join, by Deborah M. Burek and Martin Connors, 1992.
Description: Paperback book of weird dimensions that make it effectively impossible to scan.
Source: The Long Estate Sale
For most purposes, the views I express in Thriftstorm are my own, but the road forks on the subject of perfect binding. Perfect binding is the somewhat exaggerated name for a magazine- and bookbinding technique in which the pages are glued into the cover. As an individual, I think it’s fine. It’s cheap, and it holds up for a few decades before the glue tends to harden up and crack. On behalf of Thriftstorm, though, I hate it. There is no way to get perfect-bound materials to scan properly without also destroying them. Stapled or stitched publications yield far more willingly to the 5 lb. barbells I use to flatten things against the scanner.
Today’s object of intrigue is also unusually narrow, so there’s more spine to fight and less page to hold onto. Here’s a terrible photograph of the inside:
Like The Square Dancing Encyclopedia from Thriftstorm #1, Organized Obsessions is a product of the heady days before the internet, when you had to go outside. Want to join any one of three Engelbert Humperdinck societies? Prepare to lick a stamp and head to the mailbox. Published in 1992, at the dawn of the internet, Organized Obsessions doesn’t – as far as I could find – have a single entry with a website address.
The timeframe is also reflected in the types of societies listed. Fans of well-known but not-quite-classic TV shows like Mr. Ed and Gilligan’s Island are here, and there’s no shortage of clubs for fans of people who were famous in the ’70s and ’80s. (I counted two for Elvira, the aforementioned three for Engelbert Humperdinck, five for Elvis and one for Elvis impersonators.) There’s also the Pia Zadora Fan Club, which you presumably get kicked out of if you ask about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Otherwise-mundane organizations are undermined by new meanings in their initials: the World Timecapsule Fund is “WTF,” Marble Collectors Unlimited is “MCU,” and the Society of California Pioneers is “SCP.” Surprisingly, “MRA” is suitably attached to the Men’s Rights Association, which in 1992 counted 6,500 members. (There are a number of listed groups that were focused on maleness. Unfortunately, many seem like the people who now use the internet to complain that women won’t have sex with them. Also in the man zone: the Man Will Never Fly Memorial Society International, “a tongue-in-cheek, bottle-in-hand group” which “in 1967… established the a Hall of Aviation Infamy, which gives an award to ‘some aviation goof-off.'”)
Some of the organizations served practical ends. The One Shoe Crew (TOSC) and the National Odd Shoe Exchange (NOSE) were connection points for people who only had one foot, or mismatched feet, so they could exchange one half of a pair of shoes with someone else who had one foot that was the same size as theirs. The Coin Coalition wanted a U.S. dollar coin (which happened) and the phase-out of the dollar bill (which hasn’t… yet.) The Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy “works to preserve programs and research materials with radio of the 1920s.” Which is cool, but I’m including it here because the acronym is SPERDVAC. Serious organizations are somewhat exempt from the book’s grazing attempts at humor. (The unusually good entry for Sand Collectors International begins: “But it just falls right through your hands.”)
Organized Obsessions was published by Visible Ink Press, which surprised me by continuing to exist into the present day. Current publication topics include the Handy Answer Book Series, African American heroes, and the paranormal. Organized Obsessions appears to be out of print.
You might wonder where authors Deborah M. Burek and Martin Connors found all these groups in the first place, and it turns out to be turtles all the way down. According to page vi., “Research was based on groups found in Gale Research’s Encyclopedia of Associations, the premier dictionary to associations, listing more than 20,000 in three massive volumes.” (Somewhat surprisingly, the Encyclopedia of Associations still seems to be in print, with the most recent edition published in 2016. It numbers 4,000 no-doubt-thrilling pages.)
If it seems like cheating to compile a list of associations from someone else’s longer list of associations, it isn’t. This was declared by the United States Supreme Court when the author of a book called The Trivia Encyclopedia sued the makers of Trivial Pursuit for republishing his facts, and lost. You can’t copyright a fact.1
At least some of these organizations lived long enough to meet the internet. A random spot-check revealed that the Liberty Bell Matchcover Club has a (seemingly dormant) Yahoo Group; Cowboy Artists of America has a bona fide website, as does Earthwatch; and the International Society of Copier Artists has a Wikipedia page that says they shut down in 2003. (Others, like Bowhunters Who Care and the National Chastity Association, seem to have gone extinct without ever making it online.)
My favorite “we’ll never know the true story” organization is the Fran Lee Foundation:
Appearing as a spokesperson on radio and television broadcasts, Fran Lee disseminates consumer-related information to the public on such matters as diseases transmitted by pets to humans and the dangers of microwave ovens, cyclamates, swine flu and measles vaccinations, and humidifiers. No relation to Sara. Founded in 1970. Contact Fran Lee, Director.
No membership count is given. I’m going to hazard a guess that Fran Lee, if still alive, is on Facebook.
Next time: Originally told as a series of tweets in 2016, I’d like to introduce you to a family I’ve constructed out of other people’s old photographs.