My aunt and I primarily "keep in touch" through e-mail, and by that I mean, she sends me chain emails almost every day. Most of these are cute, or mildly funny, but sometimes they are scams or racist diatribes. Can I ask her to stop sending them? I don't want to be rude or disrespectful, but there's only so many death-panels-Bill-Gates-wants-to-give-me-money-flesh-eating-bananas e-mails I can take.
Chain letters (and their modern equivalents) have been around since the middle ages, when a so-called priest named Prester John requested help from Christian armies to rescue his magical paradise that was overrun by infidels. While this land of milk and honey was never found, some say the chain letters, "profoundly affected the geographical knowledge of Europe by stimulating interest in foreign lands and sparking expeditions outside of Europe." In the 19th century, chain letters were used in Britain to help fund a home for street prostitutes, and also to thwart Jack the Ripper. So, they weren't always an obnoxious medium to spread cute kitten pictures or attempt to pyramid scheme you.
It's difficult to tell our elders to stop spamming us for a few reasons. Why? Because they often mean well. Some older folks are technological masters, but for others, e-mail is as far as they got in web savvy-ness. (And, to be inclusive, younger folks are certainly susceptible to spreading chains and hoaxes, especially on Facebook). Also, in some cases, as in yours, these might be the only communications you get from a distant family member, and you don't want to alienate them entirely. I would draw the line at overtly political or hateful e-mails. If something is blatantly racist or bigoted, you should diplomatically but firmly tell them they are being bitch pigeons.
For most interactions with clueless but caring friends or relatives, here's a way to pull the bandage with minimal hair-ripping. First, if the spamming is mild, it takes very little effort to click the delete button and never think of it again. You have no one but yourself to blame if you scrolled all the way to the bottom of that pictorial irony mass e-mail.
If the e-mailing becomes excessive, then try the "It's not you, it's me approach." Thank them for corresponding:
"Dear Uncle BiblePants, thanks for thinking of me when you sent around that sparkly rainbow unicorn prayer animation. It was uplifting!"
Then, inform them why mass e-mails are a nuisance and shoulder the blame:
"However, I sometimes get 50-100 e-mails a day at work and in my personal account, not to mention Russian bride offers and tips to 'enlarge my pork spear.' It's difficult to sort through all of these, as you can imagine, so if you could limit your e-mails to me to only personal messages, I would be much obliged."
So, there you have it. Also, if you don't forward this post to all your friends, you will die within 24 hours. Consider yourselves warned.