You probably get lots of E-mails from hopefuls wanting to become advice columnists, but I thought I would ask anyway: How does one become a successful advice columnist? I believe that I have something to offer. I give advice to friends and family, and I’m sure that there are many other people out there who would benefit from my advice. I am not interested in simply spouting my opinions: I am interested in helping people. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!
–Wannabe Advice Columnist
I’ll get to your question in a moment, WAC, but first some thoughts about a man who spouts opinions for a living.
Some of you probably caught me on Bill O’Reilly’s show, The O’Reilly Factor, on Fox News last week. I was on to promote my new book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America, and O’Reilly began our segment by barking at me about owing royalties to Robert Bork, the conservative author and social critic who wrote Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Of course, if I owe Bork money then Bork owes money to Joan Didion, author of Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and all three of us owe money to the estate of W.B. Yeats, the poet who got this “[blanking] toward [someplace]” business rolling.
Anyway, I was having a nice enough chat with the combative Mr. O’Reilly, holding my own, defending pot smokers and sex educators and other sinners. And then O’Reilly asked me what I thought about gay bathhouses. I made the mistake of telling him the truth: I hate gay bathhouses and I think they should be closed. This is not a new position. I’ve been an on-the-record gay-bathhouse basher for ten years now. (And guys, are gay bathhouses even necessary these days? Web sites like gay.com have turned every gay man’s apartment into a virtual gay bathhouse. Why eat out when you can order in?)
O’Reilly pounced: “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” he barked. “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” I was stunned. There I was, sitting across the table from the darling of the American right, and he was shouting at me about wanting to go to a gay bathhouse. “If I want to pursue happiness in a gay bathhouse, shouldn’t I be free to do that, Mr. Savage?” I didn’t know what to say. If Bill O’Reilly wanted to go to a gay bathhouse, who was I to tell him he shouldn’t? “I want to go to a gay bathhouse! I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” I told O’Reilly he was right: that my feelings about gay bathhouses were inconsistent with my do-whatever-feels-good positions on drugs and most sexual acts. “You win,” I said, but really I was thinking, “Get me the hell away from this guy before he shouts ‘I want to go to a gay bathhouse’ again!” Picturing gay men in a bathhouse is revolting enough; picturing Bill O’Reilly in one? That could put a gay guy off sex for the rest of his unnatural life.
It occurred to me as I was leaving Fox News that there had to be a talented DJ or two out there who can’t stand O’Reilly. So why not sample “I want to go to a gay bathhouse,” put a catchy beat under it, and release it as an underground dance single? An ambitious DJ might make a video to go along with the single–a video that showed Bill O’Reilly barking “I want to go to a gay bathhouse!” over and over again. If someone actually pulled it all together, I’m positive it would be the surprise dance hit of the winter in Ibiza. And wouldn’t that be lovely?
OK, back to WAC’s letter.
Since I’m on a book tour–have I mentioned that I’m on a book tour?–I’m writing this week’s column just like I wrote last week’s: sitting on an airplane under the influence of two antianxiety medications (washed down with two antianxiety vodka tonics). Which means I’m in no condition to give advice to anyone–for the second week in a row! (If this keeps up I’m gonna get drummed out of the American Association of Advice Columnists for sure.) As I’m in no condition to give advice, I decided to run a few letters from people I wouldn’t want to give advice to anyway–and that’s where you come in, WAC. I do get lots of letters from “hopefuls,” as you call them, and it always blows my mind. Here’s a news flash for all the wannabes out there: no advice columnist on earth wants to help other people “get started.” Why would we? This is a competitive business, and none of us is interested in creating more competition. So I’m sorry, WAC, but you’re on your own.
I know you give advice about sex, but I was wondering if maybe you could also give some career advice. I’m a wannabe sex columnist. I’m in college and I write a sex/relationship column for the campus newspaper. Now I’m looking for some advice myself. Sound career advice in this line of work is hard to come by. –CJ
You want some sound career advice, CJ? OK: you should definitely think about having a career–in some other field. You had a nice little run at your campus paper, but now it’s time to find something else to do. It appears that all the attention college sex columnists have been getting lately has gone to your head. Your experience writing for a college paper may have given you a false impression about the availability of jobs at newspapers in general and the availability of advice-column gigs in particular. Let me set you straight.
At college papers, editors, reporters, arts writers, op-ed columnists, and advice columnists are always up and graduating. Consequently those jobs open up at a regular clip. In real life, however, people don’t graduate–they work until they retire or die. Since writing an advice column is a job you can pretty much do in your sleep or on your deathbed, gigs almost never open up. Look at Ann Landers: her column had to be pried from her cold, dead hands. My column will have to be pried from my hands, too. So here’s my advice to you, CJ, and to everyone else who keeps asking me for advice about getting competing sex columns off the ground: Don’t kid yourselves. Stop bothering me. Get a real job.
Dan Savage’s new book, Skipping Towards Gomorrah (Dutton), is on sale now. For more info go to skippingtowardsgomorrah.com.